By Obi Nwakanma
President Buhari spent the better part of his tenure making excuses for his inability to effect the “change” in the situation of Nigeria on which he campaigned and for which he was elected. Within the first six months of his administration, Nigeria went into massive recession; the economic gains recorded under Jonathan, arguable as they might be, disappeared. With it disappeared the growing confidence of Nigeria. Buhari promised to quickly reverse the energy crisis in Nigeria – particularly in the areas of electricity generation and distribution.
He appointed the former governor of Lagos Mr. Raji Fashola as the Minister of Energy (Power) and Works: two powerful ministries which are frankly too strategic to be bundled under the same portfolio. A ministry of Works and Infrastructure development would have been a more apt portfolio. In any case, Mr. Fashola as governor of Lagos had critiqued the PDP government for its inability to solve the power problem, and indeed boasted that it would take only six months to solve Nigeria’s electricity problem under a different order. I still think he is right.
But so far, he has not proved his own point. Nigeria is still mired in an energy crisis of such proportions that merely complaining about it is no more worthwhile. Fact is: the policies over the years of privatization have only created ineffective monopolies, and the Buhari government which has continued this policy of privatization has showed very clearly that it has no original ideas of its own. The changes in the energy policies carried out under Obasanjo and pushed further still by Jonathan as a PDP program is shortsighted, very clearly, and has been disastrous, chiefly because no sovereign nation cedes its most important, most strategic public utilities to private monopolies, foreclosing public investment that should drive a development agenda.
The situation, created just for instance, by the monopoly, the Enugu Power Company, bought and controlled by Mr. Emeka Ofo, for instance, is creating a problem that affects expanding and servicing the Eastern energy market, going by the face-off between Enugu DISCO and the Geometric Energy Company, founded by Dr. Bath Nnaji. This is just one example of the consequences of the energy policies established by the PDP, which campaigned on privatization of public corporations in Electricity, Communications, steel, roads, etc, – a policy which has failed Nigerians, because frankly privatization and the corrupt sell-off of Nigeria’s public investments in circumstances that are still foggy, has not solved Nigeria’s problem, but has exacerbated it.
Yet, the APC under Buhari continues to follow the same programs which were the very sources of corruption in the system. In many cases, because the APC lacks the organizational capacity to organize an effective government, it has worsened the legacy it inherited of public corruption. Nigerians still do not have any idea how much oil Nigeria sells or batters. How much is stolen. How much is given as gift or bribe. How much revenue comes with oil and how much of it is truly accounted? The operations of this crucial arm of state, the Petroleum industry is still opaque, and still is controlled directly by the president.
There are a number of factors that might account for the failure, going towards the election year, of the APC administration to rise to the expectations of Nigeria: one, they probably did not comprehend the enormity of the task of running the nation in a democratic system. Buhari came into power claiming to be a “reformed democrat,” but he was in truth, still unaware of the demands of a constitutional government, which is what we call a democracy. He did not have any idea about such a pesky thing called the “rule of law.”
He still had the illusion that he could govern by fiat, and by extreme executive authority just as he did as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces under a military regime, in which parliamentary, and sometimes judicial authority converged under the executive power of the Military Head of state who could hire and fire anyone, enact laws by fiat, and push any policy, and enter into any treaty with a foreign government or institution without recourse to the Legislature and the Judiciary. It still does not occur to him that he cannot enter into a treaty or an agreement with the IMF or World Bank today, or enter into any treaty with China, without the enabling votes of the National Assembly, and that any such treaties entered on behalf of Nigeria primarily on his initiative without legislative authority is a nonbinding agreement.
In the past all it would take him was a memo from his Chief Secretary, and a discussion of it as an agenda in the Supreme Military Council, and bingo, Nigeria takes a loan, or sets up a Tribunal to try Ambrose Alli or Mbakwe or Onabanjo, or Vatsa, or whomever the Head of State declares an “enemy of the state,” and it took the same Council to order their execution, whether or not the Supreme Court agrees. Under this system, “National Security” entirely meant the “security of the government in power” and the protection with all kinds of perversity of the Head of that government. But that is no longer the case. For as long as Nigeria has a National Assembly, which shares equal, and sometimes greater power than the president, the source of laws and the making of the laws to which even the President is circumscribed is the Legislature.
Willful breaking of the laws of Nigeria or disregard of the acts enacted by the National Assembly by any president is regarded as a high crime for which such a president could be investigated, impeached, and tried by a tribunal mandated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And this change in the status of the Head of state or President under a democracy governed by laws means that the president must develop the skills for negotiations if his/her agenda is to be supported and passed in the National Assembly.
The president must be transparent or he would face scrutiny and inquiries that might lead to a constitutional clash, and often, no president wins a war with a properly established legislature. Obasanjo, leading the PDP government, was allowed to run rough-shod over the National Assembly without much consequence, and break the laws of Nigeria, because Nigeria was just coming out of a traumatic era of military dictatorship, and not many wanted to rock the apple cart, or challenge him too much. But this situation is changing rapidly as citizens investment in nation-building grows. This 8th Assembly under the leadership of Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, more than any since the second transition to democracy, has asserted legislative independence, and confronted the presidency on key legislative and policy issues. It could of course do more.
At the beginning of the legislative cycle, the APC had clearly won a majority, and seemed all set to run the government with but slight opposition. That is, they controlled the senate, the House of Representatives- with comfortable majorities, and they had the Presidency. They could pass any legislation, push through the president’s agenda, both his domestic agenda and his foreign policy, and they could effect “change.” But it quickly became evident that one, the party that won the elections had no program of action.
It took this president about eighth months to establish a functioning government. In the period, between the President’s listless and confused dawdling, and the internal rifts that quickly emerged in his party’s Legislative leadership, Nigeria slid into serious economic crisis. Investor confidence declined. Consumer capacity became limited given the low circulation of money. Job losses quickly followed with these congeries of factors. To further this growing crisis, President Buhari’s appointments and early policy thrust quickly alienated a critical population of Nigerians, especially the Igbo, catalysts of Nigeria’s economic life, many who began to hoard capital in fear of what they felt were Buhari’s adversarial policies, and close shops, and in some cases move their businesses abroad. The hoary effect of the Buhari years has been economic uncertainty, division, and the uncertainty of National security and public safety.
It is difficult to point to any real achievements in the last four years of this presidency. Corruption is still very high, and would remain so for as long as the public bureaucracy remains in its current composition and structure. Nigeria remains unsafe from Boko Haram and the so-called Fulani militia are on the prowl. Poverty is rife. The populace is vastly alienated from public leadership. Buhari, and his party’s recourse has been to continue to blame Jonathan almost four years to the day.
The excuse that Jonathan had more revenue and left too many problems inherited by this administration has also been shot down by Buhari’s critics who point out that he has enjoyed equally high oil revenue compared to the first six years of the Obasanjo administration, which still managed, whether one likes Obasanjo or not, to effect significant economic turn-around with far less than Buhari has received. These are the issues that confront Buhari as he seeks re-election.