By Rotimi Fasan
TODAY’s inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for a second four-year term in office offers Nigerians an opportunity to take stock of the administration’s performance since 2015. It looks like yesterday but it is actually four years ago today that Buhari took the oath of office in Eagle’s Square in Abuja. It was on that occasion that he uttered those (in)famous words: “I belong to nobody. I belong to everybody.”
For many Nigerians, that statement now rings hollow in the light of what is today perceived as the President’s deliberate promotion of the interest of his Hausa-Fulani kith and kin and his bias for Northern Muslim men and women in appointment (I will return to this point shortly). These are criticisms levelled against the President by people generally considered his opponents. But even by his own self-defined parameters, Buhari falls short of the expectations of Nigerians. He has not lived up to the standard of performance he promised in his campaign or inaugural speech four years ago.
Buhari touted his credentials as a retired general of the Nigerian Army and promised to put an end to the insurgent activities of Boko Haram in the North-East. He made this promise against the backdrop of the group’s declaration of a caliphate across several states of the North-East in the face of the weak response of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. While Jonathan pushed back against Boko Haram in the last few months of his administration, Buhari it was that finally halted the spread of the dangerous government of the group across more states and finally dislodged it from the region.
This was, however, short-lived achievement, for no sooner was the group dislodged than its members regrouped in other parts of the North-East, attacking and sacking military bases and sending many soldiers to their untimely graves. Four years since the Jonathan administration, it is still a game of hide and seek between the security agencies, particularly the military, and Boko Haram.
Indeed under Buhari the security situation has both aggravated and taken a new dimension with the murderous activities of so-called herdsmen, mostly of Fulani extraction, that have turned armed banditry and kidnapping into a multi-billion naira business.
It is like trading one form of insecurity for another. The herdsmen have replaced Boko Haram or are, at the very least, the new face of the group. Considered the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, the herdsmen have defied almost all remedies prescribed to rein them in by the Nigerian government under Buhari. Even more damning for the government is the general perception that it has been unduly soft in its response to the herdsmen activities given the way it has related with associations such as the Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of cattle herders in the country.
Abuja under Buhari has taken a stance many Nigerians view as a policy directed at appeasing the herders whose mode of operation is by every material particular of a kind with ethnic cleansing. They sack villages, murder the male inhabitants, rape the women and go on to set up Fulani settlements. Many of the Fulani herders, that are in fact foreigners, are also involved in the pervasive abduction of Nigerians for huge ransoms. The most dangerous aspect of their activities is that it is nationwide, unlike Boko Haram that has a restricted domain of operation. In all of this, the Buhari administration has appeared helpless, weak and unwilling to act where it has otherwise adopted a strong-arm tactic to similar acts of insecurity in other parts of the country.
The government is alleged to be paying or about to pay huge sums of money to representatives of the herders association. The latest in these series of apparent acts of appeasement, many have argued in the wake of the alarm raised by a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, about an agenda to Fulanise and Islamise the country- the latest cause of anxiety among Nigerians is the plan to establish a radio for the exclusive use of the migrant herders.
The government has rejected this claim, saying the radio is for all nomadic Nigerians- fishermen and women, hunters and farmers, etc. Not many are convinced by the government’s explanation. No thanks to Buhari’s impatient dismissal of earlier concerns about the nature of his appointments and his apparent disdain of opponents of his administration.
The administration’s anti-corruption crusade is another area where it has fallen below expectation. This was a key issue of campaign in 2015 and even 2019. On the surface, it is no longer a free for all looting spree. The government may have plugged some of the holes through which the treasury was looted. There are ongoing prosecutions of corrupt officials and retrieval of stolen funds from past and present looters. Nevertheless, most of the fight has been directed at opponents of the government where the government has ignored massive plundering of the treasury by persons supposedly in its good book. From Aldulrasheed Maina, Babachir Lawal to less than transparent management of the oil subsidy and the entire operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the Buhari government has fallen below the demands of equity in its anti-corruption fight.
True, the economy has improved apace with the improvement in the price of crude oil; salaries are being paid more regularly even as inflation has fallen. Employment is, however, still low; recurrent costs still consume the lion’s share of our national budget and there are increasing fears of the economy sliding back into recession from where it emerged just over two years ago. With the increase in minimum wage and the consequent strain on the treasury, the government is already warning of a bumpy ride ahead. How more bumpy could the next four years be? Dat one na die!
There is a lot about the Buhari government’s agenda that demands serious reworking to improve it. Yet the government and indeed the President would need to be open to new ways of doing things, reject stale ideas and reach out to more Nigerians. Buhari’s dislike of change (in the name of loyalty?) and determination to reward non-performance has to go. The president loathes staying out of his comfort zone.
Which is why he retains his non-performing appointees, some of whom (Heavens forbid) might stage a comeback in his new cabinet going by the mutual back slapping of the penultimate Federal Executive Council meeting.
Nigerians should in the next four years support Buhari to take us to a better place. But he must deserve that support by running an inclusive government in which he tries to achieve his campaign promises of ensuring security, fighting corruption and improving the economy.