One Year of Buhari

Nigeria is unlucky to be led by Muhammadu Buhari at this time, and Buhari is unlucky to have come to office at this time. Had he won in 2003 or 2007, perhaps his government’s policies could have arrested the nation’s economic and moral decline. And the war on corruption and indiscipline would have been an opportunity to slay the hydra-headed monster.

What I consider as Buhari’s major achievement in one year is that he has forced everyone to be frugal. There have been fewer invitations to “owambe” parties and naming ceremonies!  Then, there has been an attempt to curtail, not kill, corruption by exposing select culprits. Killing the monster in Nigeria now is out of the question: there would be so many casualties that everyone would agree it’s better to have corruption than to curtail it. As the largest employer of labour, corruption is the only industry that has been pampered and nurtured by the successive regimes. Any leader dreaming of dismantling it ought to, first, create an alternative.  Not palliatives or pap, but another major industry where those to be displaced would be gainfully employed. Any attempt to put the cart before the horse would be unsuccessful – and even suicidal. The most corrupt Nigerians are also the richest. Can Buhari take them on?

A probe of PDP’s campaign funds alone does not qualify as corruption fight; the ruling APC should also be probed. Exposure of a few thieving ex-military chiefs is not enough; all former military and civilian leaders, drug dealers and 419 fraudsters should show us the trees in their compounds that grow naira and dollar bills or forfeit their assets. Halliburton, Siemens, Panama Papers and other scandals must be unearthed.

The people judge every government by the amount of good life it provides – how the government has enabled them to eat well and live well. No government has succeeded in convincing them to believe the contrary. They no longer listen to endless appeals for endless sacrifice. Buhari, a man always on a rescue mission, should have got the message after his election. Everyone can attest to his integrity. But denial of some election promises has cast an ugly slur on his and his party’s honesty: they should have made clear the distinction between election-winning promises and the reality.

Within this past year, many in Buhari’s party and in his government have complained of his lack of flexibility. It was a weakness that denied him the No. 2 post in 1976 (Shehu Yar’Adua got it) and led to the overthrow of his military government in 1985. He yielded a little, in my view, when he led the PTF from 1995 to 1999. He allowed experts to help him, and projects were awarded to qualified consultants. Though corruption was not eliminated completely in PTF, money flowed freely and many were happy. I’m surprised that Buhari, who owes his election last year largely to the poor performance of President Jonathan, has not learnt from the PTF experience.

Another weakness of Buhari is lack of diplomacy in communication. He likes to speak the truth, but it’s not the truth that sets a leader free, especially in international politics. He has de-marketed Nigeria abroad. He has injured the feelings of many supporters by saying he won’t treat states that gave him 5 per cent equally with those that gave him 97 per cent. What happened to “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”?  The most recent gaffe – his threat to deal with oil vandals as he did Boko Haram – is suspected to have reignited militancy in the Niger Delta and cut revenues from crude oil.

Buhari is not to blame for the parlous state of the economy. He didn’t bring down oil price. He didn’t erect the faulty structure that has plagued Nigeria since independence. Nor was he instrumental in the emergence of bad leaders over the years. To succeed in his rescue mission, however, he must work like a revolutionary. The faulty structure that is Nigeria needs reform. Injustice has to be redressed before we can have peace. Should I say it again? Nigeria is going nowhere without far-reaching political, economic and administrative reforms.

It’s not yet too late to change direction. We’ve got one strong institution for fighting graft, the EFCC. Buhari should create or strengthen other institutions likewise, so as to make governance easier.

In 2009, US President Barack Obama clearly identified what I now consider as Buhari’s mistake: The worst thing a government can do is to withhold money during a recession. The Nigerian economy has been in a recession since Buhari mounted the saddle; never mind some who say we’re just entering into a recession. Many are facing death from hunger and starvation, businesses are bleeding, and almost everyone seems unhappy.

This regime may gloat over the TSA, yet it’s not its baby. The Jonathan regime that invented the TSA saw that its side-effects could be as fatal as corruption itself and decided to delay or abandon it. Yes, N3trillion has been saved in the TSA – money that could have been stolen or diverted. But it’s money that could have been pumped into the economy to trickle down to many, directly and indirectly. Meanwhile, TSA has not killed corruption in the public service. Scams abound. Indeed, payment of salaries to public servants (including federal, state and local lawmakers) who do no work could be regarded as an act of corruption, a waste.

In one year, Buhari has whittled Boko Haram down, not defeated it. But then, another war more terrible has broken out in the Niger Delta. If poorly handled, all of the country’s resources won’t be enough for tackling security alone. Bills generated by Boko Haram in the north-east are still waiting. So much for budgets!

Buhari should take governance to the grass roots: communities have to take charge of their security. Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers and other militants cannot operate successfully without the support of local communities. Rather than flood the Niger Delta with soldiers, Buhari should work with local and state governments while he engages leaders of the region in a sincere dialogue. And while he relies on security reports and advice, the president has to realise that crime and criminals thrive well in all the security agencies –Dasukigate has made that clear.

Jobs will not be created until the power problem is solved. Investors will not come until there is adequate power, security and rule of law. Detaining people like Nnamdi Kanu, Sambo Dasuki and even Boko Haram suspects while their trials proceed at snail’s speed doesn’t send a favourable message to both local and foreign investors.

Doing something different is the mark of revolutionaries. Buhari should set machinery in motion for reforms. He could dust up the 2014 conference and previous conferences’ reports, with the aim of replacing 36 states with six regions, and making the central government weaker through a review of the revenue-allocation formula.

Now that resources are not huge anymore, government should cease to be an employer of idlers – workers who do no work but earn salary. Move them to farmlands, construction sites and markets! Let the physically challenged work in offices.

If another presidential election were to take place today, Buhari would still win my vote but not the election. And if the government ended today, most Nigerians would remember it not for corruption fight or financial discipline but for job losses, high inflation, hike in petrol price and electricity tariff, forex squeeze, famine and hopelessness. It would be an unfair judgement, but nothing in life is fair. Buhari has an opportunity to erase these impressions through flexibility and better communication.


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