Not a few concerns can explain the All Progressives Congress’ diminishing goodwill, writes Olawale Olaleye
There is an existential debate on the state of the nation. The debate is no longer on whether the staggering goodwill or the messianic perception that brought the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power is fast declining or the obvious inability to hold down its promises; it is one that tends to x-ray some of the factors responsible for the obvious and sudden turn in the tide for the ruling party and in such a short time.
Even niggling too, is the fast vanishing mystique of President Muhammadu Buhari (remember the famous body language theory), whose larger than life image was believed to have consumed a sitting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, even though the eventual vote difference at the presidential election didn’t attest to the staggering hype that preceded the election.
However, in situating what could have or still be wrong to the extent that a party so demonised with allegations of corruption, gross incompetence and being completely anti-people suddenly had a rebound and had been doing very well at each electoral opportunity, despite the leadership crisis that almost tore it apart since it lost power in 2015. Perhaps, some of the factors below could be helpful in trying to locate where and how the APC missed it.
The Jonathan Must Go Narrative
One thing that was clear from the result of the 2015 elections and some of the developments afterwards is that the election was essentially not between the APC and the PDP; it was one between the former president, Jonathan and the people of Nigeria, albeit the PDP was the willing vehicle that conveyed Jonathan to the losing destination. All that the people wanted was for Jonathan to go, because he was believed, not only to have lost it but unable to show leadership, whilst the political will required to make hard choices was evidently absent. Jonathan was the one Nigerian leader, who was in government but not in power.
Thus, this swirling perception then paved the way for the change mantra, which in spite of its seeming inauspiciousness, had its way through for Jonathan’s sake. Nothing, however, confirms this position than some of the events that started playing out shortly after the 2015 elections, the results of some of the rerun polls especially. APC seems to be keen more about grabbing power, but not prepared to effectively use the power for the collective good of the people through profound delivery of good governance. It rather wallowed in the tweaked narrative of Jonathan must go and today, the truth of its unpreparedness is self-evident.
It’s the Economy, Stupid!
In the lead up to the 2015 general election, there was no debating President Buhari’s obvious lack of understanding of the economy. From some of his interviews (both local and international) to speeches delivered at rallies and on the state of the nation, Buhari could not hide the fact that he lacked the intellectual capacity to tame a troubled economy like Nigeria’s. Perhaps, it was the reason his handlers and party claimed then that his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, would be in charge of the economy while Buhari would face corruption and insecurity, his perceived areas of strength.
But whatever result that arrangement has been able to birth, the economy is still the issue today. It was no surprise too that Professor Wole Soyinka once admonished on the need to convoke an emergency conference on the state of the economy. Although the situation has improved a bit, the economy was for a long time in a very bad shape. Even then, there is still inflation; the deficient foreign exchange policy has done a lot of hurt to manufacturers and small businesses, a majority of which had shut down, resulting in gross loss of jobs and ultimately, exacerbating the poverty level in the country.
Unwarranted De-marketing of Nigeria
For reasons many people were and still unable to fathom, President Buhari started off his presidency by de-marketing the country and her citizenry before the world. An example that stood out was when the president was in London sometime last year for the global anti-corruption summit, hosted by a former British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron. The former British PM, while joking with the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, had described Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt nation. This had elicited the rage of many Nigerians both home and abroad and had expected a ‘brilliant response’ from their leader.
Later on in the day, when asked during a session with Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Dominic Waghorn, the president would rather give credence to the words of Cameron and admitted that Nigeria was corrupt. Buhari, who did not even realise he was giving the country away very cheaply, said he would not demand any apology from Cameron or anyone at that for stating the obvious. Rather, his concern was for them to help with looted funds.
Unsurprisingly though, two years after assuming office and in spite of his many trips abroad soliciting international cooperation and understanding about the stolen funds, not a dime of the looted funds had been repatriated to Nigeria, yet, the image blight sticks like a leach on the country as a sovereign state and on individual Nigerians, many of them going about their legit businesses but had to share of the collective blacklisting as much as bear the indignation of this undeserving stigma, courtesy of the president’s apparent indiscretion.
Avoidable Budget Blues
Back to back, the two budgets so far presented by this government were fraught with avoidable mess and needless muscle-flexing between the executive and the legislature. First off, nothing really could explain the fact that the first budget that was presented by President Buhari as a civilian leader was a serious embarrassment to everything that the change mantra sought to represent. It started with reports that the budget was missing and then, two copies of the budget with differing contents in some areas surfaced. It went a notch up the obnoxious following alleged padding of the figures from ministry to ministry and then, the irregularities contained therein.
It didn’t stop there. It was later revealed in the course of the many inquests into the budget that it was no longer going to be zero-based. That was the first budget. And, aside the controversy on the over-bloated and replicated sub-heads, there were issues of unrealistic assumptions in the budget too.
For instance, the budget was then based on an oil price benchmark of $38 per barrel and a production estimate of 2.2 million barrels per day, coupled with the terrible exchange rate and inflation. Then, the second budget was no better. Apart from coming late, there were allegations of unintended alterations believed to have messed up the estimates of some ministries, causing disaffection between the executive and the legislature.
Coming from this experience, which apart from exposing the apparent failure of leadership, also to a very large extent, showed the administration’s weakness on matters of the economy and the budgeting process, a shortcoming that was seemingly inexcusable in view of what was and still at stake.
Buhari’s Tardiness, Junketing and Health Challenge
President Buhari is believed to have since assuming office shown his inability to hold down some of the demands of his office, considerably. First, it took him about five months to submit a list of his prospective team to the National Assembly, changing dates as if he planned to bring onboard people from a different planet. This is aside the fact that he was alleged to have put up the final list without consulting the party leadership, an action responsible for the crisis of mistrust in the party as the place of caucuses had been demystified.
To compound this was the fact that, before his health situation took its toll, the president did not sit back at home for two months at a stretch without travelling abroad, even when the situation back home kept deteriorating each passing day. From the time he assumed office till the point his health matter manifested, Buhari had travelled to no fewer than 25 countries in the alleged search for bi-lateral relationship and some of the countries, he visited two or three times. Results of these trips, Nigerians are yet to see manifest.
But his health finally caved in, resulting in his having to be away from his desk for so long. The first time he traveled to London for medical check-up, he spent about 50 days. This second trip is nearing 100 days since he left the shores of the country, although he fulfilled all constitutional demands before travelling.
Whilst there has been anxiety on the state of his health, the information management of his team has shown a rather arrogant government, whose head is treated more like a private citizen as against the public person that he is. And despite the ongoing protest against his long absence from work, protesters have been dispersed with tear gas by the police.
‘Selective’ Anti-corruption War
Another critical factor that may have shaped and still shaping the perception and disposition of Nigerians to the Buhari presidency is the approach to the fight against corruption. The feeling is pervasive that Buhari is prosecuting a selective anti-graft war against carefully identified persons perceived as enemies of his administration and others he is believed to have personal axe to grind with. There is no doubting the fact that the war has opened a lot of can of worms since it was launched, in what could pass as having recorded success. But sadly, it has been more of a distraction and an albatross than posting impressive progress reports, when analysed as a whole.
The tendency to arrive at this mindset stemmed from the fact that whilst the PDP was in power, it prosecuted its own people more, setting personal examples in the fight against graft from within, even though the degree of rot that was recorded in that era did not justify its efforts in the containment of graft. But despite the petitions and allegations against some persons in the APC, the government has continued to look away as if those allegations do not matter.
And where the argument was that the PDP descended on its people because it felt they were corrupt as against what appears the position of the APC, the counter-argument is that the APC is mostly populated by former members of the PDP, and so, what difference does it really make? The other argument is that it was the PDP that was in power for 16 years and so key players at that time are those that would be asked to account for their stewardship. But the APC government, it was expected, could have done more beyond the typical media trial of persons to prove that the fight was not selective and personal in some instances.
95% Versus 5% Entitlement Theory
During one of his early visits to the United States of America shortly after the elections, President Buhari was asked during a session with international journalists how he planned to contain some of the agitations in the Niger Delta region of the country and he glibly said the basis for addressing their needs would be based on the kind of support he received from them. There, he mooted the theory of not according the same attention to people who gave 95 per cent support and those who grudgingly gave five per cent.
The president was quick to forget that immediately the elections were over and he emerged president, he had become the president of Nigeria and no longer the candidate of the APC or any part of the country. Even if he planned to pay any part of the country back in their own coin, should the president of any country travel that route verbally? Maybe no! Immediately former US President Barack Obama won his re-election in 2012, he forbade that the American people were seen along the blue and the red states demarcation, which is usually the political way of distinguishing states during electoral contest in the US. That, of course, is living true to expectation as a leader of all. But Buhari failed that simple and cheap test and the results of that are some of the agitations going on in some parts of the country.
Boko Haram and the ‘Technical Victory’ Propaganda
Perhaps, it might be safe to assume that no civilian government in contemporary Nigerian history has dwelt in sheer propaganda as much as the Buhari government and one of the ways it is quick to give itself away is the often contradictory situation report on the Boko Haram insurgency.
Often tagged “technical victory”, a language many Nigerians are unable to relate or identify with, the government has continued to use propaganda in the fight against insurgency. Whilst government has consistently claimed that there is no Nigerian territory under the grip of the insurgents, and even demonstrated its technical victory over the sect with the presentation of Boko Haram flag recovered in Sambisa Forest to the president, the Senator representing Borno Central, Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, said not too long ago that nearly half of Borno was still under the sect. But with Boko Haram’s violent resurgence in recent time, nothing puts more lie to government’s crude propaganda.
What more, Cameroonian forces months back came to the rescue of Nigeria, when they stormed the territories of Boko Haram, routed them, killed about 167 insurgents and also freed about 300 hostages and towns said to have been under the caliphate of the sect. To many people, that amounted to dishonesty in leadership and might have created a rather damning impression altogether, even though government has not stopped to provide ‘alternative facts’ in the fight against insurgency.
A Divided Presidency
A certain development that has exposed the character of this government about power and its management is the lack of unity of purpose right in the presidency. Before Buhari embarked on his medical trip, the truth about the division in the presidency had become public knowledge. But more than any other incidences, nothing confirmed this than the controversial nomination of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, who was discredited twice by the Department of State Services (DSS) in its report, the basis of which he was rejected the two times by the Senate.
Now, pause for a moment and ask: on what grounds would a critical agency of government write a report twice on a nominee of the president to another arm of government and the report would be dismissed by separate interests? Curiously, in all of this, the president did not only stay away from the fray, he acted as if he was helpless, and watched the hawks take over control of the government. That has made the headship of a critical anti-corruption agency to continue to hang in the balance. It is yet again a failure of leadership for which the APC must admit responsibility.
Disobedience to Court Orders
Another interesting feature of the Buhari administration is that it is notorious for disobeying court orders. And whenever this debate comes up, two people are usually in mind: former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Shiite Muslim group, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, both of whom have been kept in detention for two years running. And whenever government is constrained to speak about this, its comments are always at variance with the principles of rule of law. There is no way the people will not assess the APC on this account and of course, it is part of factors responsible for the party’s declining rating.
Also, the government’s failure to exercise caution in certain sensitive cases was generally believed to be responsible for the needless arrest of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, whose arrest is more expedient now than ever, having even flouted practically all his bail conditions. But again, it stands to reason that had the government not picked him up then and detained him for several months, there would not have been a reason for the latest call for his arrest or the messianic posturing he suddenly landed overnight. It is a simple result of the government’s incautiousness.
The Restructuring Debate
Just another issue that has exposed the hypocrisy of the APC government is its seemingly ambivalent position on the ongoing debate about the restructuring of the country. Before the Buhari presidency came onboard, the party and its members were proponents of restructuring, ostensibly in the interest of peace and unity.
Naturally, therefore, anyone would have expected that upon assuming office, it would be an agenda on the front burner. But now that even people who did not believe in the idea have started coming out to lend their voices to the need for a restructuring of the system, the party and government failed to lead the discourse, thus making it a free for all. Interestingly, when the party was going to save face by setting up a committee to examine the issue, it appointed the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, as its chair, a man who had openly dismissed the idea of restructuring and chided its proponents. No wonder the rising number of self determination groups and the growing call for secession. The APC and its government haven’t fared well here.
The crisis and mistrust between the executive and legislature following the inauguration of the leadership of the National Assembly in June of 2015, have portrayed the APC led government in bad light. Although executive/legislative rivalry is largely seen as one of the attributes of any promising democracy the world over, it however becomes dangerous when either of the arms seeks to deliberately undermine the other or prevent it from carrying out its constitutionally stipulated functions. For over a year after the inauguration of the National Assembly leadership, the parliament was a theatre of intrigues between the executive and the legislature. Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara won their respective positions against the wish of the party, with the support of PDP legislators – a development which ignited a face-off between the presidency and the lawmakers who insisted on exercising their powers to elect their preferred leaders. Shortly after his emergence as Senate President, Saraki was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over assets declaration forms he filed several years ago. As he was facing the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Saraki was dragged, with the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (elected on the platform of PDP), before another court on allegations of forgery of Senate Rules, that enabled them to emerge as presiding officers. While all this lasted, the presidency had little interface with the presiding officers of the Senate while the party did not engage its parliamentary caucus to push its manifesto into legislative agenda. The result was the midterm scorecard of the government which many believed was below average. However, whilst the relationship between the president and leaders of the National Assembly, particularly Senate President Saraki, might have improved significantly, the one between the two institutions is far from being cordial as both continue to flex muscles over their constitutional powers.
The Absence of a Strong Party Caucus
Although the place of caucuses has featured in a few of the factors aforementioned, it remains one of the biggest challenges confronting the APC. Since the APC came to power in May 2015, the party has been gradually and subtly reduced into irrelevance in the scheme of things, particularly in the area of political appointments. Although attempts were made few times to create an impression that the party was consulted before decisions were made, that had turned out to be mere formality as its input did not shape executive decisions. The absence of strong party caucuses remains a major and in fact, the most critical undoing of this government. Two years after gaining control of power at the centre, the APC has not been able to constitute its Board of Trustees and at the same time still struggling with holding a proper national convention. The outcome of its recent non-elective congresses was a reminder of the ugly past. Too many things are not right with the ruling party, and this is compounded by the fact that in Nigeria as it is in some part of the world, the president or governor is the automatic leader of the party at their respective levels but unfortunately, Buhari has not provided the much needed leadership, hence, the party is avoidably adrift.
While the APC is still in search of ways to assert its influence as the ruling party two years after its victory at the poll, what its members and leadership have and which helps to allay temporary fears is that there is a government in place. For now, many believe APC has failed to live up to expectations in many respects and the goodwill that heralded its coming to power has greatly diminished.
Although not an impossible issue to fix, the situation may have been further compounded now by the lack of a rally point as a result of the absence of leadership occasioned by the president’s long medical vacation. However, how they are able to fix this is not the issue, but how it would not affect the balance of power in the elections of 2019 without making a mess of the entire political and electoral calculus, because with this plethora of gaffes by the ruling party, the future doesn’t look any good, either for the party or its government.