Buhari, the People and Democracy

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Sonnie Ekwowusi
A legal practitioner, Ekwowusi has been assisting governments and private clients on public reforms

Like the morning dew that falls and instantly disappears, the euphoria that greeted the 29th May, 2015 inauguration was not only short-lived but was soon replaced with a lull. First, it took President Muhammadu Buhari nearly six months to form his cabinet. Even after the formation of the much-vaunted cabinet, the emptiness continued unabated. At the onset, President Buhari wanted to dismantle the pre-existing Goodluck Jonathan structure. He wanted to make a clean break from what he considered as the corrupt past. However, from what has been happening since the May 29 2015 inauguration, it is obvious that after dismantling the Goodluck Jonathan structure the Buhari administration has been unable to replace it with an alternative viable structure.

Some analysts maintain that President Buhari and the APC were so obsessed with wresting power from the PDP that they gave little or no heed to envisioning policies to improve the worsening living condition of the Nigerian people. In other words, prior to assuming power, the APC had no pre-conceived ideological vision worth experimenting with. That is why it has now quickly crafted what it termed the 34 Priority Projects which include governance, security and diversification of the economy. Which means that before coming to power the APC was not prepared for political leadership.

It is very clear today that the APC came to power with empty hands. It came to power to learn on the job. If the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, is not quarreling with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in public, Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed is gesticulating somewhere making policy summersaults. Before now, the leadership of the APC rejected subsidy removal. Now it has made a volte-face and embraced subsidy removal.

Meanwhile, President Buhari has been failing to keep his election campaign promises. For example, he has reneged on his promise to pay unemployed Nigerian N5, 000; he has failed to crush Boko Haram six months after assuming office as he promised; he has removed fuel subsidy which he said he would never do and he has failed to make N1 to equal $1 US.
From liberation we are now walking towards retrogression. Poverty continues to ravage the country with greater intensity. Prices of foodstuffs have risen astronomically. With the increase in the pump price of fuel, the average Nigerian motorist who is probably earning about N18, 000 minimum wage per month will have to cough out a gargantuan N10, 000 every now and then to re-fuel his or her car.

In response, President Buhari pleads for patience and understanding. Mr. Tony Momoh pleads for time. He advises the Nigerian people to stone the APC if it fails to perform after two years. Considering Nigeria’s myriads of problems, no reasonable person expected a magical transformation of Nigeria in the last one year. What has been missing in the Buhari government is proper direction. The Buhari government has not able to strike the right chord that will produce the right music. We are seeing a government that is not moving according to the people’s pace.

Doubtless, the Buhari government has succeeded in the last one year, even if symbolically, in passing a strong message that the days of profligacy, reckless expenditure and looting of government treasury are over in Nigeria. For sure, Buhari enjoys the full support of the Nigerian people in the war against corruption. Surely, if President Buhari manages in the next two or three years to reduce corruption in Nigeria he will carve a special niche for himself in the political history of Nigeria. But all that Nigerians have been telling Buhari is that the war against corruption should be waged across board. No selective justice. No sacred cows.

The truth of the matter is that ridding Nigeria of corruption and improving the living conditions of the ordinary Nigerians are not mutually exclusive. Therefore the former cannot supplant the latter. Neither should the government take refuge in the former. The Buhari government should understand that government is not an end in itself: it is only a means to an end- the welfare of the people.

It was John Dewey, an American philosopher and educationist, who once stated that since we need a shoe maker to make shoes we equally need a shoe wearer to say where the shoe pinches. In same way, since the people directly bear the full brunt of visionless leadership, the government ought to conduct its activities in line with the aspirations of the people. After all, Vox Populi Vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God). And the one aspiration binding all Nigerian people is to have access to basic necessities of life. Therefore, as President Buhari marks one year in office he should invest heavily in improving the welfare of the ordinary citizen.

For me, the most powerful and promising statement made by President Buhari since he assumed office was made while signing the budget into law. Mr. President said, inter alia, that he would diversify the Nigerian economy. Therefore the greatest challenge facing the Buhari government is diversification of the economy by making the country less dependent on oil. The government should immediately marshal out concrete initiatives to boost food production in Nigeria.

If neigbouring African countries such as Cameroun which are not as richly-endowed as Nigeria are producing enough food to feed her citizens, why can’t Nigeria do so with all her abundant resources? Basic food production must not fall prey to power politics. Government and banks should develop schemes to provide credit facilities to farmers to invest in mechanized agriculture. Massive rural-urban drift decimating the rural farm workforce should be tackled by making the rural areas attractive for young rural job seekers.

Paradoxically, successive governments in Nigeria have always initiated projects towards promoting agriculture but the projects failed to yield the maximum results due to corruption, structural weaknesses, mismanagement, undue politicization etc. For example, the second National Economic Plan (1970-74) of Yakubu Gowon made agriculture a priority, but unfortunately that effort failed to yield maximum results. Between 1975 and 1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo initiated a gargantuan agricultural scheme popularly called Operation Feed the nation (OFN), but the scheme failed to tackle the country’s food crisis.

Upon coming to power as the first Nigerian democratically-elected President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari introduced the Green Revolution Programme with a view to increasing domestic food production and curtailing the increasing food import bills. But after recording a partial success, that programme also failed calamitously especially from the scandals surrounding the importation of rice. The Idiagbon/Buhari/Abacha military regimes made little or no efforts to boost food production in the country. The Obasanjo civilian government merely paid lip service to agriculture.

The point has repeatedly been made that a country as richly-endowed as Nigeria should not be littered with so many frustrated people venting their anger in the streets. Human development is the epicenter of all developments. It is a shame that whilst Nigeria is beating her chest in euphoria of being the “giant of Africa” she cannot feed her citizens.
As President Buhari marks one year in office, he should refrain from doing anything that could lead to the abuse of democracy. It was to guard against abuses in democracy that Plato wanted the experts, the enlightened or the guardians as he called them in his Republic to be in charge of politics. Therefore the Buhari government should have a human face. The President’s handlers and advisers should polish Mr. President’s public image.

I have listened to some Buhari’s interviews and I have the feeling that he is arrogant in his speech. Besides, President Buhari conveys the impression both in his speech and action that he is doing the Nigerian people a favour by being their President. It is a wrong way to think. The Presidency is neither his personal fiefdom nor anybody’s fiefdom. Democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people.

If there is one cardinal democratic principle which was aptly demonstrated in the last elections in Nigeria it is that popular participation is the ultimate safeguard of democratic norms. The American founding fathers aptly recaptured this ageless truth when they said many years ago that, “governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. By voluntarily entrusting to a few elected people with the responsibility of governing their affairs, the people have not relinquished their power.
In short, the people are the repository of political power. They can invoke that power at periodic elections to either vote for a popular government or even vote out an unpopular government. In the same vein, they can invoke that power in their perfunctory assessment of government policies.

After voting in favour of independence on 2 July, 1776, the American delegates debated the text of Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of Independence for three days. In the aforesaid famous text, Jefferson stated what the English political writer John Locke stated about 90 years earlier that government originates from a social contract between the government and the people and that contract is breached by the failure of the government to perform its obligations under the contract.

Finally, as the APC-led administration of President Buhari marks one year in office, it should espouse some ideologies to enable the people identify with it as a political party capable of improving their well-being. It should implement policies that can advance the best interests of the people. The APC change philosophy should be properly defined. The change mantra should have a political component, social component and an economic component.

The political component should be hinged on politics of inclusion not exclusion. Lest President Buhari forgets, some parts of the country especially the South-East still feel marginalized in the scheme of things in the Buhari government. The gross negligence of the Buhari government in tackling the menace of the herdsmen has heightened this fear of marginalization. Whether this fear is real or imagined, President Buhari and the APC should endeavour to address it and if possible offer concrete solutions to it. The Buhari government should run an all-inclusive government. It must eschew hatred and partiality of any sort. That is the only way it can succeed in building a new national aspiration aimed at promoting justice, unity, peace and mutual understanding.