Buhari: Still on the Soap Box

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One year after his failure to chart a distinct developmental path for the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari is still literarily on the soap box, making promises and canvassing intentions. Iyobosa Uwugiaren writes

Even President Muhammadu Buhari could not celebrate his first anniversary in office. He merely addressed Nigerians on May 29, through a nationwide broadcast, and practically grieved over the circumstances that inhibited his inability to keep to his campaign promises in the last one year.

“It has been a year of triumph, consolidation, pains and achievements. By age, instinct and experience, my preference is to look forward, to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead and rededicate the administration to the task of fixing Nigeria,” the President stated.

But like a proverbial Lizard, who fell from Iroko tree, the President, nevertheless, pounded his chest, praising himself for his consistent efforts to rescue Nigeria from the hands of those, who want to destroy it. He recently reminded Nigerians how he had rallied the support of the international community: the G7, the US, France and the UN against the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, and that today, his efforts had paid off, that the terrorists had lost their capacity to carry out the kind of spectacular attacks for which they became infamous.

Just as his “administration has largely succeeded in fighting terrorists,” Buhari impressed it on his audience how he is also squarely taking on corruption, and winning the war. He told Nigerians how he had recovered billions of dollars from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s men including the $2.1 billion arms fund, meant to procure arms and ammunition for the Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram.

“We are also engaged in making recoveries of stolen assets some of which are in different jurisdictions. The processes of recovery can be tedious and time-consuming, but today I can confirm that thus far, significant amount of assets have been recovered. A considerable portion of these is at different stages of recovery,” Buhari said.

On the nation’s economy, President Buhari reminded Nigerians how the nation had lost a sizeable chunk of its earnings to the massive crash in the price of oil, which had crashed from over $100 to about $30 a barrel. He said for a mono-product economy, this is nothing short of disaster; but that his administration had decided to turn this disaster to a blessing by diversifying the economy away from oil to agriculture, solid minerals, culture and tourism in order to rejuvenate the economy.

With these efforts on, Buhari added that his administration had decided to plug all financial loopholes through the Treasury Singles Account (TSA), into which over N2trillion had been accrued – funds that ordinarily would have gone into private pockets. The President cited other things he is doing to reposition the country.

“For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimises the weak; a society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom; a society that fails to recognise that to quote the distinguished economist Amartya Sen, “Poverty is not just lack of money; it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being,” he stated.

But in spite of Buhari’s self-acclaimed achievements and his lamentation over why he couldn’t function effectively in the last 365 days in office, there is a swelling public opinion that the president is still literarily on the soap box, where political promises and intentions are canvassed.

Some of his ardent critics, including knowledgeable scholars, Professor Ben Nwabuze, had repeatedly canvassed that Buhari, an uninspiring public speaker with faint voice, though has a commanding persona with head and shoulders taller than virtually everybody else, does not have the capacity to govern Nigeria, even though a few of his ardent and cult-like followers would not accept this harsh verdict.

Buhari won the 2015 general election, after running for the office for about 12 years with several promises to turn the nation around. During his campaign, he did everything to make the general public, including the international community, appreciate that he was not the Buhari they once knew – a die-hard military dictator, who entertains no opposition.

Assisted with very experienced political communicators and spin-doctors in both tradition and new media, he was “well-packaged” for the public. Unlike the real Buhari who is used to his Fulani attires – flowing babariga and a cap to match at all time, he went as far as wearing an ill-fitting western suit and bow-tie to make the electorate raise the value of his fully conversion.

To sell him to the international community during the presidential campaign, Buhari’s promoters took him to Chatham House, in London, the UK’s foreign policies formulation institute, to convince the public there that although he was a venomous, ruthless military die-hard dictator many years ago, he had become a true democrat, and it worked for them for the election.

With Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Redeemed Christian Church of God Pastor beside him as running mate, many Nigerians had concluded that Buhari was a new creature, hoping that like the Biblical saying: “old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new.”

What more? Unlike the Buhari the general public, especially those not old enough in the early 80s, used to know as proponent of George Orwell’s “1984”, the President presented himself during his inaugural presidential speech as a perfectionist for democratic particulars. He had promised not to interfere with the workings of the judiciary and proclaimed the sacrosanctity of the separation of powers among the three arms of government.

For Buhari, who ransacked many prominent politicians’ houses including that of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, seized their international passports and prevented them from travelling abroad, when he seized power in 1983, the President, had on assuming office, proclaimed that nobody would be barred from traveling abroad.
He had dispensed encomiums on his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, thanking him for “his display of statesmanship in setting a precedent for us that has now made our people proud to be Nigerians wherever they are.”

By interpretation, Buhari had admitted strongly that Jonathan did what himself failed to do on three different occasions – yielding to defeat at the end of polls – and promised not to go after his enemies. “A few people have privately voiced fears that on coming back to office, I shall go after them. These fears are groundless. There will be no paying off old scores. The past is prologue,” he had said.

However, ask many Nigerians today about Buhari’s promises, the popular response will surely be disappointment and restlessness, even though many of those who know him very well say they are not disappointed about his inability to make possible the “simple deliverables” to Nigerians.

Most Nigerians surely voted for him on the basis of fabled tales of his past: a no-nonsense person, who will “whip” everybody to line through the instrumentality of law. But today, the greatest disappointment of all, especially for Buhari’s supporters, is that he has not inspires hope for them and the nation in the last one years; he has not lived up to the expectations of many Nigerians and as a president, who went round the entire country proclaiming “Change, Change.”

Today, he appears to be confirming the current popular swansong among Nigerians that “all we wanted was change but what we are getting from Buhari is chain.” For many political and economic experts, Buhari’s policies and pronouncements in the last one year has portrayed him as somebody, who has failed woefully to even identify any innovation to socio-political and economic trials of the nation.
To be sure, day after day, many Nigerians are forced to believe that what Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) envisioned all along was just a change of government. And now that this has been consummated, Nigerians can go and drink acid if they like.

“The impression Buhari gives every day is that either he does not have a clue on what exactly to do with his plum office or he has never really believed he would win the election,” Friday Ogierahki, a political commentator said.
“Apart from his suspected plagiarised sentence in his inaugural speech: I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody, all his dealings and public comments in the last one year have not really stimulated hope and confidence among those who elected him.”

The huge expectation of many Nigerians was that since March 28, 2015, when he won the presidential election, the president would have defined his core policy direction. But it took him over six months to even form his cabinet, and nearly a year to start implementing his first national budget. And the president recently acquired a new name: “Baba-go-slow” or “Slow-thinking President” etc.

Check the current piping hot issue of fuel scarcity, Buhari has failed woefully but disappointing, to offer positive succour. Throughout his predecessor’s regime, part of the reasons given for the fuel scarcity was the doubt of marketers and banks about the incoming government’s (Buhari) position on the question of petroleum subsidy. Until recently when he removed the controversial subsidy, after wasting over N300billion for subsidy payment, when the reality finally dawns on him, he refused to make a definite position on the vexed issue.

At a time, he said the subsidy was a scam. Before then, the entire nation’s socio-political and economic activities were crippled for over seven months as a result of fuel shortage across the country. Just recently, he finally served Nigerians with iniquitous new fuel price regime of N145 per litre amidst suffocating economic conditions.

In the power sector, Buhari is yet to define his direction. The nation is in total darkness. During the campaign, the President promised 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2019. But there is currently no clear roadmap to achieve that. As at May 17, the total amount of power available to Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to distribute to homes and offices across Nigeria dropped to 1,400 megawatts (MW).
The electricity generation into the national grid has dropped to 1,400MW because of what the TCN described as operational challenges being experienced by gas power generation companies in the country. He had confessed that sabotage and theft of gas were undermining the efforts of his government to increase power supply in the country.

One area Buhari appears to be making wave in the estimation of his admirers is fighting corruption. They claimed billions of dollars have been recovered from the looters in the last one year. But one of the foreign dailies reported recently that UK had committed £860 million in foreign aid to Nigeria, to boost Africa’s largest economy and support the country’s efforts to crush Boko Haram terror group, but claimed that Western officials had raised concerns that President Buhari was misusing the funds to persecute political opponents.
To be sure, since Buhari came to power last May, a number of prominent members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been arrested and detained in the name of fighting corruption without charge. There are reports that hundreds of suspects, including “22 members” of the opposition PDP are being detained in EFCC’s custody across the country, for refusing to sign documents to refund huge amount of fund, majorly campaign funds.

This recently forced many lawyer and human rights advocate to ask the President to order investigations into a variety of acts of impunity and human rights abuses under his government, particularly extra-judicial execution of criminal suspects by the police and the unlawful killing of unarmed civilians including women and children by the armed forces.

There is a near consensus that Buhari is yet to drop his military garment. Records show that last December, the army massacred 347 people in Zaria because the Shiites, members of an Islamic scet were alleged to have disturbed the free flow of traffic, which affected the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff. The bodies of the victims were said to have been secretly buried in a mass grave in Mango, Kaduna State.

Many of Buhari’s followers then supported the army because of the “extremism” of the leader of the sect, El-Zakzaky. The sect leader and his wife have been detained for over six months without trial.

From Kaduna State, the events in the last few weeks show clearly that the troops have since moved down to the Niger Delta region. Under the pretext of looking for the new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, many communities including Gbaramatu Kingdom have been sacked while innocent people have been brutally killed. Hundreds of youths have been arrested in lieu of the criminal militant gang.

According to media reports, two people were recently killed in Effurum, Delta State by an armed soldier for not observing environmental sanitation day. There are similar reports of brutalisation of people including children by the army all over the country where, “military operations” are fast being conducted.

A few days ago, the army reportedly took over and sealed off the Kogi State House of Assembly. Human rights activists recently argued that the violent attack on the MASSOB/IPOB members had to be viewed within the context of the increasing militarisation of national polity. “Having allowed the armed forces to usurp the constitutional duties of the police, it is now sorrows, tears and blood for the Nigerian people.”
Without any remorse whatsoever, the Nigerian army had announced that it killed five protesters and injured nine others during a rally in Onitsha, Anambra State, even though eyewitnesses put the casualties at 30. Many constitutional lawyers wonder why the federal government was not willing to respect the constitution, which provides that the armed forces can only be invited by the president to aid the police in case of insurrection or mutiny.

Many Nigerians are however not disappointed about Buhari’s supercilious and dictatorial posturing. A renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Nwabuze (SAN) recently said that Buhari is not going in the direction of democratic rule. And he is not surprised considering his antecedents.

Apart from his cult-like followers, there are steps clear to sound minds that Buhari is not a born again democrat. First, he ruled this country after May 29 for six months without ministers contrary to the constitution. The constitution does not confer out-and-out power on the President to rule anyhow.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated recently that Nigeria’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate had declined to -0.36 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to 2.11 per cent in Q4 of 2015, This negative GDP growth apparently confirms an earlier statement by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that the federal government was broke.

The unemployment rate has also climbed to 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared to 10.4 per cent in Q4 of 2015 and 9.9 per cent in the Q3 of 2015. For many, therefore, it is not a question of not being prepared for his office. The fact is that he lacks the capacity to govern as the problems are beyond him.

Like what Professor Nwabuze said, even if you give Buhari 20 years to prepare, it would still be beyond his capacity. Nwabuze’s argument is that Nigeria is a very complex country with over 389 ethnic nationalities and the complexities and the issues involved in ruling such a country are huge, which requires an intellectual issue, and Buhari does not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend what it means to govern the country.
They might be wrong, but many people believe the president has lost the opportunity to kindle an agenda. There are difficult decisions he needed to make but he squandered the huge opportunities and goodwill. He has failed to announce a Marshall Plan for the crisis-ridden North East destroyed by Boko Haram. He failed woefully to announce a call-to-arms for a return to agricultural revolution fired by his predecessor, which would have become a symbol of hope for Nigerians.

On security, the situation is almost the same: slow progress fighting terrorism. Buhari promised to deal effectively with Boko Haram in two months when he gets to office. He has since tried to back-pedal from this unrealistic deadline. But at his inauguration, he made another promise that is currently haunting him. “We cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents,” he had stated.

Now, Buhari is saying: “We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them.” A few weeks ago, there was seemingly calculated, questionable move to change the narrative of Chibok girls with the controversial discovery of two of the girls in Sambisa Forest.

Politically, Nigeria has never been divided since the nation’s independence than now. The country is sharply divided between the South and the North and between the Muslims and the Christians. With his preferential treatment for the north that gave him 95 % votes, it is becoming very difficult for a nation of over 170 million-population to plan integration. Buhari and his staff need to be quick learners because they still do not get it.