Buhari on inauguration day

DEMOCRACY DAY COUNTDOWN

Two years after, the euphoria that trailed the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari as president appears to have given way to disappointment. I‎yobosa Uwugiaren takes a critical look at the performance of the administration

The venue was the popular Eagle Square, Abuja. The invited guests: the young, the old, students, market women/men and others on their feet, singing, dancing and praise-singing their new president’s name, as if they were being controlled by whizzes. But they were.

As he was being driven around in an open vehicle, his followers and admirers rushed forward to record the moment on their phones. It was a momentous, historic event: the swearing-in ceremony of President Muhammadu Buhari—-two years ago; he was the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria since Nigeria became independence in 1960.

Minutes after the Daura born, army general was sworn in, thousands of excited, thrilled young men and women, who were at the start of the ceremony prevented from gaining access to the venue, loped through the security barriers to the Eagle Square and pressed up against the perimeter fence, cheering their new president.

For those, including this reporter, who witnessed the event two years ago, it was an unambiguous message and reminder that so many impoverished Nigerians were expecting ‘real change’ from the new Administration. The president apparently got the enthusiastic huge crowd’s message and assured Nigerians of delivery of dividends of democracy. “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”, he emotionally told the cheering crowd at the inauguration, to the consternation of some political investors, who were present at the event.

The president undertook to bring ‘increased prosperity’ to Nigeria; Buhari vowed to wrestle ‘head on’ the issues of corruption and the act of terrorism by Boko Haram. He said the Nigerian economy was ‘in deep trouble’. He identified insecurity, pervasive corruption and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages as the some of the main challenges.

According to him, the country’s power supply crisis was ‘a national shame’, which had brought ‘darkness, frustration, misery, and resignation’ to Nigerians. He surely entered into a covenant with over 180 million Nigerians on May 29, 2015.

But, two years after, there is near consensus by many Nigerians that the ailing president has failed the most populous African country. There are indicators pointing to the ‘monumental let-down’ by the Buhari-led federal government.

In November 2014, when the Independent National Electoral Commission lifted the ban on presidential campaign, one of the respected non-governmental bodies, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) West Africa, started observing, tracking and documenting promises made by the presidential candidates of the two major political parties: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Expectedly, Buhari, who won the presidential election of March 28 2015 under the platform of APC, made several promises during his campaigns. The campaign promises were derived mainly from two documents: APC Manifesto titled ‘An Honest Contract with Nigeria, and ‘My Covenant with Nigerians.’ And in order to make sure that Buhari’s promises during electioneering process were kept and accountability mechanism is instituted, the CDD conceptualised the ‘Buharimeter’, a mechanism designed to address the challenges of governance, civic participation and effective and operational service delivery in Nigeria.

According to the group, the central focus of the initiative is to bridge the existing gap between the government and the governed; and ensure that the dividends of democracy are delivered to Nigerians, who overwhelmingly voted for change in the 2015 general election.

Recently, The Buharimeter in line with its mandate published its finding concerning the president’s performance: On corruption, the report admitted the unwholesome image of the country as corruption sanctuary and the pledge by Buhari to sustain the fight against graft.

Its finding: while 86 per cent of Nigerians were aware of the government’s actions to curb corruption, only 37 per cent said their expectations had been met. Another 63 per cent said the government should do more.

The survey also showed that perception and expectations of the Buhari administration’s war on corruption vary among the six geopolitical zones.

For instance, in the North West, Buhari’s home region, 60.2 per cent said his war on corruption met their expectations. In the South East region, the report showed the least faith in the president’s anti-corruption campaign as only 10.7 per cent of respondents from the region said the president’s anti-corruption war met their expectations.

In the South South region, 20.4 per cent of those surveyed said Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign fell short of their expectations.

The Buharimeter report added that the president’s anti-corruption campaign had been blunted by widespread claim: that it is lopsided and targeted at the members of the opposition PDP and other perceived enemies and that it lacks regard to the rule of law.

This is further accentuated by the feeling that the government does not respect the rule of law and due process in handling culprits, particularly those linked to the previous administration.

In the same report, Buharimeter noted the gloomy economic outlook of the country as source of serious concern across the country. The record rate of unemployment, inflation, volatile exchange rate and the negative slump in the Gross Domestic Products (GDP), according to figures released by the National Bureau for Statistics, have remained the hallmark of Buhari’s years in office.

These perhaps accounted for the rating of the administration very poorly in economy by many Nigerians. Indeed, a whopping 61.8 per cent of Nigerians said the government had either performed ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ in the management of the economy. Only 10.2 per cent said it had done well in managing the economy while 23 per cent gave it a ‘fair’ rating.

On security, an overwhelming percentage of Nigerians however expressed strong faith in the ability of the Buhari administration to handle the security challenges bedeviling the country. However, this optimistic assessment of the president’s security policies was considerably dampened when respondents were asked to rate the performance of the government in security in its first year in office. Only 37.7 per cent rated the government between ‘good’ and ‘very good’ in security. Conversely, 36.3 per cent believed the government performed either ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ while 24 per cent said the government performance had been fair.

On whether their expectations of the Buhari administration in security were met, 66 per cent said the government needed to do more while 34 per cent said they were satisfied with its performance.

The report however, observed that despite considerable successes made in the fight against Boko Haram in the North East, the sect has not completely lost its capacity to terrorise isolated communities in the region. In addition to the fact that in other parts of the country, the report observed with worry the growing incident of attacks credited to Fulani herdsmen, especially in the North Central region, the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta, and the agitation for the Republic of Biafra in the South East.

Interestingly, the report, which also confirmed findings by other institutions like the National Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank, seems to have focused on the core elements of good governance: political governance, institutional effectiveness and economic management, which according to the World Bank is measured by the voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption.

While some aides and cult-like followers of the president will want us to believe that the president is on course in his efforts to redirect the country from the mistakes of past government, there are strong indicators, which suggested that the Buhari-led administration has failed woefully to rise up to the huge challenges confronting the nation.

The president may mean well for the country, as some of his apostles want the general public to believe; they are also quick to point to his shinning credentials: a man of truthfulness and honour. But experts said that the president has proved to many members of the public that he lacks the capacity to drive the process, which would have crystalized in the delivery of dividends of democracy to the suffering Nigerians.

Buhari and some of his appointees, including the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammmed, stated recently that the APC-led federal government had fulfilled its promise to Nigerians. He said contrary to the allusions in certain quarters that Nigerians were not feeling the impact of the government, a lot had been done in moving the country forward.

“Many have said they are yet to see the change we promised. Many more have called the promise a ruse. In fact, they are now mocking us. But we remain undaunted because we know that the change we promised is real’’, the minister stated.

“In fact, the change we promised is already here, and it is manifesting all around us,” he added.

Stressing his position, the minister said that the federal government had successfully stopped the looting of public funds which was responsible for underdevelopment.

He added, “Before now, public officials simply opened the public till, took as much money as they wanted and walked away without consequences.

“That explains why funds allocated to the military to fight Boko Haram ended up in the piggy banks of many unscrupulous Nigerians.

‘’Today, all those who looted the public treasury are being made to answer for their actions, as impunity gives way to accountability. Many have offered to return their loots, and many more are facing charges.”

Mohammed said with the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, funds meant for the federal government were directly paid in and used for development of infrastructure.

According to him, “We promised to diversify the economy away from oil, to ensure that other sectors are able to significantly contribute to sustainable development.

“In June 2016, for the very first time, about 70 per cent of the more than N500 billion raised from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee came from the non-oil sector, while 30 per cent came from the oil sector. It was the first time in 2016 that the Federal Government shared more than N500 billion among the three tiers of government.”

In the area of security, the minister said that the government had successfully crushed the Boko Haram terrorists and not a single territory was being administered by them.

But some key experts have asked: What kind of fulfilment is in a country where there is no peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law?

To be sure, the entire country has remained in an endless cycles of conflict and violence in the last two years, and there appears to be little or no deliberate and sustained efforts to address the issues. There is high level of armed violence and insecurity occasioned by the deadly activities of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, kidnapers and the Fulani herdsmen, which have had a destructive impact on the country’s development, affecting economic growth across the nation. This, according to development experts, is capable of resulting to long flip over grievances for generations.

Indeed, the wide-spreading sexual violence, crimes, exploitation and torture in the nation today could be linked to the prevalent conflict or lack of rule of law. In spite of the seemingly crude and rough-and-ready methods being used by the anti-graft agencies and other security agencies to fight crimes, there are no institutional methods or genuinely effort to endorse reduction of corruption, sophisticated crimes, improve state capacity, and deliver services more professionally and effectually.

The unemployment and inflation rates have been on the increase. From 18.55 per cent in December 2016, Nigeria’s inflation rate has increased to 18.72 per cent in January 2017, NBS stated recently. Similarly, the basic necessities of life have remained unavailable to many poor Nigerians. Many small scale businesses have been forced to close shops in the last two years as a result of the suffocating economic policies or lack of direction by the government.

Banks, telecom industries and other sectors have cut down their workforces with nearly 70 per cent. It took the federal government two years to come up with Economic Growth and Recovery Plan to address the critical issues, even when many experts said the economic blueprint was not implementable.

The Buhari’s poor governance indices are explicable because while many experts believe governance reforms have a habit of threatening prevailing power relations: the patronage system through which political advantage is maintained; the patterns of conspiracy through which public resources are diverted to private users are ‘highly political’, the Buhari-led cabinet in the opinion of many, lacks the extraordinary amount of political compromise and technical skills needed to disrupt these systems.

Arguably, there is a strong and resounding verdict by many experts that Buhari is surrounded by unintelligible, incompetent and self-centred economic and political teams and lack of comprehensive programs in place.

Perhaps so: apart from the do-it-yourself methods being employed by the relevant agencies, it is becoming obvious day after day that there is neither institutional capacity to improve the management of the economy and to balance social interests nor a process through which those who benefited from corruption and dirty deals in the past can be weakened, or put into temporary retreat, as is currently being witnessed.

That perhaps explains why in spite of the showboating over the war against corruption by Buhari administration, the global anti-corruption crusader, the Transparency International (TI), recently ranked Nigeria very low in its 2016 global corruption index. The low-ranked countries, including Nigeria, according to TI, are plagued by ‘’untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary.’’

According to TI, even where anti-corruption laws are in places, in practice they are often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion; rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds; and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take. This is exactly what is obtained in our country today: defective and stinking anti-corruption institutions.

The near agreement is that Buhari, as the apex power-holder and decision-maker has failed sadly to take the first step from day one in setting up and sustaining credible reforms. It took him six months, for instance, to constitute his cabinet after he assumed office in 2015.

The president may have made reassuring impact in the area of security and corruption in the estimation of some persons, but it is still business as usual: rent-seeking or old-style political deals.

This is because inceptives for reforms such as political and economic freedoms to associate and articulate oppositional perspective are currently not secured under Buhari-led government. Both local and foreign investors are petrified to do legitimate businesses for fear of unknown.

The Buhari-led government has demonstrated it over and over again that it lacks simple tactics commonly employed by skilled political actors—-attempting governance reform using deception – what is ordinarily known as ‘reform by stealth’. Those very familiar with the strategies say they are intended to ‘soften the edge of political conflict by promoting change in the guide of continuity, and to arrange clandestine compensation for groups who perceive reform as a threat’. Acting President Yemi Osibanjo started employing the strategy recently in his attempt to fix agitation by militants in the Niger Delta.

Another critical area many believe the Buhari administration ought to have excelled in line with its promises, is the reform of the nation’s criminal justice system. But the preference by the administration for ad-hoc interventions that are not unsustainable, is very depressing and in many ways a crying reminder of why the criminal justice sector is jinxed. The fallout from this heart-rending situation is the regretful state of the prisons across the country.

The security breaches in many prisons are a strong evidence of a failed prison system for which the highest level of government must take full responsibility.

For example, why would Kuje prison, located in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja have a capacity of 560 beds? At the date of the security breach in Kuje Prison some time ago, the prison population was put at 842 comprising 215 convicts and 627 awaiting trial persons. Kuje prison services 107 courts across the FCT with seven vehicles. Three of these vehicles are said to be working on and off.

Like many experts in prison reforms have stated, the tough and possibly unpopular or politically incorrect decisions that need to be made require hands on approach by the president.

The significance interventions, which should include: access to justice programme for prisoners, while taking cognisance of the intrinsic limits in the criminal justice system; improving accommodation and training facilities for prison officers; remodelling prison services; procuring additional vehicles for prisons service; better endowment for prisoner education; vocational training and rehabilitation programmes, have remained unattended to in the past two years.

From all indications, it appears there is little or nothing Buhari administration can do now to change the gear. The election year is here.

Quote

But, two years after, there is near consensus by many Nigerians that the ailing president has failed the most populous African country. There are indicators pointing to the ‘monumental let-down’ by the Buhari-led federal government.

Quote

The record rate of unemployment, inflation, volatile exchange rate and the negative slump in the Gross Domestic Products (GDP), according to figures released by the National Bureau for Statistics, have remained the hallmark of Buhari’s years in office.

Quote

This is because inceptives for reforms such as political and economic freedoms to associate and articulate oppositional perspective are currently not secured under Buhari-led government. Both local and foreign investors are petrified to do legitimate businesses for fear of unknown.