TWO YEARS IN THE SADDLE: Buhari’s 20 Avoidable Mistakes 

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Today, President Muhammadu Buhari is half way through his four years mandate. Looking back, there are issues that the president could have handled better. Tobi Soniyi identifies twenty ‎of his unforced errors

1. Taking Three Months to Form a Cabinet.

After making three unsuccessful attempts to emerge president, many were disappointed when President Muhammadu Buhari failed to constitute a cabinet immediately after his inauguration in 2015.

 During the campaign, the president and his party gave the impression that they knew what the problems were with the country and were prepared to fix them within the shortest time possible. However, people expectations were dashed when the president, rather than constituting a team that would help him deliver on his election campaign promises, chose to turn himself into a sole administrator and ran the country alone for six months in breach of the constitutional provision that required the president to appoint ministers.

Apart from the precious time wasted, the delay in forming a cabinet implied that no one knew the direction the presidency was going. Those who wanted to invest held back. That was the prelude to the eventual recession the country was  plunged into later. Some interpreted the delay in forming a cabinet to mean that the president was not ready for governance. 

 2. Uninspiring Cabinet.

Having waited for six months before appointing ministers, Nigerians expected the president to come up with highly competent hands to run the country. But they were again disappointed. Although, some members of the cabinet are good, there are others who have no business being there in the first instance. Little wonder the president has been unable to deliver on his promises. Some of those who should help him are simply incompetent. Frustrated with the ministers’ inability to perform, some Nigerians had called on the president to sack some of the ministers. Nevertheless, the blame for the non performance of the ministers rests squarley with the president who appointed them. He chose to place reliance on other factors other than competence when making the appointment.

Junaid Mohammed, a Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, once described the president’s cabinet as a joke. He said: “First and foremost, I’m aware that some of the appointees of this regime are already corrupt. I’m far from being impressed by the performance of the so-called ministers.

“Secondly, the president himself spoke about putting square pegs in square holes. From the performances of the ministers, I have not seen the evidence of that as at now. Sadly, they are people who have always taken decisions, which are clearly contrary to national interest.”

3.De-marketing Nigeria.

Although, the president did not form his cabinet within the first six months after his inauguration, he did embark on many trips abroad which he hoped would help him wo‎o investors and restore the confidence of the international community in the country. At every such trip however, the president did not miss a chance to tell his hosts how bad the country was and how corrupt the people were. The problem with that approach is that, would be investors were  given, free of charge, the reasons why they should not come and invest in Nigeria.

The opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party had to issue a statement to draw public attention to this. The party in a press release said the president’s statements abroad would have negative consequences on the eonomy and the general image of the country. 

The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh said the president’s unwary statements

had become very serious clog in the wheel of progress, eroding the confidence of both domestic and international investors in the Nigerian economic and social system. The party said: “It is worrisome that in the last six months, the president, instead of making efforts to harness resources and grow the economy, has rather continued to apply himself, perhaps unwittingly, to de marketing the nation and scaring away investors through negative labelling of Nigerians and unwarranted unhealthy portrayal of the nation’s economy.

 “In the last six months, our president has only succeeded in discouraging foreign investors with his continued misrepresentation of our country as a business unfriendly environment, where most of the citizens are basically corrupt, dishonest, and cannot be trusted. 

 “Whereas we have restated our total support for the war against corruption, we insist that Mr. President’s unceasing blanket negative labelling of citizens, in a country where millions of honest and hard-working individuals/firms are genuinely contributing daily to the development effort, is indeed a disservice and injurious to the nation and the people. 

 “Furthermore, Mr. President’s recent announcement to the world that the nation, with its abundant human and natural

resources, is broke and cannot pay cabinet ministers not only sends a discouraging signal to the domestic and international business community, but also exposes the ineptitude of the present administration to meaningfully and sincerely exert itself and work with industrious and innovative investors to create and manage wealth. 

“We ask; how can any reasonable investor still have the confidence to invest in a country where the president himself

continues to alert that his country reeks of corrupt people and that the government is broke to the extent it cannot pay cabinet ministers?

“Is the president not directly advising investors against having confidence in Nigeria and the system, and that

they risk not being paid for jobs awarded by government at any level?

“May we remind Mr. President that even in the darkest period of our economic challenges, successive administrations

made efforts in steadying the economy, while always reassuring our citizens and the international community of the strength and economic potentials of our great nation.

 “We know that in the desperation to cover its apparent lack of economic plan, this administration has positioned cabinet ministers, upon inauguration to concentrate on diversionary blame game on the past PDP administration. But even this political deceit cannot combat the unpalatable consequences of Mr. President’s damaging utterances on the image of the nation and its economy.” 

That statement made in November 2015 has largely turned out to be the truth. Last week, the National Bureau of Statistics, said  foreign investment inflow into the country declined by 41 per cent, the lowest in ten years.

4. Allowing Secret Recruitment in ‎Government Agencies and Corporations

Many unemployed youth supported the president because he promised to create jobs if elected. While waiting for the

jobs, the youth were disappointed to learn that some of their colleagues were being given preferential treatment.

Many were shocked when news filtered out that some privileged people were being recruited into the Central Bank

of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Services, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation among others.

Those who supported the government considered such recruitment as a breach of trust. For a government that came

into office based on a promise to fight corruption, there should be no justification for preferential treatment in employment. By allowing the recruitment to stand, the Buhari presidency was dealt a huge credibility blow from which it never recovered. That marked a turning point for many die hard supporters of the president.

5. Concentrating Nation’s Security in the Hands of Northerners/Muslims

The president is quite conversant with the history of the country. By choosing t‎o concentrate security in the hands of his tribesmen, he had sent a clear message to other tribes: I don’t trust you. The president should, in return not expect the other tribes to trust him either. Mobilising the people to support government’s policies would be difficult in the circumstance. 

Take a look at the following:  the Inspector General of Police, Idris Abubakar, the Director General of the Department of State Security Services, Lawal Musa Daura,  the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the Chief of Air Staff, Sadiq Abubakar,  the National Security Adviser,  Babagana Monguno, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,

Ibrahim Magu, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali, the Minister for Interior‎, Abdulrahman Dambazau, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hammmed Ibrahim Ali, the Comptroller- General of

‎Immigration,   Mohammed Babande, the Controller- General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed.

It is bad enough that they are all from the north, it is even worse that they are all Muslims. In a country where religion remains an issue, concentrating the security apparatus in the hands of one tribe and one religious group is a betrayal of trust of those Christians and southerners who supported the president during the campaign. 

6. Inability to Reign in Rampaging Herdsmen.

Herdsmen have become more dangerous under the Buhari’s administration. They have killed hundreds of people and destroyed farmers’ means of livelihood. While protection of lives and properties remains the main mandate of every government, the Buhari’s administration has allowed the herdsmen to operate freely and at ease.  It appeared as if the president lacked the political will to stop them.

Many have said that the president was not interested in stopping the rampaging herdsmen. But analysts believed that the inability of the government to stop the herdsmen was the direct result of concentrating security in the hands of people who are from the same tribe and hold same faith. 

As long as herdsmen continue to oppress and kill innocent people, confidence in the administration of Buhari will continue to wane.

7. Persistently Blaming All the Country’s Ills on Dr Goodluck Jonathan

Until recently it was the pastime of the president to blame every ill affecting the country on his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. This became so monotonous that even member of the president were uncomfortable with the trend. 

Among others, the president blamed not only Jonathan but all past leaders for not saving enough. He singled out Jonathan for not shoring up the nation’s foreign reserves. Rather than concentrating on his job, Buhari spent too much time accusing Jonathan of mismanaging the country’s wealths. He repeated it so frequently that even his audience got tired of listening to him. This was an unforced error.

In September 2016, ‎the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, had to call on the president  to stop agonising  about the past administration but to tackle the challenges facing the country.

He said Nigerians did not vote for him to complain about previous government but to perform better than his predecessor. He spoke at a dinner in Ondo State during the 2016 Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria held in Akure.‎

He said, “We didn’t  vote a government to complain about yesterday, if we wanted yesterday the new government would not be there. The previous government didn’t only do bad things; he did a lot of good things.‎”

8. His Foreign Exchange Policy

The foreign exchange transfer rules introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the president’s watch were too complicated and arbitrary. People who were in hotels abroad  woke up one day only to discover that their debit cards were not working any more.

In his bid to pursue money laundered, the president dealt a devastating blow to innocent people including children whose parents could not raise the needed foreign exchange to pay their school fees. Small scale businesses were worst hit and the country was plunged into an economic mess from which it is still struggling to recover.

The public was told that the stringent measures were introduced to improve the value of the naira and stop money launderers from sabotaging the economy. Whether these expectations were met or not, your guess is as good as ours.

The problem was that the policy was not properly considered before it was introduced. It ended up harming innocent people than the crooks being targeted.

‎9. Not Doing Much to Help His Greatest Supporters- the Poor

One of the strengths of the president is the support he enjoys from the masses especially the ‘talakawas’. Today, because of the biting economic hardship, the president is at risk of losing these ardent followers of his.

Although, the president remains a fan of the poor, the reality however, is that the poor are today grumbling and beginning to doubt if the president still loves them. The president has left undone many things that can help him renew his commitment to the poor. For instance, while the president has concentrated in doing big things like building another national career, many poor people are likely not to board an aeroplane in their lifetime. Make no mistake about this, investing in infrastructures is good for the economy and the development of the economy. However, the president should strike a balance between the need to make life more meaningful for the poor and embarking on big projects.

In the period of previous administrations, police exploited the poor. They collected bribes from motorists carrying market women and farmers from villages to towns. Today, the police still behave in the same way. If you ask market women and motorists, they will tell you there is no difference between the previous government and this.‎ By stopping the police and other security agencies from oppressing the poor and by making sure that any security operative who violates the people’s rights is brought to justice, the president will rally the poor people back to his side. This is because, that is an immediate change the people can feel.

10. Placing too Much Reliance on Military to Solve Civic Disputes

No doubt the president came into office thinking that he could use military might to coerce every one into submission forgetting that his mandate came from the civil populace who had become tired of everything military.

For instance, the massive deployment of military to the Niger Delta to stop militants from further destroying oil pipelines and facilities. But the president met his match when the militants continued to destroy the facilities while the military remained helpless. As a result of this clash, oil production dropped significantly and the economy suffered a major set back. Today, the relative peace in the Niger Delta was the direct result of negotiation. The president could have saved the nation the military casualties recorded from the confrontation with the militants if only he had acted like a civilian by choosing  dialogue.

11. The Unjustifiable Killings of Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria

In a country not at war, there is no excuse that can justify the terror unleashed on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in December 2015. IMN is a religious and political organisation based in the northern region of Nigeria. The cock and bull story told by the leadership of the Nigerian Army to justify the killings did also not help matter. The president’s decision to keep quiet was interpreted to mean that the massacre enjoyed his tactical support.

The group said over 347 of its members were killed. The army disputed that claim, but was unable to produce its own figure. The attempt to use the National Human Rights Commission to rationalise the killings and the timid report produced by the commission all point to one direction: a great cover up.

 International observers have cautioned that the way the attacks on the IMN were handled might push members of the group into embracing violent extremism. At a time, the country has yet to completely stop Boko Haram, pushing the IMN this far is ill-advised and a bad strategy.

The leader of the group, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife remain in custody despite a court order for their release.

12. Not Holding Military Abusers to Account

There were reports of military men or operatives of the Department of State Security Services storming secondary schools and beating up teachers. Sometimes in February this year, officials of DSS reportedly stormed the Federal Government Girls’ College, Calabar and beat up a teacher Mr Owai Owai for daring to flog a student.

 That this criminal act happens is not the problem. The problem is that the offenders are rarely held accountable. This has made many to lose faith in the president.

Holding security agencies accountable for their actions or inaction will make a whole lot of differences.  Unfortunately, this area is not getting the attention it deserves. It is not too late for the president to rise up and protect the poor from oppression by security agencies.

13. Intimidating the Judiciary

Although government explained that it raided the houses of some judges in October 2016 because it was fighting corruption, and many gullible people fell for the trash, there are facts to show that the raids were aimed at one thing: to intimidate the judiciary. Out of about eleven judges whose houses were raided only about two were charged to court. At any rate what legitimacy has a government that flagrantly disobeys court orders to accuse judges of corruption? The DSS, for instance had never hidden its displeasure for judges especially those who granted bail to suspects under its custody. Such was the offence for which the house of Justice Dimgba Igwe’s house was raided.

The allegations that members of the president’s cabinet approached judges seeking to influence the course of judges were simply unworthy of investigations!

The president did not help himself with the way and manner he handled the appointment of Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria. A president who was ready to brush aside statutory requirements to appoint his friend as comptroller general of customs was dragging his foot when it was time to appoint a CJN.

14. Handling of Allegations of Corruption Involving His Associates

When the hierarchy of the judiciary wrote to the president informing him that some members of his cabinet approached the judiciary in his name seeking to influence justice with regard to some states’ election petitions appeals, the president ignored the allegations. If the judges are corrupt, it behoves on the president to seek to find out those corrupting the judges.

The president’s handling of allegation of corruption against the now suspended Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal did also not inspire confidence. Rather than acting as an impartial arbiter, he was too quick to dismiss the allegations against the SGF.

Had it not been for pressure from civil society groups and the general public, the president, perhaps would not have asked his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo to head a committee to probe Babachir and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke,

Even then, asking the vice president to investigate Lawal and Oke still amounted to favouratism. The duo should have been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Why is former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki not investigated by the vice president? Why were they not investigated by anti corruption agencies? Or is it because they were not members of the Peoples Democratic Party?

15. Disobedience to Court Orders

Not less than three high court judges namely, Justices Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Peter Affen and Hussein Baba Yusuf both of the Abuja High Court at different times admitted former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki to bail but government offered some implausible reasons to circumvent the orders.

Latter the ECOWAS Court of Justice also ordered his release but government would not obey the regional court. Today, Dasuki remains in prison. His father became ill and died, he was denied access to his father before he died.

Recently former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam was kept in custody for more than two months and was not charged to court for any offence. People are being detained for more than it is legally permissible.

Leader of the IMN, El Zakyzak and his wife remain in custody against the judgment of Justice Gabriel Kolawole ordering their release and compensation. This above-the- law attitude is not helping the government. When compared with the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, no one was subjected to such long incarceration while courts orders were not flagrantly disobeyed.

 16. Failure to Make Necessary Appointments

As at press time, there are not less than two thousand vacancies existing in various government’s organisations. Many of those who worked for Buhari’s election wanted these jobs but the president was too slow to make the appointment. Some organisations can not function without these appointments. For instance, there are decisions that can only be taken by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission but the president has neglected to appoint commissioners for the regulatory agency. In the absence of the commissioners important decisions can not be taken. This has slowed down regulation of the power industry and has hampered service delivery. Other agencies have suffered similar fates.

 17. Repudiation of His Party’s Campaigns Promises and Manifesto

All over the world, politicians often find to their chagrin that they could not deliver on their promises after winning elections. However, they will be tactical in their approach to justify their inability to deliver. Not in Nigeria. The Nigerian president brazenly disowned parts of his campaign promises.

When it became quite clear that the president would not be able to deliver on many of his campaign promises, especially those the party said would be achieved within one hundred days, Buhari and his aides said they were not aware of the document titled, ‘My Covenant with Nigeria’.

But those involved in the campaign for the president’s election were shocked when the Presidency claimed it was not aware of the document.

In an introductory note on the document Buhari said: “This covenant is to outline my agenda for Nigeria and provide a bird’s eye view of how we intend to bring about the change that our country needs and deserves.

“The covenant is derived from the manifesto of my party, the All Progressives Congress. It however represents my pledge to you all when I become your president.”

 18. Exacerbating Ethnic and Religious Divide

Keeping quiet and not being decisive enough in the face of massive killings in southern Kaduna, a mainly Christian community has dampened the morale of Christians some of whom have accused the president of aiding the assailants.

In April, the Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Benue State, Rt. Rev. Williams Avenya, lamented the invasion of his home and his parish by soldiers allegedly in search of weapons. He described the search as an attack on Christians saying: “This is what happens when you have a one-sided government in place.”

Many Christians are of the opinion that Buhari has turned himself into an ethnic and religious bigot because of his handling of issues affecting christians. They would like to see the president to act as the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria and not the president of northern Nigeria.

 19. Failure to Conduct Credible Elections

Although the president was elected under an election that was widely commended as one of the best to be organised in Nigeria, he has not been able to replicate that singular achievement of his predecessor. Virtually all the elections conducted under the president’s watch were inconclusive. The governorship elections conducted in Bayelsa and Kogi states were inconclusive at the first ballot. Supplementary elections had to be held before the elections became conclusive. Similarly, National Assembly by-elections in Nasarawa and Rivers states were inconclusive. These series of inconclusive elections have led to doubt among political parties of the capacity of the present leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a general election.

20. Over-reliance on Other Countries 

As soon as he came to power, the president embarked on trips with the aims of getting help from abroad to fix the country instead of harnessing  the local capacity available to develop the country. While abroad, the president was fond of announcing policy statements to the consternation of the people at home. For example, it was in Iran that the president first announced that some former government officials had started returning stolen money voluntarily. Other weighty announcements like the decision to negotiate with Boko Haram and that the country was broke were made while the president was abroad.

When the help he sought was not forthcoming, the president at a time expressed frustration with the lacklustre response of these countries especially the western countries who ignored his calls for help to trace and repatriate money allegedly stolen from Nigeria. Except from China, the president’s numerous trips did not produce the desire results.

There are other unforced errors such as non visiting states to appraise the situation in these states, running a presidency that appears to be at war with itself (recall the SSS memo to the Senate against Acting EFCC chairman), his frosty relationship with the National Assembly to mention just a few, the impact of some of these are however not as critical as those enumerated above.