THE HORIZON By Kayode Komolafe Kayode.Komolafe@thisdaylive.com
With 19 months to the end of the term, those who still nurse some optimism about the Buhari government can only hope that it is not too late for the administration to fulfil the promises made to the people in 2015.
This is not the first time that this reporter would suggest to Buhari to reboot. During the President’s first anniversary in office, the matter was put like this: ”To be sure, Buhari didn’t promise a magic or an El Dorado. But he told the people that he would tackle insecurity, fix the economy and fight corruption.” That statement still remains valid. A year later, the turn of events has proved the axiom that Buhari does not have eternity to reset the button of his administration to govern in the interest of the people.
So what exactly are the prospects of a reboot of the 29-month old government of President Muhammadu Buhari? For the arch political opponents and even some not-so partisan pessimists, of course, the prospects are getting slimmer by the day. And the views of the critics should be taken more seriously than those in power are doing. The mentality that governance could be taken leisurely should be discarded forthwith if the administration wants to reboot. The first thing that those who still expect a measure of performance from the administration should, therefore, tell the President is that time is not on his side anymore. That is the consciousness of the need for a reboot. In serious terms, nothing so far suggests that this consciousness is prevalent in Abuja
Yet, in the last few days, some activities taking place in Abuja would seem to be an attempt to reclaim the momentum lost way back in the first six months of the administration. The President told his party chiefs yesterday that more ministers would come on board and boards of parastatals and agencies would be constituted. You wonder what is the political wisdom in waiting for 29 months to constitute those boards, which have statutory roles to perform in making the agencies function. Meanwhile, party members desirous of being appointed in the boards increasingly get alienated.
In another dimension, the party in power, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is apparently be reawakened from its dormancy to see the need for organisation. The party has played no role in defending its policies (if any) in over two years in power. It is as if the 2015 electoral success got APC stupefied. This may partly explain why party Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is facing protests from some party members.
Now its job is going to be more challenging because if nature abhors a vacuum, politics does not even give room for a vacuum. The other main party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) appears to be more serious about organisation. Despite the paralysis of the party due to some strange litigation, the PDP is pulling itself together.
The campaigns of some of its chairmanship candidates are more worthy of attention than those of some presidential candidates in past elections. Now, this is quite healthy for democracy. The several factions of APC are getting the notice that in the game of power, the field is hardly empty of players, strong or weak. The situation will even be democratically enriching if some other parties could be oxygenated to mount serious challenges by presenting alternative paths to development. The divergent organisational efforts would add up to give the electorate meaningful choices in 2019.
However, it should be stressed that the divergence of the parties is certainly not ideological. The parties should be programmatic in outlook; they should be defined by their ideas and programmes. In this respect, what is said about APC could also be said about the other parties.
The prospects of rejuvenation would, of course, depend on some factors. One factor is that of the vision thing. Since Buhari is talking about the possibility of doing something about his team, perhaps it is not too late to repeat the point this reporter once made on this page: beyond the individual competencies of the officers the organising principle of the administration also matters a great deal.
This is where the vision becomes an imperative. If the Buhari administration likes to embark on visioning, it should ask the critical question: why is it that rather being reduced, poverty has exacerbated in the land despite the visions and strategies of the past? The administration should provide a compass for the team to work with by articulating a strategy of development beyond executing random projects and contracts.
The economic team of Buhari should ponder why past efforts at visioning did not work as expected. It is important to look back since the dominant voices in Abuja seem to be echoes of the recent past about “liberalisation, privatisation and foreign investments.” Similar voices have been heard in the last 30 years in the name of the Structural Adjustment Programme of former President Ibrahim Babangida, Vision 2010 under Abacha, the National Empowerment and Economic Development Strategy (NEEDS) of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Transformation Agenda of Jonathan. Some lessons should, therefore, be learnt from our recent economic history.
The Buhari admiration has lost valuable time. The foregoing ought to have been settled in the first six months of administration when it was preparing to the take-off.
Unfortunately, unlike in the game of football, there would be no injury time for the Buhari admiration and APC, which has been lacerating itself as soon as its victory was declared. However, a reminder is apposite in the circumstance. In giving a fresh impetus to the style and substance of his administration Buhari should be mindful of his journey to power and the role of the poor in it. There must be a bias for the poor in policy design and implementation for a number of reasons. First, democratically the poor are in the majority.
If policy is aimed at the “greatest good of the greatest number” it must have discernible anti-poverty thrusts. That is why the administration should be wary of being railroaded into taking some anti-people austerity measures in a country where it amounts to venturing into a state secret to know what lawmakers earn because of what the scandalous figures say about inequality in the system. If there should be cuts, the social spending should be exempted because of its horizontal impact on the people’s daily lives.
Secondly, the poor read economic indices not merely in the graphs of “shrinking growth”, but in their empty stomachs, ignorance, disease and squalor. So the policy focus should also be on tackling the burgeoning poverty and worsening inequality. The tension out there is exacerbated by the scandalous inequality in the land with which members the elite are yet to come to terms as they exercise hegemony in all spheres of life.
Another factor is that of policy articulation. The admnistration is famously incoherent. Buhari would not be the first president that lacking eloquence in marshalling economic arguments. President Ronald Reagan was not good at policy details. But he had a vision and a competent team. He had the capacity to inspire the team. The asset of the immense moral capital of Buhari has been unduly wasted. Besides, Buhari has a passion for the welfare of the poor. The President is on record to have wondered how governors could sleep well when civil servants are not paid.
These moral assets are lost in the policy disarticulation, incoherence and internecine fights within the Buhari team. The antidote to the incipient mass anxiety and sense of despair is action from those who got the mandate to govern. The best response to the rising expectations of the people is not official impatience. Instead of talking down on the people, members of the administration should, as a matter of accountability, strenuously explain to the people how progress is being made in revamping infrastructure, fighting poverty and tackling insecurity.
Some members of the Buhari team are making efforts in this important job of explaining to the people. There is certainly room for improvement in this regard. More members of the team should cultivate this habit of defending policies.
All told, perhaps it is not too late for the administration to gird its loins to fulfil its promise to the people. The prospects of a reboot may no more be there by this time next year.