Is Buhari’s Assurance on INEC Independence Enough?

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Muhammadu Buhari

By Waheed Alabede

Judging by the news making the rounds, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the forces of the past electoral malpractices are hard at work to derail the 2019 elections. President Muhammadu Buhari has unambiguously expressed his desire to deliver a free and fair election. The purpose of this discourse is to explore the intention of the president vis-a-vis free and fair elections. Pronouncements and actions of the president over the last few months will be reviewed.

The actions and pronouncements of Buhari makes it crystal clear that he is committed to a credible election. The president has on many occasions perspicuously affirm his commitment to a free and fair election for the February 16th and now 23rd date. On the 18th of February, after a NEC meeting of the ruling party, He declared “I will never use my powers to rig election. I don’t need to.” If his statement isn’t enough, the actions of the president regarding INEC is an indication of the fact that Pres. Buhari believes that the “I” in INEC stands for Independent. The president has provided INEC with all the essential resources needed to conduct a free and fair election. Other than providing election necessities to INEC, the president has also abstained from interfering in the affairs of the commission. Although INEC has made important decisions that many consider detrimental to APC, the president has not shown any inclination to interfere in the affairs of the commission.

According to a comment posted on Twitter by Amadi Chima a supporter of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who also happens to be an INEC “Independent” election observer, the commission is acting independently. INEC has refused to list the candidate of APC in River state on the ballot for the Feb 23rd election. INEC has also disallowed an APC candidate in Zamfara. Although the APC chairman Adams Oshiomhole insists that the candidates be allowed on the ballot, the president has refused to influence INEC’s decision. Is that possible under a president who does not respect the independence of INEC? Nigerians who remember the notorious days knows that Pres. Obasanjo would have unethically gotten involved by coercing INEC to list the candidates. The elections of 2003 and 2007 under the former president has been adjudged the worst election in the history of Nigeria by local and international observers. The irony is that it is the same former president Obasanjo who is now accusing Pres. Buhari of planning to rig the election. Obviously, former president Obasanjo cannot be taken seriously on a matter in which he is the author of Nigeria’s rigging and propaganda playbook.

There is no need for president Muhammadu Buhari to rig the election because he has good reasons to be optimistic. Both the president and the vice president Osinbajo have campaigned in all 36 states including a house-to-house campaign by the VP. Buhari wants to build on the 2015 election that thwarted riggings in most part of the country. Being a victim of an election that was only befitting of a preliterate society may have helped strengthen president Muhammadu Buhari’s sincerity of purpose in organizing a credible election. The president has also earned the trust of the people especially his supporters in the way he has conducted himself in office despite the challenges he inherited.
Abubakar as well campaigned, making impressive in-road, judging by the crowd that turned out to welcome his team, everywhere he went, into areas previously considered totally sold to Buhari.

The slow pace of economic growth may be seen by some as a negative on the president’s record. Many have come to term with the fact that the slow growth was due to the recession of 2016 which was in turn caused by mismanagement of the economy between 2013 and 2014. Economic decline sets in by May of 2014 after the oil price crashes from its high point of over $100/bbl to less than $60/bbl. By the time the president took over in 2015, oil was selling below $30/bbl. The forex reserve which would have been used to make up for the short fall in oil revenue was already depleted by then from its high of over $60billion in 2009 to less than $28 billion in April of 2015.
However, his critics have said at different times that he was elected to fix whatever rot he met in the system and not to complain, often referring back to his statement that will ensure N1 is exchanged for USD1.

The president instituted many policies geared towards improving the economic condition of all Nigerians. In the past, economics policies are often targeted at those at the top of the economic ladder with no long-term improvements in the lives of the masses. Pres. Buhari is for the first time including poor and middle-income earners in economic development programmes. The anchor borrowers programme is a great example of the government policies that has endeared Pres. Buhari to the minds of the generality of Nigerians. About 70% of Nigerians engage in some form of farming as a source of income. Majority of these farmers live in the rural areas and have largely benefited from the anchor borrowers programme. The anchor borrowers’ program has benefited about 1.5 million people with jobs out of which 250,000 are direct farming jobs. The programme was created to alleviate the difficulties small farmers experience when accessing credit facilities. The loans charge a lower rate than commercial banks because it is tied to MSME development fund.

He has earned the trust of the electorate by succeeding where others failed. Some of the achievements of the government are in electricity generation capacity which is now at 7000 mw and the distribution capacity of over 5000 mw. The current administration is succeeding in fixing the bottleneck that has plagued the power sector for generations. He has Heavily invested in infrastructure. He is executing infrastructural projects at a rate that confounds even the critics of the administration. Pensioners are for the first time getting paid their entitlement after years of neglect. The ex-Biafran soldiers and police men, Nigeria airways, and NITEL pensioners have all benefited from the commitment of the Buhari administration to clearing pension arrears. Home grown school feeding programme has benefited roughly 9.3 million children, created jobs for about 100,000 cooks in almost 50000 school, jobs were also created for thousands of other support personnel such as transportation providers and farmers. Some of the visible infrastructural projects are the 2nd Niger bridge, Lagos-Ibadan and Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport in Abuja, Abuja light rail system, Nnamdi Azikiwe Mausoleum.

To further strengthen the economy, the plan of the government is to add more than 1000 mw of electricity generation capacity annually for the next four years. Provide training for 10 million Nigerians to update their skill, anchor borrowers scheme for one million farmers, provide 500 million naira for the technology and creative sector to create youths job in technology. For more on the future goals of the administration, refer to the Next Level plan document, and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

While there is a need to improve on the security situation in the country, what obtained now is an improvement compare to pre-2015 handover. The president should work towards a legacy of putting Nigeria on the road to peaceful coexistence.

Alabede is a political, economic and financial analyst