Beyond PMB’s New Year (2020) Letter to Compatriots: Public Concerns and Double Standard

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Muhammadu Buhari

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

On Wednesday, 1st January, 2020 President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) addressed the people of Nigeria. The contents of the address are published and entitled, ‘A Letter from the President at New Year: Nigeria’s Decade.’ PMB did not only see January 1, 2020 as a new year, but particularly as ‘the beginning of a new decade,’ and perhaps, more significantly, as ‘the Nigerian Decade of prosperity and promise for Nigeria and for Africa.’

The letter is well written, more foreign policy-driven, more conjectural in design, but, more importantly, very injustice-sustaining. This last aspect of injustice makes the Federal Government of Nigeria to look to me as the most wicked, the most corrupt, the most dishonest and the greatest impediment to nation-building in Nigeria. Consequently, it makes a nonsense of PMB’s call for tolerance on the part of the people of Nigeria.

As put by PMB, Nigerians should ‘be tolerant, law abiding and peace loving.’ This is a good admonition. However, how can any right thinking government expect unlimited tolerance from the people? Why should the governed be law abiding when the Government itself does not respect the same law? How can anyone expect peace or love making when the Government has a policy of persecution?

Let me explain these questions in the context of PMB’s letter. According to PMB, among some of the projects Nigerians should expect to come upstream from 2020 is the ‘completion of 13 housing estates under the National Housing Project Plan.’ The completion of the housing estates can be good and can be welcomed a development. However, what happened to the funds collected from the general public in April 1994 when Alhaji Lateef Jakande was Minister of Works and Housing?

The then Federal Government advertised the construction of housing estates in various parts of the country. Interested people wishing to have a shelter were asked to make deposits on the basis of the type of house desired. The houses were to be built before, and allocated in, December 1994. I made a deposit for a three-bedroom medium-size. My junior brothers did same. Initial deposit for my category of house was N40,000 (forty thousand naira) before the succeeding Minister jacked it up to N165,000 (One hundred and sixty-five thousand naira).

For houses that were supposed to be built between April 1994 and December 1994, and allocated not later than December 31, 1994, the Federal Government has not allocated any house. It has not refunded any deposit. It does not even talk about it. We have been complaining about this unfairness and injustice publicly, but to no avail. And yet, Government claims to be building houses for civil and public servants. It says it wants to complete some housing estates in 2020. Why is there no action or statement on the 1994 project? Why are the 1994 depositors not given priority in the allocation of the new houses? What really happened to the deposits collected in Lagos State? Where is the location of houses built in Lagos State? Some people argued that deposits collected in Lagos had been diverted to the North. My concern is not about diversion but the fact that Government collected money from me for a purpose, but failed to act in good faith. In my eyes, the Government of Nigeria is criminally fraudulent and corrupt.

If truth be told, why should the Federal Government defraud me as a law-abiding citizen and the same Government is encouraging me not to defraud? It is Sir Victor Uwaifor who says in one of his songs that ‘do what I say, but not what I do.’ The Federal Government cannot be preaching the sermon it does not believe in. This is why I see in the political governance of Nigeria since 1994 elements of political chicanery, unlimited dishonesty and double standard in the war against corruption.

If PMB is sincere in its vision as expressed in his letter to the people of Nigeria on last January 1, he must not only accept that there is double standard in political governance, but also that there is always continuity of government. In other words, both assets and liabilities of a previous government should be inherited by a succeeding government under normal circumstances. But, most unfortunately, there is nothing like inheritance of previous policies of government. This is one major reason why the people of Nigeria are permanently kept under tension and persecution. Only the honest people suffer in Nigeria and are always compelled to keep quiet when Government consciously violates their fundamental rights. If the Government led by PMB is not to be continuously seen as another 419 fraudster, because of its anti-corruption policies, it should initiate an inquiry into the matter, provide information and address the problems involved. Without doing this, public support cannot go beyond the support of his partisan party members. Let us espy other issues raised in the letter.

What is Nigeria’s Decade?
Apart from the double standard and dishonest policy of collecting deposits from the public and not providing the houses for which deposits were made, there are other issues, like PMB’s commitment to national security, anti-corruption, economic vibrancy and infrastructure-driven development, as raised in his letter to the nation.

It is important to commend PMB’s advisers on the basis of this letter. More often than not, most people do not always have access to electronic media news for reasons of power outage. By providing both electronic and print-media versions of the letter, the outreach becomes wider. More important, by providing information on ongoing development projects, as well as likely challenges to expect, it appears that Government is beginning to get its public relations policy right.

In spite of this, it is useful to note that, as good and commendable the letter may be, the most disturbing concerns of the people of Nigeria have not in any way been meaningfully addressed. Besides, the international environmental context does not appear to have been considered, especially in the context of the foreign policy questions raised in the letter.

The foreign policy issues raised are many. Let us investigate the first issue of Nigeria’s decade. When does a decade normally begin and when does it end? In the words of PMB, ‘today (January 1, 2020) marks a new decade. It is a time of hope, optimism and fresh possibilities.’ We do not intend to engage in the debate on whether a decade should end with ‘9’ or ‘0’. Our concern here is determination of what constitutes Nigeria’s decade as from January 1, 2020.

From PMB’s perspective, the decade is that of hope, optimism and fresh possibilities. Why should Nigerians be hoping for ten years? What really should the hope be for? For what purposes should the optimism be for a whole period of ten years? Are the fresh possibilities going to be different from the completion of the capital projects already identified in the letter?

On a more serious note, and without jot of doubt, there is nothing like ‘Nigeria’s Decade’ for now, because there is no set agenda for the purposes of being the hallmark of the next decade and that can define the decade. If the factors of hope, optimism and possibilities are to be the determinants of the decade, they cannot but be most unfortunate, as they are very subjective.

In this regard, there is nothing like a ‘0’ year. Even if numerical counting begins with ‘0’ mathematically, there is no ‘0’ or zero year for Nigeria. If we admit that Nigeria’s new decade begins with 2020, it means it will end in 2029. How do we therefore interpret PMB’s message in this regard? The hopes, optimism and possibilities envisioned by PMB, are they his own wishes? Is he hoping personally for, or hoping on behalf, of the people? Is it the collective hope of his administration? If it is the hopes of his government, then the hopes cannot but be myopic in design.

But true enough, they are his governmental wishes, because he said: ‘we look forward as a nation to the 2020s as the opportunity to build on the foundations we have laid together on security, diversification of our economy and taking on the curse of corruption.’ More significantly, he noted that ‘these are the pledges on which I (PMB) have been elected President and remain the framework for a stable, sustainable and more prosperous future.’

Explained differently, if PMB wants to consolidate his efforts on security, economy and corruption, he cannot have the next ten years to build on earlier foundations. His tenure comes to an end in 2023, that is, in less than four years. As he noted in his letter, ‘I will be standing down in 2023 and will not be available in any future elections. But I am determined to help strengthen the electoral process both in Nigeria and across the region, where several ECOWAS members go to the polls this year.’

This necessarily implies that PMB intends the next decade to be his own or that of his ruling party. If this interpretation is not tenable, who is expected to build on earlier foundations as from 2023, especially that PMB did not say he ‘shall’, but that he ‘will’ stand down as from 2023? There is a fundamental difference in implication in the meanings of the two words.

In essence, we can only objectively talk about Nigeria’s decade in terms of past achievements or a scheduled and concrete development agenda, but never in terms of mere hopes and aspirations. A national decade must be defined in concrete terms. This is one of the expectations and concerns of the people.

PMB’s Governance Issues
The three pillars of political governance under PMB are security, economic diversification and extermination of the curse of corruption. All the efforts undertaken to throw insecurity, economic underdevelopment and life of corruption into the dustbin of history do not only have their foreign policy aspects, but have also generally failed. This raises questions about PMB’s hope, optimism and possibilities in the next decade.

First, on the issue of insecurity, which is manifested in the form of violent extremism, cultism and organised criminal networks, PMB said that his government is winning the war against insecurity, but not yet the peace, which is the reverse of what Former French president, General Charles de Gaulle, once said: France lost the battle but not the war during the Second World War. In other words, If PMB is winning the war, he is ordinarily winning the battles, the shooting wars, but without the feats leading to a peaceable environment and security of lives and property. So PMB has not won the peace as he rightly admitted. But what really is the essence of winning a war without peace? The purpose of winning a war that does not lead to peace is a failure in itself. It is a self-defeat.

Von Clausewitz is on record to have argued that war is an instrument of peace. This is why he posited that if you want peace, prepare for war. The problem here is that PMB is claiming victory in his wars, but the wars have not led to peace. The challenge here is the determination of when PMB’s victory in his various war fronts will lead to peace, not to mention an enduring peace. Again, the question of when will the peace come also raises the issue of the mania of prosecution of the battles to be carried out.

In the eyes of PMB, many options will be taken advantage of: working with the ‘state Governors, neighbouring states and our international partners to tackle the root causes of violent extremism and the networks that help finance and organise terror’; providing the security forces with the best training and modern weaponry; ensuring the highest standards of professionalism and respect for human rights by the security forces; using ‘all human and emerging technological resources available to tackle kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery’; sustainable democratic government ‘that can guarantee peace and security to realise the full potential of our ingenious, entrepreneurial and hard-working people’; border closure, which is ‘meant to safeguard Nigeria’s economy and security’; and continuation of the policy of coordinated regional approach in the war against extremism.

None of the foregoing measures can be said to be new. For instance, cooperation with the international partners has been ongoing for a long time now. Even within the framework of cooperation, there have been conflict of interests. Cooperation with the United States is a case in point. The public demonstrations against the Embassy of France about three weeks ago in Abuja to protest against alleged French role of aiding and abetting the Boko Haram, is another interesting observation. Thus, there is no big deal about the pronounced strategies of ensuring security.

The truth is that PMB’s policies are precisely the major dynamics largely serving as catalysts for insecurity in Nigeria. In fact, Government has failed in its security strategies. This is why people are already embarking on self-help security measures. For instance, the Governors of the South-Western States of Nigeria have put in place a security outfit and strategy, called ‘Operation Amotekun,’ which is scheduled to take off on January 9, 2020. The outfit is in response to the security failure at the level of the Federal Government.

Regarding the economy, PMB only reminded of the status quo policies and actions so far taken: policies designed to promote genuine, balanced growth; the new Economic Advisory Council of respected and independent thinkers; food plates that have not been filled with imported products; revolution in agriculture and new agreements with Morocco and Russia; the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement; and joint land border exercise.

PMB drew attention to his economic agenda of infrastructure investments, especially in terms of enhancing ease of doing business; use of alternative funding programmes in collaboration with the private sector partners; ensuring fiscal sustainability for the energy sector; commitment to ‘taking a hundred million Nigerians out of mass poverty’; increasing government-private sector investments in the power transmission and distribution segments, with emphasis on the provision of smart meters to ensure transparency, and perhaps more importantly, the new agreement with the German government-supported Siemens company on investments in new capacity for power generation, transmission and distribution, that ‘will be under close scrutiny and transparency’ and that ‘will be no more extravagant claims that end only in waste, theft and mismanagement.’

In essence, PMB is simply saying that the next one year will be a year of action and ‘improvement in electricity service supply reliability and delivery,’ especially with the expected commencement of ‘work on the AKK gas pipeline, OB3 Gas pipeline and the expansion of the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline,’ as well as the Amendment of the Deep Offshore Act.

What is particularly noteworthy is the optimism of PMB that Nigeria cannot but become the darling of foreign investors in the next 12 months. As he put it, ‘I am confident that in 2020, we will be able to present a radical programme of reform for oil and gas that will excite investors, improve governance and strengthen protections for host communities and the environment… Investors can look forward with confidence not only to an increasing momentum of change, but also to specific incentives, including our new visa-on-arrival policy.’

From the foregoing, the economic policies are all forward-looking, and therefore only conjectural in character. They are largely predicated on the expectations that there will be understanding of the international partners and that the future environmental conditionings will be quite favourable. No indication of certainties of the environment is given in the letter to all the compatriots of PMB.

As for the curse of corruption, PMB simply reiterated his ‘unshakeable commitment to tackle corruption’ and his determination to continue ‘to press our partners abroad to help with the supply side of corruption.’ He made it clear that he had not only ‘received encouragement,’ but he is also expecting ‘more funds stolen in the past to be returned to us and they will be ploughed back into development with all due transparency.’

Without any shadow of doubt, there is nothing wrong in hoping for better days to come or looking forward to a Nigerian decade. What is more right to look forward to should be the articulation of the environmental determinants of the decade beyond mere aspirations and expectations. In other words, there is the need for a geo-political background analysis of the hopes and aspirations, and in this case, we observe that the environmental conditionings of the Nigerian Decade are, at best, very unreliable, suspicious and conflicting, and therefore, capable of directly militating against the visioning of the Nigerian decade.

Critical Public and Foreign Policy Concerns
PMB did not address many of the public concerns in his letter to the people of Nigeria. Two of them, which are very critical and do have serious implications for foreign policy, is the deductive, public perception of Islamisation, on the one hand, and Fulanisation, on the other, from PMB’s policies. The perception cannot but militate against the objectives of Nigeria’s Decade. The objective of the Boko Haram insurgency is Islamisation, while Government is believed to have a Fulanisation agenda, which is to seek a homeland for the Fulani in Nigeria.

This is explicated by different government policies which the people, rightly or wrongly, interpret as instruments of both Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda: the policy of giving six months to foreigners residing illegally in Nigeria to regularise their stay in Nigeria, rather than sanctioning them; manu militari acquisition of land for herdsmen, many of whom are believed to be non-Nigerians; visa-on-arrival policy, believed to be an indirect way of facilitating the inflow of the Fulani, who desperately need a homeland in the mania William Balfour of Britain conceived it in 1917 for the Jews and the Palestinians, but different in the context of PMB.

In this regard, it is argued, and strongly too, that no one would concede any land to any herdsmen, Nigerian or foreigner. This means that there will be resistance and Nigeria’s second civil war can be assumed to be already in the making. This is killing Nigeria softly again. All the foreign policy implications, cannot but be, at best, imagined in this regard.

For instance, will national unity be sustainable in the event of another war? Will the US prediction of disintegration of Nigeria in 2014 not become a reality in 2020 or during the so-called Nigerian Decade? What will be the immediate reaction of foreign countries which had wished for a divided Nigeria? What will be the future of regional and continental integration in Africa? Many questions, but few answers. However, one important element of Nigeria’s Decade that should have been factored into PMB’s letter to his fellow compatriots should have been convincing explications on critical public concerns about the alleged agenda of Islamisation and Fulanisation of Government beyond verbal denials, as well as fears of an impending religious conflict in Nigeria.