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Buhari’s candour

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“I am afraid I did not succeed in the elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Rivers. I think that more Nigerians are killed or killed themselves in Rivers than in any particular state. At this stage of our political development, to remain brutal is shameful and as a government, I promise we will do something by the next general election.”

“We had to go back and lick our vomit in terms of university boards … So, we said sorry and allowed all the universities to continue with their boards. But for the rest, eventually, we  will make it. So, please, try to bear with us as we reflect on where we found ourselves.”

–President Muhammadu Buhari

The uncommon candour of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech to the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress on Thursday, March 24, 2016, offered the nation a refreshing departure from the I-don’t-give-a-damn posture of his predecessor. In the speech, Buhari admitted his administration’s failures and mistakes. He also apologised, where necessary, as illustrated in the opening quotes. If the admission of error is taken as the beginning of self-correction, then Buhari should be expected in the next three years to atone for the mistakes and failures he so candidly admitted.

After reading Buhari’s speech, it became clear that he has resigned to spending the first year of his four-year term on laying the groundwork for action in the following three years. Nevertheless, the speech revealed that a lot of work has been done on all the three major fronts on which the APC’s campaign of change was based, namely, security, the economy, and corruption. However, partly due to poor public relations and communication shortfall, much less is known about what has been done than about what remains to be done.

Buhari’s focus on security has been devoted largely to terrorism. The reorganisation of the military, including the change of service chiefs, and the purchase of new hard and software immediately led to a boost in military morale and the gradual recovery of 14 local government areas from Boko Haram. The fight was aided by the relocation of the command centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, close to the centre of action. Buhari admitted, however, that Boko Haram still has some capability and continues to strike at soft targets, using technology, which includes the use of bombs, mounted on willing suicide bombers.

Buhari did not provide much details on Niger Delta militants, except to acknowledge that the militants have been sending conflicting signals: “Some have said they are ready to drop their arms and join the rest of the nation to build it. But part of them are still sabotaging installations which is making investments in that lucrative area of Nigeria difficult”.

It is alright that Buhari did not go further to outline his strategy of dealing with the recalcitrant militants just as he did not provide details of how Boko Haram will be completely defeated. Those are matters of tactical detail unsuitable for public speechmaking or the pages of newspapers.

The emphasis on elections as a security issue is a welcome approach in view of the deadly turn that elections have taken, especially in Rivers State. True, Buhari admitted failure in the elections conducted so far under his watch, but his promise to “do something by the next general election” is not good enough. The people want to hear that the perpetrators of the atrocities in Rivers will be fished out and punished. Besides, assurances are needed that the elections coming up later this year in Edo and Ondo will be held in a secure environment. It will be a disaster to wait until those elections come up before appropriate steps are taken.

It was both surprising and disappointing that Buhari did not mention the increasing menace of Fulani herdsmen, which seems to have escalated under his watch (for an indictment, see, for example, Abimbola Adelakun, “Agatu killings and Buhari’s moral weakness”, The PUNCH, March 24, 2016). Since the abduction of Chief Olu Falae, following the plundering of his farm by Fulani herdsmen, their atrocities have been reported repeatedly in different parts of the country. Beyond plundering farmlands and destroying crops, they have raped women, abducted men, and killed landowners. Buhari had better tackled this problem headlong, especially given its ethnic, religious, and regional dimensions. It must be treated as a serious security threat before it goes out of hand.

It cannot be denied that Buhari has been seeking solutions to the economic problems arising largely from dwindling oil fortunes and large-scale corruption. They include the implementation of the Treasury Single Account, which has allowed the government to mop up over N3tn that otherwise would have been frittered away; the reduction in the number of federal ministries from 42 to 24; the restructuring of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in order to facilitate transparency and accountability; and working arduously on the 2016 budget amidst controversy and at a time when “27 out of 36 states have difficulty in paying basic salaries of their workers”.

However, such solutions will remain as nothing but “discussion”, until the people can see or feel them in their daily lives. Yes, these measures allow the government to rake in money already within the system, while also plugging traditional points of economic leakages. None of them, however, addresses wealth creation and employment generation.

Nor did Buhari fully address the much touted issue of economic diversification beyond the cursory reference to agriculture and solid minerals. We already knew, as Buhari pointed out in his speech, that these two sectors can generate employment and provide raw materials for industries. Agriculture can also provide food security. The question is how do we make these sectors work to produce these results? What steps has the administration taken, or is taking, in this regard? When will results begin to show?

These questions provide the backdrop for the people’s anxiety as power and fuel supply plummeted. Buhari’s failure to address these issues directly was a sad oversight.

There is no doubt that Buhari has been fighting a relentless war against corruption, and it must continue. Not only are looters being investigated and charged, the government has also set up a panel, with wide-ranging terms of reference, to probe the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission. However, as Buhari himself acknowledged, the publication of “a list of recoveries in whatever currencies so far” is necessary “so that Nigerians will know that it is not all about long stories”. It is not enough, however, to show us how much has been recovered. The looters must not be treated with kid gloves; they must go to jail, if proved guilty. This is where lawyers and judges of conscience and moral courage are needed; not those so-called SANs and judges, who would hide under technicalities and “human rights” to prolong cases or get criminals to walk free in return for their own share of the loot.

Buhari’s efforts notwithstanding, evidence abounds on incoherence within the administration. For example, “while Buhari is being commended for proposing to spend big in order to stimulate consumption and build infrastructures, the Central Bank of Nigeria (by increasing lending rate to commercial banks) is busy restricting access to loanable funds” (Henry Boyo, “Economy: Buhari and CBN pulling apart”, The PUNCH, Monday, March 28, 2016). Similarly, Buhari’s demeanour and candour are dampened by the obstinacy of the I-am-no-magician statement by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.

As I once indicated on this column, the Buhari administration still needs to build an overarching policy to which all departments could relate just as it needs communications clinics on major issues, if only to draw up talking points in order to avoid contradictions.

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