President Buhari

By OBINNA EZUGWU
and ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

For many Nigerians the Buhari years as elected President have been less than salutary to say the least. Coming into office in 2015 on a self-admitted three-point agenda to fight corruption, combat insecurity and boost the economy, many see in the fact that the nation continues to struggle with all three indices, with many others also not faring much better, as very clear evidence of his underperformance.

But not everyone is on this page. For those who have a more favourable image of the administration, it has been able to advance the nation’s path of progress in several respects. They point to moves and measures to boost the nation’s infrastructural stock as one such area of growth, citing work on projects like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Second Niger Bridge and a few more initiatives in the railway development arena. They also point to efforts to implement the unified Treasury Single Account, TSA.

What manner of politics?

It is however in the handling of his politics that we begin to get a better insight into why this President may actually be coming out as considerably underperforming.

What comes across on this critical score is the picture of one who is in but not in, an elected democratic leader who is still very steeped in dictatorial tendencies. A recluse who is playing in an extroverted field, a loner in the middle of a densely packed bus of soccer fans navigating the mirthful contours of the naturally egregious game. How really do you handle this?

Indeed, in searching for evidence of President Buhari’s penchant for aloofness, the inquirer would find for example that they have been all too evident in the way and manner he has managed the fortunes of the ruling party as its leader since 2015. Although promoted pre-2015 as an iron-fisted, Spartan and ascetic anti corruption czar who would rid the country of a certain culture of indiscipline and stem corruption, no sooner had he mounted the saddle on May 29 of the same year than it became clear, many opine, that managing even his own party would be a huge challenge.

Starting with the process of establishing the Transition Team and putting together the nucleus of the new governing establishment that victory at the polls had thrust on the APC, it soon emerged that even the new party had not been able to see through and make quite accommodating arrangements on how to tackle the long-standing and yet looming geo-political challenge involved in welding the dominant political tendencies of the North and West together in a Nigeria where the cleavages were still very deep. As it then emerged, a sprinkling of elements from Buhari’s own Congress for Political Change, CPC, alongside several other personal buddies and loyalists of the new President drawn from the Northern geo-political field now took complete charge of the affairs of government, wholly comprised the kitchen cabinet and began the process of filling up all positions that were open for filling with candidates and nominees of their own ilk.

This then built up into the rift over national assembly leadership that soon pitted the eventual senate president, Abubakar Bukola Saraki against the national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the party has rarely known cohesion and the Buhari has since continued to demonstrate, it would seem an inability to take charge.

The crisis which eventually degenerated into full scale “APC Crisis” could evidently, have been nipped in the bud by the president if he had, like others before him, taken firmer charge of the ruling party. But in the event, he elected to watch as events unfold, deciding that he wouldn’t interfere in the affairs of the national assembly, an independent arm of government, which on a good day was a noble path to toe. Regardless, it degenerated into intense bickering and underscored the fragility inherent in the quite unwieldy coalition that had brought him into power.

The crisis was, of course, triggered when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the widely acclaimed single most dominant ‘national leader’ of the APC before the 2015 elections took place had stridently pushed for the candidature of Senator Ahmad Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila as president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, which did not go down well with the strongman of the party in Kwara State, former Governor, Bukola Saraki, who wanted the job himself. Saraki soon also got to his side a number of similarly estranged party members who were even in these early days feeling marginalized over the evolving spoils-sharing arrangement

Saraki persisted in his determination to get the plum position of Senate President as reward for his many contributions to the mutual victory they had secured and while the crisis grew, Buhari seemingly stood on the fence. Eventually, the former Kwara governor emerged, helped, very significantly by the support he had been able to cobble from a night-time arrangement with the opposition PDP, and was dramatically elected Senate President while a majority of his APC colleagues were attending a meeting to resolve the protracted disagreement. On the same day, Hon Yakubu Dogara emerged, under near similar circumstances, as Speaker of the House of Representatives to the detriment of Gbajabiamila.

Their emergence would trigger protracted bickering in the ruling party, one which eventually saw both Saraki and Dogara, as well as the likes of Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, all of whom were instrumental to APC’s emergence in 2015, leaving the party less than two years later.

Kwankwaso had, of course, been locked in bitter rivalry with his successor and erstwhile political ally, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. And given the strategic importance of Kano to the APC and Buhari, many had expected the president to intervene to forestall further escalation. But he didn’t, almost rather typically. Kano has since become a political crisis hot-spot with the APC very nearly losing power to the Kwankwaso-led PDP in the state in 2019.

But while the ruling party survived being dethroned in the North’s most populous state, courtesy of what some observers say were last minute arm-twisting tactics of the system by the state government backed actively by Abuja, another neighbouring state, Zamfara was lost to the PDP, and this time, not on account of the opposition party’s apparent popularity in the state, but again, on account of the ruling party’s poorly managed internal crisis.

Like everywhere else, Buhari had failed to intervene in the brewing APC crisis in Zamfara in the lead of to the 2019 election; a succession crisis which pitted some of the president’s appointees such as then Defence Minister, Mansur Dan Ali as well as Senator Kabiru Marafa, among others, against the then governor, Abdulaziz Yari. The ruling party ultimately failed to conduct primary elections within the time frame given by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which ultimately proved costly.

Although it eventually fielded candidates for various elective positions during the polls, and indeed putatively swept all, it subsequently lost out completely to the PDP on account of a court judgement that nullified their candidacy. Overnight, a seemingly all-clear APC state was taken over completely by the PDP.

But Zamfara was only one of many states where the ruling party was locked in crisis. There were also Imo, Kogi, Rivers, Delta, Ogun and many others. And by the time the 2019 election was over, the ruling party had lost the very significant Bauchi and Adamawa states in the Northeast.

Underscoring the fact that all is still not well in the critical arena of party harmony in the APC, at the moment, the party in both Edo and Ondo states, even with elections coming up later in the year, is embroidered in internal crisis as incumbent governors, Godwin Obaseki and Rotimi Akeredolu face mounting opposition against their second term bids from the yet expanding fissiparous tendencies in the party.

Effect on governance

As much as the president’s apparent lack of engagement is evident in the party, it may even be more evident in his government by many accounts. It took a little while after he took power for a certain group of people now known as Aso Rock Cabal to constitute themselves into a powerful ruling bloc that has been practically calling all the shots. And of course, this was to quickly blossom into open instances of infighting within the administration, which came to the fore early on when then Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura wrote the Senate to stop the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in what was a bizarre turn of events where an appointee of the president was writing a petition against another appointee of the same president. Indeed, Magu remains in acting capacity till date.

Since that episode, Nigerians have continued to witness rifts between key figures in the government, including the rivalry between the president’s wife, Aisha and his uncle, Lawal Daura which once resulted in verbal confrontation in Aso Rock.

Only months ago, another rift between the late powerful former Chief of Staff to the president, Abba Kyari and his National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno became public knowledge, a development that for many, was evidence of the president not being in charge of his government. And only last week, another rift between Minister of Communication, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami and chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa came to the fore. Dr. Pantami had reportedly used armed security men to evict NIDCOM staff from an office space given to them by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

“There are a couple of things that those appointees of Buhari, especially those working with him at the presidency, have done that suggest that indeed, they are like masters and kings unto themselves with little or no control,” notes Barrister Okey Okoroji, Lagos-based lawyer, analyst and two-time governorship aspirant in the state.

“It also underscores the level of incompetence on the part of the man who ought to be the commander-in-chief, the ultimate decision maker in this country. There are a couple of things that have been reported in the media which are in my view, very embarrassing and shocking. These men would take certain decisions without recourse to due process, without recourse to chain of command in the administrative structure of the country.”

Indeed the Buhari government has somewhat lacked adequate coordination since inception. And with recent developments, particularly the news – which the presidency has denied via a statement by Mallam Garba Shehu – that the late Chief of Staff, Kyari gave as much as 150 appointments without the president’s knowledge, more people are beginning to wonder who is actually in charge at the seat of power, even as most indices of development have headed south since 2015.

“Yes, when you think about it, is he (Buhari) really in charge?” wonders Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma “We are in trouble, but God will deliver us.”

Dysfunctional governance, uninspiring economics

Across the world, there is near-unanimous agreement that indeed Nigeria is a potentially great and immensely resourced nation. With its abundant crude oil and gas deposits, fertile agricultural land, rich weather systems, boisterous and entrepreneurial people brimming with sold human capital capacities and achievements, it has always been very clear that the only way the nation should be going is up.

Given this scenario, many then believe that the missing link in the equation for very many years has been its choking and most constricting political structure as well as its lack of great leadership.

Given the noted leadership limitations of the Goodluck Jonathan era, many were led on the path that the reputedly no-nonsense Buhari was what was needed. Give us Buhari and all will be well, the slogan went so casually. But how?

Only days into his being elected as President, many in the nation began to review their short-sighted clutching onto the Buhari-as-saviour straw. With the President confessedly spending weeks upon weeks in studying what he had met on ground (despite that he had been a past military head of state, presidential candidate and was effectively President in waiting for three months before his being formally sworn into office), it was becoming clear that the nation may not have chosen a better path after all.

Indeed, things soon got to a head where on account, principally, of several economic mis-steps by the new administration, the nation soon skidded into a recession.

And even after leaving that boat, it has also not done too much to drive the economy more frontally in a solidly alternative direction that would bring out the best of the promise of Nigeria.

Analysts say that central to the continuing economic under-achievement of the administration would be its continued reliance on oil revenues, the tepidity of its fiscal economic management and the easy recourse to quick and easy loans as a means of financing both its infrastructural and recurrent policy objectives. This has seen the nation chalking up a quite frightening N27 trillion debt debt and counting with the latest being the fresh $5.5 billion loan request approval being sought from the House of Representatives at the moment.

Institutions, systems and structures

Analysts are also worried as to whether the Buhari years have not resulted in a regression of some of the democratic gains of the nation. For them, they cite instances as the administration dubiously distancing itself from the promise to restructure the federation, the assault on judicial and parliamentary diversity and freedom and the new recourse to signing controversial proclamations and executive orders at the expense of proper lawmaking processes as counter-productive to the greater national goal of entrenching a solid and irreversible rule of law-based democracy.

There are also deepening issues of intra-national disputations that have since expanded with the administration’s poor handling of the national balance template. Unlike in the past where conscious attempts were made to carry along the respective geographical currents in the federation in the governance architecture, today there are very shrill and loud protests of marginalization and neglect, with the latest being the protest from the Niger Delta over the lopsided appointments into the top echelon of the nation’s oil industry which incidentally, is almost wholly derived from that region. While the administration has been forced to take notional note of the complaints, many wonder if like the lingering complaints over the concentration of top military appointments in the North, this would not also come to join in the throng of grumbling that changes nothing.

Score card and the way forward

Maxim Opara is one of those who felt that Buhari would have made a difference as he was then being presented in 2015. But he has since changed his mind.

‘Other than a few strides in the area of infrastructure, which have also come at colossal debt costs to the nation in the long term and which even makes me wonder whether there is no one in the entire Federal Executive Council that can point out to the president the very distressing implication of such untrammeled borrowing, I cannot see any real discernible progress that Buhari has brought on board. We are seemingly more insecure and divided than we were before now and indeed, that monster, corruption, may today be walking the streets on all fours. It is really sad,’ he laments.

So where indeed is the change that was promised by the marketers of this administration? With five years gone and with the process of regime succession or elections already underway, it is almost all clear now that this is not the one: we wait for another.