Friday 20 May 2016

#MustRead: Change - 12 Months After

Buhari and Osinbajo - Change
by: Ayo Olukotun

Democracy Day is a little over a week away from today and what better time to do a preliminary assessment of the impact and the governance achievements of Muhammadu Buhari in the 12 months since he was sworn in as Nigeria’s President. Interestingly, Tuesday’s rescue by local vigilantes of Amina Ali, one of the 219 Chibok girls and the ongoing inchoate strike by workers protesting the hike in the price of petrol to N145 from N86:50, offer illustrations of how vast and slippery the unconquered governance terrain remains.

Before getting to those matters however, two preliminary remarks are in order. Those of us above 40 years too often forget that the younger generation of Nigerians who are a demographic majority, never knew the Nigerian state as an efficient and developmental entity delivering welfare dividends to its citizens. Their sense of alienation from a state that orphans them is more profound therefore than we readily imagine. The abiding challenge for Buhari and successive leaders remains how to convince this decentred species of surging humanity that Nigeria can work and run efficiently. It is not clear to this writer whether the enormity of this challenge has been grasped by the current administration.

Second and on a more positive note, the heights to which corruption was taken under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration and more importantly the inability of the Peoples Democratic Party to reform itself from within, suggest that someone in the mould of Buhari was needed to administer a shock therapy to a system that had lost all moral sensitivity and reckoning. In this sense, even if there are ironies as someone has thoughtfully observed about Nigeria turning to a man in his 70’s for change, the voters made a wise choice last year by sacking Jonathan. How else would we have known of the gargantuan rip-offs, the iniquitous transactions that went on in the name of governance? 

Admittedly, corruption is very much inter-twined with the Nigerian story; however, it is obvious that because of a combination of the politics of entitlement in the Niger Delta, the weak moral stamina of Jonathan and the inherited political corruption within the PDP and other parties, the recent past represented Nigeria’s years of the locusts. Let me be clear about something: That Jonathan ran a heavily corrupt government does not mean that he recorded no governance achievements. What it means however is that he limited the possibilities of Nigeria’s redemption by indifference to a critical issue.

If we raise the question whether there is less corruption under Buhari because of the ongoing probes, the answer must remain ambiguous or at least unclear. What exists as of now is a sense of retribution arising from the possibility of being caught. A combination of austerity and what has been called the fear of Buhari resulted in a retreat of overt corruption as far as a government at the centre is concerned. As this columnist and others have repeatedly argued, the current conception of anti-corruption is limited to the syndrome of catching thieves or more precisely catching and shaming some of the big thieves. It does not seek to interrogate the systemic and institutional drivers of corruption in order to develop a Corruption Prevention Strategy rather than one that merely deals with its symptoms. That apart, there is the emerging viewpoint which has recently found wide play in the British media that Buhari’s fight against corruption contains the barely disguised objective of employing it as a tool to decimate the opposition PDP. There is an unhappy historical resonance to this allegation as it evokes the blatantly one sided anti-corruption policy of Buhari’s incarnation as military head of state in the 1980s. Having said that, it must be stated that a deficient and skewed anti-corruption campaign is better than a mindset which allows corruption to flourish unchecked.

One other area of qualified success for Buhari is the war against Boko Haram which he has pursued with vigour. Of course as the French President, Francois Hollande, warned in Abuja last week, it is presumptious and overly optimistic to claim to have defeated Boko Haram. Nonetheless, we must credit Buhari and the Nigerian military for driving the counterinsurgency war with stamina and commitment. This is at least one area where the once reclining state has shown some bite. Regrettably however, there has so far been less decisiveness concerning the escalating insecurity in other sectors of national life such as the ravages of the murderous Fulani herdsmen.

In this and other respects, what is required are not merely contingents or knee-jerk responses to emergencies but a reinvention and recalibration of the entire security apparatus in such ways that it can major in intelligence gathering, criminology and community linkages. It cannot do this without going beyond tactics to strategic thinking and scenario building which are the hallmarks of effective security institutions. The economy remains for obvious reasons a special area of concern as policy interventions so far have either been unsystematically applied or not carefully thought through. The swerve from a modicum of social protection to untramelled market forces has introduced its own bit of confusion just as the untidy overlap between the removal of oil subsidy and price hike of petrol is not clearly sorted out. In the months ahead and especially in the light of the current controversy surrounding petrol price policy, the administration will need to relearn its economic onions, map out clear directions, communicate better with stakeholders and reduce uncertainty and policy fluctuations.

It is distressing that Nigerians have continued to pay more for less and less hours of electricity. As of Tuesday, it was reported that within a space of eight hours, the volume of electricity generated crashed to a mere 1,400megawatts. This is of course not the first time that we are witnessing this level of dramatic shortfall variously explained as due to under-performance of the thermal power stations, shortage of gas and pipeline vandalism. For an economy already in the doldrums, the impact of these shortages must be traumatic. It remains to be seen therefore whether the annual projected increases in power generation announced by the administration will hold true.

Even when we take account of the tardiness and long delay in approval of the 2016 budget, it must be said that several vital areas of governance are crying for attention. Education, health, transport, job creation and social protection are some of these. It is difficult to point to successful policy interventions at least thus far in the 12 months since May 2015. Doubtless, the delay in appointing ministers had something to do with it but it must be pointed out that no excuse is too good for non-performance. In the tertiary educational sector for example, the administration must be interested to know why several institutions have shut down as a result of students’ protests over irregular and poor services. A lot can be achieved through constant dialogue with stakeholders as well as resourcefulness in order to ensure that the already weak quality of education does not further erode.

Overall, the administration has raised hopes concerning the possibility of a Nigerian renewal. It will have to do much more than it has done in the last one year for the hopes raised not to turn into a nightmare of unfulfilled expectations.

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