Tuesday, 26 July 2016

#MustRead: President Buhari and the Lost Honeymoon

President Buhari
by: Obo Effanga

One of the projections I made following the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as President in May 2015 was that the new government was likely to experience a very short political honeymoon with citizens. It did not require much of a political sagacity to know that. The election that brought him in was one that upstaged a sitting president. It also dislodged a political party that had been in power for 16 years. The margin of victory was not very wide while the demography of the votes dangerously exposed the fault lines of the country along ethno-religious and regional lines. It followed that the President technically had as huge an opposition as he had supporters.

On the economic side, the country’s revenue base and the economy at large were already showing signs of weakness. In fact, as far back as November 2014, under the immediate past administration, the government had announced cost-saving measures to help Nigeria’s sinking economy. This was caused mainly by the dwindling price of oil in the international market, that being the mainstay of our economy as well as profligacy and outright corruption. It followed that the new government had a lot of work to do on the economy, more than on anything else. Even if the new government was too carried away by the excitement of their victory at the polls, the immediate events ought to have shocked them to the reality that the economy would remain one of the most critical indicators of its success with Nigerians.

By July of last year, barely two months into the life of the new administration, it was clear that it was not only the national economy that was in distress, but also the states’. As of that time, at least 22 of the 36 states owed salaries to their workers for months. The state governors, across party lines, did what has become recurrent in our peculiar democracy. They asked for the Federal Government’s bailout and got it, even though it has since been shown that many of them were highly undisciplined in the use of the funds, even failing to pay salaries with the funds.

While all these happened, one thought the least the government ought to be doing then was to focus on fixing the economy. To do so, the government was expected to bring together the best of economists the country could boast of to help develop an economic blueprint for the short term at least. Nigerians would probably have excused the government if it took a bit longer time to develop a medium and long-term economic recovery plan. But that was not to be. It even took President Buhari about six whole months to constitute a cabinet. And during that time, there was no economic team while policies kept swinging from one trial to another error. A good example was the issue of transactions in foreign currency which suffered a lot of trials and somersaults in policies. And inconsistency of policies remains one of the greatest setbacks to an economy.

This lack of a sense of urgency in the conduct of government affairs seems to be one of the greatest setbacks and defining features of this administration. Why would a government which was expected to “hit the ground running”, as we say, take so long to put together its critical teams such as the cabinet and an economic team? It is not only the economic team that is lacking or running at low steam. Many more critical appointments expected of the government have not happened. One of such is the full composition of the Independent National Electoral Commission. The commission is statutorily composed of a chairperson and 12 commissioners but more than one year after, six of the commissioner positions are still vacant.

Added to this is the fact that the President has also failed to appoint more resident electoral commissioners to cover the states. What exactly is holding him back, knowing that the officers need a long time of working as a team to deliver quality service? Many of us involved in election observation have asked the question to no end as to why these appointments are so difficult for the President to make.

The same could also be said of the boards of many other statutory agencies. There is good reason to suspect that the non-composition of the some of those boards also has negative impact on the ability of some agencies to fully, transparently and effectively implement their budgets. And the failure to implement some of these budgets, especially the capital budget is also a major reason for the continued constriction of the economy. This is because in an era of economic recession, the one way to jumpstart the economy is by public spending and the government has held back from spending in the past one year. Even the much celebrated N350bn boost that the 2016 budget was expected to bring into the economy has yet to materialise or fully so.

The lack of a sense of urgency also accounts for the lingering crises across the land in which government keeps pussyfooting or reversing its decisions. As it stands, many citizens are not sure of government’s position on the insurgency in the Niger Delta – is government cracking down on the militants or negotiating? If it is negotiating, who are they doing so with and how many more of such groups is it negotiating or planning to negotiate with?

What about the numerous cases of cattle herdsmen attack of communities? What are government’s stance, actions and policies on this menace? Too many of the killings have gone on with impunity. And just when we thought the government would take a firm stance on the matter, it announced the formation of a crack force to curtail the menace of cattle rustling in parts of the North-West. As important as the need to tackle the menace of cattle rustling is, it begs the question why that task is rated more urgent than addressing the menace of killings of citizens by herdsmen. This is happening just as herdsmen and cattle roam our city centres and assert equal access and right of way on highways with motorists.

The honeymoon can’t just continue beyond this point. Let the Buhari government appreciate the pernicious situation the country and its people are in and act with the urgency the situation demands. We are simply tired of promises of what the government intends to do to fix the problem. We want to see practical steps to actualising those. In case they do not realise, the term of this government is but four years, for which more than 25 per cent have been spent. And we know that the last one year (another 25 per cent) is often given to politicking and elections.

One year was enough time to plan and get it right with the economic policy thrust of the government. We should be implementing now and seeing the results of the implementation, not listening to more promises of what the government plans to do, as if we are back to the electioneering days. The honeymoon has been elongated enough. From now on, Buhari’s government should and must be judged on the basis of results, not promises. The honeymoon is over, obviously.

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