President Muhammadu Buhari’s change mantra which brought him to power two years ago may also be his undoing as Nigerians review how his administration has fared in tackling numerous problems facing the country.
By Olu Ojewale*
AS usual since 1999, May 29 christened Democracy Day, is public holiday in Nigeria. Hence, on Monday, May 29, the All Progressives Congress, APC, is expected to roll out the drums in celebration as a party at the centre and the party entrusted with destiny of the nation. But whether or not the government in power, and, indeed, Nigerians have anything to celebrate for voting the APC to power is a matter of opinion.
In any case, President Muhammadu Buhari himself is not in celebrative mood as he is battling to tackle his health issue in London, Britain.
Nevertheless, the day should serve as a reminder to both the government and the Nigerian populace that the Muhammadu Buhari government which came to power two years ago has spent half of its four-year mandate in governance. It also provides Nigerians with the opportunity to take a stock of what the current administration has been able to do against what it had promised before being elected into office.
Indeed, the Buhari administration railroaded its way to governance on the platform of change mantra. And ever since coming to office, one could easily say that Nigerians have seen the change. But how they rate the change is a matter of personal opinion.
Indeed, Nigerians have witnessed many changes in various sectors of their human endeavours under the current administration, which came to power two years ago. For instance, the Buhari administration’s war on Boko Haram insurgency in North-East of the country and war on corruption seem to be on the right paths as they have been producing some measure of results.
Within the time under review, the government has succeeded in securing the release of 103 Chibok schoolgirls out of more than 200 of them abducted on April 24, 2014. But through painstaking and determination, the government first secured the release of 21 of the girls in October 2016 and the latest batch of 82 on April 14, thereby leaving about 195 of them still in captivity of Boko Haram who abducted them from their dormitory in Chibok Secondary School, Borno State.
Besides, the Boko Haram insurgents, in the course of the military massive assaults, were driven out of Sambisa forest, which used to be their stronghold. As a result, the Islamic fundamentalist group appears to have been decimated and now have resorted to suicide bombings as only major way of fighting Nigeria.
The Buhari administration is also seen, in many quarters as winning the war on corruption. More so, because so many corruption cases involving some movers and shakers in the country, as well lawyers and judges are now having their days in courts.
Among high-profile cases being handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, include those of Alex Badeh, a former chief Defence Staff; Sule Lamido, a former governor of Jigawa State; Olisa Metuh, a former publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of Aviation and Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and former national security adviser, among others.
This has also prompted some of the corrupt elements in the country to avoid being caught with their loots as they have now decided to convert their incinerators, empty houses, wardrobes and other convenient places to hide their loots in foreign and local currencies.
It is also on record that, perhaps, to avoid prosecution for corruption, several members of the opposition, especially in the legislative arm, have decamped to the ruling APC.
All these, perhaps, seem to have given the Presidency the confidence that Buhari would win a re-election without much ado.
Speaking to State House correspondents on two years anniversary of the Buhari administration on Tuesday, May 23, Femi Adesina, special adviser on Media and Publicity to the president; Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on Media and Publicity to the president and Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, to the vice president, who fielded questions from reporters exuded so much confidence that Buhari had done well in years in the saddle.
Dismissing the notion that the masses were unhappy with the president, Shehu said: “If elections were held today, Buhari will win overwhelmingly. The masses are still with him.
“The ordinary Nigerian is the most important pillar for the Buhari administration. It is not the rich, and their confidence in the president has remained unshaken all the while. This thing we talk about whistle blower, Nigerians have seen it and Nigerians are happy that their monies that were stolen are being recovered. Look at what we used to have. Boko Haram was active in Abuja. In Kaduna, 20 Okada riders were blown up in one day.
“These were ordinary people. Those who could buy protection for themselves, who could buy bullet proof cars for themselves were not the targets of Boko Haram. It is you and l. Ordinary people who went to church on Sundays, were blown up with bombs.”
Adesina, on his part, would want the ruling party under the leadership of Buhari to be judged after four years and not before. He said that the party “has four years to deliver and not two years.”
He added: “The person that asked the question said there is a buzz in town. I am sure that you have not conducted a scientific survey that shows you that is a popular position. People can always express their opinions; there is liberty on that but you don’t have a scientific survey that has given you the percentage of people that believed that the APC has failed.
“Like the minister of transportation said recently, the APC did not promise to solve all the country’s problems in one year or two years.
“This administration will take Nigeria far beyond how it met it. So if anybody says APC has failed, just tell them it is too early in the day because it is a four-year term and this is just two years. You don’t reach definitive conclusions in two years.”
Even then, many Nigerians have expressed reservations about the way the corruption is war is being fought under the Buhari administration. It is believed in some quarters that the war is selective as there are not many APC members facing trial, except for the likes Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, who is facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for money laundering.
That notwithstanding, the way and manner that Sambo Dasuki, former national security adviser, has been put in prison custody more than a year ago while going for trial on money laundering and corruption charges, leaves a lot for concern. The government has refused to release Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Shi’a Islamic Movement in Nigeria. El-Zakzaky has been in detention since December 14, 2015, after a clash between his movement and officers of the Nigerian army. The army reportedly killed at least 347 members of the group. Despite court orders, the Nigerian federal government has refused to release him from jail, thereby calling into question the Buhari administration’s record on the rule of law.
But the Presidency has tried to justify the obvious snub of the court orders in the two cases. Shehu said the federal government was still detaining Dasuki because there were many other cases against him and that releasing him would jeopardise the ongoing investigation. Those cases being talked about are yet to be disclosed to the public in any way.
Regarding El-Zakzaky, Shehu also explained that the leader of the IMN was still in detention for his own safety, saying there could be violence if he was freed.
He said: “On the issue of El-Zakzaky, the information we have is that he is being kept more for his own safety than the offences he committed.
“If you set him free, what do you think will happen on the streets? He is not in a typical prison condition. He has the company of his wife and children. They can leave if they want. There is overall public good weighing against his release.”
He said further: “The human rights records of this administration are impeccable; they are unimpeachable. I think we should avoid speaking in general terms. The thing to do is to pinpoint specific cases to buttress assertions that people make and then we can tackle them.”
Those arguments, indeed, does not look plausible to the likes of Femi Falana, SAN, who promptly condemned Shehu for them. Falana and those who are in school of thoughts, have argued that continued detention of Dasuki and El-Zakzaky is nothing but flagrant disregard for the rule of law and violation of their rights.
In a statement on Wednesday, May 24, Falana said it was the first time in Nigeria’s history that a democratically elected government would openly justify a citizen’s detention in defiance of a valid court order. The human rights lawyer and counsel to El-Zakyzaky, said Shehu’s statement was a sharp departure from the Presidency’s earlier claims that his client constituted a threat to national security. “Is Mr. Shehu not aware that El-Zakzaky has lost one of his eyes in the dungeon of the State Security Service and may lose the other eye due to denial of urgent medical treatment? Why has his request to travel abroad for medical attention at his own expense been refused by the federal government?”
He, therefore, urged for the immediate and unconstitutional release of El-Zakzaky, as well as Dasuki from government’s custody.
“Since neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor Acting President Yemi Osinbajo could have authorised the contemptuous statement issued on behalf of the Presidency, Mr. Shehu Garba should be called to order and restrained from further exposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ridicule before the comity of civilised nations,” said Falana. “However, since the federal government continues to proclaim loudly that it operates under the rule of law it cannot be operated to treat court orders with disdain. To that extent, El-zakzaky and his wife must be released from the illegal custody of the State Security Service since the federal high court has dismissed the official claim that they are held in ‘protective custody.’
“A government which is desirous to secure conviction of persons charged with criminal offences cannot treat the orders of the same court with disdain and impunity,” Falana said.
The popularity of the Buhari administration seemed to have been called to question when Tukur Buratai, a lieutenant general and chief of Army Staff, warned that some military were becoming too chummy with the Nigerian politicians. Alarmed by the warning, Nigerians from far and near feasted on the information, warning that Nigerians would resist any attempt to truncate the current democracy.
On Tuesday, May 23, Adesina at the press interaction tried to play down the warning, saying it was a routine to soldiers. He said: “The army has spoken and let us take that position. What the chief of Army Staff said was a routine warning that goes to military officers, don’t hobnob with politicians and the army has explained the position, let’s take that position and not stretch it beyond what the military has said because they are the ones that can give us the definitive position and they have spoken on it.”
To allay the fear of Nigerians, at a press conference in Abuja, on Wednesday, May 24, John Enenche, a major general and the director of Defence Information, alongside the directors of information units of the Nigerian Army, Air Force and Navy, declared that there was no truth in the rumour that some officers had planned a coup against the current administration.
Enenche said the military was committed to the sustenance of the current democracy and loyal to the President Buhari administration, and that any coup from any quarter would not have the backing of the armed forces.
The defence information director enjoined Nigerians not to be afraid of any coup, saying all levels of military commands were making troops to remain focused and be conscious of the oath of allegiance they took to protect the constitution of the country.
Although Enenche was evasive in confirming that a panel had been set up to probe the alleged coup plan, his response revealed the move. He said: “It was reported that some of our personnel have been exchanging visits for undisclosed political reasons. What I will tell you here is that we have set in, as it were for that particular case, an administrative machinery.
“It will not be good for us at this point to tell you something that may not be true and to retract it, it will not be healthy for the general public. Let us allow time and administrative procedures. When you talk about possible investigation, it takes some little time and I believe we are still within that little time. So, be patient.”
Be that as it may, a good number of Nigerians have at one point or the other accused the government of not living up to its electoral promises such as paying N5,000 to unemployed youths; free feeding for school pupils and taking off many youths from the unemployment market.
Hence, for someone like Chekwas Okorie, national chairman, United Peoples Party, UPC, the Buhari administration has done poorly. Okorie said in a newspaper interview recently: “Even in opposition, I try my best to be charitable to this government; I have been constructive in my criticism. Yes, the government has made some progress in the area of anti-corruption and in agriculture. But beyond this, there is nothing else you can honestly give serious credit to this government.
“Without looking outside what the president and his party promised Nigerians before they were elected in 2015, let’s look at what they promised: instead of creating jobs for unemployed youths, jobs have been lost; companies are folding up. Yes they have decimated Boko Haram in the North-East, what about the kidnappings, daylight robberies and other violent crimes across Nigeria?
“This is largely responsible for the growing suicide rates. Can you say because they have dealt with Boko Haram, our security is now better? The snail pace of this government has forced many things to remain at a standstill. We are still waiting for board members to be appointed for health and other bodies two years after. Is this what we voted for?”
For Rommy Mom, a human rights lawyer, the Buhari administration has done very well. He argued that Buhari was voted into power primarily to deal with security and corruption in the country, saying that his ratings on those issues are commendable. “The North East is better secured, bombings which were rife in Abuja is tamed. Remember the police headquarters, the United Nation’s building, motor parks and churches have been attacked by Boko Haram. The bombing of churches used to be every Sunday. It is much better now. Granted that there is now the added pressure of herdsmen killings; the belief is that hopefully this will also be addressed,” he said.
Besides, he said the president’s anti-corruption war has become more vibrant than before, even though there are accusations of selective targets. Nevertheless, he said: “The point for me is, are the so-called targets innocent? There is talk of media trials or so. I don’t see how the EFCC publicising its work or cases amounts to media trial.
“It is in order and tells us citizens of efforts made. On other fronts, Buhari can do better and so far below par. Areas like power supply and communication are getting worse. On the whole I score Buhari 60 percent. Remember it is just two years.”
Pat Utomi, a professor of development economy and former presidential candidate, said Nigeria would need a selected crop of intelligentia to drop up plans and policy to move the country to a greater level both economically and politically. While he would like to commend efforts of the Buhari government to tackle corruption, Utomi said the way it is being carried has left much to be desired.
He said: I’ve always been a very strong supporter of any initiative that would reduce corruption. In that sense, anything that should strive is okay but we have to be very careful to recognise that more important is prevention than jailing one person out of all fraud talks. The kind of system that you put in place that would reduce digression is very important to reduce corruption. There are so many kinds of systems that you put in place that are so transparent that anybody can see anybody’s hands moving there, hence there is more or less the likelihood that you have corruption cases the way it is now.
“The more you involve stakeholders in monitoring, the less likely you would have corruption. I don’t think we are doing enough to correct them. We are emphasising too much on the publicity aspect of “I catch a thief” and that is even creating a wrong image around the world that Nigerians are all criminals- that they are hiding monies in apartments and burial grounds.
“I am one of the greater victims, because I am always somewhere around the world and after delivering my speech they would tell me that my country cannot organise anything. Sometimes, even if they don’t say it, you will know they are thinking it.”
The scholar is equally displeased as many Nigerians about the way the Buhari government has been handling the issue of Fulani herdsmen. Although some states in the South and Middle belt have promulgated laws to the deal with the menace, there seems to be no let off in the killing of farm owners ravaged by activities of herdsmen.
“It is a very sad thing that we leave very small problems to become big ones. Even back in the ‘60s, there is a certain agreement with the herdsmen to raise the cattle wherever they are, kill, eat and transport the frozen meat in refrigerated coaches and by train to different locations. But many systems were allowed to fail during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s that brought us to where we are now and people are insisting that it is the only way.
“I think this is an unfortunate situation and behaviour that we have allowed to develop and politics have made it unnecessarily complex, which should not be the case. People are damaging and destroying people’s properties every day and killing the people and it seems it’s just a little thing. The whole strategy is wrong as far as I am concerned and it’s going to only end up being the greater disuniting factor in Nigeria, because people can’t continue to watch their relatives die cruelly without saying enough is enough. Unfortunately, the poor Fulani person, who may not be part of the trouble, will be the target of ethnic hate across the country,” Utomi said.
By and large, it looks a mixed bag putting the performance of the Buhari administration on a scale. What is not in dispute is that Nigerians would like the president not to concentrate only on fighting corruption but to use the proceeds to provide constant electricity, work on the bad economy and provide jobs for the army of Nigerian unemployed youths. Only these can guarantee him a second term in office if his health can carry it.
*Culled from Real News