President Muhammadu Buhari, in his May 29 Democracy Day broadcast, rolled out an impressive list of achievements. The President reeled out his score card, based on his government’s three pillars: security, corruption and the economy.
In general terms, he was true in what he claimed his government had done. But whether that score card has met the general high expectation of the change mantra, that propelled the president and his All Progressives Congress (APC) to power, is another matter.
Still, given the rather tenuous juncture at which the administration took over in 2015, it should be fairly proud of its achievements, forged in the most difficult and testy of times.
The president was, therefore, right on the money in his opening assertions, in the second of his 37-paragraph speech, when he said, inter alia: “The commemoration of this year’s Democracy Day is … a salute to the resilience and determination of Nigerians …” Indeed, it has been tough for everyone, the governors and the governed — a crucible Nigeria had not experienced for a long time.
That is why, to every claim the president has made, there is probably a counter-claim, earnest or cynical. But that would appear a function of a polity that agrees it has glaring problems, but fiercely disagrees on how to solve them. Also, there is hardly any agreement on how to tackle spin-offs from a problem being solved. That is, because the society reeks with mutual distrust — ethnic, religious, communal.
Take the security question. On Boko Haram, the most critical security blight the administration inherited, the president said — and it is true — that his government has done much better than the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency.
Enthused the president: “Before this administration came into being three years ago, Boko Haram held large areas of land spanning several local governments in the North East. Today,” he added, “the capacity of the insurgents has been degraded, leading to the re-establishment of authority of government and the release of captives”.
True — and those right in those troubled spots — returning emirs that fled their courts; and locals that sought refuge in the bush and in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps — would probably appreciate that remarkable transition, much more than those commenting, hundreds of miles from the North East vortex.
Yet, despite that progress, the Dapchi school girls’ capture — all 104 of them — re-echoed the shameful abduction of the 276 Chibok girls, of the Jonathan era. Though the Buhari Presidency moved fast to negotiate the release of the Dapchi girls, save the sole Leah Sharibu, still in captivity for insisting on her Christian faith, that Chibok could repeat itself in Dapchi put a dent on the administration’s anti-terror score card. Still, it is also fair to say that Buhari has negotiated part-release of the Chibok girls — what Jonathan could not do. But that the rest are still in captivity gores not a few.
Even then, as the government was lifting the Boko Haram siege, another pestilence of killers were descending upon the land, this time mainly in the Middle Belt. In the first quarter of 2018, the killings were so brazen, particularly in Benue and Taraba, as to rubbish whatever records the administration had chalked up on security.
The crisis is not helped by the simplistic blaming of every killing on “herdsmen”; and the explosive allegations that the killings were “ethnic cleansing”. Later investigations, however, would reveal a more complicated problem, spanning farmers-herdsmen tension, politically motivated killings allegedly by cult groups, and even ancient feuds revived by crippling poverty, among sundry anomie.
But whatever the scope or source of these killings, the Buhari administration cannot claim to have made a dent on security without eliminating the bloodletting and making every corner of Nigeria safe. It should also be wary of declaring success on the war against terror. Until the last terrorist, suicide-bombing soft targets, is curtailed, the war on terror cannot be won.
On corruption, the Buhari government, of truth, has much to crow about. Aside from big name convictions, the anti-sleaze war has not only been on the front burner, there is increasing consciousness that maybe a Nigerian government is at last ready to punish corruption. Indeed, only on May 30, the long-drawn trial of the Revd. Jolly Nyame, Taraba two-term governor from 1999-2007, ended in a 14-year gaol term, without any option of fine. That is an encouraging feat.
The president was also right on the strict implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), ironically an initiative of the Jonathan Presidency, which didn’t have the will to walk its policy talk. Aside from saving a large quantum of cash — the president put the figure at N200 billion — from pilferers, implementing TSA is attacking corruption from the preventive side. That is far cheaper than chasing stolen funds. But the most obvious gains from the anti-sleaze war would appear generally doing more with less, when compared to the boom period of the Jonathan administration.
Still, there are abiding worries, in some quarters, that the corruption war is one-sided, and driven by political affiliations, rather than strict merit. But another view point has also countered that the opposition was crying wolf, just to corral sympathy. Whatever it is, President Buhari must ensure the corruption war is fair to all.
From corruption to the economy, the adminstration’s third pillar. Again, from the recession that dawned with its entry into office, the economy would appear at last on the mend. The president, quoting the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said the economy grew by 1.95 per cent, in first quarter 2018, against the deficit -0.91 growth in first quarter 2017, even if back then, the economy was inching its way out of recession.
Foreign reserve has also grown to US$ 47.5 billion in May 2018 from US$ 29.6 billion in May 2015, when the administration took over. Of course, there is the huge investment in agriculture, symbolised by rice and yam, two popular staples, that drive the government’s policy sing-song that Nigeria must grow what they eat and eat what they grow. The president said the aggressive cultivation of rice has reduced rice importation by 90 per cent, within three years. Also, all over the country there is clear evidence of fixing roads, and building rail — the result of 30 per cent of the budget on capital expenditure, a rarity, many would say, since 1999.
At best, however, what the administration has done is priming the economy for its eventual rebound. For it to achieve real success, it must continue on the right path of fiscal discipline and an even increased spending on infrastructure, not to talk of finally delivering on the power sector, which generation is now put at 7, 000 mw. Then, and only then, would its exertions translate to direct citizens’ joy and less hunger in the land.
But aside from these three pillars, the Buhari Presidency should be more sensitive to appointments, to conform to Nigeria’s diversity. The president has always argued that his cabinet has met the national spread, as demanded by the Constitution — which is true. But others have countered that his security appointments are skewed to the North, thus eliciting some form of alienation from those parts of the country that feel left out. The president would therefore do well to be more sensitive on this score and balance the appointments.