By Bunmi Makinwa
There are many voices in Nigeria that express regret for having chosen then candidate Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 presidential elections. In understanding the present, the past must be made clear.
In the choice between All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s candidate Buhari and People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Buhari was the right decision. The Jonathan government had outlived its relative usefulness. It was hardly breathing under the weight of corruption, insecurity especially Boko Haram’s numerous willful attacks, false economic growth, inept leadership and rampant official unresponsiveness to peoples’ needs.
President Buhari is in office today because most Nigerians decided that they had enough of bad leadership of former President Jonathan. Yes, there were some very commendable achievements under Jonathan, but the decay was more.
At the time, Buhari and his coalition of “progressives” offered a possible alternative. Their three-pronged campaign themes of economic development, security especially arresting the growing territorial expansion of Boko Haram, and stopping or reducing corruption resonated well with the electorate. It was the appropriate time for the country to climb out of a known sinkhole, and to firmer ground, though it was not to a solid rock.
A New York Times article that I quoted in my write up of March 2, 2015 entitled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. Buhari did not come with a pedigree that could rescue Nigeria from its abyss of under-development. But compared to where Jonathan had led the country, “anything but the same” was acceptable.
Two and half years later, as the debate escalates on what is the next road to take for Nigeria, it is appropriate to consider whether the country has made strides under Buhari. And whether the successes are sufficient to justify a continuation of the same government come the 2019 presidential selection.
In a democracy, elections present the opportunity for reflection, reconsideration and action. It is a time for people to exercise their democratic rights by voting for political leaders. Nigeria has the opportunity, once every four years, to confirm a sitting president or welcome a replacement, according to the constitution.
It must be said that Buhari’s government tackled Boko Haram convincingly, and heralded confidence in the nation’s military machine. It revealed many facts about massive stealing and corruption in the previous administration. It exposed humongous monies and wealth that were stolen and often hidden by so-called leaders and their surrogates.
Unlike the Jonathan government, it reined in unbridled and reckless spending and began to save for possible difficult times ahead, despite major fall of petroleum price. And Buhari talked tough a few times about how to make the country gain traction in reducing imports.
Notwithstanding, the enthusiasm and positive “moment of actions” that accompanied Buhari into office was wasted by the new government. Rather than send out unequivocal actions to build on the high level of credibility that was shown by voters towards him, Buhari went literally into exile. Strangely, appointment of his own cabinet proved difficult and took six months, and other important offices were left unoccupied for a long time.
Many cheerleaders of Buhari, including my humble self, wondered if he was the same person who had aspired to rule the country numerous times.
Perhaps Buhari’s illness accounts for the slowness in many spheres where urgent actions were needed. Yet, it is not justification to absolve the leadership from its accountability to the people. It is correct to assert that, in many aspects which are explained daily in public discourse, Buhari has not done as well as expected.
Albeit, there is a greater problem.
Beyond the lack of performance of the government according to public expectations, there is a major concern that Buhari is leading the country progressively into territories of no-return. The actions and decisions of his government undermine the country’s nationhood. The country is tottering.
A few critical issues will serve to illustrate the point.
The commendable actions of the government on Boko Haram and engagement, though less successful, with the Delta area insurgents, gave the impression that former military general Buhari understood security and could protect the country.
Still several security threats have ensconced themselves. The problem is not only that they should have been contained before they assumed serious importance, but that they were allowed to fester and grow. Kidnap, inter-religious fighting, open ethnic rivalry, insurgency by local militias, horrendous actions of herdsmen have all become serious threats to national cohesion. The government has been careless and ineffectual, to say the least. To date, there is no clear sense of urgency and actions to reclaim the girls, women and people abducted by Boko Haram or explain the lack of serious progress, (although there may be more to it than the public knows).
In appointments, assignments, and placements of senior officials, the government has been as partisan as it has been in sleeping on official reports, decisions on investigations. Management and containment of crisis within the presidency, executive arm and ruling political party leaves much to be desired.
The economy is one of the foremost areas of strength of Buhari’s government. Unlike many other sectors, there is a blueprint and direction. There are promises of results and often a timeframe is defined. However, the results are far too few and lightweight to deal with the problems on the ground. It does not matter that the previous government caused enormous damage to the nation’s economy. The solutions must come from the current government. Despite overwhelming control of states by APC, the sad non-payment of civil servants’ salaries on time or at all persists.
Unemployment, high food prices, high costs of fuel and transportation, high costs of education and health care, among others, are common and becoming normal.
Characteristically, religion – arising in part from the general insecurity, economic deprivation, poor governance, loss of confidence in government’s capability to be fair, firm and honest, – has become the only straw to which many people hang their hopes and trust. In the absence of official decisive actions and communication, people revert to religion or faith to explain many issues. As a result, a much polarised nation has become even more divided by religious differences.
This government shows poor understanding of the dynamics of the country. It deliberately or inadvertently allows ethnic arguments to thrive; accusations of partiality in government appointments appear germane; and government often waits for inter-ethnic attacks to germinate and take roots, before it shows its feeble hands.
On corruption, Buhari’s government shows a consistent desire to act. It demonstrates commitment to tackle it. But the actions are too little, too limited, too weak, too narrow, very incomprehensible and more laden with failures than successes. The greatest fear is that Buhari’s government may leave so much disillusion due to its poor showing on corruption that apathy may set in – if Mr. anti-corruption, straight-as-a-rod Buhari cannot succeed in fighting corruption, maybe nobody can. Then, as many pro-corruption advocates argue, “corruption is a Nigerian, and let us live together”. It is a wrong thesis and corruption should and can be fought successfully. This government’s anti-corruption approach lacks honesty, strategy, direction and it is devoid of mobilisation of people. It cannot succeed.
What is next towards 2019?
There should be an admission that Buhari’s government did succeed in changing some things for the better. Though far below what is expected. Much more can and should be done. There are four possible new directions to take.
One is to have the current government change its tempo and change from not being “in a hurry to do anything”, as Buhari himself admitted recently. The problems are known and by re-organising to have the right people around him to think and implement decisions in the best interest of the country, much more can be achieved.
The second possible way is for Buhari to be a statesman and accept that due to his health and factors beyond him, he cannot lead the country. His party, APC, may be able to find a capable replacement.
The third one is for Buhari to step aside and also opt out of APC. His illness and political party have made it difficult for him, he says, and he becomes a most respected statesman by such a wise step. He can provide a rallying point for an alternative force to the big political parties.
The fourth possible route is to re-invent the political fundamentals of the country. It should be possible for independent candidates and candidates of smaller political parties to run for presidential and other offices. Time and test have shown that APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin.
Buhari came into power to arrest the drift under Jonathan. It has done some of it. As things stand, the government cannot do better. It can most probably get worse. PDP does not have known leaders of the quality needed to handle Nigeria’s current and future challenges. It means that in 2019, as in 2015, presidential election may be a repeat of “miserable choices’.
Given the numerous proven corrupt people who may present themselves for the coming elections, strong are the chances that Buhari will have a second term in such a situation.
* Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).