Presented at the Periodic Media Parley Organised by OneVOICE Coalition in collaboration with HURILAWS on Tuesday, 21 February 2017, at the Training Hall of the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG), 10 Afolabi Lesi Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.
What significant transformation have Nigerians witnessed, in any sector of their life, in the two years of Buhari’s presidency?
Any assessment of President Buhari Government’s policy direction will start from the three main areas that formed his campaign thrust and on which he has focussed since his election in May 2015. These are anti-corruption, tackling insecurity and youth unemployment and revamping the ailing economy which it inherited from the previous Jonathan administration. But we will not limit our assessment to these three areas only. We will also focus on the administration’s performance in the improvement of power supply, the reform of the administration of criminal justice and in upholding the rule of law. Democracy is protected by the rule of law and any attack on the rule of law is a threat to democracy.
President Buhari’s most important promise to Nigerians was that he would vigorously combat corruption. He urged Nigerians to ‘kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’. Any objective evaluation of the success or impact of the government’s anti-corruption war will seek to ascertain how much of the huge stolen public assets have been recovered, how many high profile corruption cases have been successfully prosecuted and how many convictions secured. How much deterrence has government measures created for corruption? Has the risk of corruption increased or are there still incentives for it? Are people now afraid to engage in corrupt practices or is it still business as usual?
In the early days of the Buhari administration, it would be understandable if people applauded the government for its tough stance, its no-nonsense rhetoric and its tough measures- the mass arrests and detention of public officials implicated in corruption. But two years on, and with accused persons merely kept in indefinite detention (in some cases, in defiance of court orders) without their trial moving forward, no convictions secured and not many assets recovered, it appears more like mere sound and fury without significant impact; more like motion without movement. Even with reports of some indicted people voluntarily returning stolen money, it is not clear how much government has recovered so far and what it is actually doing with the money.
Fierry columnist, Okey Ndibe notes that the so-called war on corruption, Buhari’s best calling card, has failed to achieve the conviction of one significant political figure from the recent past.
Many Nigerians are scandalised that President Buhari who sold himself to Nigerians on the promise of fighting corruption, has now surrounded himself with corrupt individuals as inner cabinet members.
Odinkalu echoed this view when he observed that this administration came into power to fight corruption and now, next to the president is the man now known as the grass cutter general of the federation.
This was in reference to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, who was indicted by the Senate for allegedly awarding contracts worth millions of Naira to a company where he had vested interest, for the removal of “invasive weed specie” in Yobe State and is still a key cabinet member in this government.
Ndibe queried: after all the public drama of Dasukigate, what is the status of the case against former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki? If President Buhari’s government has not been able to prosecute Dasuki to date, is there much hope of his administration making a noticeable dent in the war against corruption via prosecutorial means? I don’t think so.
Worse, Buhari’s much-vaunted crusade against corruption has neither dampened nor discouraged the appetite for corruption in Nigeria. Police and customs officers still farm out on the road and extort bribes from hapless commuters and traders. Under Buhari’s watch, the Central Bank of Nigeria and other agencies corruptly handed out jobs to children and wards of the most privileged. Elections are still fraught with fraud, with the police and army rolled out to serve partisan interests. Judicial processes operate at snail-speed; lawyers and judges collude in using incessant adjournments to derail justice. Buhari has done little more than yawn when political appointees close to him have been accused of corrupt acts.
If the Buhari brand ever represented antipathy to corruption, that image is now profoundly tarnished. At its core, corruption in Nigeria remains as vibrant and resilient as ever. If there’s a scaling back in levels of embezzlement, it owes less to the Buhari effect than to the significant decline in oil revenues.
With regards to security, to what extent has the administration succeeded in tackling and defeating Boko Haram which was the major security challenge and the signature of insecurity as at the time this administration assumed office. Has the government been able to fulfill one of its campaign promises to bring back the kidnapped Chibok Girls? Are internally displaced persons able to return home and resettle in their communities?
Has government demonstrated the will to curtail the menace of rampaging killer herdsmen, to prosecute them and guarantee justice and protection for targeted communities? Have kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes been curtailed?
On youth engagement and youth employment policy, how many youths have gained employment since the inception of this new administration? How many youths are benefitting from the government’s promised social welfare package to cushion the effects of unemployment and poverty?
How much has the economy improved under the present government? Is there really a coherent economic policy and plan to revive and improve the economy? Beyond the mantra, has government succeeded in its economic diversification efforts to break the jinx of a mono-product economy and dependence on oil as the sole foreign exchange earner and the mainstay of the economy? Has government provided the requisite infrastructural facilities to enable the much-needed shift from a mere consumption and import dependent economy to a productive and self-sustaining economy?
Consider the facts for a moment. Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and all employees at Aso Rock enjoy the most generously funded health facility within the Nigerian space. On February 2, 2016, Premium Times reported that the Presidency’s clinic “will get N787 million more in capital allocation than all the 16 teaching hospitals combined.”
According to the report, the “State House Medical Center is a facility that provides health care for President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and other employees of the Presidency, all possibly less than a thousand.
“Federal teaching hospitals cater for the heath needs of millions of Nigerians, train medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation while also serving as top medical research centers.
“A breakdown of the 2016 Appropriation Bill shows that a total of N3.87 billion has been allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic.” That allocation exceeded the budget for the country’s 16 teaching hospitals.
In June 2016, Buhari hopped off to Britain to be treated for an ear infection. On this, his latest medical excursion to London, neither he nor his aides specified the nature of his malaise. Instead, his trip was portrayed as a vacation during which the president was to undergo “routine medical checkup.” Buhari wrote to tell the Senate, in foggy phraseology, that he was extending his stay in the UK “until the doctors are satisfied that certain factors are ruled out.”
Has the Buhari government been able to generate and distribute more megawatts than it met with the previous administration? Are Nigerians enjoying more regular and steadier power supply than they did before this administration came on board?
Criminal justice Administration and Rule of law
Are government actions confined within the constitution and the rule of law?
In response to a recent case of jungle justice, Odinkalu said: Government has no confidence in the justice system… So they refuse to pay judges’ salaries, owe them arrears and disobey court orders.
Law enforcement and security agencies have no confidence in criminal justice. They like “criminal” but dislike the “justice” part, so they sort things out by extra-judicial killing whenever they can.
Judges and lawyers have no confidence in criminal justice so they bribe one another.
How could the people be different?
Who made the law that people could only protest if they were licensed by the police?
Ndibe then added that a government that disdains judicial orders, that turns the military on unarmed civilians, whether Shiites or Biafran agitators, is engaged in egregious acts of corruption.
Nigerians make a statement
When about two weeks ago, thousands of Nigerians poured into the streets of Lagos and Abuja and took part in the anti-government protest organized by the civil society group, Enough is Enough, EiE, which kicked off at the unity fountain in Abuja with the slogan ‘I Stand With Nigeria’, Nigerians made a clear statement unambiguously expressing their dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the performance of this government which many believe has failed to deliver the change it promised Nigerians
Although another pro-government group known as the Buhari Volunteer Network also took to the same venue to drum their support for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, the significance of the anti-government protests was not lost even on the most undiscerning of citizens. The pro-government group said it decided to hold its own march on the same day as the anti-Buhari group to let the people know the achievements of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
But the man who ended up leading the ‘I Stand With Nigeria’ group, in Abuja- Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said that the protest was to register the frustration of the ordinary Nigerian with the government of the day, and also to demand good governance.
“We thumbed Buhari into office in 2015 because he promised to do a lot, then he got into power and he has never addressed us.”
“We don’t get answers, we don’t get empathy and we are told we cannot protest too? What kind of country is that? What kind of citizens are we?”
But there are those who believe that the administration has made significant changes but these may not be easily noticeable because the problems are enormous and need some time for the impact of government’s measures to be felt.
For example, the Buhari-administration has been applauded for plugging some financial loopholes through its introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA), into which trillions of naira had so far accrued.
Buhari’s reforms at the NNPC have also been held as having helped to make the functioning of the NNPC a little more transparent and checked unbridled diversion and looting of oil revenue by individuals and oil subsidy cabal.
Some Nigerians argue that although some of the measures adopted by the government in its efforts to turn around the economy are painful, they are short term therapy for our economic recovery and a wake-up call on citizens to adjust to a new lifestyle, device creative ways to survive and to optimize scarce resources.
It is my contention, however, that the level of hardship is unprecedented and the suffering ordinary Nigerian cannot be persuaded to continue to understand and still to be patient when they see that corrupt individuals are still holding sway in government and that people in government continue to live flamboyant lifestyle inconsistent with the anti-corruption mantra of the administration. The government needs to introduce some palliative while it works on long-term measures to improve the economy.
The government needs to carry citizens along in policy formulation and implementation and the people must remain vigilant and continue to hold government accountable.
The government should ensure improvement in power generation and distribution in order to promote productivity and creation of jobs.
The government should take the economic diversification effort more seriously.
The government must respect the rule of law, vigorously implement the administration of criminal justice act and ensure redress and accountability for infringements of the law.
If the President’s health can no longer allow him to function optimally, he should place the larger interest of Nigerians above personal or narrow interest and resign, hand over to the Vice President and have time and space to take care of his health.