The presidential election is barely 30 days away, but President Mohammadu Buhari is not going to have it easy as in 2015 as some current issues militating against his administration suggest
By Olu Ojewale
It is an election year. As the February date is drawing near to commence the polls, the Nigerian politicians are already spread out in the country canvassing for votes. Indeed, President Mohammadu Buhari has never left anyone in doubt about his intention to retain his plum job for another four years, if Nigerians can oblige him with another term. Perhaps, for the Nigerian electorate to give Buhari another mandate, there are some issues facing his administration that they would want him to sort out.
Indeed, one of the major headaches facing the Buhari administration right now is the issue of minimum wage. After several months of negotiation, strikes and unfulfilled promises, the federal government has agreed to table its N30,000 minimum wage recommendation to the National Assembly on or before Wednesday, January 23.
Prior to that, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, had embarked on a nationwide protest on Tuesday, January 8, ahead of the commencement of an indefinite strike. The protest by the organised labour caused heavy traffic on Lagos roads, while many commuters were stranded at the various bus stops. The leadership of the labour movement said the protest rally was to create awareness on the new minimum wage for workers and to press home its demand for an executive draft bill on the N30,000 minimum wage to be transmitted by the Presidency to the National Assembly.
To avert further crisis, the president quickly inaugurated a technical advisory committee at the Council Chamber, State House, Abuja, before the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, on Wednesday, January 9. It is headed by Bismarck Rewane, the chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives, Lagos. Members of the committee have been drawn from the public and the private sector. It has a month to complete its work and submit its report and recommendations.
Pointing out that the last time Nigeria’s national minimum wage was reviewed was in 2011, Buhari said that it was evident that a review was, indeed, necessary despite the prevailing fiscal challenges.
He said: “This is why I constituted the Tripartite Committee of government (federal and states), the Organised Private Sector, OPS and Labour to consider the national minimum wage and make recommendations to the government for its upward review.
“That committee has since submitted its report with some recommendations. We are currently working on the final steps that will lead to the submission of a National Minimum Wage Amendment Bill to the National Assembly. I want to make it clear that there is no question about whether the National Minimum Wage will be reviewed upwards. I am committed to a review of the minimum wage.”
Despite the assurance, there is an anxiety in polity that the Buhari administration is merely buying time. “There is nothing being said about when the minimum wage will take effect,” a radio commentator said. Besides, the president said that the increment on the salary of those earning above the N30,000 minimum wage would have to be negotiated after the minimum wage bill must have passed into a law. “It is important to prepare the minds of those to be affected that a windfall is not on the way, so as not to be caught unawares,” Buhari was quoted as saying.
The development came barely 24 hours after the government and Labour agreed that a New National Minimum Wage Bill will be sent to the National Assembly on or before January 23.
The unions are demanding N30, 000 for the least paid worker. But governors are willing to pay N22, 500 and the federal government was offering N24, 000.
The NLC has, however, told the 36 governors to be prepared to implement the N30,000 minimum wage or face its wrath. Waheed Olojede, the NLC chairman in Oyo State, gave the warning in Ibadan, during a peaceful rally to canvass the transmission of the Minimum Wage Bill to the National Assembly.
In any case, the Buhari Presidency does not have only the organised labour to deal with on issues of wage and strike. Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, have been on strike for eight weeks and there seems to be no concrete headway out of the cul de sac yet. On Tuesday, January 8, Biodun Ogunyemi, the national president of the ASUU, said the strike embarked upon by the union will continue until an agreement is reached by the members on government proposals concerning their demands.
Ogunyemi said this after the end of a three-hour meeting between the leadership of the union and government representatives led by Chris Ngige, the minister of Labour and Employment.
The minister said after the meeting that N20billion out of N105billion earned allowance would be released soon by the federal government to offset outstanding arrears of 2009/2012 audit verified earnings in the university system.
He also said more than N15.3billion had been confirmed by the ministry of finance and the Office of Accountant General to have been released to accommodate payment of service shortfall in the system. He further said that the federal government will expect feedback from the ASUU by Thursday, January 10, so that schools could be reopened by weekend.
That notwithstanding, Ogunyemi said that the strike will not be called off until ASUU members agreed to the government proposal.
He said, “We have had an extensive session looking at all the issues and just like the minister said, there are issues that will require further consultations at the level of our union before we can make any pronouncement on our stand….
“We are still going for consultation. What we discussed is not about us but our people. I am not sure that there is an end in sight.”
That, indeed, would not be pleasant news for Buhari’s ears. Sounding frustrated, the president had on Thursday, January 3, in Abuja, appealed to organised labour to allow his administration concentrate on its efforts to fix infrastructure in the country and avoid distracting it with strikes and demonstrations.
Buhari, who made the appeal while receiving the executive committee of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, in State House, said: “In three and a half years, we have improved tremendously on what we met. We are trying to do infrastructure. No matter which part of the country you come from, you will see the efforts we are making in terms of roads.” He, therefore, advised the students to continuously plead with the ASUU to call off its strike, “so that they don’t encroach on your efforts to qualify in time.”
Earlier, in their remarks, the students, led by Danielson Bamidele Akpan, the president, urged the government to intervene in the incessant strikes in the education sector; involve more youths in governance; and look into the plight of students in different institutions who had been expelled for ‘political’ reasons.
As if that is not challenging enough, Buhari must have been thoroughly embarrassed on Monday, January 7, when Kashim Shettima, the Borno State governor, burst out in tears before him in Abuja, over the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in his state, which had witnessed a sudden rebound lately. In between tears, Shettima appealed to Buhari to do all he could to stop the insurgents, who now attack communities in his state at will.
The governor had gone to the Aso Villa in company with Borno elders to meet with Buhari in order to seek further ways of addressing the resurgence in attacks by Boko Haram.
As he continued to speak, journalists were asked to vacate the venue. However, the Presidency, in a statement after the meeting, said Buhari reassured Shettima that his administration would strengthen the Nigerian military to neutralise the insurgents in the North-East.
The statement, which was signed by Femi Adesina, the special adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, added that Buhari told the visitors that the security and safety of all citizens remained his primary concern.
In an interview on Arise TV, when asked why the level of insecurity had increased in Borno, Katsina, Benue, Plateau and Zamfara states, the president said he would take responsibility of any lapses but argued that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was capable of doing anything. He argued: “I am not defending our lack of security but you know after 16 years of the PDP, with the resources I have just mentioned to you, they had enormous resources at their disposal and they will do anything to use the resources at their disposal to discredit this administration.”
Faced with public outcry to replace Ibrahim Idris, the inspector-general of Police, on the account of his attaining 60, the retirement age, Buhari promised to address the issue soon. Speaking during an interview aired on Arise TV, the president said: “I don’t think I am afraid of him. And I don’t think I have asked him to mount roadblocks in place such that I’ll lose revenue (if he goes). But I’ll take action.”
However, Buhari, said removing service chiefs or the IG during a time of insecurity is a sensitive matter.
That notwithstanding, the speculation that the president would want to use Idris for the coming elections before asking him to go will continue as long as the police boss remains in office.
There has been similar cry across the country for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to redeploy Amina Zakari, a national commissioner, to a less sensitive position. Zakari, who has been named as the chairman of the Committee on the National Collation Centre for the presidential election, is believed to be too close to the president, thereby raising suspicion that she could manipulate the election in favour of Buhari.
Many groups and individuals including the Peoples Democratic Party and Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, have had cause to condemn Zakari’s appointment, alleging that she is Buhari’s niece.
The Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution asked Zakari to step aside. Ariyo-Dare Atoye, the leader of the coalition said that the INEC should remove the commissioner from the sensitive role because it creates suspicion.
Atoye thus, admonished the electoral commission not to allow the controversy around Zakari’s appointment to becloud the nation’s desire for credible elections in 2019, and then asked that Zakari should be removed from the commission or given a less sensitive position.
Besides, he said: “It has been established that Zakari is a niece of the president and the appropriate thing to do in a sensitive national election is for INEC to be careful and for INEC to step her down from sensitive positions.”
Making a similar charge, Yinka Odumakin, spokesman of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, insisted that Zakari should be removed from all sensitive positions in INEC, and that she must not be allowed to play any major roles in the 2019 polls.
He alleged that the INEC commissioner played an ignoble role in the Osun State governorship election, stating that “this lady has shown she is bad news for the electoral process in the country.”
Odumakin said, “The INEC chairman is truly the national returning officer for the presidential election, but this lady (Zakari) has shown she is bad news for the electoral process in the country and I think rather than argue about where INEC deploys her, she must not participate in the 2019 elections. She should be removed. For us to have credible elections, INEC should do the right thing.”
Contrary to the media reports, Odumakin, who doubles as Afenifere spokesman, said it was Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and not President Buhari that recommended Zakari as a nominee for an appointment at the INEC.
Odumakin, who was a guest on Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, on Tuesday, January 8, said former President Goodluck Jonathan, as part of reforms at the INEC, had called on Civil Society Organisations to recommend someone who could take a position as a national commissioner at the INEC.
He said it was then that el-Rufai told him of Zakari, who had worked under him while he was the minister of the Federal Capital Territory. According to him, he collected Zakari’s curriculum vitae from el-Rufai and handed it over to the late Oronto Douglas, who was the special adviser to Jonathan on Research, Documentation, and Strategy.
Odumakin said the very fact that Zakari was nominated by el-Rufai had created a conflict of interest and it was only proper for her to step down.
“Check the records where she has been alleged to have played some roles, you always see el-Rufai being somewhere in a corner. So, we cannot have this woman. In fact, if there is honour, the best thing is for her to resign. She was nominated by el-Rufai,” Odumakin said.
Besides, he said contrary to claims by the Presidency, Zakari is also a niece to Buhari. According to him, Zakari’s father was married to Buhari’s sister thereby making her father Buhari’s brother-in-law.
Odumakin charged: “It is unfortunate that even our Presidency is lexically challenged to the point that they don’t know the definition of a niece. A niece, according to the Oxford dictionary, you don’t even need to go to the advanced level, is your brother or sister’s daughter or your brother-in-law or sister-in-law’s daughter. So how can you say she is not his niece?”
But Emmanuel Igbini, the national president, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, faulted the calls for the removal of Zakari, saying that her appointment “is not an issue.” He argued that the INEC chairman had the power to appoint any official to act in any capacity and that the alarm raised by the opposition parties was meant to put the electoral commission’s leadership under pressure.
Similarly, the All Progressives Congress, APC, accused the PDP and Atiku Abubakar, its presidential candidate, of becoming increasingly desperate.
The party said events of recent time had shown that the major opposition party would stop at nothing to blackmail any public institution not willing to act its script or succumb to its pressure to undermine the tenets of democracy.
Lanre Issa-Onilu, the APC national publicity secretary, made the charge while reacting to the criticisms of the PDP over Zakari’s appointment.
Issa-Onilu in an interview said: “We are ready for an election and we are confident that INEC will do the right thing. The PDP is desperate and ready to destroy government’s institutions because they are not patriotic.”
He assured that the Buhari will not interfere in the operations of public institutions, urging the party to learn and operate within the rules of the game instead of unnecessarily heating up the polity.
“In any case, the manner the PDP had become suspect and jittery of every genuine effort taken by public institutions or seeking to undermine them indicated symptoms of defeat and bleak future for the party. It is an indirect way of the PDP accepting defeat even before the election because they know they cannot win. Technically, they are out of the race,” he said.
That notwithstanding, on Friday, January 4, the Presidency denied that Zakari is Buhari’s blood relation, saying an “inter-marriage occurred in their extended families.” Also, Zakari in an interview with the BBC Igbo on Saturday, January 6, said that she is not Buhari’s niece.
On its part, the INEC said the appointment of the commissioner was done in good faith. On Sunday, January 6, Rotimi Oyekanmi, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, in an interview assured that no individual or group could influence the result of any election in favour of a particular candidate or a party. Besides, he said Zakari will have nothing to do with the technical aspect of the collation of results of the presidential poll.
Explaining the role of Zakari as the chairman of the collation centre committee, Oyekanmi said the panel was saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that power, access to the internet, accreditation of local and international journalists and observers, health and security centres are put in place at the centre.
According to him, Zakari played exactly the same role in the 2015 general elections. “Mrs Zakari will have nothing to do with the technical aspect of collating the results. In any case, the results from the states that will be collated at the centre would have been certified and cannot be tampered with. Mrs Zakari’s responsibility is not even close to that aspect at all,” Oyekanmi said.
As if that is not bad enough, a purported leaked audio is now in circulation in which Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transportation, was said to have criticised Buhari for being slow and a man who didn’t read or cared about the hunger in the land.
But Lai Mohammed, the minister of Information and Culture, has said the purported leaked audio will not break the ranks of the ruling APC.
The minister, who stated this at a media briefing on Tuesday, January 8, in Abuja, said the leaked audio was part of the “mudslinging’’ politics of the opposition.”
That notwithstanding, the annual risk report by Eurasia Group, the United States political risk consultancy corporation, has warned that Buhari is too sick and lacks the energy and creativity to solve Nigeria’s problems.
Eurasia Group’s Top 10 risks report, which put Nigeria as the 10th risk came with a focus on Nigeria’s February 16, 2019, elections. It described the incumbent president as “an elderly, infirm leader who lacks the energy, creativity, or political savvy to move the needle on Nigeria’s most intractable problems.”
Eurasia said that if Buhari’s health problems continue, it could impact the economic outlook of the nation with investors unsure of “who is calling the shots and whether they’re qualified for the job.”
“A politically weak president, for health or other reasons, would open the floodgates for political infighting, increasing the chances that his ruling All Progressives Congress implodes.
“That would turn a policy slowdown into paralysis. The risk of attacks on oil infrastructure would also rise because the absence of strong leadership in Abuja, would make it harder to negotiate with the Niger Delta’s various militant groups,” the report said.
Be that as it may, the hope is that Buhari will find ways to quickly resolve all the issues voters are worried about before the presidential election in February.
– Jan. 11, 2019 @ 14:15 GMT |