Can Buhari Fix Nigeria?

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Buhari, during the swearing-in ceremony

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It was a new dawn in Nigeria on Friday, May 29, as President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo formally take the reign of government from former President Goodluck Jonathan and his team. Nigerians expect the new administration to hit the ground running, but can it fix the rut gathered over the years?

| By Olu Ojewale | Jun 8, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |

IT WAS a moment everyone was waiting for. On Friday, May 29, the world joined Nigeria to celebrate its democracy day as Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo were sworn-in as president and vice-president by Justice Mahmud Mohammed, chief justice of the federation. The ceremony which held at Eagles Square, Abuja, federal capital territory, was graced by at least 50 presidents and leaders of governments and thousands of other invited guests. The duo of Buhari and Osinbajo succeeded now former President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice-President Namadi Sambo, who were defeated in the March 28 presidential elections.

The historic change of baton aroused the international community because it was the first time the incumbent would be relinquishing power to the opposition in the history of elections in the country. The transition also signified the end of 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, voyage in power and the beginning of the reign of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at the centre.

In his inaugural speech, President Buhari acknowledged the enormity of the task ahead, but assured the nation that his administration would not disappoint. In a manner to suggest that he would not be dictated to, the new president said in his speech: “I intend to keep my oath and serve as president to all Nigerians. I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”

Jonathan
Jonathan

Also, Buhari inadvertently sent a message to those who had expressed fears that he would be vindictive to calm down. “A few people have privately voiced fears that on coming back to office I shall go after them. These fears are groundless. There will be no paying off old scores. The past is prologue,” he said.

But observers said that does not mean that he would condone corruption or allow those found to have corruptly enriched themselves to get away. In any case, Buhari assured the nation that his government would be fair, but decisive. He noted that the nation is facing a lot of challenges bothering on security, corruption, fuel and power shortages as well as unemployment. “We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix our problems,” he said.

President Buhari said the most immediate thing on his agenda was tackling Boko Haram’s insurgency. While acknowledging the progress made in recent weeks by security forces, he expressed a serious misgiving that victory could be achieved by basing the command and control centre in Abuja. “The command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued,” he said. According to him, the defeat of Boko Haram will not be completed until the Chibok schoolgirls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents are rescued. “This government will do all it can to rescue them alive. Boko Haram is a typical example of small fires causing large fires,” he said.

Osinbajo
Osinbajo

Indeed, rescuing Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted by the Islamic terrorists, April 14, 2014, would delight Nigerians and members of the international community who have expressed concerns whether the girls would be seen alive again. He described Boko Haram as a mindless, godless group detached from Islamic doctrine and assured that after the group had been subdued the government would commission a “sociological study to determine its origins, remote and immediate causes of the movement, its sponsors, the international connexions to ensure that measures are taken to prevent a recurrence of this evil.” He charged the Armed forces to take the full charge of fighting the insurgents and promised to overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in their operations.

Buhari has indicated he would continue to maintain regional cooperation with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, whom he thanked for their cooperation. “I also wish to assure the wider international community of our readiness to cooperate and help to combat threats of cross-border terrorism, sea piracy, refugees and boat people, financial crime, cyber crime, climate change, the spread of communicable diseases and other challenges of the 21st century,” he said.

Also on security, the president said the spate of kidnappings, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers clashes and cattle rustlings, adding to the general air of insecurity would no longer be tolerated. “We are going to erect and maintain an efficient, disciplined people – friendly and well – compensated security forces within an over – all security architecture,” he said.

In addition, he said the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta which would end in December, would be strengthen through government’s heavy investment projects and programmes currently in the area. He thus, appealed for cooperation of people in the area with the state and federal government in their rehabilitation programmes, which he said, would be streamlined and made more effective. “As ever, I am ready to listen to grievances of my fellow Nigerians. I extend my hand of fellowship to them so that we can bring peace and build prosperity for our people,” he said. Buhari’s assurance is expected to quieten those who have threatened that without a fairer share of oil wealth, they would resume their attacks on energy facilities in the region.

Sambo
Sambo

Buhari identified the power situation as main reason for nation’s poor economic performance over the years. He said it was shame that a nation of 180 million people could only generate 4,000MW, and distributes even less, even after spending close to $20 billion on power supply and distribution since 1999, which has brought darkness, frustration, misery, and resignation of Nigerians. “We will not allow this to go on. Careful studies are under way during this transition to identify the quickest, safest and most cost-effective way to bring light and relief to Nigerians,” he said.

Indeed, the sorry state of the nation’s electricity was made manifest on Friday, May 22, when the production dipped to just 1,327 megawatts. The Buhari administration is expected to decentralise, deregulate and privatise the transmission sector, opening it up to competition. The APC, during the campaign promised to triple generation to 12,000 MW by 2019. The new administration is also expected to address the oil and gas sector and controversial subsidies paid to fuel importers who bring in petroleum products because of a lack of functioning refineries. The Jonathan government’s alleged non-payment of arrears made stakeholders in the sector to down tools thereby shutting down fuel supply lines recently, causing serious shortage which almost brought the economy to its kneel.

On the unemployment issue, Buhari promised that youth un-employment would be tackled frontally through revival of agriculture, solid minerals mining as well as credits to small and medium size businesses to kick – start the enterprises. “We shall quickly examine the best way to revive major industries and accelerate the revival and development of our railways, roads and general infrastructure,” he said. Although the president said he would follow the APC manifesto in dealing with the unemployment issue, he did not repeat the plan of the party to pay unemployed graduate a monthly stipend of N5,000 per month or where the money would come from.

According to government statistics, nearly two-thirds of Nigeria’s population of more than 170 million is under 30. However, the unemployment is said to currently about 30 percent, despite strong overall rates of economic growth in recent years.

Obasanjo
Obasanjo

The APC during the campaign said more than 110 million people still live in poverty. Hence, the Buhari administration would embark on a massive programme of industrialisation, including building railways, improving roads and ports, and improving crumbling infrastructure. But analysts fear that the promised programmes could be hamstrung in view of current economic reality with Nigeria hit hard by the slump in the global price of oil, which it depends for 90 percent of foreign income.

The party, however, promised to diversify the economy through agriculture and mining of natural resources in various states of the federation. Besides, Realnews learnt that the APC was planning to adopt the Lagos State tax system to ensure that each state could survive on its own.

To help rebuild the economy, Buhari said his administration would like to work with organised labour, organised private sector, the press and civil society organisations. “I appeal to employers and workers alike to unite in raising productivity so that everybody will have the opportunity to share in increased prosperity,” Buhari said.

He also appealed to the Nigerian press, which he called the most vibrant in Africa, including the social media, “to exercise its considerable powers with responsibility and patriotism.” He said his appeal for unity was predicated on the seriousness of the legacy the nation was getting into. “With depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely; Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment especially among young people,” he said. He said his government would also work to improve the standards of education and medicare as well as upgrade all dilapidated physical infrastructure.

As regards development, he noted that Nigerians had agreed that the only route to the country’s development would be through democratic route. Even at that, he said the nation must strengthen democracy in order to achieve its objectives. He, therefore, promised that “the federal executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the legislative and judicial arms of government. The law enforcing authorities will be charged to operate within the Constitution.”

Besides, he said his government would rebuild and reform the public service to become more effective and more serviceable; reform the judiciary and cleanse it from its ignoble past, while it tackles corruption, financial and criminal cases with dispatch and ensure that the legislative arm keep to its brief of making laws as well allow it to carrying out its over-sight functions expeditiously. “It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that government will be enabled to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedevilling governance today,” he said. This, probably, explains where Buhari has refused to meddle or shown interest in who become leaders of the National Assembly.

Babangida
Babangida

On the relations between Aso Rock and the state governments, he said he would have to be properly clarified in order for the nation to be served better. While acknowledging constitutionally limits of each of the three tiers of government, he said the federal government should not fold its arms and close its eyes to what the states and local governments are doing, especially regarding the operations of the local government joint account. “While the federal government cannot interfere in the details of its operations it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country,” he said.

The president would also want Nigerians to know that he had dropped the military toga, which he used about 30 years ago, to haunt down opposition when he was military head of state by assuring the nation that no human rights abuses would be allowed in his government.

But analysts said that does not mean that Buhari would allow corrupt persons in his administration or allow those who are detected to have looted the country to go scot free. In fact, he assured former President Jonathan that he had “nothing to fear” and there would be no witch-hunt against the former administration.

But in his fight against corruption, analysts said he would possibly beef up existing anti-corruption agencies, pick people of integrity and transparency to work with him. He would also ensure that they declare their assets. The APC said the new government could save three trillion naira ($15 billion, 13 billion euros) by streamlining government and plugging “leakages” in the system.

Buhari himself knows his position in the eye of the international community as he promised Nigerians a new dawn. “I cannot recall when Nigeria enjoyed so much goodwill abroad as now. The messages I received from East and West, from powerful and small countries are indicative of international expectations on us. At home the newly elected government is basking in a reservoir of goodwill and high expectations. Nigeria therefore has a window of opportunity to fulfill our long – standing potential of pulling ourselves together and realising our mission as a great nation,” he said.

If anyone can pull the nation to realise the common objective of making the country great, former President Olusegun Obasanjo believes that Buhari can do it. Obasanjo who gave the assurance while addressing a group of women who visited him at Hilltop residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on Sunday, May 24, only appealed for patience. “What I would say is that we should all put our minds at rest. He (Buhari) is someone that will perform but we must exercise patience because what has been destroyed for eight years cannot be undone overnight… Let’s give him time. Let’s pray for him and let’s cooperate with him,” he said.

Etiebet
Etiebet

On his part, General Ibrahim Babangida, former head of state, expressed concern over the current situation in the country, adding that it needed the intervention of all Nigerians to join hands with the Buhari administration to get the people out of the woods. Babangida who spoke after paying a farewell visit to former Governor Babangida Aliyu in Minna in company of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, also a former head of state, told the press, said: “I am as concerned about these problems as everyone is. I want Nigerians to support the incoming government in whatever measures it takes to provide solution to the problems on ground.”

Don Etiebet, former minister of Petroleum Resources and a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP in an interview said he expected Buhari to be able to reposition the country to on a better pedestal. “Having worked with him in the past as the national chairman of the (defunct) All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, I believe he will make Nigeria a different place where security, economy, discipline and the rule of law will abound to contain corruption. I only pray that Nigerians would understand him and give him the necessary support in the face of challenges and difficulties to put his programmes through unimpeded,” Etiete said.

On his part, Yusuf Napeyi, journalist, while commending the inauguration speech as very fantastic, said Buhari acted like a real commander-in-chief by ordering relocation of the military command to Borno State until the end of the insurgency. “He also talked about power situation and that people will be looking up to him to work the talk. The next few days are going to be every interesting to see how he is going to implement all these promises; for instance, I’m interested to see whether at the end of today the chief of defence staff and naval staff would relocate to Borno State and begin the work there,” Napeyi said.

Vince Ayogu, lawyer, said he was happy that Buhari was able to touch on his programme of action in his 20-minutes speech. Ayogu said that the challenges facing the country are daunting but surmountable. “Of course, with political will he can achieve his promises to a reasonable extent. He has also devised a new tactics in fighting Boko Haram by relocating the military headquarters to Borno State. This is a way of telling the nation that he actually wants to stamp out Boko Haram. You can be anywhere to command soldiers but it’s a way of sending a message across not just to Nigerians but to Boko Haram that he will not tolerate complacency,” he said

Buhari’s rescue mission, no doubt, has started in earnest but how much cooperation he would get to accomplish them would depend on the collective will of Nigerians who advocated for the change that gave power to the new president. But Buhari himself knows that he cannot act alone which prompted him to quote a passage in William Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar about not allowing opportunity to slip by. Whether this is realisable in Buhari’s second coming is another matter. But he can still enjoy the euphoria while it lasts.

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