Landmines Before Buhari

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Buhari

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As the handover date of May 29, speedily approaches for General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, to take over the reign of government from President Gooluck Jonathan, there are appear to be some landmines which the incoming administration needs to avoid in order to meet the great expectations of Nigerians

By Olu Ojewale  |  May 11, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

AS a general, Muhammadu Buhari has fought in many military battle fields. He has also fought in some political fields. But as he is being sworn-in on May 29 as Nigerian new president, the general needs to be mindful of some landmines which may render his administration impotent.

In fact, in the past few weeks, the All Progressives Congress, APC, on which platform Buhari was elected president on March 28, has been crying foul accusing the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan administration of laying booby traps for the incoming administration.

The one controversy ensuing between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the incoming is over how the transition committees of the two parties have been handling issues. On Thursday, April 30, Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the APC, in a statement, accused the ruling party of working against a smooth transition of power. It accused the Jonathan government of hostility and “a patently-misplaced aggression” in order to truncate the transition programme.

Justifying its statement on that count, the party said while the outgoing government had earlier issued a memo to all ministries, departments and agencies to ensure their handover notes were ready by April 20, the government had now reversed itself, saying that the handover notes would not be ready until May 14. “With the new date, the Buhari Transition Committee will have little or no time to take a thorough look at the handover notes or seek clarification on knotty issues, effectively handing it (Buhari Transition Committee) a fait accompli as far as the handover notes are concerned. This does not augur well for a smooth transition and gives the impression that the outgoing administration is trying to hide something. By its dillydallying on the date for the readiness of the handover notes from the MDAs, the administration’s posturing that it is ready to hand over has been exposed as nothing but a smokescreen,’’ it said.

It rejected what it called the continued blackmail by the Jonathan Administration as a result of President Jonathan’s concession of defeat, wondering whether the concession, gracious as it was, had now become a shield for all wrong doings

Jonathan
Jonathan

Indeed, President Jonathan, had on Wednesday, April 29, expressed dissatisfaction with the incoming Buhari administration, accusing it of trying to set up a parallel government. Jonathan’s anger was over the terms of reference of the 19-man transition committee set up by Buhari, which asked for an overview of some government agencies, such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.

Suleiman Abubakar, minister of National Planning, who briefed State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by Jonathan, on Wednesday, reminded everyone that Jonathan would still be in charge of the country until May 29.

Abubakar, who is also a member of the Transition Committee, said that the Jonathan administration was not comfortable with some terms of reference of the incoming government’s transition committee, which tend to create a parallel government. To this end, he said that all the MDAs had been directed to follow the terms of reference of the present government and not those of the incoming administration. He warned that the magnanimity of President Jonathan should not be misconstrued an act of cowardice.

The minister said: “Government, especially civil servants, directors, directors-general should see this government as the current government and not to do anything that will rock the boat so as not to put this country in a bad light. These are issues before the transition committee, these are issues that were raised on the transition programme…. And that national interest should be protected, enhanced and promoted at whatever level we are. These are issues that bother on transition programme discussed in council.”

Mohammed
Mohammed

The problem for Buhari here is that the controversy is capable of swinging sympathy to Jonathan as a lot of Nigerians have been asking the APC not be in too much of a hurry. “Why can’t the APC just wait till being sworn in? By then, it will be holding the reins and can ask any questions with loudspeakers if so desired, or even summon whosoever it wishes. But, this current trend may end up provoking sabotage. GEJ is still the duly-elected president with the full power of the state behind him, there can’t be two presidents,” a commentator who preferred to simply called Remi said.

Similarly, Dele Odugbemi, a businessman, said: “Alhaji Lai Mohammed, please don’t bug yourself too much on issues raised by a minister of the outgoing PDP administration as their days are numbered in government.”

Besides, there are some Nigerians who warned that actions of the APC could be termed as treasonable if care is not taken.

In the same vein, the APC is querying some appointments carried out by the Jonathan administration recently. Indeed, on Monday, April 27, the president appointed Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC. Obi’s appointment was contained in a statement released by Reuben Abati, special adviser on media and public affairs to the president. Obi had defected from the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, to the PDP shortly after he left office in 2014.

In the same press statement, the president confirmed the appointment of Mounir Haliru Gwarzo as the director-general of SEC. Gwarzo had been on acting capacity shortly after the tenure of Arunma Oteh, a former director-general of the commission, ended last year.

However, Femi Thomas, executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, was not so lucky. He was sacked by the president, who replaced him with Olufemi Akingbade in the acting capacity.

Abubakar
Abubakar

These appointments did not please the APC. In its reaction, Mohammed, on behalf of the party, accused the government of creating more problems for the incoming administration, claiming that the intention was to tie the new government’s hands. It warned that although the Buhari administration would not needlessly probe the Jonathan administration, it would look into all actions taken by Jonathan’s administration after the March 28 presidential election.

The party also noted that the National Council on Privatisation, headed by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, had just approved the financial bid opening for transaction advisers for the privatisation of the Bank of Agriculture, the Bank of Industry and the Nigeria Commodity Exchange, and therefore, asked for the rationale for rushing the exercise with just weeks left for the administration. The APC said it was aware of hurried plan to recruit into the Nigeria Immigration Service, after a previous attempt ended in fiasco.

“Apart from the fact that this last-minute recruitment is suspect, it is irregular. The Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board is only empowered to recruit, promote and discipline senior officers (levels eight and above). The power to recruit, promote and discipline junior officers is vested in the different services, in this case the Nigeria Immigration Service,” the APC statement said further.

Apart from that, the party alleged that Bala Mohammed, minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, was similarly planning to use the Federal Capital Development Authority to carry out a secret employment of no fewer than 500 workers before the end of the month. “We are, therefore, compelled to call on President Jonathan to caution his officials, lest they engage in actions that can later embarrass his administration,” the party said.

But Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman, said it was wrong for the APC to criticise government actions because there was no illegality in what the government had been doing. He pointed out that some of the actions taken by the president were based on existing plans. “The president is acting within the law. There is no need for any skirmish over this matter. Once the president-elect gets to power, it is will be within his powers to review anything he does not want. So, the question of tying anybody’s hands does not arise. He can change whatever appointments that has been made. He has the power to hire and fire. On our part we will continue to act on what is in the best interest of Nigeria. We will continue to govern until May 29. I will suggest to Alhaji Lai Mohammad to be patient until they take over on May 29 and then they are free to exercise their rights under the law,” Abati said.  The president’s spokesman also asked Mohammmed and the APC to produce evidence of looting that the party had accused the Jonathan administration of. The APC, may, indeed, have to be very careful about its allegations as they may be seen as looking for an excuse not to perform.

Asari-Dokubo
Asari-Dokubo

On its part, the BPE said that the privatisation processes for the BoI, BoA, and Abuja Securities and Exchange Commission otherwise known as Abuja Commodities Exchange, NCX, were still at preliminary stages. In a statement in Abuja signed by Chigbo Anichebe, its spokesman, the BPE stated that approvals granted by the NCP at its last meeting of April 16, 2015 were for the opening of financial bids for the procurement of transaction advisers that would conduct the diagnostic review of the development finance institutions, DFIs and then recommend the privatisation transaction structure.  It disclosed that the opening of the financial bids was not for the core investor sale of the institutions, but to open bids for investors to express interest. “The engagement of transaction advisers is just the initial stage of a process that is expected to last for over a year. The transaction adviser will collate technical and financial information that will be incorporated in the information memorandum that will be made available to potential investors to guide their decision,” the statement said.

This, perhaps, was to help the incoming administration not to waste its time looking for something that was not lost. But also feared to bring serious challenges to the incoming Buhari administration is the N9.3 billion contracts for the protection of waterways and oil pipelines given to former militants in the Niger Delta and members of the O’odua Peoples Congress, OPC.  The former militants started the execution of the contract on Monday, April 27.

A memo from the Presidency allegedly directed the former militants led by Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, Mujaheedin Asari-Dokubo and Bipobiri Ajube, aka General Shoot-At-Sight, to take over Nigerian waterways and oil pipeline protection from the Police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, as from March 16. But the contract execution was said to have been delayed because it was uncertain whether the incoming administration would revoke it. Hence, the federal government was said to have directed that a two-month payment be made to the beneficiaries of the contract. But the exact to be paid was not given.

The Jonathan government had, on March 16, signed contract agreement with the companies owned by some former Niger Delta militants and prominent citizens, including Frederick Fasehun, founder of the OPC, who confirmed the contract agreement. According to Fasehun, if the contract should be fully executed it would provide job opportunities to more than 40,000 Nigeria youths. Nigeria has been battling with huge revenue loss because of the vandalisation of oil and gas pipelines. In fact, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, chief of Naval Staff, recently announced that Nigeria had been losing an estimated 100,000 barrels of crude oil valued at N1.18 billion daily to oil thieves. This amounts to an annual loss of N433.62 billion, while pipeline vandalism also causes shortage of gas for firing power plants.

Fasehun
Fasehun

Despite the unpalatable situation, some Nigerians are vehemently against the use of pressure groups to secure the pipelines. For instance, Niyi Akintola, SAN, described the move as an act of corruption which had no precedent anywhere in the world. “Why must we encourage the establishment and operation of ex-militants in securing our oil pipelines? What is the responsibility of the Police and the Navy if the ex-militants are to be saddled with the responsibility?” he asked.

Similarly, Abubarkar Tsav, a retired police commissioner, blamed the contracts on the desperation of President Jonathan to win the election at all costs. “It was wrong to have given the contracts to ex-militants. This is a purely security matter which should have been left to the security services to handle. It is not right,” Tsav said.

The fear being expressed here is that given the wide criticisms of the contracts, the incoming administration could use the platform to cancel the project. Besides, the Buhari administration places so much premium on the scientific pollicising of nation’s oil and gas pipelines, may cancel the contracts, thereby creating room for another round of youths restiveness in the South-South and South-West.

What perhaps may create another agitation in the country for the Buhari administration is the issue of oil subsidy. Initially, fear had been expressed in some quarters that there was no provision for subsidy in the 2015 budget. But the impression was dispelled on Thursday, April 30, when Ahmed Karfi, a serving senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, disclosed to journalists in Abuja that the National Assembly provided N100bn as subsidy for premium motor spirit, PMS, while N43bn was approved for Dual Purpose Kerosene for the 2015 fiscal period. Following the passage of the budget, there had been insinuations that subsidy had been removed in this year’s budget with the aim of setting a booby trap set for the in-coming government of Buhari.

So, whatever landmine analysts had envisaged by the perceived removal of subsidy, what the incoming administration would have to concern itself with is how to bring down the price of fuel from current price of N87 to at least N40 per litre as promised by some the APC members.

Another area of concern for the Buhari administration is how to manage freedom of the press as enshrined in the constitution. In his military regime in 1984, General Buhari’s intolerance of the press was legendary with the introduction of infamous Decree 4, which virtually put the media in chains. The current media sensed that the decree could making its way back when the African Independent Television, AIT, was barred from covering his official functions on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, April 29, the president-elect said that he was not aware of the ban imposed on the medium. Consequently, Buhari instructed all his aides, including the security team, to hands-off and leave all media activities in the hands of his media team.

However, the world media seem to have been alerted to what might be in the coming Buhari administration, but according to analysts it would now be left for the president-elect himself to prove that he is changed person.

Abubakar Tsav
Tsav

Another thing that may likely derail the Buhari administration is if he decides to engage in probing past administrations which may distract it from fulfilling the yearnings of the masses. Mohammed himself noted that to start “reversing some of the decisions taken by the administration may cause some negative reactions from the public and portray our party in a bad light.” What may cause a greater concern is when the new administration fails to live up to expectations of the masses.

Political observers who have been following the issues on areas of controversies between the two parties have expressed the need for cooperation among them. Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman of Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, appealed to the Jonathan government not to create problems for the incoming administration. “This is a government that has barely one month to go. The issue of new appointments is like laying a booby traps and creating unnecessary crisis. The incoming administration can say I don’t like this man and removes the man and the person goes to court to enforce his right. It is a recipe for chaos. I think there should be wisdom in what the government is now doing. The government that has less than one month to go is now making major appointments and signing contracts. All these are being done with motive and what is the motive? It is to lay a booby trap for the incoming administration. Jonathan that already secured a good name and I think he should go out with the good name and not allow anything to spoil his name.”

But a commentator who would like to be identified only as Cynthia said the APC should stop moaning and start working on how to articulate its programmes. “Smart president-elects spend the period between elections and inauguration to brainstorm on strong and efficient micro and macroeconomic policies which they intend to pursue when they assume office. They concentrate on fiscal policies that in most cases are a fulcrum of development for their economies. But here in Nigeria what you get is a crude response and unintelligent outbursts.  We don’t need any complain, let them get to work and show us what they can do better,” Cynthia said.

Whatever the case may be, what Nigerians need at this point in time is good governance and fulfilment of campaign promises. Indeed, the president-elect would need full concentration to navigate the ship of nation and find solutions to the mirage of problems facing the country and not allow himself to be drawn into vendetta and unnecessary probes as he takes over. How quickly he is able to effect the kind of change the nation has been clamouring for will naturally determine his success and not how many quarrels he has had with the opposition or the number of members of the opposition he has been able to put behind bars for corruption.

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