Two years’ anniversary: The Giant footprints of Buhari

Two years’ anniversary: The Giant footprints of Buhari

The Buhari tenure is two years already, Let go memory-lane to see how the administration has fared so far,  The coming to power of Buhari on May 29, 2015 will be counted for a long time as a watershed in Nigeria’s history. It was the first time since 1960 that an incumbent government at the federal level was defeated in an election and the opposition leader came to power. Major General Muhammadu Buhari is also a different kind of Nigerian politician. He is neither talkative nor eloquent. Where a Nigerian politician is forever smiling, Buhari has a stern mien. He also had a record as a stern military ruler in the 1980s.

In politics too, Buhari was a difficult consensus builder. As ANPP’s presidential candidate in 2003 and 2007 he did not get along with the party’s governors and legislators. As CPC’s presidential candidate in 2011 he could not conclude a deal with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s ACN. Still, Buhari went on to build the largest personal following of any Nigerian politician since the First Republic, almost at par with Sardauna, Zik and Awolowo and bigger than Tarka or Aminu Kano. He did this without the support of major politicians, traditional rulers, clerics or even most of the press. He was Donald Trump before Donald Trump, without the reckless populism.

The one political quality of General Muhammadu Buhari that trumped his political weaknesses was a solid reputation for incorruptibility. This personal quality came in handy because the Jonathan regime elevated corruption in Nigeria to historic levels. Buhari became politically attractive to millions of Nigerians because, before Boko Haram arrived on the scene, corruption had become the country’s single biggest national malaise. Millions of Nigerians saw Buhari as the anti-corruption messiah. His original political base in the far North was soon joined by mainstream Yoruba political machine led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Middle Belters repelled by their local leaders’ poor performance also joined the bandwagon, as did five disaffected PDP governors that helped to tip the scales.

In two years as President and Commander-in-Chief, President Buhari’s character strengths have had a profound impact on the national scene. He has also revealed several political weaknesses. His biggest success was in the fight against insurgency. Buhari turned out to be the natural answer to Boko Haram. Unlike Jonathan, who saw the insurgency as political machination against his regime, Buhari was clear eyed about the insurgency’s real nature. Boko Haram had once embarrassed Buhari by naming him among the team that it said should negotiate with the Federal Government on its behalf.  He quickly disavowed the poisonous appointment, saying he could not negotiate for Boko Haram because he did not know its leaders or what they stood for. Perhaps as a result, Boko Haram bombed his motorcade in 2013.

As an Army General, veteran Civil War commander, former General Officer Commanding [GOC] 3 Armoured Division that oversaw the North East and also with knowledge of the terrain as former military governor of the North Eastern State, Buhari quickly turned around the military’s fortunes in the North East. He ended the corruption that riddled arms procurement; bought the right weapons for the military; appointed very capable service chiefs; ordered the army high command to relocate closer to the battle fronts, and he secured the close cooperation of our neighbours. Within a year, Boko Haram was a shadow of its former self and last December, its once redoubtable Sambisa Forest headquarters was overran by the army. The Buhari regime also managed to secure the release of 103 abducted Chibok schoolgirls by negotiating with Boko Haram, probably the single biggest publicity coup of the last two years.

With Buhari in charge, the anti-corruption campaign shot to the top of the national agenda. In Acting EFCC Chairman Magu, Buhari found a determined policeman with none of Nuhu Ribadu’s flair for publicity but with equal drive and stubbornness. Appointing Magu to be acting EFCC chairman for a year before seeking Senate confirmation however turned out to be a mistake. He had by then stepped on too many powerful toes, including those of the legislators. Smugly confident under Buhari’s watch, EFCC made startling discoveries of hidden monies; charged many high profile ex-rulers to court and sealed many houses, hotels and commercial property. But while opposition politicians charged that Buhari’s anti-corruption war selectively targeted them, others charged that the campaign depended too much on Buhari’s personality and lacked a complimentary package of reforms for institutions and processes that will make it sustainable.

The administration’s biggest problem was the economic arena. Buhari sustained his myth as the unlucky man who comes to power in Nigeria just when things have gone awry. When he took over two years ago, oil prices had fallen from more than $100 a barrel until they hit $28 a barrel. An eruption of militant activity in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, perhaps caused by the Buhari regime’s attempt to bring militant leader Tompolo to book, severely reduced the country’s oil production. Nor did Buhari have fat reserves to fall back on, given the daylight bazaar that was the Jonathan years.

The last two years were therefore very painful for Nigerians, with many states and local governments piling up arrears of salaries and pensions despite Federal bailouts, with inflation galloping along and with higher petrol prices. An attempt by the Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC] to stage a nationwide protest however failed due to Buhari’s high standing with ordinary Nigerians. To compound matters, APC’s mouth watering social welfare programs which were trumpeted during the campaign mostly failed to take off, including employing half a million graduates to teach, 5,000 naira cash transfer to the most indigent Nigerians, massive loans for small and medium entrepreneurs, and one meal a day for every primary schoolchild.

In the political arena, Buhari’s tenure was defined in the past two years by a costly tug-of-war between the Executive and Legislature. As president-elect in 2015, Buhari stopped APC’s effort to zone legislative offices. This turned out to be a costly error. He made a second costly error when he summoned a meeting of APC senators at the same hour that he fixed in a proclamation for the chamber’s inauguration. This enabled candidates he did favour to win leadership of both National Assembly chambers.  Buhari reacted with hostility to the new Assembly leadership, in particular to Senate President Bukola Saraki. This made for very strained Executive-Legislative relations in the last two years.

From late last year, Senate launched a political counter-attack and began to hold up Buhari’s nominees for appointment. It twice rejected Magu as EFCC chairman, held up ambassadors’ list for weeks and has also refused for months to confirm 27 REC nominees. The Senate also demanded the sacking of Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal, who it said abused funds meant for North East IDPs. In March Buhari reluctantly appointed a committee under Prof Yemi Osinbajo to reach a settlement with the Senate. Last month he suspended the SGF along with the NIA director general Ayo Oke, though for different reasons.

Under Buhari, his ruling APC party has stagnated and wilted. Once in office, Buhari distanced himself from the party executives and refused to allow APC to play any role in his appointments. He also kept key APC leaders such as Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso at bay. As a result, APC is barely visible at the national level, the first political party in Nigeria’s history to decay while it is ruling.

Another defining element of the last two years was President Buhari’s slow style, especially in making appointments. It took him nearly three months to appoint SGF and Chief of Staff and five months to appoint ministers, in two batches. It took more than a year before he replaced some key agency heads, while hundreds of board chairmanships and memberships are still pending. Other political actors also alleged that Buhari’s key appointments are regionally lopsided, especially the security chiefs.

Early this year, illness waded into the picture. The president announced that he was going to the UK for an extended stay.  The government’s media team churned out an incoherent message saying he was hale and hearty and was on vacation but when Buhari returned, he said he had never been that sick in his life. He remained in the country for seven weeks but drastically scaled down on his public activities. At one time it became an issue that he missed three Cabinet meetings and one Friday prayer. Soon after that Buhari departed again for the UK and has been there for nearly a month now. On both occasions he transmitted letters to the National Assembly and triggered article 145 of the Constitution, thereby making Prof Yemi Osinbajo the Acting President.

President Muhammadu Buhari loomed larger-than-life on the Nigerian national scene in the two years that he has been at the helm of affairs. The second anniversary of his impactful administration is being marked while he is out of the country. DT

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