Opinion: Welcome Back, Mr. President – Niyi Akinnaso

Opinion: Welcome Back, Mr. President - Niyi Akinnaso

“I have resumed my functions as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with effect from Monday, March 13, 2017, after my vacation”

—President Muhammadu Buhari, in his letter to the National Assembly on Monday, March 13, 2017.

There is no doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari’s return from London last Friday, March 10, 2017, after a seven-week medical vacation, excited many people and ignited hope in a nation in the throes of economic and security challenges, complicated by unbridled corruption. Some supporters slaughtered rams. Others organised a pro-Buhari march. Yet, others rejoiced in some other ways, including the hoisting of the All Progressives Congress flag by a young boy, shown on Channels TV. Some cabinet members and other top government officials rolled out a variety of impromptu speeches. To the extent that the President’s return at least stalled some speculations and rested some restive nerves, it could be said to have helped in stabilising the polity.

However, the jubilation over the President’s return masked much deeper concerns about the health of the President and the health of the nation. True, Buhari’s return ended speculations about whether or not he is still alive, it did not end speculations about his health condition. Many are concerned that the President looks very frail. If the President’s frail physique comes from recovering from treatment, then it is hoped that he will regain strength and weight in the weeks and months to come. However, if his frailty reflects an underlying ailment, then the speculations will increase as the people will probe further into what exactly is wrong with their President. Already, a group is asking for a health probe.

The information released by the President himself about his health condition cannot but raise further questions. First, the President confessed: “I’ve never been this sick”. Second, he admitted to blood transfusion. Third, he admonished Nigerians against self-medication. It is unclear whether he indulged himself in self- medication; but it would appear that the President was warning Nigerians to see a doctor rather than purchase over-the-counter drugs to treat themselves. What is clear from what the President told the world is that his spokespersons and surrogates were not candid enough.

Be that as it may, it is important at this point to leave the President’s health in the hands of his doctors and his Maker, especially now that he has resumed his official duties. Fortunately, he has warned us that he would have to go back to see his doctors in London in a few weeks. Let us wait and see, while also wishing him well.

Our focus now should be on the health of the nation, focusing on three key areas, namely, the economy, security, and the fight against corruption. Fortunately, the government released its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan a week ago, on March 7, 2017. It is a medium-term plan aimed at salvaging the country’s dwindling economy between 2017 and 2020. Buhari should waste no time in implementing the ERGP so it can begin to yield appreciable dividends before the end of his tenure. He should charge the economic team, headed by Vice-President Osinbajo, to charge on. However, adequate resources must be provided and on time.

A pet project of the plan is to leverage Science, Technology and Innovation in building a knowledge-based economy. While this is a laudable goal, it cannot be the starting point of the implementation. The infrastructure needed to sustain the STI focus must be in place. Right now, there are universities in this country that are not connected to the nation’s power grid, while others are outside the reach of some mobile phone networks. Without adequate and steady power supply and a robust cyber-network, including efficient mobile phone services, investment in the STI is meaningless.

Even more importantly, the people want food on the table before anything else. That’s why the government should not waiver in its focus on agriculture. True, there is appreciable increase in the local production of some commodities, such as rice, it is also true that the penetration of the agro-business efforts is still not broad and deep enough. The Federal Government should support the states to develop sustainable value chains around the produce for which the states are noted. For example, Ondo State should be assisted in developing relevant agro-industries, for example, to process yam and plantain into flour. Such industries will enhance preservation, prevent wastage, and widen the markets for the products.

Security remains a serious problem as herdsmen-farmers clashes continue, while kidnapping for ransom and high-stake armed robbery are on the rise. The wanton deaths resulting from these practices devalue human worth, thus questioning the humanity of this administration. It is high time decisive steps were taken to curb these vices. Such steps may include a strong anti-firearm law and stiff penalties for criminals.

Finally, the fight against corruption, which is Buhari’s major achievement to date, after the fight against insurgency, is under stress. The impasse between the Presidency and the National Assembly over the confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission needs to be resolved. Corruption cases, which have been in court for over a year, need quick resolutions. The anti-corruption fight itself needs to be broadened so it can penetrate much deeper into the wider society.

In this regard, there is an urgent need to examine and implement the appropriate recommendations from the two-day dialogue on corruption held in Abuja recently. In particular, Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun, who chaired one of the sessions of the Abuja dialogue, emphasised the need for a broad and deep participatory approach involving all three tiers of government (see, “The missing link in the fight against corruption”, The Guardian, March 13, 2017).

Another missing link in the fight against corruption is punishment — not a mere slap-on-the-wrist punishment, but one that is commensurate with the crime committed. To be sure, there are several types of punishment in the penal code, the problem is with the judicial system and the proper enforcement of the law. That’s why Buhari should not relent in its ongoing effort to reform the judicial system. By the same token, if members of the Nigerian Bar Association love this country and harbour veins of patriotism, they should reform their association as well and assist the government in the fight against corruption.

Now, back to the President’s return. Having been through a gruesome treatment before, I know what it means to recover from illness. It is not easy. The President should not be pushed, if he loves himself, and if he wants to continue to serve this country. He should take his time to recover fully. There is no reason why his deputy should not continue to move around, as he has done in the last five weeks, while the President stays in Abuja for measured consultations. In this regard, the press should stay away from invidious comparisons between the two men and let them go about their business.


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