By Malcolm Fabiyi,
In the 2015 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari convinced Nigerians to do something that had never been done before – turn power over to the opposition party at the national level. In return, Nigerians expect him and his party, the APC, to do something that is hard to do – successfully steer Nigeria through turbulent economic and political waters.
The Nigerian people have held up their side of the bargain, by sweeping Mr. Buhari to the presidency and delivering the Senate, House of Representatives and the Governorship of a plurality of states to the APC. In doing so, Nigerians provided Mr. Buhari with every tool that a president needs to succeed.
Over one year later, the promise of change has become a premise of doom. Nigeria is ravaged by an economy in recession, heightening insecurity, epileptic power supply and a host of other ills.
Here are five major factors that have contributed to the Buhari government’s failings in steering the Nigerian ship of state.
Issue 1: No sense of urgency
Mr. Buhari is slow and steady. However, while a slow and steady hand might be needed for a pediatrician that delivers babies, fast and firm hands are required for a surgeon that is working in the emergency wing of a hospital. Nigeria is in the emergency wing. Patient Nigeria’s condition cannot be managed with aspirin. The nation needs to be wheeled immediately into the operating theater and worked on, fervently, and with a sense of utmost urgency.
Mr. Buhari does not seem to have the same view of the condition of patient Nigeria that the rest of the country has. Six months into his administration, Buhari was yet to name his government. When the names emerged, it was one that he could have come up with on day one. No one knows how hard Mr. Buhari tried to find capable Nigerians to join him in steering the ship of state. Yet somehow, of the 170 million Nigerians that are alive, some of whom are doing big things in Nigeria and beyond, it was the present batch of overused, recycled names and faces that Mr. Buhari brought forward.
No one knows how Mr. Buhari made his selection. No one knows why it took him six months to select a weak bench. However, this is how the world’s best nations and companies do it: they commission experts to do the job. The experts would be given a brief, told the types of men and women that the government is seeking, and asked to roam the world in search of talent. Nigeria does this all the time when we are seeking for soccer talent to put in the National teams.
Mr. Buhari’s lack of urgency extends beyond how he selected his cabinet. For the last two years, Fulani herdsmen and farming communities have engaged in what can only be called ethnic warfare – that has razed villages to the ground and killed thousands of people. Yet nothing has been done to stop the killings. The power sector is comatose, yet no workable, practical plan has been put forward for addressing the issues. Militancy is on the rise in the Niger Delta, yet no coherent plan for winning the war or policing the peace has been proposed.
And for a nation that is trying to encourage foreign direct investment, it should not take over one year to appoint ambassadors.
Issue 2: Hiring for loyalty
Mr. Buhari values loyalty above all things. It is easy to understand why this is the case. Mr. Buhari was aided to power in 1983 by his friends. By 1985, the same friends had toppled him. Mr. Buhari seems to have decided that he prefers brothers to friends. In speeches and comments that he has made since becoming President, Mr. Buhari has used the loyalty argument to explain away his most baffling appointments.
A President that is committed to success, must act in the interest of the nation. They must be willing and open to making themselves vulnerable, if that is the price of progress. Without overcoming this inner battle that drives them towards loyalty above all else, they will be doomed to embracing the familiar but frail grip of mediocrity rather than the uncertain but ultimately successful grasp of progress.
Issue 3: Policy Vacuum
At the beginning of his administration, Mr. Buhari told Nigerians the many things he thought was wrong with the country. He bemoaned the fact that Nigerians imported things as basic as toothpick. He talked about how frustrated he was that the judicial system was hampering his anti-corruption war.
Almost one year later, nothing has changed. Mr. Buhari, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and leader of the party that controls the Senate and the House of Representatives is still lamenting.
Not a single coherent and consistent policy framework that is aimed at correcting many of the ills that Buhari has complained about have been put in place. Nothing has been done to make it easier for Nigerian businessmen to manufacture toothpick in Nigeria than for them to import it. There are no trains and inland water networks that will help them transport the wood that they need from the forests to the cities where their production sites and customers are. There are no plans for providing them with the energy they need to cut the wood, shave and package it. There are no policies that provide investors with access to capital at interest rates that encourage local production. There are no environmental policies that will regulate how trees are cut down and ensure that deforestation does not result, once we start making our own toothpick.
It does not matter what sector one looks at, the issues are exactly the same – the Buhari government is doing nothing of substance to enable Nigeria’s growth. Till date, the Petroleum Industry Bill, which experts all agree is key to unlocking the immense potential of Nigeria’s downstream oil sector has continued to languish.
Issue 4: A Half Hearted Anti – Corruption War
Mr. Buhari rode to power on the back of the Horse called Anticorruption. Over one year later, Nigerians are still watching the horse show. Not a single conviction has been secured in any of the major corruption cases. Despite over one year of high drama, corruption has not been banished in the country that is led by a man elected on the platform of eradicating corruption.
Buhari has complained about the judicial system that drags out cases, and a judiciary that appears complicit in corruption. Yet, he has not sent a single bill to the national assembly to modify Nigeria’s laws so that the walls of protection that the current laws offer to the corrupt can be brought down. And for those who would argue that the National Assembly would never pass such bills – here is what the Nigerian people say: let the President at least try and then he will see how a nation will rise to defend a President that is carrying out the will of the people.
Corruption comes dressed as many things. In its most familiar garb, it is the pilfering of public funds. But corruption is also providing employment to ones cronies and family members without due process. While the political expediency of ignoring corruption within one’s own party can be understood, it should not be tolerated. Corruption is an infectious disease. It cannot be managed. It needs to be eradicated.
So far, Mr. Buhari has not lived up to the lofty expectations Nigerians had. As time passes, Mr. Buhari’s anti-corruption war increasingly seems to be little more than a handy distraction for an increasingly critical populace.
Issue 5: Economy – Firefighting Approach, No Strategy
When the history of Mr. Buhari’s term in office will be written, Nigerians will not remember how many people were locked up for corruption. They will not remember how many Boko Haram insurgents were taken off the battle field. They will not remember how many pipelines were blown up by militants. They will only remember whether it was a period of prosperity or a period of lack. So far, Buhari’s term has been a period of abject lack and debilitating poverty.
For those who say Mr. Buhari inherited a mess that needs time to be cleaned up, here is a simple response: it was a mess he fought hard to inherit. Mr. Buhari was not running for president in Egypt. From 2003 till 2015 – 12 long years, Mr. Buhari fought for the opportunity to lead Nigeria. He knew that Nigeria was not saving for a rainy day. He knew that oil prices were dropping precipitously. He knew that the national assembly was expert at padding budgets. He knew that politicians and civil servants were pilfering public funds. He talked about all these problems incessantly when he was running for office.
Anyone looking to see how courageous leaders respond when they inherit a mess should look to Barack Obama. In 2008, he was handed the worst recession that America had seen in over 40 years. His response was epic. He rolled out the largest stimulus program ever implemented by a nation, and hired the best minds in the country. He also threw petty loyalties aside and invited former rivals like Hilary Clinton into his cabinet. Seven years later, 15 million jobs have been gained, and the USA is perhaps the best performing developed economy in the world.
Despite knowing Nigeria’s dire condition, Mr. Buhari did not seem prepared for the challenge of running a nation that was overly reliant on a single commodity for its sustenance. One year later, nothing seems to have changed. While the Buhari government’s fiscal policy is supposedly geared towards encouraging investment, the monetary policy put out by the central bank is geared towards mopping up liquidity. Raising interest rates is a way to reduce inflation if the reason for rising prices is an excess of cash in the system. In Nigeria’s case, inflation was caused by the weakening of the Naira, not excess liquidity.
There must be better coordination in his government. Fiscal and monetary policy must be aligned. However, there can be no coordination until the strategic aims of the government becomes clear to all. What exactly is the goal of the Buhari government? Is the goal to increase employment or to curb inflation? Is the goal to encourage local production, or encourage foreign direct investment? Or is it to do all of the above? What sectors are being targeted for growth?
The sad truth is this – no one in Buhari’s government can articulate what the strategic aims are. And if they can, they are certainly not sharing that information with Nigerians.
Mr. Buhari can still succeed. However, to right this sinking ship, he must do some things that he has not shown himself capable of doing in the last year – recognize the fierce urgency of the moment, overcome his innermost fears, and do right by the Nigerian people. Nigerians still believe in change. In the balance of his term, President Buhari must show himself worthy of the trust of the Nigerian people by giving them a government worthy of their expectations.