Buhari’s victory and challenges ahead – Punch

By Editor on 28/02/2019

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After a bitter and divisive electoral contest, Muhammadu Buhari is set to govern Nigeria as President for another four years. Much had been made of the challenge of his main rival, Atiku Abubakar, but following the February 23 ballot, Buhari has secured the renewed mandate for a second term in office. The Independent National Electoral Commission officially sealed the All Progressives Congress candidate’s victory early on Wednesday, stating that Buhari scored 15,191,847 votes. Atiku, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, garnered 11,262,978 votes to come a distant second.

Since independence, our efforts in turning the country into a functioning democracy, spreading freedom, pursuing justice and fostering national integration have often seemed like a cruel joke. However, Nigerians have spoken with their ballots. And only a competent court of justice can overturn this. As this newspaper has repeatedly canvassed, in a democracy, the leadership recruitment process does not require the senseless shedding of blood. The very essence of democracy is where the majority rule.

Not surprisingly, Buhari’s victory, this time, has not commanded the celebrated expectations of his first win in 2015, when he swept off Goodluck Jonathan, the incompetent incumbent. Then, his message of change fuelled hope among the downtrodden electorate, which had suffered prolonged years of misrule under the PDP. Therefore, Buhari should see this victory as a significant opportunity to seize the momentum and deliver the real change Nigeria needs.

The scale of the task before Buhari is underscored by a front-page pictorial in this newspaper on Wednesday. It graphically illustrates the deep-seated divisions plaguing the country: Buhari won in the North, where he is very popular. On the other hand, Atiku won handsomely in the South and parts of the North-Central. This essentially depicts a seriously fractured polity, unable to exorcise age-long ethnic and religious fault-lines. Tons of unfulfilled promises and leadership deficiency by the greedy political class have engendered massive wretchedness. Although he promised to unite the country behind him after his landmark victory over Jonathan, he has failed woefully to do so. His inaugural pledge in 2015, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody,” which should have made the union stronger, has found expression in his attitudes and actions towards the other parts of the country. Buhari must not repeat past mistakes.

Regardless of what many may say about the way the war against graft has been prosecuted, the perception of those who voted for Buhari is that he is not corrupt. In this regard, one of his advertised achievements in curbing public sector corruption has been the political will he mustered to implement the Treasury Single Account, which he has done single-mindedly in spite of not being the originator of the concept. Due to the discipline that the TSA has brought into public finance, it was reported in March last year that the country was able to rake in N8.9 trillion that would have vanished through leakages and brazen theft.

Buhari has received some applause for the huge sums of money recovered from corrupt politicians, which, the acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said last year amounted to N794 billion, $261 million and £1.1 million. The campaign has also led to the recovery of 407 mansions across the country.

Yet, there are truths Buhari should know amid the euphoria of victory. The election took place amid widespread and vociferous public demand for political restructuring and economic reform. Our country is over-centralised and it is choking everything and everyone. Nigeria has continued to vegetate because of successive governments’ failure to restructure the country. The APC promised to reverse this trend. Almost four years gone, Buhari has put on the shelf the recommendations of the committee his party set up on this. Chaired by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, it approved devolution of powers, state police and the scrapping of the 774 Local Government Areas as part of the federating units. The President will do well to look into these matters of national importance urgently.

The economy still suffers from dilapidated infrastructure, endemic corruption, a bloated public sector and an explosive population growth. With a dispirited and divided polity and an economy adrift like a pilotless ship, Buhari needs to surpass his first term record, quickly assemble a pan-Nigerian team of technocrats, drop his self-defeating statist instincts, clear his flanks of shadowy, self-serving cabals, adopt free market economic reforms and run an administration driven by modern ideas.

He has to hit the ground running this time. The country cannot afford his dozy pace that saw him fail to form a cabinet in six months. An uncertain, swampy future lies ahead without a solid foundation for economic growth and national cohesion achievable only by economic liberalisation and fundamental administrative restructuring. Without a significant devolution of power from the centre to the constituent units, Buhari’s tenure in government may be another eight wasted years.

Nigeria’s defective federalism trammels development and inhibits national integration. Among other imperatives, the irrationality of maintaining a single police force is brought home every day in the insecurity that prevails nationwide. When unitary United Kingdom hosts 43 autonomous police forces, “federal” Nigeria that is four times its physical size, thrice its population and with over 250 ethnic nationalities, is overdue for state and local policing.  He should commit to devolving power to the states to allow for resource control and free them to compete for investments, markets and human capital, the bedrock of innovation, competition, job creation and inclusive growth.

Buhari should reach for the low hanging fruits: removing the binding constraints of weak and conflicting regulations, the energy crisis, corruption, adverse operating business environment, leakages and an inept bureaucracy as well as poor infrastructure. Investments in agriculture, roads, security, power, refineries and railways should be top priority. He should dismantle the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; sell off the four useless refineries and stop borrowing for rail, airports and seaports when he can restructure these sectors for private investment. As his latter-day ally, el-Rufai, once declared; “If you don’t kill NNPC, it will kill Nigeria.”

Nigeria faces two existential wars: terrorism and corruption. Both require sound strategies and continuous adaptation. Buhari should imbibe this in confronting the resurgent Boko Haram. The murderous Fulani herdsmen and other violent ethnic militia must be tamed.  Intelligence, technology and cooperation with other nations should be stepped up while dispensing with commanders and intelligence chiefs that fail. The war on corruption needs a strategy, a coordinator and a team remorselessly committed to crushing graft. Buhari needs an Attorney-General passionate, and transparently so, about probity. The EFCC and other anti-graft agencies need to be independent and fair.

A president is the symbol of sovereignty; the approximation of national character and a unifying figure. Buhari has a second chance to demonstrate that he truly “belongs to everybody” by running an inclusive government and dropping parochialism, ethnicity, nepotism and the policy of exclusion that has alienated large sections of the country.

Today, the country is sharply divided, perhaps, more than it had ever been, because of the President’s divisiveness and one-sided appointments in favour of a section of the country. It is indefensible that a President in a country as diverse as Nigeria in terms of religion and culture, with the Northerners heading the two chambers of the National Assembly, would still have an overwhelming number of his security chiefs from the same region. This failure to be a rallying point for national unity and cohesion is further aggravated in other public service appointments such as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and other agencies, all in violation of the federal character principle in the constitution he swore to uphold.

We stand by our basic prerequisites for Nigeria’s economic growth and national integration: economic liberalisation and political decentralisation. Without Buhari laying a solid foundation for these, Nigeria still faces an uncertain future. At 76, with one term behind him, a previous stint as a military head of state and a past military career, Buhari can utilise this unique second opportunity to be an agent of positive change or go down as an obstacle to the realisation of a virile, strong and prosperous federal polity. The choice is his.

Posted 28/02/2019 07:12:01 AM


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