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Buhari and his unpopular policies

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Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent justification for what he called his ‘‘unpopular policies and programmes’’ is not a good public relations material for his presidency to begin a second term.

While receiving the Buhari Media Organisation recently, Nigeria’s President admitted that ‘‘the administrative services’’ of his government ‘‘are unpopular.’’

His justification: the government is, ‘‘doing unpopular things and facing powerful individuals and taking on vested interests who are accustomed to the corrupt era. But we must do things the right way, if we promise to change, then we must deliver it. This is regardless of whose interest is touched. There must be a manifest departure from the old order,’’ he added. 
 
That government ‘must do things the right way’… regardless of whose interest is touched as a manifest departure from the old order’ is, in this country today, absolutely and urgently needful. No reasonable Nigerian will disagree with that.

In truth the All Progressives Congress (APC) party promised the electorate change ‘form the old order’; four years down the road, it has certainly not delivered on its promises enough to brag about. There is certainly not yet ‘a manifest departure from the old order.’

Improvement in the area of security, specifically the degrading of the brazen fighting capacity of the Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country, yes. But this noteworthy achievement is severely discounted by the widespread and multi-dimensional acts of criminality that has, on the watch of President Buhari, almost taken over the land. Buhari may take direct responsibility for the policies of his government but the party that put him up for the highest office in the land must share in this responsibility.
 
The APC manifesto enunciated a four-point plan on national security that includes ‘capacity building  of law enforcement  agent,’ a well-trained and adequately equipped  and goals-driven Serious Crimes Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping…ethno-religious  and communal clashes nationwide,’ a constitutional amendment to  enable  states  and local governments to employ state and community  police  to address the peculiar needs of each  community. A full four-year term has passed and these promises to the electorate have not been demonstrably implemented.
 
Besides the party officially stated position, Mr. Buhari has repeatedly maintained three issues as topmost on his agenda.

As recently as on June 12, in his Democracy Day speech, he recalled that ‘‘when… we came into office in 2015… we identified three cardinal and existential challenges our country faced and made them our campaign focus namely security, economy and fighting corruption’ and he stated his ‘firm belief …that Nigerians desire the opportunity to better themselves in a safe environment.’’

Of course, they do because they know too well that no productive or profitable activity can be carried on in an environment of insecurity. But on this most critical necessity in society, we regret to say that, regardless of the claim of ‘solid progress’, this government is yet to justify its raison d’etre.

The incessant kidnapping, killings, robbery and banditry that take place north, east, west and south, are evidential of government’s abysmal failure to meet a key constitutional obligation to the citizens as stipulated in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, which states that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. This is not the ‘change’ that Nigerians voted for. To this extent, this government’s policy –or non-policy on the security of lives and property cannot but be ‘unpopular.’
 
The fight against corruption is widely and well-known to be half-hearted and skewed largely against people outside the government and the party in power. On the one hand, the government has to be literally dragged to take action against serving officials accused of corruption; it arbitrarily chooses to reverse the decision of competent authorities that sanction public officers; it stands accused of surreptitious settlement with persons who, by reasonable standards need to have their day in court.

On the other hand, it would be no exaggeration that only inside the ruling party can be found safety from the anti-corruption agencies. A case in court may even be withdrawn if the deal is mutually acceptable to the interested parties. The point must also be made that corruption manifests in more than financial terms.
 
It is trite to say that any form of violation of laid down procedure and the process is an act of corruption. This would mean that non-adherence to the Federal Character principle provided for in the constitution is corruption; so too the willful, persistent disobedience of the order of a court of competent jurisdiction; so too are acts of nepotism and cronyism. 

 
It is not unexpected that sufferers from the anti-corruption measures will fight back. What is crucial is that if the effort is glaringly unbiased, and the process transparent and untainted by ill motive, such effort will definitely receive the appreciation and support of the vast majority of the citizenry who are, in any case, victims of corruption perpetrated by the highly-placed and powerful in society. But as long as the anti-corruption effort falls below high, transparent, un-skewed standards, it will remain ‘unpopular.’
 
Buhari and his APC have made improving the economy a key objective of the government. Indeed, the party promised to ‘make our economy one of the fastest-growing emerging economies in the world with a real GDP growth averaging 10% annually’.

The manifesto even promised to ‘embark on export and production diversification …and expand sub-regional trade through ECOWAS and AU’. But this government chose to delay for so long, the signing of the African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCTA) that, if the country gets its economic acts together to become a production powerhouse, can be of huge benefit to Nigeria.
 
Buhari can use the challenge that AfCTA poses to get a few things going urgently. For example, he should take clear and decisive policy measures to ensure regular electricity to the real sector to optimise productivity.

In this respect,  Mrs. Alaba Lawson former president of NACCIMA said ‘‘if we can get  the power problem solved, and all the manufacturing  areas of the economy  become buoyant,  we will have more people at work and be able to  absorb many of our youths…’’  
 
This government should repair the roads as well as hasten the construction of the rail system across the country for easier movement of people and goods. These are low-hanging fruits that can begin to enhance the nation’s economic efficiency. The lack of responsiveness to do the right thing at the right time makes government policies ‘unpopular’. 

 
A combination of insecurity and feeble fight of corruption constitutes dis-incentives to investment. Besides, delay in constituting a cabinet, and a general, persistently lackadaisical attitude to the weighty duty of governance are reasons enough that the business community adopts a wait-and-see posture; no one can be sure of the policy direction of a yet to be fully constituted government. 
 
Annual budgets that repeatedly assign less than 25 per cent to capital investment (22.98 per cent in 2019) cannot grow the economy. Contrary to the documented promise of the APC to ‘‘target up to 15% of our annual budget for this critical education sector,’’ the education allocation of a miserable 7 per cent of the total annual budget (7.05 percent in 2019) cannot develop the human capital so crucial to economic development, and social progress.

No. This APC government promised to ‘‘create an additional middle class of at least two million new home owners in our first year in government…’’ Since mid- 2015 when it took charge of the affairs of this nation, the foreign exchange value of the naira has halved; unemployment has increased by nearly four per cent since 2017 to 23.1 per cent, according to the third quarter 2018 report of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and the number of impoverished Nigerians have risen by several million such that, 86.9 million (about 47 per cent of the population) live in ‘extreme poverty’ and this country has become  the world’s poverty capital according to  UN figures.  

If Section 14 (2)(b) of the extant constitution is to be believed that ‘‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…,’’  we dare to say that this government has failed in this duty and inevitably, its policies  cannot at all be ‘popular.’
 
We must remind Buhari that he was accepted to govern this country after three rejections, on the strength of his much-touted ‘integrity’ and all that it implies. Four years in charge have tested this attribute and regrettably, he is found wanting. Having been given a second chance of re-election, Nigerians should reasonably expect a clearer vision of his goal and strategy of democratic governance, a better grasp of the issues of governance, a greater sense of urgency, and a broad-minded appreciation of and management of this complex country. Buhari did not show these in his first term. That is why his ‘administrative services’ were ‘unpopular.

A thing is popular when it is understood, accepted and approved by most people. If this president desires his policies to be popular, he must, in his second term, change his style of governance for the better – if only for the self-interest to assure his place on the right side of Nigeria’s history. 


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