Controversy trails Buhari’s policy announcement abroad
THE use of foreign platforms to make policy statements by President Muhammadu Buhari has triggered a controversy as many critics of his administration are questioning the motives behind the announcements when Nigeria has a press that is reputed to be the most vibrant in Africa.
During his recent trip to Iran, Buhari said that some former government officials had started voluntarily returning to the Federal Government’s coffers, part of the public funds they acquired illegally. He stated that his administration had intensified efforts at recovering all public funds now in the pockets of former government officials and their cronies. He said the government was not satisfied with the partial return of stolen funds.
“On corruption, yes, they are still innocent. But, we are collecting documents and some of them have started voluntarily returning something. But we want all.When we get those documents then we will formally charge them to court and then we will tell Nigerians to know those who abused trust when they were entrusted with public funds or when they took it by force for 16 years. So, the day of reckoning is gradually approaching,” he said.
President Buhari explained that those accused of corruption would have been prosecuted by now but for the need to thoroughly investigate them to gather enough evidence for their eventual trial.
He said it was easy for him, during his tenure as military Head of State in 1985, to arrest and put alleged corrupt individuals “in protective custody” for them to prove their innocence but that at the moment, the dictates of the rule of law and due process had slowed him down in the prosecution of corruption cases.
Before now, Buhari has made several policy statements during foreign trips like when he said Nigeria was broke, that the country was considering negotiating with Boko Haram insurgents and when he said he was going to appoint his ministers last September.
Commenting on the issue, former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope told The Guardian that there was nothing bad in such habit if the President was expressing his opinion in a manner that was not detrimental to the country’s image.
Babatope said that he did not think that Buhari was trying to ignore the Nigeria media adding, “Nigerian media has come of age and nobody can toy with it. President Buhari’s media aides have a lot of work to do on him. They should guide him properly on how to go about his media relations and statements. I am aware the President has core professionals as media aides.”
But the National Vice-Chairman, South-South zone of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Cairo Ojougboh said it was a major flaw of the President, whom he alleged “does know how to run government.”
Ojougboh said: “It is true that Buhari might have the leadership experience as former Head of State. The truth is that democracy is different from military rule. Besides, when he was in the saddle as military ruler, he was never fully in charge. It is clear that his media aides have a lot of work to do on him in the area of media relations.”
On the president’s statement on returned loot by former government officials, the PDP chieftain said it is wrong and illegal for the president to collect looted fund from people secretly without rendering account.
“Nigerians deserve to know who returned what loot. How much was returned and where is the money kept and others. It is not the president’s personal money, it is the country’s money. So Nigerians should ask questions. We cannot afford to keep quiet. This is democracy.”
But to a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osita Okechukwu Buhari’s oversea statements were just for emphasis.
He said: “My take is that those statements if you cast your mind back, are only emphasis of policy statements he made at home during the campaign or in the course of transition governance.
“I stand to be corrected, for instance, one recollects that the statement in Washington that the ministers may not be in place immediately after he was sworn-in, was predated by his earlier statement at the inauguration of the Transition Committee that he will need to diligently study the material conditions before he hit the ground running.
“The issue that he is going to reduce the number of ministries or ministers cannot be said to have been unveiled abroad, because while receiving the report of the Transition Committee he set up, he signaled reduction of cost of governance.”
On the president’s promise of change, which many believed is being delayed, the APC chieftain said, “One recalls as well that the war against corruption has been his main mantra of change, since he stepped into the murky waters of Nigeria partisan politics in 2002. Therefore no matter the variant or slant of his statement, it is his passion to wage stridently the war against corruption.
“President Buhari’s policy statement abroad in my considered view is aimed to secure the unprecedented goodwill of the global community on Nigeria; especially when Foreign Direct Investment will play a major role in the success of his administration. This is given the prevailing shock and dwindling oil revenue which is our cash cow.”
A Lagos-based public relations and communication consultant, James Ugoyi told The Guardian that President Buhari’s by his consistent overseas policy statements was engaging in “Afghanistanism,” a style that was not good for the image of the country and him as a leader.
Ugoyi said: “How can our president resort to making pronouncements on critical issues affecting the country outside the country? What is he trying to achieve? Who is he trying to please? It is like chasing rats, while your house is on fire. President Buhari must learn how to communicate to Nigerians. There are so many issues begging for answers, which no one in government has provided or is providing.”
On the implication of president’s action on Nigerian media, the communications consultant said it was a clear sign that President Buhari has no regard for the Nigerian media.
“The president and his media team are making serious mistake by ignoring the Nigerian media. They should remember that it was the same Nigerian media that made the president’s electoral success, possible. Trying to ignore it now is dangerous and wrong. The Nigerian media can make or mar the present government, especially when they are not performing. The president should talk less abroad, talk and do more at home.”