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Weighing Buhari’s ‘change’ against ‘next level’ agenda

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As President Muhammadu Buhari begins his second term in office, it is germane to examine how far his ‘change’ agenda in the first term necessitated the formulation of a ‘next level’ proposition.

At the inception of his administration in 2015, the president declared his intention to focus on three critical areas, including fighting corruption, tackling insecurity and boosting the economy to create jobs for the country’s teeming youth.

Also, while campaigning for the 2015 elections, President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to end Boko Haram terrorism and secure the country for it to be efficiently managed, to restructure the economy and halt its downward slide.

Buhari’s statement that “if Nigeria doesn’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” caught the interest of Nigerians and led to his victory against the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

The president’s stance on the three crucial planks, coupled with his practical and serious approach somehow awakened a new thinking in the country and a negation of those that placed their individual ambitions above the nation’s interest for nearly 16.

Leading by precepts
At one of the sessions with journalists, the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, noted that Buhari’s administration established for itself an anti-corruption reputation, such that it has been in office four years without a major scandal. It could also be on account of this that the African Union selected the president as the continent’s anti-corruption champion.

As at last Wednesday when President Buhari wound down on his first term mandate, Nigerians were divided over how far he has fared, especially in terms of how well the president has been responsive to the yearnings of the people as well as upholding the tenets of liberal democracy.

While a cross-section of Nigerians have discounted the administration’s achievements in the area of security, especially the decimation of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, others argued that the administration’s performance in the last four years was at best average in delivering on the promised ‘change’ in various sectors of the economy.

However, the presidency thinks otherwise, arguing that the administration has made strides investing in infrastructural development, especially in the transport, power and health sectors. It also pointed to the improvement in the Ease of Doing Business and the launch of a Social Investment Programme, described as the largest and most ambitious social safety net programme in the history of the country.

Strides and setbacks
Recently, the presidency reeled out its achievements in the area of tackling insecurity in the country in line with the Change agenda, saying it was not leaving any stone unturned to restore sanity and calm.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, claimed that the tremendous strides in the security architecture of the country were despite great odds.

Narrating some of the security initiatives taken between January and now, for the safety and security of Nigerians, Adesina stated: “Operation Puff Adder (Nigerian Police), Operation Harbin Kunama3 (Nigerian Army) and Exercise Egwu Eke 3 (Nigerian Army) have all been launched in 2019, to complement the existing Operations Sharan Daji (launched in 2016 by the Nigerian Army) and Diran Mikiya (launched 2018 by the Nigerian Air Force) among others.”

However, the verdict of the security chiefs who met Buhari last week in Aso Rock points largely to the direction of failure. They all openly surrendered their job to divine intervention when they said only God could save the country from the security menace facing her. Clearly, this open submission by the chiefs after meeting their commander-in-chief means a lack of strategy and vision on what they should do next. Nigerians have since recommended sacking all of them but Buhari’s slow response to serious issues has kept in office.

The president’s spokesman said all operations are focused on tackling banditry and criminality in the Northwest of Nigeria, even as critics of the administration continue to remind of the president’s failure to frontally tackle the Boko Haram menace despite assurances by his security chiefs.

Buhari recalled how his government liberated the local governments hitherto under the control of Boko Haram. Indeed, prior to the coming of the Buhari administration, Boko Haram insurgents had taken full control of 17 local government areas in the North East, where they hoisted their flags.

At the height of insurgency, several schoolgirls were abducted from the region. At a valedictory meeting with members of his cabinet at the presidential villa, President Buhari told the ministers to exit the government with their shoulders high, having performed creditably.

Recalling that the cabinet was unveiled with fanfare six months after the May 29, 2015 inauguration, the president explained that his decision to retain the cabinet throughout the lifetime of the out gone dispensation was based on the qualities of the members and their commitment to service, which yielded positive results.

But despite the shining reports from the presidency, the herdsmen/farmers crisis as witnessed in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, and states have continued to be dark spots in the government’s determination to execute the Change agenda, especially banditry and kidnapping across the country.

All this may have conspired to diminish the modest achievements recorded by the government in the security sector. Critics have posited that thousands of lives have unfortunately been lost to some of these incidents, which have refused to abate despite assurances by the security chiefs.

Convinced that his government has done well, Buhari, while bidding farewell to the ministers, stressed: “You should be proud to have contributed to our food security and economic diversification agenda which led to the revival of our rural agrarian economy.” He explained that members of the outgoing cabinet must not leave without being proud as part of a team that developed the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which helped Nigeria exit its worst recession in decades.

“You should be proud to have introduced the social investment programme that enhanced the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians. You should be proud to have participated in settling outstanding pensions of many senior citizens abandoned by previous governments while supporting state governments to meet their salary arrears.

He maintained that his ministers’ performances accounted for the sterling successes recorded in such ambitious sectors as road, rail, and airport rehabilitation programmes in the history of the country.

The president stated: “I want to put on record that your achievements in the last three and a half hears have guaranteed your position in the history books of this nation. You have certainly built the foundations for an improved economy and a more purposeful government.”

In pointing at the contrast with prevailing circumstances when he assumed office, the president noted that his administration achieved all that it did despite the fact that it inherited a broken economy, which eventually went into recession in the second quarter of the 2016 fiscal year. He added that the situation was compounded by insecurity and massive corruption.

Although the coast remains cloudy on his agenda for this sector, those sympathetic to Buhari’s cause argue that the administration succeeded in halting in no small extent massive leakages in the system thereby increasing the country’s internally generated revenue (IGR) index and foreign exchange capacity and raising the reserve to over $45 billion in cash and bonds.

The administration’s fight against corruption in the last four years has also not come without flaks, especially from the opposition, which is convinced that it remains a sore point on Buhari’s Change agenda. Buhari and his handlers, however, think differently. Adesina, recalls that “there was a time when Nigerians were told that stealing was not corruption. Today, under Buhari, behold a new dawn.”

The president’s spokesman points out that under President Buhari, “every form of stealing is being punished, and all malefactors, both high and low, are being hurled before the courts and thrown into jail.”

Government disclosed that public funds stolen from the national treasury and assets running into billions of naira, which have since been recovered, are to the credit to the anti-corruption war. The administration continues to pledge that people with itchy fingers, past and present, will continue to be in trouble, as probity and accountability will remain the order of the day.

Soil or oil
Another area the Buhari administration posts it success with some pride is the oil and gas sector. The creation of the ‘7 Big Wins’ reform initiative, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, accounted for improvements in the industry, with crude oil output increasing from 800,000 barrel per day to about 2 million barrels per day, among other measures.

Muhammadu Buhari  and outgone ministers during a valedictory  session at the State House, Abuja. Photo Philip Ojisua<br />


Kachikwu, who spoke during the launch of a book on Three Years of Key Achievements of the Petroleum Resources Ministry in Abuja recently, explained that the feats were made possible despite having inherited an oil and gas sector that was merely struggling with various blights like pipeline vandalism.

He enumerated other challenges to include restiveness in the Niger-Delta region, low oil production volumes, falling oil prices in the international market, and inadequate policies. There is no doubt that queues have vanished at filling stations across the country, but the stress in the sector remains subsidies, which Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation pays itself as sole importer of fuel.

Industry players, however, assert that the government’s success in increasing national crude oil reserves to 37.2 billion barrels by 2017, due mainly to the discovery of Owowo field in deepwater OML 139 with an estimated 1 billion barrels of crude oil reserves is a significant plus.

Cited also as a massive boost to the sector is the completion of repair works on the vandalized 48” Forcados Oil Terminal (FOT) export pipeline, which led to the resuscitation of over 300kbopd in deferred production for over one year and two months.

As Nigerians go into the Next Level, they are frightened by the president’s declaration that the next four years would be tough, despite his pledge to work even harder in the second term to consolidate his administration’s gains on security, economy, job creation, fight against corruption and upgrade of infrastructure.

It may not be the best way to begin a journey to the next level, but President Buhari, who is not known for political correctness, had indeed declared: “My last lap of four years, I think, is going to be tough, because people are very forgetful – that was why wherever I went I reminded them of the campaign by our party of the three fundamental issues – security, because you have to secure a country or an institution to manage it properly.”

However, in what was seen as an attempt to qualify the president’s scary message, his spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement quoted Buhari as saying recently that “(as) this is my last lap, I will try and work even harder than I have done. I assure you that I will not let you down. I pray that my best will be good enough.”

Of interest also is that his outgoing economic team has projected three percent GDP growth for 2019, which would be a massive improvement from the 1.9 it recorded in 2018, a projection which analysts say is a tall order.

The figure is also slightly different from the economic outlook projected by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), which forecast is 2.3 percent growth GDP in 2019 – World Bank projects 2.2 percent – and 2.4 percent in 2020. Given that high unemployment rate stands at 23.1 percent, skeptics think these projections are still inadequate.

President Buhari’s promise of sustained and additional investments in agriculture sector sounds encouraging, especially given that the contributions of agriculture to the nation’s GDP, as records indicate, have also been impressive, coupled with earnings from food exports. It should be noted that the expected hope of an agric-driven economy for the country might indeed have been significantly hurt by rising spate of insecurity in various parts of the country, even as Buhari’s Next Level targets a paradigm shift.

The president’s second term is said to espouse five new major thrusts, including job creation, provision of infrastructure, business and entrepreneurial development, human capital enhancement services and political inclusion.

The president’s new policy initiative is said to be hinged on the belief that the administration has completed the ‘foundational work’ upon which it hopes to build on the stairs that would take the country to the Next Level.

However, as second term begins to stream, achieving all of the set goals would be impossible unless a formidable team is put together. As such Nigerians expect the president to appoint men and women with the sound technical and economic knowhow into cabinet to assist him drive the economy and indeed, take the country to the Next Level.

Buhari must show more zeal in the actualisation of his mandate by the choice of people that will make his new cabinet. After four years on the saddle, Nigerians expect him to hit the ground running and work for the common good of all Nigerians. In specific terms, Nigerians expect the president to harness the country’s collective strength, rather than partisanship that has impinged the nation’s developmental efforts in previous years.


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