Timeline of ‘change
The game of governance is fluid, requiring participants to take calculative decisions and steps. But running a country, policy experts would say, takes not just structuring programmes and pursuing them religiously, but also keeping an ear to the ground, a listening mechanism that ensures steps are not misunderstood.
Indeed, this advice may have influenced Federal Government’s resolve to hold town hall meetings in geopolitical zones across the country, with ministers required to give account of the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) stewardship in the last one year.
But beyond the coziness of the talk shop, Buhari government’s slogan of change has come to mean different things to Nigerians in the last one year — fluctuating, many would say, in the delivery of its promise.
From challenges of fixing a battered economy to addressing Boko Haram’s carnage and prosecuting a much-needed anti-graft war, the President had his hands filled on assumption of office. So, it was with bated breath that many waited to see what the ‘change’ government would bring.
Aftermath Of Elections
IN the aftermath of the 2015 elections, while many Nigerians savoured the taste of victory, basking in the glory of overthrowing an incumbent president in a ‘doomed’ election year, others licked their battle wounds in unbelief, taking stock to identify where they must have got their strategies wrong.
The tensed atmosphere was calmed by the genius of an Abuja Accord, signed by political parties to keep to the outcomes of the elections and accept it in good faith. Seeing that their leaders allowed for peace in a situation that would have descended to chaos going by precedent, the people waited for signs — any inkling, whatsoever — to follow.
But much as they were apprehensive to unravel what the new government had in stock, Nigerians bided time to see what kind of change a party that based its campaign on a ‘revolutionary, progressive’ fight against corruption, terrorism and cronyism would bring.
Hence, a reassuring hint came in the most auspicious manner in the first official address of President Muhammadu Buhari, wherein he boasted that he belonged to ‘everybody and nobody,’ a statement that put paid to insinuations that he would dance to the tunes of a section of the country. Indeed, happenings in months to come revealed that the statement bore more meanings than was ascribed to it by political watchers at the time.
The Scent Of Change: Baba’s Body Language
BARELY two months into President Buhari’s administration, it appeared that the Eldorado the people were expecting was at hand.
On the heels of improvement in power supply recorded across the country, a new sense of patriotism was infused in many Nigerians, which was buoyed by what many believed was betterment in living conditions. Order, of sorts, was returning to public life also, as many public servants were shaping up to the realities of having to work under a man who was famed to abhor indiscipline; whose government initiated the ‘dreaded’ War Against Indiscipline (WAI), and political temperament borrowed from his reputation as an unyielding ‘dictator.’
The president’s precedent in dealing with the Maitasine sect also sent shivers down the spine of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents, as the frequency of attacks ebbed.
It was believed he would be the hardest nut to crack for power brokers. Political analysts termed this effect Baba’s body language, a new euphemism in statecraft. Critics, who raised objections that the ‘magic’ with power supply was artificial and was, in fact, efforts of the immediate past administration, were drowned by the people’s love for their new leader, the latest sheriff in town.
With this, many were seemingly sure of a new path to progress, which, they argued, would keep cavengers away from the country’s till. The euphoria spread across the country and chants of ‘Sai Baba,’ a reference to Buhari’s growing acceptance rating, rent the air in pool joints, bars and other public spaces.
Civil Servants Over Technocrats
AS Nigerians waited for a policy statement from government, everyone was grappling for signs, hoping to get hints of how the All Progressives Congress (APC), who were tasting power at the centre for the first time, would run its government.
But as the wait lingered, President Buhari hinted on his preference for civil servants over technocrats, who would be his ministers. After getting report of the Transition committee, he proceeded to replace about 17 permanent secretaries and restructured the ministries after they had briefed him on the state of their affairs.
Buhari said while swearing-in the permanent secretaries, “In keeping with the change mantra of this administration, the process for your selection as permanent secretaries was a departure from the previous practice of administering written and oral examinations.
“Instead, a more rigorous selection process, entailing vigorous screening of candidates’ past records, potential and capacity for holding the office, integrity, honesty and sense of commitment was adopted.”
The strategy, many pundits said, was reminiscent of happenings during Buhari’s first foray into the corridors of power, whereby, powerful ‘super’ permanent secretaries ran affairs with an iron fist. The new arrangement, they argued, may be the reason for delays in appointing ministers and suggest the ‘importance’ the president may place on the incoming executive heads of the ministries.
The Long Wait For Ministers
THEN came the waiting game. After President Buhari returned from a much publicised G7 meeting in Germany, where he went to tender a ‘wishlist,’ which had many fawning over the new perception the country was garnering in the international community, Nigerians waited impatiently for the constitution of the president’s kitchen cabinet.
But over and over again, methodical Buhari assured that he was bidding time and needed to sort out himself and, most importantly, didn’t want to make mistakes in appointing ministers and aids.
He said in public fora that he wanted to work with trusted hands, whom he believed, would be faithful to the change agenda.
However, political analysts argued that not only was the President hindered by political considerations at the time, but also was careful not to fall into the trap of political hawks, who may want to seize the opportunity to thwart the war on corruption.
After series of intrigues and drama from the Aso rock, chief of which was the ideal number of ministers to work with in the light of constitutional provisions, as Buhari was said to be running a lean government, the president eventually announced a cabinet that featured a mix of weather-beaten veterans and new comers.
Analysts, on the other hand, were left to wonder what portfolio would be assigned to nominees, a concern that was doused by restructuring of ministries, which government said was a move to save cost and achieve greater efficiency.
Inaugurating the ministers after six months of coming into office, Buhari said, “I have been conscious of the need not to repeat such mistakes of the past where the right people were allocated the wrong portfolios, which translated into their performing poorly to our collective detriment despite their obvious capabilities.
“With the inauguration of ministers, our government shall continue more decisively to implement its policies in respect of the economy and in other areas. While working hard to maximise revenue from oil in the face of a sharp decline in the price for the commodity, we are determined to diversify the economy in agriculture to enhance employment and explore solid minerals as a major revenue earner.”
Denial Of Promises
A SOFT point for youths during the 2015 presidential campaign was the promise of a N5,000 stipend for unemployed graduates. But months into the Buhari administration, hints of the true nature of the promise would emerge during an altercation between senators in the National Assembly, in a situation that had members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) mocking the APC for reneging on its campaign promise.
The matter tore through Nigeria’s twittersphere and the larger social media, as disillusioned youths wondered whether they have been shortchanged and rued their fate in the change agenda.
But in trying to defend government, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, came out, at different times, to clear the air, once to inform that government was gathering data to see to the fulfillment of the promise, and at another time, to argue that the promise was targeted at vulnerable citizens.
However, during his visit to the Middle East, President Buhari said he would rather use a collation of the funds to put up infrastructures and empower youths to go into agriculture than to give out monies.
He said: “This largesse N5,000 for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the school and correct them and empower agriculture, mining so that every able bodied person can go and get work instead of giving 5,000, N5,000 to those who don’t work.”
Joining to clear the air on the promise, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo said that there was a bit of misinterpretation of what the promise was.
According to him, “Some people have suggested that we are giving 5,000 Naira to unemployed young people. No!
“What we are doing for young people, graduates and the unemployed is the teachers’ scheme, as well as, the vocational training,” the Vice President explained.
THE delay in the passage of the 2016 budget, as well as, controversy surrounding its versions and content are still fresh in the minds of Nigerians.
The budget was supposed to set the trajectory for the year and give a clear direction of government for the fiscal year after the passage of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), a template on which the policy document would be anchored. But this was not to be so, at least as so far seen.
The N6.08trn budget, which has still not been passed, was first submitted to the National Assembly on December 22 last year with the hope that the lawmakers would expedite action on its passage.
After they returned from recess, the lawmakers declared that the document submitted by the president was missing, a sore note that has bewitched the document ever since.
Then came the season for accusations and counter-accusations of padding, with officials of the executive arm of government during the statutory budget defence sessions claiming that what they saw in the fiscal document was completely different from what was proposed by their ministries.
Accusing fingers were pointed at officers in the budget office, who were dubbed ‘budget cabal,’ for doctoring the document beyond recognition. Heads rolled and the head of the parastatal was booted out, among others.
Of recent, the discovering of the removal or omission of a Lagos to Calabar coastal rail has also dogged the budget, a development that has called to question the standing of the political class on matters of infrastructural development.
However, as Nigerians are presently suffering from the pangs of incessant fuel scarcity, many are still expectant of more concrete signs of the elixir of change, some of which, it is hoped, would be communicated to Nigerians at the town hall meetings, in case they had been lost on them.
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