Buhari, APC And The Litmus Test For ‘Change’
THE challenge before the All Progressives Congress (APC) is to mix oil and water. That is the onerous task Muhammadu Buhari would face when he gets inaugurated later this week as the fourth democratically elected president in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.
Though, he has quickly transited to simple Muhammadu Buhari from General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB); after May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) will begin the journey of proving to Nigerians that he has a reason for his continuous search for the presidency. His challenge is analogous to that of APC, the platform that produced his presidency.
While the APC has, through social propaganda promoted itself as the epitome of liberal democracy and good governance, from May 29, it is expected to show how its political orientation is refined and different from what obtained in the last 16 years.
But as the head of government and leader of the party, the greater weight of the change project would be on Buhari’s stooped shoulders! Not only are the expectations from Nigerians very high, the challenges are equally frightening.
The enormity of the challenges and the expectations may have prompted the former president Olusegun Obasanjo to avail Buhari of a guide mark from his policy think tank. Apart from the unstated suggestion that Buhari and APC seem not to have a ready template to address the myriad of problems that confront the nation and meet public expectations, Obasanjo’s unsolicited blue print presupposes that either APC manifesto does not possess the magic wand or that the President-elect lacks such a resource or even the capacity to deliver. As the president mounts the saddle, the challenges and expectations on his government would be seen from various perspectives.
Challenges Of Take-Off
A PRIME challenge for the Buhari presidency pertains to take-off of the administration. The politics of who gets what, the need for national spread and selecting capable and competent hands to form the change team, proved daunting. The president-elect lamented that the exiting Goodluck Jonathan administration did not leave it necessary leads for a smooth take-off smooth.
Speaking when he received the interim report of the Transition Committee set up by the incoming presidency, Buhari regretted that the counterpart committee set up by the outgoing Federal Government did not furnish his committee with any information.
While Buhari’s committee was headed by Ahmed Joda, that of the outgoing government was led by the Vice President, Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
Though, the president-elect hinted that apprehension over his public utterances about fighting corruption may have caused the government to stone-wall, it is most likely that by holding on to its belief that the Jonathan administration was clueless, for APC to expect the same administration to leave it mileposts sounds contradictory.
He expected a situation where, as he said, “each ministry makes its own presentation. The politicians know that they are going, while the bureaucrats who do the job know they are the ones who are going to do the job and they are going to be available to help crosscheck the information.”
But the frictions over handover and takeover would pale into insignificance when viewed against the background of scheming by APC playmakers to occupy by proxy the headship of certain ministries. Chief among these ministries very crucial to the economic prosperity promised by the APC include, Works, Finance, Petroleum, Power, Defense, Health and Agriculture. Already the man who was called upon to help navigate the ship of APC to dethrone the Jonathan presidency has recommended the former Central Bank Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, as his preferred candidate for the post of Finance Minister.
On his part, the man called the leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is said to be eyeing the wave making Petroleum Ministry. It is left to be seen how the fight against corruption would fare when a big player in the downstream sector also provides the head of the petroleum ministry.
And while Buhari seems to be interested in bringing back Prof. Tam David West to assist him in cleaning the Augean stable at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), some of his party men have started grumbling that the money used in prosecuting the election did not fall from the tree.
If the petroleum sector could not be fixed, how far it would affect the public expectation gamut in an administration led by Buhari is better left to conjecture. Interestingly, the APC leader, Tinubu, has said that the party would not compromise competence on the altar of zoning. Whether that decision is his or the NWC to make is also part of the challenge.
The position of Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) has generated much public awareness and interest. Ordinarily, the position is programmed as the quiet hub of the presidency, but politicians have seen the potentials of the seat for political machinations. Good a thing, the APC caucus has left the position at the discretion of the president in waiting. How he chooses his men, as well as, who ultimately makes it to the initial cabinet would form part of the litmus test for the party and president.
Containing Possible Backlash Of Social Forces
WHEN President Goodluck Jonathan removed the subsidy on premium motor spirit, (PMS), in January 2012, the action sparked off national protests. It is now evident that that protest against removal of subsidy was more defined across what has come to be the strong holds of APC in the country. Three years after, revenues accruing to the Federal Government have nosedived.
And in spite of the falling price of oil in the international market, refined crude available for local consumption cannot go round. Despite the insufficiency, a subsidy regime that does not trickle down to the masses continues to deplete the nation’s scarce funds. This makes it imperative that the petroleum subsidy would be discontinued. And as to be expected, the removal could reenact another round of protests.
When that happens, those who supported the outgoing administration could recall the gang up against the past regime and seek to stage their own protests. Buhari’s stern, no nonsense image will return and engineer negative sentiments against the government. How the government would contain the possible backlash of such social forces would be telling.
There is the possibility that the uprising might bring back the dividing line created by the 2015 election and tense up the national life further. Will the Buhari administration discontinue the almajiri education system initiative of President Jonathan? It is generally believed that education holds the key to poverty reduction. How would the incoming administration pursue education, especially in the area of access to the girl child? Can the government promote increased enrolment in the light of declining revenue and bourgeoning population? How the government would handle the vexed issue of different entry marks to universities and unity school would also show how it’s mind works for national unity.
Would there be relapse of the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta or return to militancy as a mirror to the Boko Haram insurgency that arrested the Jonathan presidency? What new security threats would confront the government and how is it going to tackle them? These are some of the litmus test for both Buhari and APC!
Curbing Elite Conceit
WITHOUT doubt, the bulk of those who voted for Buhari are what could be categorised as those living below the poverty line. The APC sold Buhari to Nigerians on his personal integrity and frugal lifestyle. On the flipside, the APC de-marketed its rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the party of corruption and those feeding fat on the national wealth at the expense of the rest.
One sledgehammer that the incoming Buhari administration could possibly wield to squeeze much needed funds from the rich and opulent is taxation. Luxury items, especially, cars and private jets and water vessels for sports would be taxed in such a way that it would be clear that the government is out to curtail the excesses of the rich.
Curbing elite conceit and perceived indifference to the large-scale poverty in the land would be Buhari’s possible way of siding with the poor. The challenge in pursuing that course of action is that the government would fail to promote self-help and self-reliance. A complacent citizenry that begins to depend on government for virtually everything would compound provision of safety nets.
The attempt to redistribute income in that fashion would breed social friction as enterprise begins to shrink. Attempt to outlaw prosperity would drive away competition. The question that would arise then is whether the APC and Buhari could pursue a welfare system without hurting the free market model.
Adapting to Bubble Conditioning
AFTER May 29, Buhari will go into a bubble created by both security and protocol. He will learn that in democracy, lines of demarcation exist between executive and legislative functions. And in dishing orders, the possibility that he would be dealing with raw civilians that are poles part from the cringing and fawning juniors, who have different ideas exists.
A willful misreading of directives for political consideration may not be easily remedied. Loyalty to party chieftains who have the power to confer privileges and even tickets could sideline the chief executive who does not seem to be interested in another term in office.
The possibility that politicians with hubris to serve and ambition to pursue could leave the president in a bubble would prove so challenging to the president. And given that scenario, the fight against corruption would become a mere verbal expression of intention. Can age allow Buhari to oversee the affairs of at least 17 powerful ministries and agencies? Assuming he delegates these functions, what guarantees exist that formulation and implementation would be in sync?
Tackling Investor Conspiracy
IT is not hard to situate the current scarcity of PMS on the fear by marketers of removal of the much talked about subsidy. Hoarding of the products seem to be taking place even as the marketers refuse to import until they know what model the Buhari administration would adopt to meet the supply and demand for refined petroleum products. To the marketer, profit is key. The artificial scarcity of petroleum products seems to be a trap for the Buhari presidency.
The threat of imminent probe of the subsidy regime by the incoming administration must have prompted the marketers to withhold their investment. It is also possible that other investors and business men are watching to see what measures or methods the Buhari administration would adopt in engaging with the petroleum marketers so as to devise their own strategies. How Buhari and the APC tackles investor conspiracy is part of the odds before the promised change.
The Politics Of Leadership Competition
MANY commentators have expressed the belief that APC remains a contraption of strange bedfellows driven by the ambition to seize power. The election has been won and the motivation has died down.
In the euphoria of the victory and the advantages government confer, the disparate cliques and entrenched interest groups would engage in competition for power. Already the legacy parties have started counting what has been appropriated by each other.
The competition for advantages would be propelled by desire for bigger office in 2019 or increase in affluence for political expression.
The distribution of appointive offices has shown that this could present a very big challenge to the Buhari presidency. It is becoming obvious that after the president is inaugurated, new political alignments would emerge, either to position for advantages or begrudge denials.
The challenge of insulating his presidency may prove a big distraction for Buhari. How long could the north accommodate Tinubu and his claim to leadership of APC? Who is the leader of the party when there is a national chairman and a president? New frictions are sure to emerge when it becomes obvious that there is a president who wants to run the government and powerful elements that would readily remind him what political debts of gratitude he owes.
Building Legislative Synergy
PERHAPS, another great challenge before Buhari as he mounts the saddle is that of building synergy with the legislature. The search for the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly has revealed the bobby trap before the president to be.
Divided by his desire to allow the dictate of democratic free choice run its course and the exigencies of pandering to the whims of the party caucus, Buhari seem to have forgotten that unless he retains the confidence of the leadership of the legislature, his administration could be grounded or driven to strange waters.
“I can work with whoever emerges as the choice of the legislators,” Buhari reportedly said. Then comes Tinubu saying: “Let everybody aspire…” Now it is open to conjecture whether as a politician and former governor Asiwaju could allow such freedom. But a fearful pattern in Buhari’s stance is that if the election becomes free for all, the northern candidates would sweep the positions.
There is, therefore, no running away from zoning no matter how APC pretends otherwise. Whichever opinion ultimately triumphs would present its own challenges that the burden is that of Buhari to bear.
APC seem to be afraid of making the same mistakes it accused PDP of, but also wary of allowing PDP pay it back in its coins a la Tambuwal show.
In the end, the greatest challenge to the incoming government is that of building synergy with the lawmakers to carry out the promise of change.