“As a former Head of State and someone who had thrice doggedly fought for this trophy, it is expected that the General already had a blueprint of public governance to be rolled out at the go. The challenge, therefore, for Muhammadu Buhari is being able to take off in a dead run – right from inauguration day” – Bisi Olawumi.
The opening quote taken from an article by Dr. Bisi Olawumi, Mass Communication lecturer at Bowen University, reflects the optimism and excitement that trailed the election of President Muhammadu Buhari. Captured in the popular chant “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari”, in the ever-swelling crowds that thronged his rallies as well as in the audacious rhetoric of the All Progressives Congress politicians, the idea of a totally different Nigeria was created.
Over a month later, a debate has broken out over what some see as Buhari’s lethargic, even temporising pace. Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress, is fast becoming a study in dysfunction, a political Sambisa Forest where each night produces its long knives and devious intrigues. In the ensuing conversation, even the Peoples Democratic Party, once tongue tied and reeling in the shock of election defeat, has rallied to put Buhari on the spot; while government spokesmen countered criticisms by arguing that the new government is busy trying to sort out the mess created by the PDP. Has the aircraft of change wandered irretrievably off course or will Buhari redeem his pledge as the clock of 100 days at the helm ticks away? Before sketching out a tentative answer, let me crave the reader’s indulgence to enter two short takes.
How did we manage to turn Bank Verification Number registration, laudable in its own right, into bank verification chaos earlier this week? On Monday and Tuesday, before the Central Bank of Nigeria wisely announced the shift of deadline for registration to October 31, massive crowds descended on commercial banks all of which had a strenuous time coping with the deluge of anxious customers. The banking hub at the Obafemi Awolowo University campus resembled, on Tuesday, the scene of the German evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke’s crusade ground. One of my postgraduate students narrated that after waiting for three hours in the noisy queue and fearing the forfeiture of his savings, he went to one of the Automated Teller Machine outlets on campus and withdrew all the money in his account, putting himself beyond harm.
Could we have avoided all the confusion? Most certainly yes, if there had been more campaigns about the CBN initiative launched in 2014, in the mainstream and social media. To be sure, the banks passed the word round with some even lobbying their customers about the importance of the registration meant to counteract identity theft. The point remains however, that those outlets are limited and somehow the message did not percolate to the level of retail banking. There is also the point that the Nigerian is inundated with a riot of identity verification procedures repetitively mounted to capture data. You then just wonder whether synergy among these various agencies would have saved citizens from the ceaseless barrage of data capturing exercises. Of course, the character of the Nigerian who prefers to leave things to the dying minutes is at work here – a trait which even the best campaigns may not easily obliterate. If the period between now and October 31 is saturated with intensive campaigns targeted at the ordinary customer, there should be an appreciable mark-up in the volume of registration, saving us another descent into chaos in the run-up to the October deadline.
A distinguished lecture held on Tuesday by the Department of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, provided an intellectual feast replete with policy analytic offerings for the academic community and beyond. Entitled, “Security Dilemmas: Nigeria-Chad Relations in the Context of the Boko Haram Crisis”, the lecture was delivered by Prof. Albert Olawale, a well-known security studies expert and former Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan. Olawale traces with diligence the ebbs and flows of Nigeria-Chad relations in order to underline the need for a flexible and nuanced policy towards our northern neighbour. There is for example the attempt by the Chadian President, Idris Deby, to project his country as a major African state playing a frontline role in the anti-terrorist struggle. This image projection has basis in the country’s military might, investment over time in stockpiling armament and actual fighting experience for example alongside French troops in 2013 in the struggle for the soul of Mali. One should not forget for example that in the Multinational Joint Task Force assigned to the African Union to combat the Boko Haram insurgents, Chad is providing over a third of the soldiers, a proportion that comes close to Nigeria’s 3,250 soldiers. In other words, in Chad, Nigeria is dealing with a capable state ruled by an autocrat which, as Olawale points out, may have the hidden agenda to demystify the Nigerian military. Obviously then, as President Buhari appears to grasp, dealing with Chad will require more skill and dexterity than routine diplomatic dealings.
To go back to the main comment, it is important to contextualise the discussion by pointing out that the expanding critics of Buhari’s slow pace of governance are not accusing him of doing nothing for he obviously has got a few things done. The point they make is that he has not matched the pace expected of someone who had an agenda for change before coming to government and campaigned hard on that agenda. It is argued, for example, that the state of the economy which is often now given as an excuse had been with us before political campaigns for the last elections fully unfolded. At any rate, should not an opposition striving to replace an incumbent government have conducted research and be in possession of facts and figures with which it can rapidly initiate desired policy reforms?
In other words, contrary to the expectation outlined by Olawumi, that “…the General already had a blueprint of public governance to be rolled out at the go…”, his present pace does not seem to suggest that. On the deficit side, is the hint of gridlock caused by competing interests within his party which has occasioned, apparently, his inability to name a cabinet or at least appoint a Chief of Staff and a Secretary to Government of the Federation. This impression does no credit to Buhari’s image who while not governing as a strong man should bear in mind that the buck stops at his table and will be held responsible by Nigerians for his action and inaction. This point is being made in the context of a reminder that several of his predecessor’s failures were in fact due to inability to lead and take firm decisions because of a paralysis of will traceable to political and economic interests that subverted him.
For sure, it is too early in the day to make definitive judgments for or against the Buhari Presidency which started off with tremendous goodwill. What ought to be said, however, is that time is fast running out for him to make a clear and lasting impression in the early months of his tenure.