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Can Buhari still bring the change?

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Next to a slithering sense of incompetence bordering on lack of preparedness, the incurable vacillating disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari would be the biggest culprit for the seeming ineffectiveness of his administration.

It started right from the beginning. The President just seemed to imagine that four years was an eternity. He did not seem to realise that there was an urgent sense in which Nigerians desired change and that the responsibility hung broadly on his shoulders, since he, without prompting, had covenanted to bring them into a new era. But the President, even though he claimed he was hitting the ground running, truly hit the ground but went on his knees and started to crawl.

You will, for instance, recall that it took the President close to five months to name ministers and another two or three weeks to swear them in. Sometime in March, 2016, nine months into what I regarded as the revolutionary mandate that Nigerians handed over to him, Buhari said the following words to members of the National Executive Council of his party, the All Progressives Congress: “I know you are being harassed since the election that they haven’t seen anything on the ground. Well, if you have any explanation that could be accepted, it is that you have three more years to go…”

I had written at that time that: “From my understanding of Nigerian politics, Buhari does not have more than the next one and a half, maximum two years, to prove himself and show Nigerians why he or his party deserves to be re-elected in 2019.”

Then, no one envisaged the illness which deprived him of the ability to perform for the better part of one year.

As it turns out, it is almost two years after Buhari spoke in the tone above and it does not seem that his administration has done much to convince Nigerians of having made the best of the past 31 months. As a matter of fact, the groundswell of goodwill that he had at the time under reference has since thinned down into cries of frustration and lamentation from all over the country.

Now, it is just 13 months to the next general elections and there is no doubt that the reality has dawned on the President and his associates. Before delivering what pundits judge as his most expressive address to the nation on Monday, Buhari had late last week approved the appointment of 209 chairmen and 1,258 members of the boards of government parastatals and agencies in the country. To the initiated, this is a tell-tale sign of the President’s intention to reward the loyalty of party men and women who facilitated his 2015 win and retain their support in 2019.

In that speech, he spoke to Nigerians in an unusually reassuring way. In the opening paragraph of his speech, the President declared that 2018 would “be pivotal” in his administration’s quest for change. He went on in the succeeding paragraph to advise that his address was going to “mainly” inform us about “the intense efforts this administration is putting to address our country’s huge infrastructural deficit.”

I should say though that I did not find it particularly presidential to roll out a list of infrastructural development projects in the offing in such a broadcast. For me, the President only needed to have delivered a broad policy framework to the nation and thereafter leave ministers in charge of each of these areas to unveil specific plans to the country.

But Buhari took it upon himself to inform us about the assorted railway projects that are ongoing in the country and what areas they cover. He mentioned the reconstitution of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency and the 12-week charge it just got for rapid intervention on 44 roads across the country.

In addition to that, 25 major highways, all of which he listed, would be funded under a N100bn Sukuk facility. And to, perhaps, for the first time, allay rampant accusations of deliberate discriminations against sections of the country in the distribution of national resources, the President informed us at every step of the way that all the six geopolitical zones in the federation would benefit equally from these projects. For instance, he informed that every zone would have an equal N16.67bn from the Sukuk facility. This was a reminder, which was strengthened by the reassurance on the clean-up initiated in the Niger Delta area that gave away the intent of these projects and might temporarily assuage the feeling of marginalisation, which has become the sing-song of some parts of the country.

He reminded us of the victories of his administration over the Boko Haram situation and that the current attacks we see on soft targets were occasions that even the most advanced countries in the world have been unable to deal with. He spoke about the moves that were being made to tackle kidnappings, which he described about as a “new evil creeping into our societies,” but forgot to assure us on how the widespread attacks by herdsmen would become a thing of the past in 2018 and beyond.

Buhari highlighted progress that had been made in efforts to increase access to energy in the country, the moves to diversify the economy as evident in the increased productivity in solid minerals and agriculture. His encouragement over the past two years has seen more people go back to the land such that rice imports will soon stop and Nigerians will eat more local rice and nourish our souls. It is not clear how much is being done to exploit the entire agricultural value chain, the mechanisation of our systems, give attention to preservation and the process of our raw produce into finished products that will yield forex.

He appealed to “enterprising Nigerians with ideas and unemployed graduates and other able-bodied and literate men and women with ideas not to just sit and wait for employment from the government or the Organised Private Sector.” He preached that great nations are built by those who are able to make lemon of their lemonade, but forgot to tell us that such nations also enable and empower their people. And since he did not advert his mind to that fact, he did not tell us how Nigeria, a country that does not prepare its children for entrepreneurship, hopes to support these enterprising people.

Unfortunately, the failure to address this particular concern takes the shine out of every other thing in this speech for me. While we can talk about massive infrastructural interventions and the millions of jobs that are likely to fall out of them, how exactly are we developing our human capital to cope with the pressures of this world and its future?

As the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once said: “The crucial point, which I want our rulers, planners, and official advisers to bear in mind, is that man is the sole dynamic in nature: and that accordingly, every individual Nigerian constitutes the supreme economic potential which this country possesses…” Awolowo then went ahead to demand free education for all Nigerian children as well as the offering of preventive and curative medical facilities in every part of the country so that everyone would be sound and ready to contribute to the development of the country.

For a President who is said to hold the education of his biological children with so much seriousness, nothing other than the declaration of an education emergency at this current junction shows the kind of seriousness we need in a government.

And the silence on the state of our healthcare is even more disheartening. Given what the President personally went through this last year and the fact that only one private hospital can attend to the medical needs of his son at this critical point, I imagined that a revolution in the healthcare sector would be a priority. At a period when doctors are complaining about brain drain, when hospitals are closing down due to low patronage, when lack of access to healthcare, with quality or the lack of it, is sending people to their early graves, reeling our lists of roads and rail constructions should take the back seat of progressive governance.

I am not by any stretch of imagination suggesting that these projects are not necessary, beyond the immediate vain-glorification that they provide for politicians, they are also an important part of economic development. The point here, however, is that a nation which develops infrastructure without building the minds of its citizenry and ensuring that they are in good health, opens itself to the vandalism that our infrastructure always suffers. Is there still time for the Buhari administration to redeem on this front? The next few months will reveal; but let the government take note- real impact in government is investments made in people!

 

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