Change delivered: Two years of steady progress, teething challenges

Change delivered: Two years of steady progress, teething challenges
June 08 17:34 2017

By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem 

President Muhammadu Buhari has completed two eventful years in office. It is difficult to believe that two years have already passed since that time the President, his then running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and other chieftains of the All Progressives Congress moved round the country to seek votes, promising to rescue the nation from the scourge of insecurity and corruption, and restore her lost glory.

With mind-blowing corruption scandals, Boko Haram terrorism, missing Chibok girls and other ills, there was no doubting the fact that Nigeria was approaching Somalia around 2014 and something drastic had to be done to halt the country’s descent into the status of a failed state.

That drastic but necessary decision culminated in the over 15 million votes garnered by the APC team on March 28, 2015.     For the first time in the country’s history, an incumbent president was defeated. President Buhari therefore stood on the podium at Eagles Square on May 29, 2015 and promised to secure Nigeria, wrestle corruption to the ground and put smile on the faces of the poor masses.

Two years down the line…. To what extent have those promises been fulfilled?

While some analysts believe the change promised during the electioneering campaign  has been effectively delivered, others argue that the country is worse off. The reality however is that some unprecedented gains have been made in some areas while certain challenges which the administration needs to work on in the next two years, have also been noticed.

Security

When he took oath of office on that historic day, President Muhammdu Buhari did not mince words in telling the Boko Haram insurgents who had troubled the nation for years that their time was over.  While the President has been accused by critics of being slow in taking some crucial decisions in certain areas, this cannot be said on the issue of insecurity. He quickly announced the relocation of the Nigerian Army Command Centre to Maiduguri, Borno state in his inauguration speech. He took this decision in order to put the Army in a position of strenght to be able to effectively tackle the rampaging sect whose violent activities had accounted for the death of over 15000 Nigerians, mostly poor, defenceless and armless women and children.

This underscored the level of seriousness he attached to the Boko Haram carnage and it was the beginning of the end of the dreaded sect.

The effect of that singular decision is the massive reduction or elimination in the incidents of bombings and attacks especially in states like Yobe, Kano, Kaduna and Adamawa. While Borno state is still experiencing occasional attacks on soft targets, there is no doubting the fact that the Nigerian Army has been able to deal a decisive blow on the capacity of the terrorists to plan major attacks on Government Houses, security formations  police and Army Barracks, religious places and the rest.

While his predecessor stayed back in Abuja to enjoy air-conditioned luxuries and develop pot belly at the expense of the officers and men who kept on dying in the battlefield, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, practically relocated to the northeast where he worked on the morale of the troops and assured them that it was a new dawn. For once, Buratai made the soldiers Nigeria was worth dying for afterrall. He coordinated series of attacks on the sect and launched a massive one on Sambisa Forest where many of the terrorists were killed and some escaped and their flags and other symbols recovered. Since then, the sect has only been able to launch a few cowardly attacks on soft targets in Maiduguri.

Another area the present admimistration has really done well is in the rescue of Chibok school girls. The unfortunate Chibok episode was a landmark in the history of this nation and the unanimous conclusion of observers within and outside Nigeria was that a nation which could not protect its young, vulnerable ones from dare-devil, deranged fellows like Boko Haram insurgents, was no doubt a misetable, failed nation.

President Buhari therefore had his job cut out for him. He had told Nigerians during the campaign that as a father and grandfather, he felt the pains of the Chibok parents, adding that the Chibok abduction saga was one incident that was capable of provoking tears from the eyes of every human. He therefore pledged to do things differently, think out of the box and look for alternative ways of making sure the girls return safely to their respective parents.

After two years, Nigerians can bear witness that this promide has been fulfilled to a very large extent. The administration has negotiated the voluntary release of over 100 of the girls who have rejoined their parents and loved ones in esctacy. This has raised the hope that the remaining abducted girls will also one day regain freedom.

Going forward, the present administration must make haste to deliver the final killer blow on the terrorists to make sure they are no longer capable of using innocent little boys and girls to blow up markets, motor parks and IDP camps in parts of Maiduguri. The carrot and stick approach should be sustained because the remainng Chibok school girls in capacity also need to regain freedom.

The President needs to put his feet on the ground and apply the same urgency and approach used  in tackling Boko Haram on the menace of herdsmen who have been accused of killing farmers and sacking communities across the country. The spate of kidnappings, armed robberies  and other violent crimes is on the increase and something must be done to secure lives and property all over the country.

Corruption

By promoting corruption and ignoring the principles of transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business, the immediate past administration inadvertently paved the way for the return to office of Muhammadu Buhari, a no-nonsense retired general, who already had a pedigree in fighting corruption.

One area the Buhari admimistration has not dissapointed in the last two years is in the area of fighting corruption. In line with Buhari’s antecedents, the anti-graft crusade has been massive and total.

To start with, since May 29, 2015 when power changed hands, it has been a new dawn across the lenght and breadth of the country – political circles, civil service, and government office. In as much as we are not there yet, there has been this consciousness on the part of all and sundry that a new Sheriff is in town and he is a Big Brother who is watching over everybody. While the presence of Buhari has not suddenly turned all Nigerians to saints, the impunity with which government officials inflated contracts, misappropriate funds and divert monies in the past has not been noticed in the present administration. The fear of Buhari is the beginning of restraint.

While the President has ensured that no form of unchecked looting is taking place under his watch with the suspension and probe of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, he is also making sure that the people who had stolen the nation’s commonwealth in the past are brought to book and the monies are recovered. And it is in the latter case that the administration is passing through challenges as it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve high profile conviction.

But critics of the anti-graft crusade must understand this is a democracy and President Buhari was elected only to head the Executive arm of government. The job of the anti corruption agencies start and end with the arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspects while only the judiciary has the power to convict. The history of this arm of government is however clear enough for discerning observers to realize that it has been involved in aiding and abetting crime more than it has supported the fight against corruption.

Despite the challenges, the administration has succeeded in dragging many so-called untouchables to court and is making them to account for their alleged past misdeeds. Most importantly, a lot of monies have been recovered using the whistleblower policy. To make its job easy, the government came up with the ingenious policy and it has been yielding amazing results. The whistle blowers are entitled to some percentages and the Ministry of Finance recently announced that  about 378 million naira has been paid to 20 whistle blowers who helped in recovering over 11 billion naira. With the policy, the government is empowering some Nigerians (the whistle blowers) with a percentage of what is recovered, recovering stolen monies that can be used for people-oriented projects and also embarrassing people who have soiled their hands to serve as deterrence to others. There is no better way to kill many birds with one stone.

Some persons have however accused the government of focusing on members of the opposition and shielding people close to it from prosecution. The last time I checked, judges who were arrested and prosecuted for taking bribes have not professed to be members of any political party. Characters like Orji Uzor Kalu, Bukola Saraki, Murtala Nyako are all members of the ruling party but yet are facing trial for one corruption-related offence or the other.

Acting President  Yemi Osinbajo has dismissed the claim that the anti-graft agencies are merely doing media trial, saying there is no way huge billions will be recovered without the media celebrating it. He argued, and I agree with him, that the accusation of media trial and political witchunting is a case of corruption fighting back.

As we forge ahead, the executive arm of government has to lobby and engage lawmakers more to ensure grey areas are continously sorted to prevent a reoccurence of the Magu confirmation saga. Mutual arrogance does not solve the problem.

While strenghtening the capacity of the anti-graft agents to do better investigation and diligent prosecution to reduce the rate at which cases are lost in court, the focus of the crusade should always be recovery of funds so that the long-suffering masses of Nigeria will not continue to lose on both ends.

Economy

The Nigerian economy in the last two years represent a mix bag of successes and failures for the government. While the government has been blamed for not doing enough to prevent the recession that hit the ecomomy in early 2016, it has also been credited for insisting on the fiscal discipline and appropriate policies required to bring us to the present situation in which we are close to the end of the tunnel.

Even in the midst of recession, the government has done a massive rehabilitation work on the runway of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, put finishing touches on the ambitious railway projects of the immediate past administration and continued work on the Lagos- Ibadan expressway.

Despite the recession, the ruling party’s School Feeding Programme is doing well at the federal amd state levels. The govermment’s N-Power scheme has also been an amazing success story.

As we enter another crucial two years,  the issue of diversification of the economy must for once move away from the level of mere rhetoric or campaign gimmick.  The President must develop the political will to move for the amendment of certain laws that impede the mineral development of parts of Nigeria. Anything at all needed to save us from this unsustainable status of rentier mono economy must be done.

A state of emergency should be declared in the areas of education and power supply. The President should inject pace and a sense of urgency in his actions. Unproductive apppintees must be weeded out for competent people to come in and this should be done on time. The time wasted in the past cannot be recovered but there is a lot that can be achieved between now and the end of 2018.

Government must continue to employ the use of dialogue to solve the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta and other similar agitations that thraeaten the health of the economy.

Miscellaneous

There are a couple of other areas the government has really impressed Nigerians and disarmed its critics. I recall that during the campaign, the then APC flagbearer went to Chatam House in London, where he said he took responsibility for all the undemocratic activities and human right abuses that took place under his watch as military Head of State, saying he was ready to fully shed the military toga and govern Nigeria in modern, better, civilized and democratic way.

He said the post 2015 Nigeria under his watch would be one that the rules are followed, peoples rights are respected and dissent is tolerated.

The President has lived up to his word by always making sure he informs the Senate and transmits power to his deputy to avoid vacuum each time he is leaving the country for medicals.  Journalists are free report their stories unhindered, the civil society is thriving and protests are taking place all over the country with different groups agitating for different causes.

On the issue of his health, the President has lived up to his rating as a very sincere, upright man. Even when some of his overzealous aides had tried to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians by saying he was hale and hearty, he came back from London in March and said he had never been so ill in his life, adding that he even received blood transfusion for the first time in his life.

Despite the observed lapses and challenges in the system, President Buhari, his deputy, Professor Osinbajo, have proven beyond reasonable doubt that they have the interest of the country at heart and possess the capacity to move it forward.