Friday, February 26, 2016

Nigeria: A Government In Denial

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
My daughter’s nanny, Mama Ike, came to work recently with a mischievous smirk on her face. I couldn’t figure out what the matter was but it was apparent she was excited about something. Then, she blurted out.

“Oga,” she quipped, “Is it true that the president had run away?”
 “Which president?” I asked her, flummoxed.

“Our president, (Muhammadu) Buhari,” she riposted matter-of-factly.
“No,” I told her. “It is not true. “He is on a five-day vacation.”

I didn’t convince her as she held tenaciously to her piece of information, literally accusing Buhari of going on AWOL.

“Oga, are you sure? They said the man had run away ooo! In fact, the story in my neighborhood this morning was that the man had run away. Some boys living in our area said they had never seen or heard of this kind of thing before. That the president of a country would run away from office.”

I told her that it was not true but the incredulous look on her puckered face told me without any scintilla of doubt that she was not swayed by my explanation.

Of course, the president did not run away. It is unthinkable that such could happen.
*President Buhari 
But the fact that some people would spread such an absurd tale and some others believe it about nine months into Buhari's 48-month tenure shows how fast the confidence of the people in his ability to turn around for good their grim fortunes is waning.

Nothing exemplifies the dwindling reputation of the Buhari government more than the 2016 Appropriation Bill fiasco which the National Assembly (NASS) has reasonably suspended until the Presidency sorts out the mess.

Each day, it is becoming clearer that Buhari either does not have a clue (that word again) on what to do beyond fighting corruption or is overwhelmed by the enormity of the mess the country is in.

Whichever is the case, the joke is on him, which was the lesson I took away from the false claim that he had run away.

Yesterday, the joke was on former President Goodluck Jonathan. He was clueless, naive, timid and ineffectual.

But no matter how hard the Buhari government and its supporters try, and despite their chokehold on the media (mainstream and social), the joke cannot be on Jonathan and his ineffectual government forever because the buck, to borrow a cliché, now stops on someone else’s table – Buhari’s.

To continue reminding us about the deep hole Jonathan dug the country into is hackneyed. Nigerians knew that he was incompetent and weak and terminated their social contract with him.

They knew that had Jonathan remained on the driver’s seat, the country was headed for a fatal crash and they took the wise decision of voting him out of office, the first time a sitting Nigerian president would be so humiliated.
They voted instead for Buhari because they thought he was everything that Jonathan was not – a strong, decisive, effectual leader and an anti-corruption czar.
*Jonathan and Buhari 
Buhari’s doggedness in actualising his presidential ambition since 2003 convinced many that he knew where he was headed; he was focused and had a well-thought out agenda that would pull Nigeria back from the depths of mediocrity.

But what has happened in the last nine months shows that Buhari laboured so hard for 12 years to become president without any agenda. Before now, discerning analysts averred that Nigeria has leadership problem because we always had “unwilling presidents.”

The country’s first and only Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, was seconded to Lagos while the real power behind the throne, Ahmadu Bello, stayed back in Kaduna as premier of the then northern region.

Shehu Shagari, the first civilian president, was aspiring for the Senate in the Second Republic when the powers-that-be anointed him president.
Olusegun Obasanjo was in prison when the evil geniuses in the military (serving and retired) decided he would be president. He initially rejected the draft, asking how many presidents his benefactors wanted to make of him in one lifetime.

A sick Umaru Yar’Adua wanted to go back to the classroom and teach after serving as governor of Katsina State for eight years.

When the likes of Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State, were crisscrossing the nooks and crannies of the country, buying the support of traditional rulers and commoners alike, and Nasir el-Rufai and others were embedded in Aso Rock in the succession intrigues, Yar’Adua was enjoying the scenic quietude of his bucolic Katsina.

Jonathan would have remained eternally grateful to his benefactors and thankful to God for his good luck if he had served out his term as governor of Bayelsa.

I am sure that before Obasanjo came calling, the idea of becoming vice president, not to talk of president, would have sounded like a fairy tale to him.
But Buhari is remarkably different. He wanted to be president and worked hard to actualise his ambition. He changed political platforms – some of which he joined, others he founded almost single-handedly, and some with others.
So, is it likely that a man could aspire so fervently for a position for over a decade without a well-thought out programme that would have enabled him to hit the ground running?

The answer, ordinarily, would have been a resounding no. But that seems to be what is happening.

For a man who coveted the Presidency for 12 years, it took almost six months to constitute his cabinet even when it became fairly obvious long before the elections that Nigerians were fed up with the bungling Jonathan Presidency and were not likely to reward his failure with a repeat performance (apologies to Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin).

Buhari’s excuse for not appointing ministers early was that they were noise makers and he was comfortable sorting things out with civil servants by working with the permanent secretaries. He told us that story in far-away France.

When he got to the United States where he announced that he would appoint ministers in September 2015, the story changed. He said he was taking his time because he was looking for the “saints” among us and did not want to make any mistake.

When eventually he unveiled his ministerial list, some of us wondered why it took him so long considering that there was indeed no surprise name on the list.

But Nigerians gave their president the benefit of the doubt even when it was becoming obvious that there was a creeping tardiness in the way the affairs of the country was being handled by him.

Now the huge budget mess. Even the most swashbuckling of the Buhari apologists has come to the inevitable conclusion that the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the first major assignment undertaken by this administration, has turned out to be a blistering scandal.

Almost every minister except, perhaps, Babatunde Fashola (former Lagos State governor now minister of Works, Power and Housing), has disowned the budget.

A month ago, it was the saga of the “missing budget.” Now Nigerians are being regaled with sordid tales of how the bill was fraudulently altered, which has compelled the NASS to suspend indefinitely its initial plan to pass it by February 28.

The government and its agents are blaming everyone except the Presidency. Who did it? A “budget mafia” they claim. Corrupt civil servants, others scream.
Some claim that the dubious budget proves that Buhari is fighting corruption. How? Mum becomes the answer.

What we have seen in the last nine months is the penchant by the government of treating serious problems as molehills using the fight against corruption as an alibi for its failings.

Any other suggestion from any quarter, no matter how well-meaning, is dismissed as proof of “corruption fighting back.”

The government, using its well-oiled propagandist machine effectively manned by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, is living in denial.

The danger is that sooner than later, such problems have the tendency of becoming volcanic mountain-range eruptions.

*Ikechukwu Amaechi is the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of TheNiche, a national newspaper published in Nigeria every Sunday. (ikechukwuamaechi@yahoo.com)


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