Friday, March 10, 2017

The Buhari Govt’s Tower Of Babel

By Onuoha Ukeh
When President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated his cabinet,  six months after assuming office, many Nigerians did heave a sign of relief, believing that a government had eventually been formed. With ministers duly assigned portfolios and sworn in, all was set for government to roll and begin to address the myriad of  issues plaguing the country, with the view to catering to the needs of the people. It was a legitimate wish by a people who had high expectations from a government that promised heaven and earth.


Sixteen months after the government was formed, and 22 months after President Buhari took over the reins of governance, I have often asked myself this question: Is this really a government or just an assemblage of people, who are just doing whatever please them, in the name of working for the good governance of Nigeria? I ask this question because what we have as a government appears mainly like a mere party, where those in office operate like islands, doing and saying what they like, while humanity suffers. There is no synergy  whatsoever.  In the government, there are discordant and cacophony of voices.
This week, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, issued a travel advisory on the United States (US). No doubt, feeling that as a presidential aide on foreign affairs, she could talk about foreign policy and issues related to her office, this former federal lawmaker advised Nigerians not to travel to the US for now, if they do not have any compelling business in the North American country. She said her advice became necessary, since Nigerians, who have valid US visas, had been denied entry into the US. In her wisdom, Dabiri-Erewa wanted Nigerians to freeze their trips to the US until the immigration policy of the Donald Trump administration was clear.

Our dear Dabiri-Erewa would have been pleased with herself, believing that she had done her duty as a government officials and also doing Nigerians a huge favour, by saving them embarrassment at the US entry ports. However, the next day, the former lawmaker learnt a bitter lesson, to the effect that she may be a presidential adviser, but she has no locus standi, right or power whatsoever to issue a travel advisory. This lesson was not even nicely given. It came in an impolite manner. Yes, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had disowned Dabiri-Erewa at a world press conference the next day. He told Nigerians to discountenance the presidential aide’s “travel advisory” and to travel to the US whenever they wish, as Dabiri-Erewa is not in any position to issue such an “advisory.” This is not withstanding the fact that the same Dabiri-Erewa, a few weeks before that, did issue a travel advisory on Libya and nobody said otherwise.
Here, we are talking about two officials in the same government saying different things. I do not care, whose duty it is to issue a travel advisory. Whether it should come from the Minister of Foreign Affairs or a presidential adviser does not matter to me. If the Presidency ought to issue it, this is immaterial. What is important is that a statement from a government should be one. And those in that government should, at every time, know who should issue whatever statement and who should talk on whatever issue, in the name of government. Now, inasmuch as Minister Onyeama had the final word on the travel advisory, who should Nigerians believe? Is it Dabiri-Erewa, who said there were evidences that some Nigerians actually had nasty experiences at the US airports in recent times or Onyeama, who said all was well? If we take it that Dabiri-Erewa misfired, this pertinent question suffices:  Is the way the presidential aide was disgraced really the best way to handle the matter? No matter what anybody says, what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did was to expose the disorganisation inthe Buhari government. The ministry washed government’s dirty linen in public.
Well, the “travel advisory” brouhaha is not the first time the obvious lack of concord in the President Buhari government has been manifest.  Last September, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and leadership of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) indirectly told the world that they were not on the same page on how to achieve economic growth and take Nigeria out of recession. In their many voices, Mrs. Adeosun had suggested that the CBN cut the 14 per cent interest rate by banks, as a way of supporting government’s plan to ensure borrowing of cheap funds locally, while the CBN Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) announced the retention of the rates,  which did set the lending rate at 14 per cent. Defending the CBN’s position at that time, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said it was in order to maintain its primary objective of price stability.
Pray, why would two institutions of government express opposing views in public when they ought to be speaking with one voice and for government? I suspect that this is so because those in the current government do not draw a line between when they are speaking for themselves and when talk for government. What happens is that these people express their personal views as if these are the position of government. In doing so, there are conflicting views, depending on how many people that contribute.
We witnessed the flexing of muscle, as it were, between the Nigerian Customs Services and the CBN once, when the apex bank said it would no longer allocate foreign exchange to people importing rice, with the view to discouraging rice importation and conserving foreign exchange, but Comptroller General of Customs, Hammed Ali, declared that the borders should be opened for rice to come in, as, according to him, the Customs was losing revenue from duties at that time.  Today, the same Ali has ordered the Customs to impound rice coming through land borders and those at shops. Indeed, we have witnessed the Customs saying it would commence vehicle inspection policy, aimed at ensuring that old vehicles whose duties were short-paid pay the balance, while the Senate said the implementation should wait until Ali appears before it, with the Customs countering and insisting that there was no going back.
To be sure, nobody missed the drama that played out when President Buhari, while commenting on the expression of frustration by his wife, Aisha, who had complained about happenings in government and subtly insinuated that there was a cabal in government, stated that his wife belonged to the kitchen and “the other room.” Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu, had said President Buhari was making a joke. President Buhari had countered his aide immediately by saying he meant what he said and, therefore, Aisha’s place belonged to the kitchen and “the other room.”
There appears to be a competition, on talking, among officials of the Buhari government. Those in government want to talk on any issue, even when not competent to so do, perhaps, in the belief that the more they talk, the more they are noticed by the “gods” of the government or the more they remain in the consciousness of the ruled. And in talking, most times, they play to the gallery. They do not even talk about their spheres of assignment, but generally playing politics.
For instance, instead of Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, talking about the road and rail transport, he tells Nigerians that the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not promise to fix Nigeria in one year and that former President Goodluck Jonathan should be held responsible for the mess in the country. Instead of Lai Mohammed talking about efforts government is making in fixing the economy, he will tell you that corruption in the past government brought the country to the present situation. Instead of Hammed Ali, talking about how the Customs will tighten the borders to ensure that smugglers do not have a field day, he tells you that the government will boast its revenue by ensuring excise duties of yesterday are recovered today.
What we have of the Buhari regime is one government, many voices. In the government, everybody is in charge and can say anything. In the government, everybody is king in his own kingdom and fiefdom. In the government, everybody is Lord of the manor. In the government, everybody talks at the same time and nobody listens. In the government, there is no synchrony whatsoever. What we have are discordant tunes, just like in the Tower of Babel. What a government!
*Mr. Ukeh is a commentator on public issues 

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