Rebuilding Nigeria

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On June 4, right out of the blue, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the post-humous award of Nigeria’s highest national honour to the presumed winner of the controversial but now epochal June 12, 1993 presidential elections, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. Not done, the President also pronounced June 12 the new Democracy Day, effectively discarding the May 29 date in use since the return to civilian democracy in 1999. June 12 has remained contentious in the Nigerian politics. Most states in the South West of the country have been observing it as their Democracy Day in defiance of the Federal Government’s preferred May 29 date. The new pronouncement unifies the federation as far as the holiday is concerned.

While a majority of the teeming population was pleased by the move, opposition parties in Nigeria’s bubbly political space were blindsided. They could not have guessed in a million years that President Buhari would pull such a sleight-of-hand. They howled “foul” with all their might, calling it a ploy by the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), to shore up what it perceives as the party’s dwindling popularity in the run-up to next year’s general elections.

Rebuilding Nigeria

L-R: Udo Udoma, Minister of Budget & Planning; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; President Muhammadu Buhari; Bukola Saraki, Senate President; and Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives at the launching of ERGP

On the streets and in the media (traditional and social), however, the announcement produced positive vibrations in the main. Most commentators commended the Federal Government for finally laying to rest the “ghost” of June 12 which has come to symbolize Nigeria’s rejection of autocratic rule and the sacrifice of its main figure, Abiola, for the establishment of democracy in Nigeria. Caught up in the overflowing goodwill emanating from all corners of the country, the National Assembly, hitherto antagonistic to the Executive, soon joined in “accepting” the change of date and the post-humous award.

In the words of some analysts, it was a master-stroke in political strategy. President Buhari, in other words, had been able to retrieve some lost ground in his battle for the people’s hearts and minds, in Nigeria’s rough and tumble political game. He has since indicated interest in running once again for the country’s highest office well aware of the damage to his image occasioned by the incessant clashes between herdsmen-and-farmers in the northern part of the country. The president wisely bided his time to alter his political fortunes and re-energize his “change” reform agenda.
On the occasion of the celebration of then subsisting Democracy Day, a few days earlier on May 29, President Buhari addressed the nation and used the opportunity to reel out the achievements of his administration, especially against the background of its “three “cardinal points of fixing security; corruption and the economy.

The self-assessment represents the President’s own way of convincing Nigerians of the administration’s fidelity to its promises to the citizenry.
See Box: Buhari Administration’s Progress Report in Quick Takes)

Starting out, for obvious reasons, with the fight against insurgency especially the dreaded Boko Haram in the North East, the President noted that the terrorists’ ranks had been “degraded” such that like ISIS in the Levant, Middle East, they no longer hold territory. He also spoke on the various measures aimed at rehabilitating persons displaced by the upheavals in the region.

The insurgency has since spread to other areas, manifesting in herdsmen-farmers clashes, kidnappings and general breakdown of security and peace in large swathes of the Northern region. For President Buhari, the new challenge is how to extend the fight to the metastasizing security breaches with as little collateral damage to the socio-political fabric of society as possible.

Thankfully, the restiveness in Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil- producing region, has abated, due to better rapport between government and insurgents that not long ago threatened continued flow of the very life blood of the nation.

On corruption, the President ran through key reform policies that have enabled the sustenance of the anti-corruption fight apart from the strengthening of anti-corruption agencies.

For instance, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which forced all agencies of government to place all government funds and revenues in a single account under the auspices of the Central Bank, greatly curbed incidences of misappropriation and blatant stealing of government funds. As much as N200 billion was reportedly saved from the streamlining of payroll, while a lot more was saved from the cessation of commercial bank maintenance fees hitherto paid from government purse. Moreover, the Whistle-blowers’ policy has enabled government so far to recover over N500 billion from corrupt public officers.

Carrying the war against corruption abroad, the government has engaged the services of asset-tracing firms to help track and recover stolen public assets stashed outside the country.

The economy, understandably, took the longest part of the address. Light was shone on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017 – 2020) formulated in the aftermath of the unfortunate recession that hindered economic progress in 2016. Speaking of the successful exit from the recession, President Buhari was pleased to mention the growth of foreign reserves from $29.6 billion in 2015 to $47.5 billion as of May, this year.
Other success stories followed, riding on the back of expansionary budgets that allocated 30% of spending to capital in a marked departure from a trend that had seen the earmarking of less than 25%.

The effect is being felt in the rapid infrastructure development and investment in agriculture, to diversify the economy. Thus, achievements in power generation, which now exceeds 7,500mw and progress in local production of such crops as rice, whose official importation has dipped by 90 percent, did not escape mention.

The Social Investment Programmes worth celebrating include Conditional Cash Transfer to indigent Nigerians; which gives N5,000 to eligible persons and the Home Grown School Feeding Programme for some 8.2 million children.

To address employment, over 200,000 youths are currently under the N.Power Job Creation Scheme. The scheme is being expanded to take in the next batch of 300,000 who, hopefully, would go on to such sectors as building, transportation, and education as the economy expands. Already, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme has disbursed about 270,000 loans to 4,822 societies nationwide, to encourage entrepreneurs and job creation at the micro-level.

Showing steely resolve to change the way government operates, President Buhari in March openly ordered the police to pay judgment claims worth N135 million to the family of victims of the Apo Killings. Some rogue policemen had maliciously killed six traders, having mistaken them for robbers.

It was perhaps the first time in a long while that any Nigerian leader would show such compassion and will to respect public opinion and sentiments as well as the rule of law, especially when it concerned judgement against government.

President Buhari’s interventions had greatly increased his popularity even as he had problem dousing rising public indignation over the widespread killings some attribute to religious and ethnic intolerance.

The “resurrection” of the “spirit” of June 12 along with the post-humous recognition of the main dramatis personae was a grand opportunity to start a national reconciliation and rebuild confidence in the administration after so many peace-shattering events that continue to reverberate in Nigeria’s polity.

By Francis Onomovo


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July 2018