To assess one year of the Muhammadu Buhari administration is not an easy task considering the goodwill, high expectations and euphoria that heralded the administration. The argument would be that one year is too short a period to assess the performance of a President with a four-year mandate. However, the assessment will be done in three key areas of security, the fight against corruption and deepening democracy
In the security sector, the Boko Haram insurgency has been “technically degraded” and much progress has been made in countering the insurgency. However, other security fronts have opened up in terms of the challenge of the herdsmen, the resurgent Niger Delta crisis, and the agitation for Biafra in the South-East. It seems all the energy was focused on Boko Haram to the neglect of the other challenges. The handling of the attacks on communities by herdsmen leaves much to be desired as the government seems to be living in denial. This fans the ethnic and religious fault lines of the country and tempts states and communities to resort to self-help in order to defend their rights to life and property. When this challenge is viewed within the context of the call for grazing reserves across the federation by acquiring private and communal lands and converting private animal farming into a state-funded operation, then, the context becomes more complicated. Even the 2016 budget has close to N1bn allocated for grazing reserves.
The approach of the government to the Niger Delta crisis portrays a lack of understanding of the nature of the crisis. The order for the military to crush the insurgents will not work but will only escalate the crisis. What happened to the Amnesty programme and the engagement of stakeholders instead of ordering the guns? The media is awash with reports of Nigerian students sponsored by the Federal Government for studies under the Amnesty programme who are now stranded overseas. Should this be the approach of government to its citizens? The issues that led to the Nigerian Civil War have been left unaddressed over the years and they keep popping up either as the agitation for true federalism or the current demand for Biafra. Yes, military might may crush what is perceived as a rebellion but the issues and challenges will continue to agitate the minds of right-thinking people. We keep pretending like the ostrich and refuse to address fundamental challenges. Hearing the President state that he is archiving the recommendations of the National Conference further complicates the agitation for the resolution of the national question. Government programming should be a continuity and the recommendations of the conference should have been implemented by the new government. As a minimum, nothing stops the Buhari government from opening further debate on its recommendations to fine-tune them.
In the fight against corruption, the government has taken some bold steps with the prosecution of persons who have contributed to the economic and political adversity of the nation. However, the fight needs to be institutionalised so that it will not depend on the personalities in power but can run on auto pilot, no matter the persons or political party in power. We also need a comprehensive fight against corruption which is extended to all segments of society, no matter the political affiliation of the persons suspected of having committed the crime. In this direction, we need audit reforms which will guarantee value for money, prevent leakages from the public treasury and make sure that funds are recovered if misappropriated without going through the long haul of the judicial process. In tracking our looted funds and some of which have been traced to election funding, an opportunity to reform campaign finance crystallises. This opportunity should not be missed on the altar of partisanship.
In deepening democracy, the country seems more divided today than when President Buhari took the oath of office. His appointments have been lopsided with some sections of the country not given a sense of belonging with the proper adherence to federal character principles. The key appointments have favoured the zone where the President hails from. But we need to move beyond apparent sectionalism if Nigeria is to fire on all available cylinders.
There seems to be no harmony between the executive and legislature which would have fuelled critically needed collaboration to enact new laws and policies to develop the nation. For instance, Nigerians are tired of the year in and year out revelations of the corruption in the oil sector when it could have been fixed some years ago. Why has the executive not worked on and presented a new Petroleum Industry Bill to the legislature to stem the rot? Will the heavens fall if the executive and legislature come together to identify critical bills that will advance the change agenda; enact them in a couple of months and let the process of change begin? We have had situations where court orders have been disobeyed and the disobedience has been justified by the President. The Nigerian Army was reported to have killed and secretly buried over 300 Nigerians during the clash with the Shiites.
It took the government six months to appoint ministers and constitute the cabinet. Ambassadors have been recalled from key countries whilst many statutory corporations have no substantive head after the administration sacked the former heads. So many months into the administration, the tardiness and inertia of government has kept those positions empty. How do you run an administration without the full complement of personnel and heads? The budget came very late and was approved late and up till now, it seems no funds have been released. The last budget implementation report was that of the second quarter of 2015 and four full quarter reports are outstanding.
For the past one year, the administration seems to still be in the campaign mode, bickering about what previous administrations did not do and still talking in terms of what it plans to do. One year is enough for the administration to begin reporting on what it has done. The administration can still make giant strides if and only if it retraces its steps and come out with a vision of development which will identify where we are; the challenges, obstacles and binding constraints that have kept us backward and present the agenda to move beyond the obstacles and tap the potent and latent energy of Nigerians from all walks of life.
All the extant challenges can be reversed to become opportunities for growth and national integration. For instance, the Fulani herdsmen challenge can provide the springboard for organised ranches that can produce meat and dairy products for local consumption and export; the Niger Delta can be engaged in more creative ways that will increase oil and gas productions. The agitations for increasing state and regional autonomy can galvanise and energise national development by creating a new momentum for citizens’ positive action rather than the current harnessing of negative energy. So much is possible. But the administration needs to retrace its steps.