The return of President Muhammadu Buhari to Nigeria after 103 days of medical vacation in London presents an opportunity for a new beginning in his Presidency. The long period of his being away from official duties should have provided him an opportunity for deep reflection and strategising on better ways to achieve results in the task of national development. It is not often that a leader gets this opportunity to reflect midterm into an administration. So, the sickness and hospitalisation which appears negative could also provide the canvass for positive thinking and repositioning.
This discourse seeks to point out five key issues the President should focus on and take seriously as he resumes work. They are great matters of urgent national importance that cannot wait any longer. The first is that the President needs to do a deep soul searching based on empirical medical evidence whether he is fit enough to continue to shoulder the heavy burden of the duties of state considering the huge developmental challenges facing the nation. That decision is his to make and whichever way he leans, posterity will remember him.But he should remember that the interest of the generality of Nigerians should come first in his considerations. And the President needs no one to remind him that he needs to be alive first before he can rule or govern in any capacity.
The second issue is that the ailment that took the President away to London for this long stretch of time shows the very poor state of our medical facilities and how government has treated the right to health of Nigerians. Health is underfunded with no clear cut actionable policies to turn around the sector. A sector filled with all manner of clichés and slogans which no one including the leaders believes in provides no succour for anyone. If the health institutions have been working, President Buhari would not have voted with his feet to London. Thus, as we prepare the 2018 federal budget, the President needs the best of men and materials to move the health sector to a level far different from what is available now. We can begin the march with improved funding of health care by meeting the 50 per cent of the Abuja Declaration of 15 per cent of total budget, and subsequently increasing funding by additional 2.5 per cent every year until we hit the ceiling. We can also ask the National Assembly to fast-track a new health insurance law which makes health insurance mandatory for all citizens and residents in Nigeria who earn the equivalent of the minimum wage and above. This will provide more resources for healthcare.
The third is that the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on strike and other unions in the tertiary education sector have joined them. So, the issue is that the higher education challenge may need to be resolved wholistically. The President needs a team that will not just think out of the box but get education out of the box totally. The idea of sitting inside a box and trying to think out of it is flawed. What are you doing inside the box in the first place? Simply get out of the box; that is what needs to be done in the education sector. Various reports of needs assessment and visitation teams are available and should be implemented. The challenges are very well known and solutions have been tabulated so many times for the sector.
The fourth is that the political environment has come under heavy strains and a clear headed reform is imperative. The mindset of indivisibility and indissolubility of the Nigerian nation is no longer holding sway going by the extreme positions and repositioning taken by different religious, ethnic and interest groups. The Nigerian of today wants a new political, federating and governance structure that releases his energy to excel, a race to the heights rather than the current competition and race to the bottom. The youths want a system that releases their positive disruptive energy, to innovate and create new things in the new age of information and the internet of things. Continuing with business as usual is no longer an option especially when the tie between governance structures, processes and the economy is unraveled. Thus, change has to become concretised to make impact in people’s lives.
Reducing the tension in the land means the President has to go to work to address the fault lines of ethnic and religious divides which has been further widened by economic challenges. The President needs to address the quit notice given to people of Igbo extraction by Arewa Youths. He needs to address the revolving issue of the agitation for Biafra, the renewed boko haram insurgency and other similar challenges. With the exception of the book haram insurgency, virtually all the challenges need a lot of dialogue and reassurances involving all sides to the disputes whilst the law enforcement angle is invoked where recalcitrance and failure to see reason holds sway. This is not the time for any steps that tends to suggest pandering or leaning to one interest group against the others. This is the time for display of statesmanship and nonpartisan resolution of issues. Any leaning which is so understood and interpreted by stakeholders could further fuel the ongoing crisis and may make them unmanageable.
The fifth issue is the economy which has depreciated over the years. It is understood that getting the economy back of track is not going to happen overnight. But we need to begin to see the preliminary footsteps which show that we are thinking beyond oil rents and its depreciating value.The President may consider rejigging his economic team to bring in more professionals and tested hands. Let the nation fire on all available human resource cylinders through non-partisan presidential advisory councils on key sectors of the economy. Challenge the Nigerian intelligentsia to get new ideas to produce results in different sectors. Key challenges in powers, works and housing need to be dealt with separately because the issues are too big to be kept under one portfolio. Keeping them under one portfolio ensures that they will be perpetually underfunded since the budget of the ministry will always appear big. In real terms, the budget will not scratch the surface of sectoral challenges when disaggregated.
In the war against corruption, start thinking of institution building and less of the media rhetoric. Let action speak louder than words through high level convictions and trials. Strengthen the office of Auditor General in its mandate whilst granting the office financial autonomy and sufficient elbow room to do its work. This will help the office to provide empirical evidence to support judicial prosecutions and proactive work to nip public service corruption in the bud.
Mr. President, the administration has crossed its midterm and is on the stretch that is looking to power home. Now is the right time to unfold the last jokers and cards to improve economic, social and political life so as to score high when reckoning time comes.