Opinion: Buhari: The early warning signs – By NIYI AKINNASO

Elected on the platform of change, … Buhari, two years and eight months in office, has eroded his brand; ineptitude, ignorance, clannishness, nepotism, distraction, aloofness and confusion have tarnished even his reputation for integrity. What he calls his best is, in many ways, offensive to many”.

In current Nigerian politics, 2019 is not just a calendar year. It is an election year as well. To most politicians and their immediate supporters, 2019 is next door, not just numerically, but also in terms of the general election, which is barely 12 months away. To them, 2019 seems even closer because party primaries for the 2019 national and state elections begin on August 18, 2018, just a little over six months away.

However, to most Nigerian voters still in the throes of economic recession and exposed daily to wanton insecurity, 2019 may appear too far away as they pray to be able to make it through 2018.

Nevertheless, the ballot box offers an interesting meeting point between the politicians and the voters. The politicians hope for electoral fortune. The voters hope that the election will bring economic fortune and signal a change in their life chances. The big question before these voters is whether they want to continue as things are today or change the leadership for a better tomorrow.

If President Muhammadu Buhari hopes for electoral fortune for himself and his political party, the All Progressives Congress, in 2019, he had better heed the cautionary note in the opening quote and read thoroughly the entire editorial from which the quote was lifted.

It will be a grave mistake if the editorial in question were taken as the view of just one newspaper. Similar editorials have appeared in other newspapers under different headings. Moreover, many columnists have written repeatedly about the same issues. However, none seems to have aggregated the views of the voters as the one contained in The PUNCH editorial under discussion. It may well serve as an early warning sign to Buhari as he prepares, or is being prepared, for 2019.

There are, of course, other warning signs. At least two former Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, have produced interesting texts, each warning Buhari (directly or indirectly) against 2019. Babangida may have denied the authorship of the statement credited to him, but the text is there for anyone to read. Similarly, some traditional and religious leaders have sounded notes of warning.

Against the above backgrounds, it will be politically naive of Buhari and his core supporters to expect that Buhari will ride to power as he did in 2015. True, he has had rough security, economic, and political terrains to wade through since he assumed power. Nevertheless, he himself has contributed more to his doubtful electability in 2019 than anyone or anything else. The full texts of the three early warning signs mentioned above chronicle Buhari’s self-inflicted political wounds.

Let me focus on just two related problems Buhari brought on himself, which have more or less become his blueprint, namely, the duo of tardiness and untidiness. He has been slow to act on major issues, beginning with the delayed meeting with his party leaders on June 9, 2015 at the same time that the National Assembly was electing its principal officers.

As a result, the party’s wishes were thwarted and, for the first time in Nigerian history, a candidate from a minority opposition party became the Deputy Senate President. Buhari has since been living with the costs of the lateness of his elected party members to that Assembly. That singular event and his inability to effectively supervise and control the agencies under his watch have been at the root of the ongoing disagreements between the executive and the legislature. A good illustration of that disagreement is the delayed confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the EFCC. At the end of the day, no one but Buhari bears the responsibility for the delay, which ultimately led to a recent court judgement in favour of the Senate.

Buhari was equally late in setting up his cabinet and in responding to the biting economic recession. His tardiness with the economy is still biting at the fuel pumps, where the gallon price of petrol has been rising out of control.

Tardiness and untidiness also underlie the delayed responses to the conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers across the country. Buhari was very late in waking up to the challenge. And his solutions have been grossly untidy as they moved from “grazing reserves” to “ranches” and finally to “cattle colonies”. What is worse, all the proposals were launched prior to consultation with the appropriate stakeholders. It was only after the conflicts had reached fever pitch and successive proposals had been rejected that a committee was eventually set up to do just that.

By the time the said committee was set up, the conflicts had claimed thousands of lives and destroyed farms and other property worth billions of naira. What is worse, they have pushed the North-Central Zone or the Middle Belt to regret ever voting for Buhari in 2015.

The same Buhari blueprint – the duo of tardiness and untidiness – is evident in the handling of the nationwide call for restructuring the country for administrative convenience and self-actualisation. For over two years, Buhari dismissed the calls, despite his party’s campaign on returning the country to “true federalism” and even when the party seemed ready to respond to the people’s yearnings. While the committee set up by his party was consulting with the people, Buhari dismissed the call for restructuring with a wave of the hand in his 2018 New Year message.

In the meantime, he did nothing to aid the process of constitutional reform being undertaken by the National Assembly, which could have accommodated the calls for restructuring. The Assembly, controlled by his party, read his body language and did as it wished with the constitutional reform. At the end of the day, there is Buhari and the executive; there is Bukola Saraki and the legislature; and there is John Odigie-Oyegun and the APC leadership, each toeing its own line on the restructuring issue. Why wouldn’t it be perceived as an electoral gimmick were Buhari suddenly to now embrace restructuring?

It is not the case, of course, that  has failed completely. He has succeeded in several areas, including fighting Boko Haram, fighting corruption, and increasing the nation’s revenue through various sources, including the Treasury Single Account, the FIRS, the Nigeria Customs, and even the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. Moreover, the country inches more and more towards food security by improving significantly on rice production.

The problem, though, is that these achievements pale in comparison with the neglect experienced directly by the people in various sectors, notably, infrastructure, education, health care, manufacturing, employment, and so on. Rather than proactively tell the people what the government has been doing or plans to do in these areas, the President’s aides have been consumed with defending him and blowing his trumpet, often out of proportion.

What Buhari and his handlers may have overlooked is that public perception of his achievements is not at par with the tune of the trumpet as blown by his aides. In at least four of the country’s six geopolitical zones today, the tune is no longer as pleasing to the ears as the “Sai Baba” of 2015.

Can Buhari still change that tune? Perhaps, only by magic, given the limitation of time. True, he was widely advertised in 2015 as a change agent, with some element of mysticism. Even on that score, he is PERCEIVED as a failure. It is, therefore, not likely that he will transform that readily from mystic to magician. Punch

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