A message For the President, By Dele Agekameh


#TrackNigeria -Exactly one week ago, President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office for his second term as a democratically elected leader of Nigeria. The expected inaugural address was limited to a brief expression of gratitude by the president. People close to the presidency later revealed that the president has suspended his address until June 12, which his administration has proclaimed as the new democracy day in the country. Ahead of that expected big speech, there are a few areas of interest that Nigerians are particularly interested in, areas where the people need to hear the president give positive and clear plans of action.

In its first term, President Buhari’s administration launched a series of social investment programmes to alleviate the crippling effects of poverty and growing unemployment in the country. These programmes include the N-Power programme for unemployed youths, the Home-Grown School Feeding programme, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, GEEP, under which the popular TraderMoni falls, and the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme. These schemes are similar to social programmes in the developed world where good record keeping and technological infrastructure allows for adequate monitoring and profiling of beneficiaries, disbursements and impact. Although the Buhari administration is quick to put forward the establishment of these schemes as an achievement, there is little or no acknowledgment of the shortfalls.

In the final weeks and months of the first term, questions were raised about the usage of the N500 billion fund earmarked by the government to bankroll the social investment programmes. Other questions arose about the integrity of the beneficiaries and monitoring of the disbursements. Although there is undoubted evidence of some impact on the target demographic in Nigeria, there is a general sense that more can be done. To achieve higher impact, the government must acknowledge the faults in each of these programmes and come up with a plan to improve and scale up the reach and impact. Frankness about these issues, rather than a reiteration of the perceived success of the programmes, will go a long way to show an intention to improve in the second term.

Unemployment and high poverty rate are symptoms of a poor economy, irrespective of shiny statistics that record marginal growth on paper. For instance, the critics of the government are quick to point out that the price of petrol, has doubled since the Buhari administration took power four years ago, despite still paying trillions of naira in susbsidy, just like the previous administration. Although external factors like the global drop in the price of crude around the time of the inception of the administration may have contributed, the gains in that area since the $28 per barrel low in January 2016, has not reflected on the pump price in Nigeria, which the average Nigerian is primarily affected by and concerned with. OPEC oil prices currently averages about $70 per barrel. A weaker naira and unrealistic oil price benchmark for budgeting purposes are also areas of criticism for the Buhari administration.

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Beyond the shaky investor confidence and growing poverty line, the most telling consequence of the general state of the country is the rise in insecurity. Insecurity has been on a steady rise in the last four years of the Buhari administration and many now think that it is at the most critical point in decades. The expectations of the toughness of the president’s leadership style has not been met in the area of insecurity, and early gains, especially in the northeast, have been squandered and overshadowed by the harrowing tales of victims across the country.

Presently, in the northeast, Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram sect and the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP), both of which follow Islamic state, IS, ideology (despite IS’ disavowal of the former) are complemented by Ansaru, a terrorist organization loyal to Al-Qaeda, in tearing through the northeastern part of the country. And this is inspite of the fact that Al-Qaeda and IS have been seriously decimated in their respective places of origin. The situation presents a disturbing picture of the terror threat in Nigeria and how vulnerable the country is to these threats.

Then there is the banditry in the northwest that is a direct result of the tolerance and poor management of a seemingly ‘local’ problem that has now gripped the entire northwest. This is already spreading nationwide through the corridors of an underground market in gold mining that has somehow eluded the government for decades. The terrorist organisations are suspected to have joined the ‘banditry’ and the implications are terrifying for the entire country. Killings and kidnappings occur nationwide. The trend has been for the government to underplay security threats, responding more to partisan and other petty issues that do not figure in the bigger picture.

In the middle of the growing violence, accusations of selective treatment and handling of threats across the country are being levied against the government. The critics of the government are quick to cite the routing and crackdown on the Independent Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and the running out of town of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, as an example. The treatment of the Shiites and their leader, Sheik El Zakzaky, is also raised in the same light. The critics say that the fervour applied by security agencies against the considerably less violent IPOB and Shiites does not match the commitment in the serious fronts against the terrorists in the northeast. The accusations also assume ethnic dimensions, especially after an alleged offer of N100 billion to cattle herdsmen, who mostly share ethnic and business affinity with the president. The herdsmen are believed to have instigated killings in the communal clashes that plagued the country in recent years.

The gravity of the plethora of security and economic issues must be acknowledged in all government communication, including possible speeches by the president. Nigerians do not want to hear a recanting of things that have been done, but are more interested in new measures and planned or on-going improvements on past measures. The thought of a next level of the status-quo, especially in the area of insecurity, is a frightening one indeed. The government needs to be on the same page with Nigerians, by acknowledging their fears and uncertainties instead of assuming a defensive and sometimes confrontational tone in official communications.

The social investment programmes of the government must be improved with relevant technology and database systems for identification and social profiling of beneficiaries to ensure the survival and integrity of the programmes. The BVN initiative and National Identity card drive is already halfway in that direction. The government must also admit that a fresh approach is needed in tackling insecurity, and all cards must be on the table, including the subject of state police and fresh appointments into key positions in the short term. It appears that the major problem in the widespread security threats has been government attempt to defend a losing position rather than defend the country.

In this next term, the body language of the Buhari administration must change. That is, if it is to avoid completely alienating the people. Nigerians do not have to speculate about the reasoning behind certain government actions or inaction, as it is this space left for speculations that is fueling the ethno/religious tensions and misinformation that have taken over social media and other sources of information in recent times. Therefore, the government must be open, accountable and receptive to criticism, and there is no better way to signify this commitment than in the appointments made for this new dispensation.

The belief in Nigeria, based on decades of enduring greedy politicians, is that the second term of an elected president or governor is a time to pillage and profit, without the pressure of a re-election contest hanging over the office holder. The president has an opportunity in the first days of this dispensation to direct the narrative of his final years in power into areas that suggest a genuine intention to do right by the people. One hopes that there will be a focus on sincerity and bridge-building in his second term, so Nigerians can truly feel that he belongs to us all.

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