What next? This is a curious thought that may have popped into the mind of Nigerians after the 2019 elections and the unceremonious inauguration on May 29. Whether as supporters of the present government and ruling party or members and supporters of the opposition, the question will remain lingering in the mind of Nigerians for at least the next few months. Many expect President Buhari’s administration to keep people guessing for sometime, especially going by events at this stage in the last dispensation.
Nigerians got a first taste of things to come in the political arena on the eve of democracy day, when the new leadership of the Senate arrived at Aso Rock for a courtesy visit. It appeared to be more of a visit to pay obeisance to the President, especially as Ovie Omo-Agege, the new deputy Senate president, literally resorted to “break-dancing” by bending a knee to greet President Muhammadu Buhari as the latter received him, with Ahmed Lawan, the new Senate president. Promises of swift passage of budgets have set the tone for an improved executive – legislature relationship in the 9th assembly. However, members of the opposition are already calling it a potential “rubber stamp” legislature. This remains to be seen.
The following day, on the newly designated democracy day, June 12, the nation finally heard the president speak about the direction of his administration in this new dispensation. The president’s speech was dotted by the customary citation of achievements that political leaders the world over are proud to remind the electorate about. Although there was some acknowledgement of the room for improvement, some may say that the dire situation in many areas may have been understated, albeit, in true political tradition, especially for incumbents. The highlight of the speech may have been the renaming of the National Stadium in Abuja after M.K.O Abiola, the original hero of June 12, 1993.
No inaugural address can completely cover all areas of interest to the teeming population of this country, or any other country in the world, but the president’s speech as a returning incumbent is a step down from the rousing speech he gave in 2015. That speech was full of righteous venom and contained an unapologetic and realistic appraisal of the current situation in the country at the time. It was brutally honest, while not being unduly critical. Last Wednesday, the President may have been hindered by the need to show progress while displaying a consciousness of present needs. In the end, the preservation of image won against brutal honesty and the result was the watery delivery that did little to satiate the heightened sense of foreboding in many sections of society.
It is not that the president has not delivered on many promises made in his first inaugural speech. In 2015, President Buhari spoke about unemployment and widespread poverty and programmes that will be introduced to check them. Today, a series of social intervention programmes have been instituted, with beneficiaries in different sections of society. This exists alongside the agricultural revolution that the government is championing. We know about his anti-corruption crusade. Although controversial at times, it is just what he promised to do. He was also clear about his respect for the distinction between tiers of government, and a recent move through a presidential panel is aimed at highlighting that distinction in addressing the most pressing concern – that of insecurity.
In the area of insecurity, the President has left Nigerians with mixed feelings. In 2015, president Buhari said that “Boko Haram is not the only security issue bedeviling our country. The spate of kidnappings, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers clashes, cattle rustlings all help to add to the general air of insecurity in our land”. If his handlers copied and pasted this into his speech this term, no one would raise an eye brow. And that is despite the fact that his administration indeed brought the fight to Boko Haram and reclaimed lost territory early in his administration. And he has largely managed to contain and restrict the terrorists. He is also credited with the return of many of the Chibok girls, as promised, including the Dapchi girls that were seized on his watch. But there is the very big issue of Leah Sharibu, the elusive Abubakar Shekau and the new stem of banditry in the insecurity mix.
The president also said in 2015 that the rising state of insecurity was aided by “official bungling, negligence, complacency or collusion”. Again, if this were copied into his speech this term, very few would protest. He also spoke, in 2015, about small fires leading to larger fires when talking about the mishandling of the then little Boko Haram sect with the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the group. Today, the Shiite leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky has been in detention indefinitely for months and his followers are a constant nuisance in Kaduna and Abuja. The president spoke about protecting citizens from human rights abuses in 2015, but now we have an out-of-control SARS, a Gestapo-like Department of State Services, DSS, and a sometimes high-handed military.
Power generation, which was a subject of some lament by the President in 2015, has gone the same way as the fight against Boko Haram. Early gains, which included the increase in generating capacity and in supply, are now reversed with supply currently hovering around the same level it was in 2015, even with the privatisation in that sector. The leaps and bounds of the Buhari administration in some areas have been followed by dips and drops in other areas. In moving forward, the country and this administration must realise that we can only be as strong as our weakest link. We must not get lost in the euphoria of success in one area and bleed to death from an untended wound.
Therefore, we must identify the weakest link in every area of society and actively work to correct the uneven progress we are experiencing. This includes in the area of governance, with appointments and agencies. Some federal (and state) appointees have done better than others who may have even had lesser challenges to face. Some agencies have also under-achieved or caused more negative exposure/results than they recorded positive ones. The president promised last Wednesday to correct the lapses made through the human factor in governance. A (timely) review of appointments will be a good place to start, so that the administration can hit the ground running.
The president is again tasked with leading the somewhat sleeping giant of Africa back onto the road of success. As this country has proven, through its myriad of spiritual and tribal leaders, bringing people to their knees is common. Raising people up, out of poverty, out of stagnation and out of oppressive leadership, that is the true hallmark of the most renowned leaders the world has seen. If the Buhari administration can lift up Nigerians, like the 100 million it promises to raise out of poverty, then the next level will be fulfilled. Like the President said, if India, China and Indonesia can do it, with their populations, so “we can”.
President Buhari ended his speech in 2019 with poetry by Shakespeare: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life, is bound in shallows and miseries”. No doubt, at the time of that speech, the President believed the country to be, or soon to be, at that pivotal point suggested by Shakespeare in the poem. In view of developments since then, one wonders whether the country has ridden that figurative tide or missed it. Has it even come yet? If Nigerians are unable to answer one way or another, it may be a reflection on the administration that began by quoting this text. Hopefully, we have not missed the tide.
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