It is getting tougher by the day for President Muhammadu Buhari as Sai Buhari is being replaced by Why Buhari. Rather than hail him as they used to do, the people are now asking questions. They want him to own the present situation, rather than seek sanctuary in history, especially in the transgressions of his immediate predecessor in office, former President Goodluck Jonathan. This incipient change in the people’s attitude is motivated by perceived delay in addressing the shortfalls in several areas, notably, the economy; power supply; fuel supply; communication; and ethical orientation.
True, the downturn in the economy was precipitated by rampant corruption by previous administrations, especially that of Buhari’s immediate predecessor, a sharp decline in the nation’s oil fortunes, and the concomitant devaluation of the naira. Nevertheless, the slowness of the Buhari administration in tackling the economic downturn has aggravated the situation. No one expects a sudden recovery from the economic downturn. But everyone is anxious to see the President doing something about it. They are also anxious to see the outline of a march towards economic diversification.
To be sure, Buhari intervened early by bailing out many states from the burden of salary arrears, but many of them have since fallen back into arrears because of continued reductions in their monthly allocations and their inability to generate appreciable income from other sources. The multiplier effects of non-payment of salaries and the economic strangulation in many states radiate across the population. Many unpaid workers are hungry. They cannot pay rent, loans, and their children’s fees. Some stay away from the hospital and die because they cannot afford to pay medical bills. Artisans, traders, and even big businesses are losing customers. Commodity prices are rising. And the list goes on.
That’s why many notable Nigerians have called for an economic summit to urgently proffer solutions to the prevailing economic blight. Admittedly, Buhari responded to the call way back on February 25, but the summit has yet to hold.
Clearly, one of the visible signs of weakness in the economy is inadequate power supply, which worsened recently as power generation fell to about 1,580 megawatts from a peak of about 5,000 megawatts. That peak is itself insufficient, let alone being cut in half. Not only is the present shortage ill-timed (Nigeria is experiencing rising temperatures due to climate change), it has stalled productivity in the goods and services industries, especially in small and medium enterprises across the country. The effects of the shortage have been so devastating on households and businesses that nobody even wants to remember that the country’s electricity generation fell to as low as 1,327 megawatts in May 2015, shortly before Buhari was inaugurated.
Questions are now being raised as to what happened to the Buhari magic, what many called his “body language”, that made everyone sit up shortly after his inauguration, leading to a hike in power supply even when his administration did little or nothing about it? It would appear that labour unions, oil suppliers, and even saboteurs are now trying to assert themselves, thus chipping away at the Buhari magic.
To complicate matters, the fuel needed to power generators has been in short supply for a while, being priced out of the reach of artisans, petty traders, and the masses, most of whom live on less than $2 a day. Transport costs have also risen accordingly. The Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, gave familiar reasons and promises regarding the shortfall, which is fast becoming a hallmark of the Buhari administration; but he was short on permanent solutions.
Much has been written about the communication shortfall of the Buhari administration. In this information age, a government is as good as its communications network. Citizens should know promptly what their government is planning to do, when it’s going to do it, and how it will do it. Where necessary, appropriate stakeholders should be carried along. In this context, it is bad enough to keep the people in suspense as to what the government is up to in major areas of national life. It is even worse to catch citizens by surprise by making major pronouncements about them or their country in a foreign land.
Besides, as I once indicated, it is not enough to have a cabinet of ministers and advisers. It is necessary to have an overarching policy to which they all could relate (see “Buhari: Time to connect the dots”, The PUNCH, February 2, 2016). Change is only a mantra. It is neither a policy nor an ideology. The lack of a clear articulation of a guiding policy for the ministers and what the citizens should expect is a cause for anxiety, misconception, and conflict. This vacuum is behind many controversies surrounding many a Buhari project, from school feeding and welfare stipend to budget construction and the restructuring of the NNPC.
A fifth shortfall Buhari was expected to work on is moral values. True, he did not make any campaign promise to that effect but many expected that his ascetic posture and his war against indiscipline as a military Head of State would rub off positively on our fast degrading values. The endemic practices of rigging elections; stealing the people’s money; cheating in examinations; falsifying documents to get a job or get ahead; raping women; and so on are all rooted in a depraved value system, lacking in standards.
Fighting corruption at the top, as it is currently being undertaken, has only succeeded in telling us how depraved values have become, especially among the political elite. However, it cannot change those values, because corruption, stealing, cheating, forgery, and similar vices still go on unabated in the society at large.
What is needed, therefore, is a comprehensive programme on value reorientation that would shore up moral values in schools, workplaces, playgrounds, and even at home and also change the people’s permissive attitude to corruption and other negative behaviours.
Unfortunately, Buhari’s aloofness and the internal conflicts within his political party, the All Progressives Congress, are not helping the situation. He needs to change his style, get more involved, and get his party to work on the same template. Such a template should chart the course of action that would change the nation’s fortunes, especially in power and fuel supply and the economy as a whole. He should move beyond ad hoc solutions, such as temporary bailouts, and work on more enduring solutions.
Finally, he needs to go back to the drawing board and tap on the wisdom of the architects of his electoral fortunes. If they were good enough to get him elected, they should be good enough to see him through his tenure.