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Return of Baba ‘Go Slow’

News & Analysis

Return of Baba ‘Go Slow’

In his initial pronouncements following his election victory, President Buhari has returned to his old script and says he will fulfil the pledges he made the first time around. But is he in a position to do so or can the country expect another series of failures? Analysis by Peter Ezeh.

After Muhammadu Buhari, incumbent President and retired infantry general, was named the winner of Nigeria’s Presidential election, his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, led a team of ministers to pay him a congratulatory visit. This was the first visit by a group of Nigerians following the release of the result of the election, which at some point was neck and neck between Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

During the visit, Buhari was forthright in what Nigerians should expect in his second tenure as President. “My last lap of four years,” he told his visitors in a widely reported remark, “is going to be tough.”

One of the defining characteristics of the President is candour. When reporters went to the polling booth where he himself voted to ask if he would accept the results of the elections and congratulate his opponents should he lose the election, he told them, “I will congratulate myself because I am the one that will win.” You can always tell where he stands. You can trust him, as the cliché goes, to call a spade a spade.

In that meeting with members of his cabinet, he said that in his new tenure he was going to continue with the original agenda which came into office with four years ago. His three cardinal programmes are: fighting corruption, boosting the economy, and improving security. The problem, though, is that the percentage of Nigerians who think that he has performed below expectations on all three goals is increasing.

Corruption in Nigeria is actually reported to have grown during President Buhari’s first tenure. On the eve of his assumption of office in May 2015, Transparency International (TI) ranked Nigeria 136th out the 174 countries surveyed for corruption worldwide. The last TI survey, before this year’s Presidential election, showed that Nigeria was now 144th out of 180 countries. The nation had slipped further into corruption than when President Buhari took office.

“The problem with Buhari’s approach to the anti-corruption fight is that corruption is defined in a way that is far narrower than the world understands it to be,” Dr Nnabuike Oguguam, a sociologist, told New African in Onitsha, Nigeria’s south-eastern commercial hub on the banks of the River Niger.

“Buhari’s government is the most nepotistic that I know of. Court orders are rarely obeyed. Excuses are raked up to harass influential legislative and judicial officers for the same acts which supporters of the President are up to their neck in and yet [they are allowed to] move about freely. I do not see how corruption can be reduced by harrying members of the opposition in a supposed democracy.”

Many also see him as not having achieved much in the sphere of security. But basing his self-assessment on the ending of the spread of the Boko Haram insurgency, he told Nigerians who received him during a recent visit to Dubai, that his government had achieved much in terms of security.

According to him, the Boko Haram insurgents had occupied 17 out of the 774 local government areas (the administrative units of the country) before he became President. The number of territories that are occupied by the insurgents had been reduced to zero, he told his hosts. Members of the sect now resorted to targeting soft targets, largely through suicide bombings, he said.

Contentious points of view

With his characteristic frankness, the president accepted that the bloody conflicts between herders, mainly from his native Fulani ethnic group, and settled farmers, had not reduced. But he blamed the trouble on the fact that the herders, often armed with sophisticated assault rifles against unarmed countryside farmers, might not be Nigerians. “The problem is that you can hardly identify the differences between cattle herders from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and other cattle herders,” he was quoted by a Nigerian daily as explaining.

It is precisely such a point of view that his critics attack. On a previous occasion, he had said that the belligerent herders might have got their guns from Libya in the chaos that followed the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s government. The argument of his critics is that whatever might be the origins of the aggressors or the sources of their arms, the President of Nigeria owes all his citizens protection.

Buhari says his government will find a solution to the problem but a quick fix should not be expected. He told Nigerians in Dubai that he had learnt from his experience as head of the military junta in 1984, when his haste in solving problems had earned him a palace coup. “Whoever calls me ‘Baba go slow’, I’m very cautious of historical antecedent. I was in a hurry, I was locked up. I am going slow so that I can survive,” a Lagos newspaper quoted him as saying in the Nigerian pidgin.

Economy a real worry

Next to the security issue, the economic situation in the country is the hottest topic of discussion – and it provides most of the bad press directed towards Buhari.

Practically all the major Nigerian newspapers carried front-page stories recently reporting that the national debt had now reached N24.4tn (360 naira = 1US$). It had stood at N12.6tn in 2015 when President Buhari came in.

The government of President Goodluck Jonathan which the Buhari administration took over from, grew the Nigerian economy to the number one position on the continent by 2013; but the present GDP of $376.4bn can hardly compare with the figure of $630bn with which the economy attained that enviable position.

The continuing rise of foreign debts in the last four years makes Nigerians nostalgic for the time in 2006 when their country became the first in Africa to pay off its debts to the Paris Club.

Youth unemployment stood at nearly 40% earlier this year, with overall unemployment at circa 25%, compared to a figure of 8.2% when Buhari took office.

Government has found that contrary to electoral promises, it could not improve on the exchange rate of the local currency, the naira. It had been less than N160 to the US dollar at the time Buhari came in, but is now around N360 to the dollar.

The government also hoped to bring down the pump price of petrol but that too has doubled, fuelling inflation that was 11.28% at the end of 2018. The economic growth rate of 1.5% is less than the 2.5% envisaged in a World Bank forecast and nowhere near the government’s expectation of 3.5%. 

The PDP’s Presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, is in court to challenge the election result. If Buhari defeats him in court, the president may have less turbulent relations with the legislature than in his first term, when the bicameral parliament was sympathetic to the opposition. Disappointed with the President’s performance during his first term, the heads of both chambers of the legislature joined the PDP.

However, Buhari will be happier this time round. The incoming Senate, the upper chamber, has 63 APC members, and only 37 from the PDP (the only other seat is occupied by a member belonging to a small party). The new House of Representatives, the lower chamber, has 211 APC members, 111 PDP members, and 13 from four minority parties. Some of the victories were still being contested in court, too. But one thing seems clear. As far as the Executive/Legislature relations go, President Buhari will have an easier time of it than he did during his first tenure.

What he will do with a more sympathetic legislature and how many of his pledges he will fulfil is what the nation is waiting to see. He has been given a second, golden chance – how will he use it? NA 

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