USAfrica: 100 DAYS OF BUHARI and why I think it’s, so far, an Ambiguous Adventure
By Dr. Chidi Amuta. (Executive Editor of USAfrica & USAfricaonline.com since 1992, based in Lagos)
The euphoria of the newness of something old and familiar is nearly gone. The cascade of expectations around President Muhammadu Buhari soon afterinauguration have now crystallized around two broad questions: How does he prove to the broad majority of Nigerians that he can convert his cult popularity in parts of the country into a force for the common good? Will he leave office with the aura of his famed integrity and personal mystique in tact?
The first question implies that Mr. Buhari quickly translates good intentions into measurable positive changes in the lives of ordinary people. The mantra of change on which he rode into office must become ‘change we can see and feel!’. The second question dictates that, given his age, he owes it to himself, his children and indeed the nation to quickly enter into a legacy mode and begin to contemplate how he wants to be remembered.
The fierce urgency of the moment is how Mr. Buhari ensures that the throngs that came out to hail him on the campaign trail do not transform into disappointed angry mobs that would hurl stones at his convoy four years down the road or even sooner. In my experience of the trajectory of popularity of political leaders, ‘Hail Caesar!’ very often soon becomes ‘Nail Caesar!” The dividing line can be very thin indeed.
President Buhari’s return to power is largely predicated on one major overriding collective need: our communal desire for a leader whom we can respectfully ‘fear’ in the serious business of doing Nigeria right. Given that predication, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari’s task, as a national leader is ultimately the management of that fear. He has surprisingly not said or done much to frighten anyone since donning the Presidential toga. Beyond routine predictable pronouncements on mundane issues of governance and public accountability, he has hardly threatened anyone. But the threat of consequences is inherent in his body language. And that body language is sufficiently threatening as to compel the signs of conformity that we are beginning to see in some spheres.
The President has functioned more like a lonely old chap who returned to a devastated homestead after a prolonged absence to find that there is so much housekeeping and repair work to do. And he has set about the mending process to the best of his understanding. In the process, he has set in motion a torrent of contradictory forces that will, for good or ill, determine the fate of his presidency.
For obvious historical reasons, this president is not likely to be judged like any other leader in this era. The parameters for his evaluation are inbuilt in the nature of his tedious career and fortuitous second coming. He will be judged first as an ‘old soldier’, a member of that elite corps of nationalistic officers who appropriated to themselves the task of re-uniting Nigeria by fighting and concluding a most unfortunate civil war which, in any case, the armed forces helped to precipitate. Next, he will be judged as someone with previous experience in the leadership of the Nigerian behemoth, albeit one whose previous signature drips of draconian excesses. His allowance for apprenticeship and avoidable error is therefore meager.
Then there is the burden of age, the albatross of a generational curse. I believe he belongs to a generation that Wole Soyinka once characterized as ‘wasted’. His return to power becomes in that sense a last desperate attempt by a member of that generation to redress what is arguably a historic betrayal. People therefore expect Mr. Buhari to salvage himself, his generation, and the military profession and, in the process, re-establish the missing beacons of Nigeria’s tortured nationhood.
It is only fair to admit that so far Mr. Buhari has displayed reasonable understanding of the imperatives of his unenviable job. He literally scrambled the presidential jet a day after inauguration and headed for Chad and Niger in hot pursuit of Boko Haram. Armed with neither a foreign policy template nor any known corps of foreign policy advisers and accompanied mostly by an incoherent assortment of party faithful, friends and otiose bureaucrats, the man has travelled to G7 in Germany and the African Union in South Africa. He has played mascot guest of the White House, flying the flag of a more orderly and responsible Nigeria.
While most of his foreign trips are excusable junkets in the line of his new job, his diplomatic excursions to encircle the rag tag Boko Haram terrorists need commendation. The likelihood that he will rein in the Boko Haram miscreants in a couple of months is indeed high. The signs are good as soldiers sent after Boko Haram militants have started capturing more of cattle than terrorist war prisoners. The imminent defeat of Boko Haram will be no mean feat in a world where terrorism tends to proliferate and stubbornly endure.
In President Buhari’s progress so far, one can discern a measure of altruism and seriousness of purpose. No one can deny that in today’s Nigeria, there is a feeling that someone is in charge. For those who have insisted that the problem of Nigeria has been largely one of leadership, it is safe to say that Mr. Buhari has so far stepped forward to provide the much-needed leadership. For one thing, most Nigerians believe that the president and his deputy possess the requisite moral credibility and honesty of purpose to lead the nation at this point. Therefore, integrity of the leadership persona may be the defining contribution of the APC to our political history if matters remain the way they are.
To this extent, very few can deny that Mr. Buhari has altered the mood of the nation from one of utter hopelessness to one of conditional optimism in so short a time. All that has been done without a roar. Just the knowledge that there is a man at the helm who is likely to demand accountability and fiercely exert consequences has forced the leadership of a good number of public institutions to begin to self-correct. The feeling is palpable as you step into any of the international airports from outside the country. Officialdom has regained a certain sense of duty and seriousness. A sense of order is visible even though the fog of recent lawlessness remains evident. Electricity supply in most parts of urban Nigeria has inched up. But people remain skeptical as to whether it will last.
No one expects that the president will have tackled the more serious structural economic problems in only three months. He has hardly even indicated the direction of his economic policy. All we have had so far is an avalanche of ever changing fiscal and monetary policy twitches from the Central Bank. In the absence of an economic team, an effete Central Bank has been saddled with developing and implementing both fiscal and monetary policies for over 90 days with arguably disastrous consequences.
Most of the recent financial regulations seem geared towards catching the bigger public sector thieves of yesterday and hedging against dwindling oil prices. But there is great work to be done on the economy. The Naira remains on a free fall due partly to record decline in oil prices and the greed of bankers who insist on sitting on troves of American dollars acquired mostly for speculative purposes. Youth unemployment will have to be addressed while our decrepit infrastructure waits for attention.
Expectedly, Buhari has declared a limited operation against corruption. Perhaps more than the confrontation with Boko Haram, this engagement is a rather tricky but necessary one. It has too many targets ranging from your gateman to the faith merchant at your church; from the presiding judge over your land case to the big government minister in Abuja. But at least a beginning is being made somewhere. But the president must expect the captains of the corruption industry to fight back. And people who have enough cash to float bigger private armies than some African countries should not be underrated. But the anti-corruption war is a pre-requisite for any talk about Nigeria’s development both as a democracy and as a fair society without the prevailing frightening inequality. At this stage, the most important aspect of the anti-corruption crusade should be the retrieval of looted funds. Simply put, just follow the money Mr. President and let the courts do their part.
Since assuming office, Buhari has not said much about the manifesto of his party. But that is mostly all that Nigerians should have to hold him and the APC to their campaign promises. That document and the pre-election pronouncements of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo indicate a clear social democratic idealism. Matters like mid-day free school feeding, affordable universal primary healthcare, free primary and secondary education and cash handouts to the poor and unemployed indicate that the APC as a party dreams of living up to its ‘progressive’ epithet. These incidentally are the areas that will appeal to Buhari’s mass followership especially in the northern half of Nigeria. But how will Mr. Buhari find the money to pay for El Dorado? I am not sure that the people who inserted these utopian items into the manifesto were armed with any pocket calculators to fathom the cost correlates.
Even then, these are hard times for left of center social democratic parties all over the world. In Europe, they have all been roundly trounced in recent elections (Portugal, Hungary, Spain, Australia, New Zealand etc.) except in Sweden. The masses like the rhetoric of bridging the gap of inequality but it is still the ‘dirty’ capitalist pigs that create jobs and generate prosperity. And the APC, if it has any ideological core, had better learn from the recent political history of Europe.
It is curious however that the old general has done most of the business of Nigeria in the last 100 days mostly as a sole administrator. Assisted mostly by bureaucrats in Abuja, the President has embarked on a personalized fact finding mission to get some understanding of the state of the nation. That process seems to have come full circle and must now yield place to a properly constituted government of ministers and myriad other appointees. That is the only way the business of Nigeria can be done with the benefit of the collective wisdom of people who represent a broad spectrum of our people.
Already, we can detect some ambiguity in the Buhari enterprise. By deliberately insisting on disparate elements from the old north in the majority of his strategic appointments, he tempts one to see his stubborn quest for power as something informed by a narrow provincial sense of political hurt. The president needs to quickly pull himself back from the potential abyss of political suicide and reputational hara-kiri.
While Mr. Buhari’s earnestness on major national issues coincides with the anxieties of majority of sensible Nigerians, it is arguable that his approach to the problems is rooted in any firm set of ideas. Common sense may dictate that we should combat corruption, straighten the bureaucracy, secure life and property and generally bring back some degree of respectability to the conduct of the affairs of state. The best that can be achieved with reforms informed by commonsense would be the emergence of an ordinary functional state.
But time has past. Dreams of national greatness are never achieved by ordinary states. The world has changed radically and nations that seek unusual recognition have to do unusual things. They dig into the depths of developmental ideas for innovative policies and ideas that would leap frog them into global reckoning. Our problems are rooted in both the past and in the future: First, we need to briskly right the wrongs of a mismanaged past and transcend them. More importantly, we need to seek modernization of the Nigerian economy and society with religious tenacity and fierce obstinacy.
Boko Haram: SkyNews London interview wt USAfrica Publisher Dr. Chido Nwangwu on BOKO HARAM vs BUHARI (Nigeria’s President inaugurated May 29, 2015). Interview on May 30 (Houston) May 31 (London) 2015
VIDEO #CNN special #CHIBOK Girls n #BokoHaram Live intvw wt the Founder of USAfrica multimedia and public POLICY networks Chido Nwangwu. CNN anchors John Berman n Michaela Pereira.
USAfrica:: Buhari’s rejection of Rolls-Royce ride in London, Obasanjo and lessons of history. By Chido Nwangwu. http://usafricaonline.com/2015/05/24/buharis-rejection-of-rolls-royce-ride-in-london-obasanjo-and-lessons-of-history-by-chido-nwangwu/
Forthcoming 2015 BOOK: In this engaging, uniquely insightful and first PERSON reportage book, MANDELA & ACHEBE: Footprints of Greatness, about two GLOBAL icons and towering PERSONS of African descent whose exemplary lives
specialist and founder of USAfricaonline.com, the first African-owned U.S-based newspaper published on the INTERNET, in his first book; he writes movingly from his 1998 reporting from South Africa on Mandela. http://www.mandelaachebechido.com/
•Dr. Chido Nwangwu, moderator of the Achebe Colloquium (GOVERNANCE, SECURITY, and PEACE in Africa) December 7-8, 2012 at Brown UNIVERSITY in Rhode Island and former ADVISER on Africa business/issues to the Mayor of Houston, is the Founder & Publisher of Houston-based USAfrica multimedia networks since 1992, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the INTERNET USAfricaonline.com; CLASSmagazine, AchebeBooks.com, the USAfrica-powered e-groups of AfricanChristians, Nigeria360 and the largest pictorial events megasite on the African diaspora www.PhotoWorks.TV . He was recently profiled by the CNN International for his pioneering works on multimedia/news/public policy projects for Africans and Americans. E-MAIL: Chido247@Gmail.com