A slow start for Nige­ria’s new pres­i­dent

Ter­ror­ism, econ­omy con­tinue to hin­der Buhari’s prom­ises

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ALI ABARE ABUBAKAR

ABUJA, NIGE­RIA | Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari rode to vic­tory in May on a prom­ise to re­vive the coun­try’s mori­bund econ­omy, van­quish Boko Haram ter­ror­ists who con­trolled much of the north­east­ern part of the coun­try and tackle the per­va­sive cor­rup­tion that has sti­fled de­vel­op­ment in Africa’s most pop­u­lous na­tion.

Five months later there is grow­ing dis­en­chant­ment that the pres­i­dent has not de­liv­ered on his lofty prom­ises, while tak­ing an un­prece­dented amount of time just get­ting his gov­ern­ment staffed.

“I think he’s too slow,” said In­no­cent Lagi, a Buhari ally and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral of Nasarawa State in cen­tral Nige­ria. “He must have un­der­es­ti­mated the prob­lems of the coun­try.”

Six months into of­fice, Mr. Buhari had in­stalled just half of the Cab­i­net and toplevel ap­point­ments un­der his dis­cre­tion, slow­ing the for­mer army gen­eral’s abil­ity to cap­i­tal­ize on his post­elec­tion hon­ey­moon. Re­cently the Nige­rian Se­nate ap­proved the last of his Cab­i­net picks, but only af­ter the pres­i­dent ad­mit­ted he hasn’t fig­ured out ex­actly which port­fo­lios his new min­is­ters will be given.

Mr. Buhari has com­plained that the coun­try was “ma­te­ri­ally and morally van­dal­ized” be­fore he took power, but crit­ics say that his slow start is un­der­cut­ting the mo­men­tum to over­haul the gov­ern­ment and econ­omy in Nige­ria, which Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional ranked as 136th — tied with Rus­sia — among 176 coun­tries in its Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex.

“The change was only in the new lead­er­ship,” said Mr. Lagi. “The courts, leg­is­la­ture and other in­sti­tu­tions like the army, po­lice, etc., have not changed. The pres­i­dent has no pow­ers to fight cor­rup­tion; the in­sti­tu­tions do. He can’t take a cor­rupt per­son to court. He can’t ar­rest a cor­rupt per­son. The re­al­ity is that the coun­try hasn’t moved for­ward.”

The Nige­rian news­pa­per The Guardian ed­i­to­ri­al­ized re­cently that, “in­stead of whin­ing and seem­ingly ru­ing why he chose to lead at this time, the pres­i­dent should con­sider the dire sit­u­a­tion of the econ­omy as an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate that Nige­ri­ans did not make a mis­take by giv­ing him the job he sought for 12 years.”

The pa­per con­tin­ued, “All the cit­i­zens want is for him to trans­late his plethora of sweet prom­ises into poli­cies and pro­grams that would im­prove their lot. All that Nige­ri­ans need now is his per­for­mance and not ex­cuses.”

In­ac­tion at the top lev­els of gov­ern­ment has mir­rored eco­nomic grid­lock through­out the coun­try.

Ha­jiya Haf­sat Musa, who runs a small cloth­ing shop in Mararaba, a sub­urb of the cap­i­tal of Abuja, said she has been los­ing money for months be­cause the gov­ern­ment has been slow in is­su­ing pay­checks. Most of her cus­tomers are civil ser­vants, she said.

“My cus­tomers no longer pa­tron­ize me,” said Ms. Musa. “Some of them have not been paid for months. The way the econ­omy runs, if there are no min­is­ters, ev­ery­thing is grounded.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ence is com­mon through­out Nige­ria, an oil-rich coun­try that has long failed to live up to its full eco­nomic po­ten­tial. In April, a month be­fore Mr. Buhari took of­fice, un­em­ploy­ment in Nige­ria was 7.5 per­cent. In July, for which the most re­cent sta­tis­tics are avail­able, the job­less rate was 8.2 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

The Nige­rian La­bor Congress, the 4 mil­lion-mem­ber um­brella group for the coun­try’s trade unions, re­cently re­ported that about 60,000 Nige­ri­ans have lost their jobs in re­cent months be­cause of a drop in gov­ern­ment spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture. “It has be­come crit­i­cal. We are still lack­ing an­swers,” said Congress Pres­i­dent Amechi Asug­wuni. “We have not seen the plan for in­fra­struc­ture.”

Mr. Buhari’s de­fend­ers said the pres­i­dent is do­ing the best he can to change pat­terns that have be­set the coun­try for years. Spokesman Al­haji Lai Mo­hammed of the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal party, the All Pro­gres­sives Congress, noted that Mr. Buhari was the first Nige­rian politi­cian to un­seat an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent and take over the reins of gov­ern­ment in a peace­ful tran­si­tion. Change isn’t easy, he said.

“He’s not slow,” said Mr. Mo­hammed. “The gov­ern­ment is fo­cused; it is method­olog­i­cal. Peo­ple will say this gov­ern­ment does not have min­is­ters, but we are say­ing this gov­ern­ment wants peo­ple with proven track records of com­pe­tence and in­tegrity.”

Mr. Buhari, who headed the coun­try for two years in the mid-1980s af­ter a mil­i­tary coup, de­feated in­cum­bent Good­luck Jonathan in a March vote that won praise from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and in­ter­na­tional elec­tion of­fi­cials. Mr. Jonathan be­came the coun­try’s first sit­ting pres­i­dent to cede power peace­fully, declar­ing, “No­body’s am­bi­tion is worth the blood of any Nige­rian.”

Tough slog

But it has been a tough slog for the win­ner since, and when Mr. Buhari has taken de­ci­sive ac­tion, he has stirred con­tro­versy.

The bank­ing sec­tor has shed jobs, for ex­am­ple, be­cause the pres­i­dent or­dered gov­ern­ment min­istries to consolidate their ac­counts in the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria to curb overly com­pli­cated pub­lic fi­nances ex­ploited by cor­rupt bu­reau­crats.

An­a­lysts said the move — tech­ni­cally called a “trea­sury sin­gle ac­count” pol­icy — was a ma­jor step in crack­ing down on un­scrupu­lous pub­lic ser­vants and their friends in the pri­vate fi­nan­cial sec­tor.

“TSA is a mas­ter­stroke pol­icy of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, and the in­ge­nu­ity be­hind it must be widely ap­plauded,” said Olu­sola Adeg­bite, a law pro­fes­sor at Obafemi Awolowo Univer­sity. “It is the most po­tent anti-cor­rup­tion weapon … that would not only cut loose all the fin­gers of cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment, but is also an in­ge­nious pol­icy that will fu­mi­gate the bank­ing sec­tor that con­tin­ues to reek of filth and rot.”

De­spite those mea­sures, even Mr. Buhari’s for­merly stal­wart supporters say the pres­i­dent’s record hasn’t lived up to his rhetoric on crack­ing down on graft.

“Inas­much as I want to com­mend Pres­i­dent Buhari on the fight against cor­rup­tion, I think that the cru­sade is rather very slow,” said Alex Kwap­noe, an All Pro­gres­sives Congress mem­ber who helped co­or­di­nate the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paign in Plateau State in north-cen­tral Nige­ria.

“There are a lot of th­ese cor­rupt for­mer of­fi­cials left free, and the in­sti­tu­tions of the state have the ca­pac­ity to bring all of them to book,” Mr. Kwap­noe said. “Un­less we do that, we will be pay­ing lip ser­vice by leav­ing other per­sons who were in­volved in cor­rupt ac­tiv­i­ties.”

At the Fed­eral Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Keffi, about an hour’s drive east of Abuja, for ex­am­ple, hos­pi­tal man­agers have re­peat­edly com­plained that doc­tors send pa­tients to their pri­vate clin­ics to cap­ture the hos­pi­tal’s busi­ness. The same doc­tors drive ex­pen­sive cars and live in big houses de­spite their mod­est salaries.

“It’s pretty ob­vi­ous they are di­vert­ing hos­pi­tal funds into their pock­ets,” said a mem­ber of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Res­i­dent Doc­tors, who asked to re­main anony­mous out of fear of ret­ri­bu­tion. “We want Buhari to beam his searchlight into the fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­i­ties of the Fed­eral Med­i­cal Cen­ter.”

Mr. Buhari’s progress against the bru­tal Boko Haram move­ment also has been mixed. In the months af­ter they gar­nered head­lines by kid­nap­ping 276 school­girls last year, the Is­lamic ex­trem­ists ran ram­pant across north­east­ern Nige­ria, elud­ing cap­ture and de­feat­ing Nige­rian forces in skir­mishes. Their bold­ness was a key fac­tor in Mr. Buhari’s vic­tory over Mr. Jonathan.

With his mil­i­tary back­ground, Mr. Buhari has re­or­ga­nized the army, cre­ated safe havens for the more than 2 mil­lion Nige­ri­ans dis­placed in the fight­ing and or­ches­trated of­fen­sives along­side Cameroo­nian and Cha­dian troops that have set the ter­ror­ists back on their heels.

But Boko Haram fight­ers are still ac­tive. Few be­lieve the pres­i­dent will make good on his pledge to bring an end to the Boko Haram in­sur­gency by the end of the year.

Yakubu Gowon, a for­mer mil­i­tary head of state, told re­porters that he be­lieved the Nige­rian mil­i­tary even­tu­ally would de­feat the ter­ror­ist group but that the pres­i­dent’s year-end dead­line was a mis­take.

“I can tell you this: No­body can really talk about when any par­tic­u­lar op­er­a­tion is go­ing to end,” he told a group of Nige­rian re­porters. “Yes, you can say you tar­get a par­tic­u­lar time, but it may fin­ish be­fore that time or it may go slightly be­yond. To end it, that is the most im­por­tant thing.”

Re­cently, top mil­i­tary of­fi­cials cited stormy weather and other dif­fi­cul­ties in send­ing forces to re­mote ar­eas for de­lay­ing the progress of their of­fen­sive.

To Daniel Abutu, a bus driver in Abuja, the mil­i­tary’s ex­cuses were em­blem­atic of Mr. Buhari’s over­all per­for­mance.

“How can the mil­i­tary say weather is im­ped­ing the fight?” asked Mr. Abutu. “Is it be­cause they have re­al­ized it’s no longer fea­si­ble for them to de­liver as promised?”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The re­al­i­ties of his coun­try’s econ­omy and ter­ror­ism woes have dogged Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s hopes.

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