Shaped debates in 2019
foreign trip appetite in 2019, easily becoming a major topic in the year. As of November, he had visited about 40 countries, making more than 51 trips in five years and spending over 407 days out of Nigeria.
For instance, he has visited Saudi Arabia three times. he was there from May 16 to 21 for the lesser hajj and made another trip soon after his inauguration on May 29 for a second term. The President has visited Burkina Faso; Niger; Japan (for the seventh International Conference on African Development); and New York for the 74th UNGA.
In October, he visited South Africa over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians; he was also in Sochi, Russia, for the Russia-africa Summit before he returned to Saudi Arabia again on October 28.
It was from Saudi Arabia that he jetted to the UK on November 2nd for a ‘private visit’; he spent 15 straight days in London. The private trip caught the attention of Nigerians more and again brought the debate on whether he was not spending too much time outside the country amid the challenges at home that needed urgent presidential attention, to the fore. It also raised the question on whether the billions spent on the trips could not have been channelled into development in the country. There was also debate on the gains of the trips. More importantly, people asked why was power not transmitted to Osinbajo to effectively take control of governance as the acting President, while the President was away?
On Monday, November 4, Nigerians watched from home as the retired major general appended his signature to the Deep Offshore (Amendment) Bill in London, a job they said Osinbajo could have handled at no cost at home. The Nigerian Bar Association, reacting to the signing of the law in London and the President’s frequent trips, said Buhari should have transmitted power to Osinbajo.
Its Publicity Secretary, Mr Kunle Edun, stated that agreed, Buhari could perform some duties outside the country, but not the signing of the country’s laws.
“Ordinarily, there should be nothing wrong with the Nigerian President working from abroad. Visitations to world leaders and attending international conferences are working visits.
“however, what we have found lately which is a sad norm is that the Nigerian President seems to prefer working more from his overseas base than being in Nigeria.
“This unfortunate trend has now recently been extended to a situation where a Nigerian President would be assenting to a legislative bill in a foreign country.”
however, the view of the Presidency has remained that Buhari can work from anywhere, so long as he is not incapacitated.
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can work from anywhere he is in the world”, his Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, said.
But, what were the benefits of the trips? Some supporters of the President argued that he signed many pacts and Mous during his trips, which would ultimately result in foreign investments in Nigeria. A very recent example was on December 2 when the Federal Government entered into an agreement with a Russia firm, Uralchem, to facilitate fertiliser production in Nigeria. The signing was done under the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative.
It will see Russia supplying Nigeria Potash, a key ingredient for the production of fertiliser, to drastically cut down the wholesale importation of fertiliser into the country. The signing ceremony took at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where the Managing Director of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, Mr Uche Orji, signed on behalf of the Nigerian government. A representative of Uralchem, Mr Dmitry Konyeaev, signed on behalf of the company.
The Chairman of the PFI and Governor of Jigawa State, Mr, Abubakar Badaru, while defending the decision, said the agreement was a “milestone” in the government’s efforts to improve food production.
he explained, “It is another milestone in President Buhari’s effort to increase farm production and to support farmers. As you all recall, President Putin of Russia hosted African leaders recently at a summit and our President was there.”
Sowore, rule of law and rights abuses. The biggest yet, was perhaps the arrest and detention of the convener of the #Revolutionnow protests, Mr Omoyele Sowore. It got the country, and to an extent, the international community talking on the regime’s attitude to upholding democratic values, human rights and the rule of law. It worsened by the fact that in spite of a competent court granting bail to Sowore, Department of State Services invaded a Federal high Court in Abuja in broad daylight to bundle him to an unknown destination! The case of Sowore added to a list of unresolved rights issues, including the continued detention of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El- Zakzaky, and a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
The Presidency’s December 8 statement on the travails of Sowore in the hands of the SSS, defended the secret police much as it tried to exonerate Buhari from having a direct involvement.
The Presidency said, “The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the Presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution, which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999.
“however, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS. Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria.
“he did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America. he founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, ‘Days of Rage’, with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow.”
But, it received condemnation both at home and abroad. A United States Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez, criticising the action, simply described it as “unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy”.
Just like most Nigerians did, a former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili, added her voice, urging the regime to reverse the decision.
The ex-minister said, “Let it also be known by Buhari that the cruel, unreasonable or arbitrary use of the power he wields today as Nigeria’s President is alien to our Nigerian constitution and international law.”
Closure of borders.
Other major decisions of the Presidency, including the directive on the closure of Nigeria’s land borders in August and Buhari’s call on the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission to probe the N1trillion National Assembly members spent on constituency projects in 10 years without commensurate results, also made much impact in 2019.
The Executive Director, Centre For human Rights and Ethics in Development, and President, Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mr Mashood Erubami, gives an assessment of the regime in 2019. he is also a former President, Campaign For Democracy. his views are captured below uninterrupted:
My take on the key decisions of President Buhari in 2019 will flow from an assessment of his government since it was inaugurated on May 29, which he christened” Next Level Government”, especially as it reflects positively on fighting corruption, improving the economy and combating insecurity like insurgency, banditry and kidnapping.
I see the first decision in the change of the rules guiding the constitution of his cabinet to initiate programmes intended to correct some of the mistakes of his first term, new policies designed to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty, as a positive step.
Also, the immediate re-constitution of his economic team to stimulate the economy for production and job creation, is another milestone this year. he has introduced seasoned hands like the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, to bring in fresh ideas.
The President has within the year taken a commendable decision to continue the fight against corruption and unethical practices in government. This has been done for example at the borders through the closure of land borders and encouraging production, consumption of locally-produced goods.
The anti-corruption war is fixed and directed at the big fishes in the Army, Navy and the Air Force which was never heard of before. In the same vein, the judiciary has had its own share of the sour taste of the war as was seen in the retirement of many judges.
Many are being jailed as the fight against corruption is intensified and non-selective. Examples of those convicted already provide a proof -Jolly Nyame, a former PDP governor of Taraba State (APC member now); Joshua Dariye, a former PDP governor, Plateau State (APC member now); and Orji Uzor Kalu, a former PDP governor, Abia State (APC member now). More judgements are being expected and many more high calibre offenders will soon find themselves in prison.
The downside The upside
however, not much is positively seen in 2019 in the area of upholding the rule of law. The personal pledge of the President should begin and continue to provide a guide. he said, ‘My government and I will abide by the rule of law, in which none shall be above the law. We shall be subject to its dictates and none shall be so below it that we shall not be availed of its protection.’
There is a big hole left without consideration in the areas of collective stakeholder governance. The cabinet should set up a significantly innovative ‘Action Steps Standing Committee’ to work with the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review the inadequacy and disproportionate distribution of revenues to states and local government councils. This yawning gap has become a key factor for the loud and unending agitations for restructuring and true Federalism.
Again, not taking a decision to make the people and the critical sectors the national safeguards of the government, steer the anti- corruption and economic recovery programmes, is to say the least retaining the status quo! The government should be moved to hold immediate confidencebuilding meetings with people across the sectors and let them know what it inherited in 2015 and the efforts being made to fix the degeneration.
In conclusion, Buhari must realise immediately that this next level governance can only be for the next two years to deliver and lay the legacy for tomorrow. After two years, distraction will set in; there will be opposition pressures for re-election politics in 2023, reactions to government programme and policies in a way that corruption fights back.