Shaped de­bates in 2019

The Punch - - SPECIAL FEATURES -

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.

• Buhari

• Atiku

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