Mr. President, it is time to get it right

It has been 12 days since Muhammadu Buhari took a new oath of office which would enable him govern Nigeria for the next four years as the President and Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces. Before the elections, one could hear Nigerians yearn for change, a new way of doing things, improvement in governance and service delivery, etc. However, if the results as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission reflect the popular votes, Nigerians voted for continuity in the expectation of change.

There was the popular expectation that the President would have learnt a few lessons from his first four years in the saddle and would never allow mistakes to be repeated. To the surprise of the overwhelming number of Nigerians, the President simply kept mum after his swearing in, not even a word of thank you to Nigerians and his supporters. He was expected to make an inaugural speech which would highlight the defining policy positions of the new government. But that was an opportunity lost. Considering that ministers had handed over to their permanent secretaries and the other presidential staff’s tenures had expired by the effluxion of time, the President has so far neglected to make a single appointment into his cabinet and backroom staff.

What is the message being sent by these developments? In respect of the refusal to address the nation after the inauguration, it appears that the President failed to understand and appreciate the critical role of communication in leadership. A leader’s ideas which remain in his head, not communicated to the populace and holders of levers of action is nothing but a wink in the dark. This leaves societal actors, from investors, government officials, and the citizens in a confusion as to the direction of the new government. A few supporters of the President have indicated that he would unfold his new governance agenda on June 12, being the day Nigeria will celebrate its democracy. But this defence misses the point, the inaugural message is a different message from the celebration of democracy message.  Reading the inaugural message on the inauguration day adds no extra cost to the inauguration and that day is the proper date for the speech considering that it is addressed and focuses on Nigerians. It is a policy speech that defines the fundamentals for the new administration.

On the issue of appointments, this is showing early signs of the delay occasioned in the appointment of the governance team after the swearing-in in 2015. It took almost six months to get the ministers and the team in place. The result was that a very poor economic and social situation was compounded and before we could understand what was happening, Nigeria regressed into an economic recession. The country has yet to fully recover from the effects of the recession as our economy is still growing at less than two per cent while population growth is in excess of 2.7%.

On the issue of appointments, it may make sense to send the names of minister designates to the Senate with their proposed portfolios. This would enable the Senate and indeed Nigerians, to make inputs into the approval process. The President may object that the constitution does not require him to do this. But a note of caution is needed here. The constitution does not also debar the President from doing this. The benefits of this procedure are legion. In the last four years, we had square pegs in round holes and pegs of no description, being fitted into certain holes. The result was not pleasant to the generality of Nigerians.

Another issue that hallmarked President Buhari’s first four years is the divisiveness it  introduced into Nigeria’s polity. A divisiveness never seen since the Nigerian Civil War. The 97% and 5% gaffe has been re-enacted when the leaders of the Federal Capital Territory visited the President during the recent Muslim Eid holidays. The President’s complaint that Abuja residents did not vote for him or more properly put, give him the majority vote, is unpresidential and not fatherly as he, after the election, is expected to protect and be a father to all Nigerians, irrespective of the voting pattern.  The President’s statement misreads the tenets of democracy and competitive electoral politics. If every Nigerian were to vote for a single candidate, then the competitiveness is gone, it is now an endorsement, more or less a right of a candidate to be elected. One would have thought that with the uproar caused by the statement in 2015, that the President would have learnt some lessons and never repeated such statements.

Again, we are back to the legislative starting point, the inauguration of the National Assembly and the election of its principal officers. The ruling party has made known its preferences for the Senate Presidency and Speakership including their deputies. But this has not gone down well with some of its members who have declared interest to contest. In trying to resolve this challenge, Senator Danjuma Goje, who had earlier indicated interest in the Senate Presidency, went with the party’s anointed choice, Senator Ahmed Lawan, to see President Muhammadu Buhari. After Goje agreed to drop his interest in the Senate Presidency over the weekend, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission washed its hands off his nine-year old prosecution and handed over the files to the Attorney-General of the Federation. This sends very strong and disturbing signals that anti-corruption charges are now being traded with political considerations. Yes, the Attorney-General’s office may continue prosecution, but the timing of the handover of the case sends very wrong signals. The irony of the foregoing is not lost on Nigerians. During the Eighth National Assembly, Senator Bukola Saraki’s refusal to drop his ambition led to his prosecution up to the Supreme Court before he was set free. Now, another one is dropping his ambition and the corruption case is partially being dropped.

The presidential tenure is just starting and there is the need to learn from either mistakes or deliberate actions in the first tenure which boomeranged. Nigerians like the biblical people of Israel, after the death of King Solomon, are simply asking the President to lighten their yoke.  In this case, let insecurity be contained, let economic activities pick up to lessen the hardship in the land, improve education and healthcare, etc. The President has two options. The first is to hearken to the voice of the average Nigerian who is in the majority, calling for a change of governance attitudes, actions and deliverables. The second option is to hearken to the voice of the hawks, who may be telling him to drill further and continue in his old ways and let Nigerians continue to suffer. Unfortunately, the President’s actions and conduct since May 29 seem to suggest that he is listening to the hawks.

The opportunity to change the governance style is here and that change must begin from the President. Nigerians are waiting and history beckons.