By Abdul Mahmud*
The pall of grief that enveloped the two geopolitical regions – south east and south south, the political bases of ex-President Jonathan- had barely lifted when bugles and drums sounded, car horns blared, and machine guns boomed to herald the coming of President Buhari, winner of the 2015 presidential poll.
Supporters of ex-President Jonathan were visibly sad. They chose not to share
the joys of those victorious Nigerians who rooted for President Buhari.
With their candidate losing the keenly contested and divisive presidential poll,
their future in a polity of the winner-takes-all invariably became uncertain.
For them, and understandably so, sadness was a sad place to be.
They learned to carry sadness into their homes, away from streets filled with the cries and chants of “Sai Baba and Sai Buhari”!! President Buhari’s supporters were in charge of the streets. They owned them. They made no pretense about possessing them for good. The Presidential Inauguration Day wasn’t for sadness. Success has many friends.
There were joys etched in the faces of leading opposition figures and their friends who gathered in Abuja to witness that epochal moment never before experienced in the history of Nigeria. For the first time the ruling party in Nigeria was dethroned by the opposition, in spite of the ruling party’s boast of occupying the seat of power for sixty years. As it turned out the ruling party’s hold on power lasted for a little over sixteen years before the impossible happened.
Truly the impossible happened. The mission of the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), to capture power, was accomplished on Inauguration Day. For the APC the journey from the wilderness of opposition wasn’t an easy one, neither was the road to power an easy road to travel, nor were the many battles that raged along the road to power any easier.
The Presidential Inauguration Day met a nation torn by sadness and joy. A strange oxymoron that highlighted the nature of politics in Nigeria: how it gifts joy to those who are victorious at the poll, while losers possess only sadness. Nigeria politics is tribal. The celebrations in the southwest and the entire north showed why tribal ownership of victory was important at the time.
The north and southwest owned the victorious President and Vice President.The northerners and south westerners had every reason to party beyond the Inauguration Day into the morning after the night before, map and renew the boundaries of their geography of joy.
President Buhari understood the tribal nature of Nigeria politics very well. He understood the adverse effect the struggle over possession and ownership of the victors of power has on national unity, so he made that famous remark to counter the claims of possession and ownership: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”.
What a master stroke, what a way of sticking the middle fingers to critics who accused him of being a religious fundamentalist, and what a way to shut ethnic jingoists out of the new power reality, reassert citizens’ belief in his political project, the new reality his presidency enthroned, and reaffirm the change his party promised.
Welcome to the country of everybody and nobody.
For a politician not known for flowery prose, beauty of the art of public speaking
and poetry of language, President Buhari came to his own like a poet possessed by his muse and delivered his memorable address. He didn’t disappoint those who thronged the inauguration venue to witness the historical baton change only prophets would have foretold.
Like the statesman that he is, he delivered his punch lines- each line accompanied by claps- and rounded up on Nigeria’s successor-leaders: “In recent time Nigeria leaders appear to have misread our mission. Our founding fathers…worked to establish certain standards of governance. They might have differed in their methods or tactics or details, but they were united in establishing a viable and progressive country. Some of their successors behaved like spoilt children breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house”.
His mission, no matter how it was misread at the time, was clear. He didn’t fail to unveil his plans to restore order to the Nigerian House; at least, contain the Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast who had for many years attacked the foundation of the Nigerian House and unleashed violence on hundreds of thousands of Nigerians sacked from their homes and villages. As his first major concern, he declared his intention to chase the insurgents into hellholes and promised to address the Nigerian unemployment crisis.
He also promised to take corruption head on. The promise still resonates with Nigerians who consider corruption as the most dangerous condition ailing Nigeria
and who are in a hurry to birth a country of their dreams.
On Inauguration Day President Buhari presented Nigerians the workable agenda for reinventing Nigeria.
How far has Nigeria fared since the Inauguration Day Address?
There were considerable improvements in public services few weeks following the inauguration of President Buhari. Reports of Nigerians who enjoyed unbroken hours of electricity flooded the Nigerian public space. Countless photographs of frozen refrigerators and chilled bottles of beer were produced as evidence.
No fresh investments flowed into the privatized Nigerian power sector during that time, but something jolted the indolent electricity workers into action. “The Buhari Magic is working”, his ardent supporters swore. Many Nigerians put the electricity workers love of work to President Buhari’s body language. His chief spokesperson screamed: a new Sheriff is in town.
Perhaps the image of the Sheriff holding up manacles under the hot Abuja sun overhanging the seat of power- Aso Rock- compelled electricity workers to take their work seriously.
One year after the chickens have come home to roost. Electricity workers have returned to their bad habits. Refrigerators have forgotten their first nature and beers have given up their chilled tastes to time. For six hours on a certain day in March, Nigeria generated zero megawatt.
The opposition mocked the famous body language of President Buhari. The Minister of Power, Raji Fashola, became the butt of public joke. Many called him out on the claim he made when he was in the opposition that a serious government can generate enough megawatts of electricity in six months. They asked: “Mr Minister, Sir, do you consider President Buhari’s government unserious having failed to provide regular electricity for ten months?”.
Meanwhile, small and medium enterprises are still suffering constant blackouts.
Many enterprises have closed shops. Many more are struggling to keep their doors opened to customs. The prospect of keeping them afloat, or as going concerns, is dire. The light up Nigeria project is faltering.
The unemployment rate is at an all-time-high. Banks are shedding staff weights on a daily basis. The manufacturing sector is comatose, and it has been so for many years though. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics says the national economy contracted in the first quarter of the year, putting the GDP growth rate at -0.36%. Recession is here. Damning.
In January the central oil workers union begged the Nigerian government to stop the global oil giants, Chevron and Shell, from extending the sack of 18,000 workers globally to Nigeria. Here is the worrying claim that illustrates the spot of bother Nigeria finds itself: “The scarcity of foreign exchange for importation of raw materials by local industries is adversely affecting the sector as 50,000 workers have lost their jobs in Abuja in the last two months”.
The claim, made by the Chairman of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, accentuates what the President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria expressed: “Over ten companies had notified this association about their intention to shut down operations before the end of February, 2016”.
Nothing highlights Nigeria’s acute unemployment crisis than the figures recently released by the Nigeria Police Force. One million Nigerians have applied to fill ten thousand positions declared vacant by the Commission responsible for police recruitment.
President Buhari’s anti-corruption war is progressing slowly. Several politicians have either been clamped into detention or arraigned before the courts. Many notable opposition figures are also standing trials.
Opposition supporters have accused President Buhari of a political witch-hunt. The international media are on a roll. A few weeks ago the Daily Mail of London accused President Buhari of shielding his political associates from prosecution. The paper suggested that ex-Governor Rotimi Amaechi is “fantastically corrupt”. Here is what appears as President Buhari’s riposte: the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, a member of President Buhari’s governing party, is fighting false declaration of assets charges.
President Buhari’s supporters readily tell their listeners that fighting corruption is possible under the President’s watch. Believe them.Anti-corruption is one area where President Buhari’s governance imprints have been most noticeable. No corrupt political exposed person of note has been convicted just yet. If Raymond Omatseye, former Maritime Chief, recently convicted by a Lagos High Court for graft, can be taken as a little political fry in the grand scheme of things, then the first big casualty hasn’t been recorded.
Omatseye’s trial it should be stated began under the previous government in 2011.
President Buhari cannot be blamed for the slow turning of the wheel of criminal justice in “the widening gyre” of judicial corruption and incompetence. The notorious slow pace of judicial hearings makes expeditious corruption trials virtually impossible.
Nigerians were promised change last year and so far their groans and pains hint at the reality that the road to change is paved with bumps and torture. The Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, says: “It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true”.Femi Adesina is the typical spokesman who sees no suffering, hears no wail and feels no pain of the suffering masses of the people.
Change is torturous, bumpy ride through time and space, yet there is no visible evidence on the ground that suggests that the current managers of change appreciate the pains of transiting between two political epochs and the casualties in-between. There is growing hardship in the land, growing despondency, growing unbelief in the change agenda. Critics and skeptics of the change agenda is doing NTORR – that non-verbal, gestural mockery, a way of pressing the fingers to the lower eyelids- a kind of déjàvu- at the believers of change. They point at the rising cost of living and the depressing value of wages. They point at the removal of oil subsidy. They taunt them with electricity tariff hike.
Nigerians want change NOW. They are impatient. Can anyone blame them? Can anyone blame stand-up comedians who pull jokes out of the bag to ridicule President Buhari and his supporters? Here is one of such jokes: “If the Jonathan years gave Nigerians HALF-CURRENT and all President Buhari can offer with his change is BLACKOUT, please, bring back the Jonathan years, Nigerians go manage am like dat”.
It isn’t all gloom and doom. This government has brought sanity to the way public funds are warehoused through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), a scheme proposed by ex-President Jonathan which President Buhari faithfully implements. Bombs no longer explode in city centers. Boko Haram insurgents have been chased into Sambisa forest. Many territories in the northeast are now under the control of the armed forces and the civil authority. Two girl-abductees from Chibok have found freedom. There is hope that the Chibok girls will return home sooner.
Democracy, for all its promise and beauty, has its challenges. One challenge is how it guarantees prosperity for every citizen. This is true of Nigeria democracy. President Buhari has spent a year in office and it is stupid, if not wishful thinking, to imagine that the social, political and economic problems of Nigeria can be solved in three hundred and sixty five days. But he has to show Nigerians he is dirtying his hands and his agbada for the sake of the change he promised the electorates at the stomp. Bringing that change about is a task that must be done.
The road to change is a bumpy road. But for Nigeria, it is not yet morning on creation day.
*Abdul Mahmud is a Lawyer and Poet. He is also the President of the Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL), and Columnist of the oldest Nigerian newspaper, Daily Times of Nigeria. He was a delegate to the 2014 Nigeria National Conference.
Picture Fashola with Buhari- a serious government can generate enough megawatts of electricity in six months.