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President Muhammadu Buhari

Opinion: Why it is too early to give up on the Buhari government By Jideofor Adibe

 President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

This piece was motivated by the apparently growing disillusionment with the Buhari government, especially on his handling of the economy. Many people, including some of the passionate Buharists, seem to have given up hope that the President would be the expected political messiah who would lead the country to the Promised Land. There are several signs of this disillusionment: the camp of the ‘wailing wailers’ appears to be growing and I receive far less threats and insults from ardent Buharists than I did a year ago whenever I disagree with the government’s policy options. There are also empirical data on the government’s performance, especially on the economy, which have rather been depressing. One tweet that trended recently on the social media compared the country before Buhari took over and since he has been on the saddle using a number of indices such as the exchange rate, GDP growth, rate of unemployment and price of fuel and pleaded with the President to just return the country to where it was before he took over. It was a very graphic pummelling of the government. The good thing is that the President is also increasingly acknowledging this disillusionment from the citizens and recently pleaded with Nigerians not to give up so quickly on his government. For instance, in his 2016, Eid-El-Maulud message, the President was quoted as saying: “As we use the memorable occasion of this celebration to reflect on our current challenges, I urge you not to lose faith in the ability of this administration to make a difference in the lives of our people.”
This piece supports the President’s argument that it is too early to give up on his government but from different theoretical premises. But why, you may ask, should a consistent critic of some of the government’s policy options turn around to ‘defend’ the regime at a time he should be feeling vindicated? Is it just to satisfy his contrarian impulses and inclinations?
I have always had deep respect for Buhari, especially his frugal ambience and famed honesty. However even before he became the APC’s presidential candidate, I was also among those who felt uncomfortable that no one seemed to know his views on several vital issues such as on education, foreign policy and even the economy. Given his mien and signature War Against Indiscipline (WAI) during his First Coming, most people expected that fighting corruption would be his comfort zone. Some of us however worried that he might turn his government into a one-story-line regime that would focus rigidly on the fight against corruption to the detriment of other challenges in the society or without pausing to weigh the unintended consequences of such a war or even bother to define what it means by ‘corruption’.
There are four main reasons why I believe it is too early to give up on the Buhari regime:
One, very early in his regime, Buhari’s militant supporters thought he could do no wrong. All sorts of myths were woven around him and anyone who dared to differ with the government’s policy options was harassed, labelled or intimidated by the uncritical supporters who appeared determined to enthrone group-think. With triumphalism masked in various guises, it was as if some of these self-appointed mind-guards were eager to trigger open class, regional and ethnic warfare. Now that reality has muffled their voices, an opportunity is created for more robust conversations around the government’s policy options. This could lead to better policies being formulated.
Two, the expectations that ushered Buhari to power were simply too high and unsustainable, with different people having different expectations of him. For some, he had a magic elixir that could make all the problems of the country disappear. Now that the expectations had swung the other side, the President is presented a golden opportunity to scale through the new low bar of expectations. For instance when Professor Attahiru Jega was appointed Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in June 2010, his credibility was hyped to the high-heavens. He added to this high expectation with several take-it-or-leave-it demands on the government as his conditions for guaranteeing free and fair election in 2011. He got virtually all he asked for to conduct what turned out to be the most expensive election in the country’s political history. However his first outing – conducting a senatorial election – was a disaster. He had to suspend the exercise mid-way, leading to doubts about his ability to conduct the election. Owing largely to this doubt, the moderate successes he achieved subsequently in those 2011 elections appeared exaggerated, with some people perceiving the 2011 election as the ‘freest and fairest’ in the country’s history. My feeling however is that his moderate successes in the conduct of those elections in 2011 were exaggerated by the low bar of expectations of him after he cancelled the senatorial elections mid-way. It was also helped by the extremely low bar of expectation set by Professor Maurice Iwu’s conduct of the 2007 elections. Buhari has a golden chance to scale the new low bar of expectations of him.
Three, there is a feeling that a new regime in countries like ours begin to find their bearing only after the first re-alignment of forces. It is thought that during the initial alignment after winning power, the President is usually a prisoner of the political IOUs he has to pay and of opportunistic new forces that managed to warm up to him after his victory. The belief is that reality would inevitably set in and triumph, leading to a realignment of political forces and the President re-thinking some of his initial policies and programmes. For instance Obasanjo, arguably the best the country has produced despite what one columnist called “his lack of grace” and numerous other shortcomings, did not really take charge of his government till about three years into his regime. Most of his accomplishments were during his second term in office. In this sense, the current crises in both the APC and the PDP are not abnormal and should be seen as the preludes to an inevitable re-alignment of political forces. It is possible that the re-alignment could throw up forces that could help the President become not just a statesman but also leave his footprints on the sands of time. In fact, for many of us, whether the Buhari regime performs well or not, will be determined by the character of the new forces that will emerge to eminence during the period of political re-alignment. That is why I believe we should begin to focus more on the character of any emerging political re-alignment involving the President.
Four, one of the fears about Buhari when he was a serial presidential candidate was that he was “inflexible”. Now we know that Buhari is actually very flexible. He has changed from being the chief apostle of ‘command and control’ in economic matters to being a neo-liberal who favoured de-subsidization, de-regulation, devaluation and rolling back the state (policies he opposed vociferously during his First Coming). In other words, President Buhari has changed from one extreme of an ideological/philosophical spectrum to another. With the knowledge that Buhari is actually flexible (contrary to his stereotype), and with the voices of those who wanted to enthrone group-think muffled, we will now hope that in ensuing honest and open conversations about policy options, the President will be flexible enough to choose options that will be best for the country.

Obasanjo’s conditions for supporting the new mega party
Former military Head of State and President Olusegun Obasanjo has played critical roles in installing every President of the country since he left office in 2007. Ironically he has also been displeased with each of the regimes he helped to mid-wife.
Obasanjo was recently quoted as saying that his condition for supporting the rumoured plans to set up another mega political party was that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar should not be the flag bearer of the party.
Since Obasanjo seems to regret each of the choices he helped to foist on the nation after a while, I began to think whether Nigerians should be better off adopting the ‘Alan Greenspan formula’ whenever Obasanjo backs or opposes any candidate.
Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States (the country’s equivalent of our Central Bank) from 1987 to 2006, once attributed part of his successes to the fact that he always did the opposite of what was recommended to him by the IMF/World Bank. Should Nigerians just oppose any candidate endorsed by Obasanjo and support anyone he opposes? Just thinking aloud!

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