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President Buhari; One Year After the Mandate

In a sense, President Buhari’s most important promise to Nigerians was that he would fight corruption and weaken it before it destroys Nigeria. He has kept that promise and there is clear evidence of determination and focus in investigating and prosecuting acts of public corruption. One year after the presidential elections, it is clear that the level and scale of predatory corruption was so massive that CORRUPTION would have killed Nigeria had political alternation of federal power not occurred.

It’s exactly one year today since the March 28, 2015 presidential election. In my column of March 30, 2015, I had described the election as a narrative of heroes. I started my list of heroes with the communities attacked by insurgents to stop them from participating in the electoral process. Most of them came out and voted, risking their lives to operationalise Nigerian democracy. Nigerians love democracy so much that not even terrorists could deter them from exercising their franchise.

The Nigerian voters in general are also heroes. They came out in droves to vote. The voters endured severe difficulties during the elections as a result of the several operational and logistical lapses of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Voting commenced late in many parts of the country. In many places voting continued late into the night, and in some cases through to the morning. In these instances, voters remained calm, patient and orderly. They demonstrated a great sense of civic consciousness, which we should continue to salute.

Another hero revealed by the elections was INEC and its leadership under Professor Attahiru Jega who planned for and delivered elections that were relatively free and fair. Their use of the card reader was a masterstroke. The card reader, this simple machine that has the capacity to recognise and count real human voters, was another real hero. It caused a real panic among circles that are used to rigging elections. The panic was justified; the card reader was really an anti-rigging device and has come to stay for future elections in spite of some recent incomprehensible court judgements.

Some people were of the view that by allowing the permanent secretaries he found in office to remain in power for so long, they might have had the opportunity to wipe out evidence of their previous misdeeds. Some of that might have indeed happened. Today, after ten months in power, we are inundated on a daily basis by numerous revelations of mega corruption…

One year later, we can pose the question of the value gained by these heroes of Nigerian democracy. Following Buhari’s inauguration as president on May 29th, the expectation was that he would hit the ground running, immediately appoint his ministerial team and heads of agencies and embark on the immediate implementation of his elaborate governance agenda, which he had successfully sold to the electorate. That did not happen. The president appeared reluctant to engage in governance with his political allies and even uttered some rather unkind words about them. Nigerians were not initially worried about this approach to governance with civil servants, especially as during the first quarter of the Administration there was a remarkable improvement in electricity and fuel supply. My own view was that it is problematic to rule with just civil servants after all; one of the most important signifiers of the crisis of the Nigerian state was the collapse of public administration. There was no basis to assume that the civil service was still the competent bureaucracy bequeathed at independence. The president refused to be stampeded from his announced path of properly studying the situation he inherited before making political appointments and it took over four months before the first list of ministers emerged.

Some people were of the view that by allowing the permanent secretaries he found in office to remain in power for so long, they might have had the opportunity to wipe out evidence of their previous misdeeds. Some of that might have indeed happened. Today, after ten months in power, we are inundated on a daily basis by numerous revelations of mega corruption, and what is clear is that corruption under the Jonathan Administration was carried out with such recklessness and a naïve assumption that they could not possibly lose elections, hence hiding the misdeeds was simply unnecessary. It might have therefore been a good tactic to fully study the situation before engaging in governance.

The approach chosen by President Buhari however had its disadvantages. Appointing the governance team and beginning to address the huge problems facing the country happened so late in the day that inertia caught up with the work of government. Electricity supply declined dramatically and fuel queues returned to our roads. The value of the naira relative to the USD was in free fall for some time before it stabilised. Structural changes such as the reform of the NNPC through the Petroleum Industry Bill is yet to take off and the budget came out with massive technical deficiencies and padding that it became clear that the government simply started the process too late to have done a good job.

Given the reality of the spread of corruption to the level of affecting even the administration of justice, it would be difficult to send all of the guilty ones to jail but my injunction to the president is to maintain the on-going efforts with determination so that we destroy the current tradition that those who have stolen massively can always use the proceeds of corruption to keep themselves out of jail.

In a sense, President Buhari’s most important promise to Nigerians was that he would fight corruption and weaken it before it destroys Nigeria. He has kept that promise and there is clear evidence of determination and focus in investigating and prosecuting acts of public corruption. One year after the presidential elections, it is clear that the level and scale of predatory corruption was so massive that CORRUPTION would have killed Nigeria had political alternation of federal power not occurred. A few hundred persons were stealing billions of naira and making governance impossible. More seriously, massive allocations for arming our troops were simply diverted to private pockets thereby strengthening the Boko Haram insurgency and creating the conditions for the killing of over 20,000 Nigerians and the displacement of over two million people. President Buhari is right to focus on exposing and seeking to punish these elements that were so callous in their disregard for the lives and livelihoods of their compatriots. Given the reality of the spread of corruption to the level of affecting even the administration of justice, it would be difficult to send all of the guilty ones to jail but my injunction to the president is to maintain the on-going efforts with determination so that we destroy the current tradition that those who have stolen massively can always use the proceeds of corruption to keep themselves out of jail.

Over the weekend, President Buhari himself announced that he was aware that he has only three years left to govern. This means that he has a responsibility to complete the appointment of his governance team and give them the latitude to do their work. Precisely because he met a dilapidated economy and a massive reduction in public revenue, governance is more problematic and difficult and further delays would make it very difficult to achieve significant progress. It is clear that the president is afraid of appointing people who might continue the culture of corruption but the only rational way of addressing the problem is to make the appointments and remove and prosecute those who abuse their office. That is the only way of signalling to political appointees that change is occurring and the purpose of governance is improving the lives and livelihoods of the millions of Nigerians who fought successfully for CHANGE.


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Jibrin Ibrahim

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