…each and every Nigerian needs to be more aware of what our political leaders promised us and closely monitor them to ensure that they deliver. If they do not deliver, of course Nigerians now know that they have the option of voting them out.
Last Thursday, the Centre for Democracy and Development invited five ministers – Amina Mohammed, Udoma Udo Udoma, Babatunde Fashola, Lai Mohammed and Audu Ogbe to come to a town hall meeting to defend themselves on findings from the Buharimeter and they all turned up. This is a new beginning when ministers believe they have the responsibility to account to citizens. The Buharimeter is a matrix for continuously monitoring the implementation of the programmes and the delivery of the results candidate Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians. Buharimeter (www.buharimeter.ng) is therefore a monitoring tool that enables Nigerians to keep tabs on the implementation of the campaign promises of President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is an independent and non-partisan monitoring platform. What CDD did was to collate the campaign promises by tracking the manifesto and party programmes, as well as media and campaign rallies promises, which have been tabulated as 222 clear promises made to Nigerians. The promises and issues are displayed on the website and citizens and other stakeholders are invited to engage with the process of monitoring governance in Nigeria.
During Buhari’s 100 days in office, CDD had reminded Nigerians about the promises the president had made about results from the first 100 days in office. Some of the president’s aides became alarmed by the questions being asked, especially in relation to the document, “Muhammadu Buhari: My Covenant with Nigerians”, which commits the president to specific achievements in the first 100 days, that they dissociated their boss from the document. It was an unnecessary panic measure because the aim was not to embarrass the president but to remind him that he made clear promises to Nigerians and citizens have a right to hold him responsible. The campaign document in question is particularly well crafted and spells out in clear details specific deliverables Nigerians should expect from Muhammadu Buhari were he to win the election. He won and therefore all Nigerians have the civic responsibility to ask him questions.
Of course the first 100 days were problematic because virtually nothing had happened because the president took the decision to study the situation before appointing his ministers and initiating action. It is now clear that it was a mistake to have delayed appointments for so long because it is only now, after one year of the presidency, that those ministers feel sufficiently clear about what they are doing and are therefore ready to engage with Nigerians. There are two important issues about campaign promises that we as citizens should note. The first is that in a democracy, candidates are voted for on the basis of their promises to the electorate and the belief of voters’ that they will keep to their promises. In Nigeria, because we have had a long history of electoral fraud and godfathers, rather than voters deciding electoral outcomes, there is a very poor tradition of citizens demanding that promises be kept. Voters know that they never voted for the said officeholders in the first place and therefore do not have high expectations. Nigerians did vote for President Buhari and it’s appropriate that they keep scrutinising and assessing the president to ensure he keeps to his word.
It is also the case that in certain situations, the nature of the problems encountered by governance teams is much worse than what they had anticipated. That might be the case for President Buhari… In such situations, the best approach is to engage the people in a sincere discussion on the nature of the problems encountered.
The second important issue about campaign promises is that candidates, pushed by public relations firms and campaign teams, tend to promise more than they can deliver if and when elected. On assuming office therefore, they try to tone down their promises and engage in creating justifications about the difficulty of the realities they find in office. It is also the case that in certain situations, the nature of the problems encountered by governance teams is much worse than what they had anticipated. That might be the case for President Buhari who assumed power after voters disgraced out the most corrupt and irresponsible government in our history. In such situations, the best approach is to engage the people in a sincere discussion on the nature of the problems encountered. Citizens are not stupid, they usually have a clear idea of what is possible or impossible and what timelines are realistic. Sincere and committed politicians who have exaggerated in their campaign promises have every right and indeed the obligation to issue reality checks to the citizenry on their programmes with revised timelines.
In his opening remarks, Minister Fashola warned that we should not focus too much on rapid results but rather on sustainable results. He knows what he is talking about because at the beginning of the Buhari Administration, electricity supply had improved considerable only for it to embark on a rapid downward slide. It will be recalled that at the tail end of the Jonathan administration, Nigeria witnessed a decline in her power output, to an all-time low of 1,327MW in May 2015. On July 29, 2015, the management of Transmission Company of Nigeria announced that the national grid transmission has recorded an increase from 4,000MW in early July to its highest peak of 4,810.7MW as at August 25. The crisis of the power sector, explained Fashola, is that Nigeria has 26 power plants and 23 of them are gas fired, so immediately gas supply was sabotaged, it became impossible to sustain a reasonable level of power supply. The problem speaks to a larger problem of the lack of strategic thinking in our planning and development process.
During the one-year celebration of the Buhari Presidency, we were informed about the 75 achievements of the government. There is no doubt that there are achievements to drum beat about and Lai Mohammed seized the opportunity of the town hall meeting to do that. The problem however is that it’s difficult for Nigerians to celebrate achievements given the lack of electricity, crippling inflation and the continuous decline of economic performance. Yes, we appreciate that the plan for restructuring the economy is now emerging but it will take time to see results. Nigerians are getting very upset that their does not appear to be any low hanging fruit to harvest. The ministers at the event were however upbeat that from this week with the taking off of the 500,000 teaching jobs programme and the schools feeding programme, the reaping of the low hanging fruits will commence.
Now that we have had the opportunity to listen to five ministers at the same time, my only other wish is that the president should engage more with Nigerians. He has developed a penchant for talking mostly when he is abroad so he needs to engage citizens more.
The most optimistic minister was Audu Ogbe who castigated us for eating too much imported rice, wheat and fish. He was categorical in ending rice importation in two years time following his proposed programme of rapid expansion of local production. He might be assuming too much. Our agriculture is rain fed so we are dependent on how much rain God provides each year. We can develop irrigation but I cannot see us doing the earth works and canalisation for significant increase in irrigation within the period. There are wider issues about technology, improved suitable seeds, extension services etc that all need to happen. Maybe the minister should be a bit more cautious about the promises he is making.
Talking about food imports, I was shocked to read NAFDACs threat to ban imported Chinese tomato puree because they contravene the regulation that tinned tomatoes should have at least 28 percent tomato. In my naiveté, I had assumed tined tomatoes are just that with 100 percent tomatoes. NAFDAC, please go ahead and ban them, but maybe we should wait a bit till tomatoes return to the market. But maybe they should remain banned as I am rediscovering Nigerian soups since I banned tomato based stews in my house due to its present prohibitive cost. Who needs tomatoes for okro, spinach, bitter leaf, hibiscus (yakuwa and kabewa), baobab (kuka) and waterleaf soups? It’s a great opportunity to go the way of “native” soups.
Now that we have had the opportunity to listen to five ministers at the same time, my only other wish is that the president should engage more with Nigerians. He has developed a penchant for talking mostly when he is abroad so he needs to engage citizens more. For their part, each and every Nigerian needs to be more aware of what our political leaders promised us and closely monitor them to ensure that they deliver. If they do not deliver, of course Nigerians now know that they have the option of voting them out.