President Buhari & His Unpopular Policies: Matters Arising!

August 9, 2019

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent justification for what he called his ‘‘unpopular policies and programmes’’ is not a good public relations material for his presidency to begin a second term. While receiving the Buhari Media Organisation recently, Nigeria’s President admitted that ‘‘the administrative services’’ of his government ‘‘are unpopular.’’

His justification: the government is, ‘‘doing unpopular things and facing powerful individuals and taking on vested interests who are accustomed to the corrupt era. But we must do things the right way, if we promise to change, then we must deliver it. This is regardless of whose interest is touched. There must be a manifest departure from the old order,’’ he added.

That government ‘must do things the right way’… regardless of whose interest is touched as a manifest departure from the old order’ is, in this country today, absolutely and urgently needful. No reasonable Nigerian will disagree with that.

In truth the All Progressives Congress (APC) party promised the electorate change ‘from the old order’; four years down the road, it has certainly not delivered on its promises enough to brag about. There is certainly not yet ‘a manifest departure from the old order.’

Improvement in the area of security, specifically the degrading of the brazen fighting capacity of the Boko Haram in the north eastern part of the country, yes. But this noteworthy achievement is severely discounted by the widespread and multi-dimensional acts of criminality that has, on the watch of President Buhari, almost taken over the land. Buhari may take direct responsibility for the policies of his government but the party that put him up for the highest office in the land must share in this responsibility.

The APC manifesto enunciated a four-point plan on national security that includes ‘capacity building of law enforcement agent,’ a well-trained and adequately equipped and goals-driven Serious Crimes Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping…ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide,’ a constitutional amendment to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community. A full four-year term has passed and these promises to the electorate have not been demonstrably implemented.

Besides the party officially stated position, Mr. Buhari has repeatedly maintained three issues as topmost on his agenda.

As recently as on June 12, in his Democracy Day speech, he recalled that ‘‘when… we came into office in 2015… we identified three cardinal and existential challenges our country faced and made them our campaign focus namely security, economy and fighting corruption’ and he stated his ‘firm belief …that Nigerians desire the opportunity to better themselves in a safe environment.’’ Of course, they do because they know too well that no productive or profitable activity can be carried on in an environment of insecurity. But on this most critical necessity in society, we regret to say that, regardless of the claim of ‘solid progress’, this government is yet to justify its raison d’etre.

The incessant kidnapping, killings, robbery and banditry that take place north, east, west and south, are evidential of government’s abysmal failure to meet a key constitutional obligation to the citizens as stipulated in Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, which states that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. This is not the ‘change’ that Nigerians voted for. To this extent, this government’s policy –or non-policy on the security of lives and property cannot but be ‘unpopular.’

The fight against corruption is widely and well-known to be half-hearted and skewed largely against people outside the government and the party in power. On the one hand, the government has to be literally dragged to take action against serving officials accused of corruption; it arbitrarily chooses to reverse the decision of competent authorities that sanction public officers; it stands accused of surreptitious settlement with persons who, by reasonable standards need to have their day in court.

On the other hand, it would be no exaggeration that only inside the ruling party can be found safety from the anti-corruption agencies. A case in court may even be withdrawn if the deal is mutually acceptable to the interested parties. The point must also be made that corruption manifests in more than financial terms.

It is trite to say that any form of violation of laid down procedure and the process is an act of corruption. This would mean that non-adherence to the Federal Character principle provided for in the constitution is corruption; so too the willful, persistent disobedience of the order of a court of competent jurisdiction; so too are acts of nepotism and cronyism.

It is not unexpected that sufferers from the anti-corruption measures will fight back. What is crucial is that if the effort is glaringly unbiased, and the process transparent and untainted by ill motive, such effort will definitely receive the appreciation and support of the vast majority of the citizenry who are, in any case, victims of corruption perpetrated by the highly-placed and powerful in society. But as long as the anti-corruption effort falls below high, transparent, un-skewed standards, it will remain ‘unpopular’ and 'unacceptable' by the citizens.