When I joined millions of Nigerians on March 28, 2015, to vote in the presidential elections, I was among the millions across the country, who were decidedly convinced that challenger Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was the candidate to vote for. My conviction to vote for Buhari was not just based on the surfeit of media accounts featured in the media about the General in the run up to the election, but more significantly for me, the Buhari subject matter was something I had been intimately familiar with for over three decades. Back in 1984, I was in a team put together to research on the General’s background when he emerged as military Head of State, following the midnight overthrow of the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983, by the Federal Ministry of Information where I was then employed. In the course of that assignment, we had interviewed quite a number of his colleagues and mates from childhood, through to his schooling days and his military career. One strand of opinion among those interviewed about the General was not just his honesty and integrity, but his passionate commitment to Nigeria. It was no surprise, therefore, that even after his premature ouster and retirement, he continued to stand for elections, which culminated in his being elected to replace incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015.
Having spent one year in office from his inauguration on May 29, 2015, how far has President Muhammadu Buhari fared on the canvas of expectations and performance and how far has his famed character disposition impacted on his policies and decisions? The best place to start this investigation is to look at the three key areas of emphasis, which his administration spelt out upon assuming the reins, namely security, which is taken to mean but not limited to defeating the Boko Haram insurgency, tackling and taming the bugbear of corruption in the country and instituting a fundamental economic restructuring of the country leading to diversification and less dependence on oil as the mainstay of the economy.
Even to his legion of ardent critics, it is no brainer that President Buhari has scored very high on his administration’s campaign on Boko Haram, which has seen the virtual degradation of the terrorist group and its ability to occupy large swathes of the North East area of Nigeria and menace the rest of the country through targeted bombings in cities. That the terrorists have been pushed out of the territories they had occupied, and virtually dislodged from their remaining Sambisa forest stronghold, testifies to this. The clearest indication of the success of this endeavour on the part of the administration has been the recent appeal for clemency and amnesty from the rump of the terrorist group, as they are being surrounded by the rapidly advancing Nigerian forces. It is also to the administration’s credit that life is gradually returning to normal in the affected areas, as people who fled the areas are returning in droves to pick up the pieces of their lives and livelihood shattered by the insurgency.
At play in all of this is the unmistakable trait of the Buhari persona of passion and commitment to national survival. As a former military governor of the area and subsequent commander of forces, covering that part of the nation, having distinguished himself in the routing of a similar invasion force on the area from neighbouring Chad, it hardly surprises that he would take the liberation of those areas to heart. His rejigging of the command leadership of the armed forces, appointing the National Security Adviser, a seasoned army intelligence officer, Army Chief, a distinguished Infantry veteran, and the Air force Chief, all from the North East area, where the insurgency was ravaging was a deft move intended to handover the task of defeating the insurgency to those in the military, who are most affected directly.
On the Boko Haram issue, the Nigerian armed forces have come to gain valuable lessons and template on dealing with insurgency, which can be applied to incipient situations in the country.
The on-going war on corruption, which the Buihari administration considers as one of its cardinal points continues to evoke mixed feelings across the country. Between the audible cries of those who complain about the method and procedure of arrests and prosecution of suspects, and those who do not see anything wrong in the entire process, no single person among those under investigation has denied that he was involved one way or another. But beyond that the Buhari administration with its painstaking investigation into corrupt practices and arrests of persons found involved has effectively drawn the line on corruption in the country. Not only are Nigerians now wise to the mind-boggling and alarming incidence of corruption, across the land, they are united by the outrage and growing in their determination not to tolerate it docilely. It is also instructive that while the Buhari government has shown a determination to go after incidence of corruption perpetrated by the previous administration, it has shown equal commitment not to tolerate it under its wings. The whole episode of the budget padding saga and the strictures under which public officials and the bureaucracy is compelled to operate now indicates that gradually corruption is being rolled back. The salutary effect of the administration’s anti-corruption drive can be seen in the fact that even the main opposition party, the PDP is seen to key into standards of the ruling party in the conduct of its affairs.
While it is all positive so far on the security and anti-corruption fronts, on the strength of performance and public perception, the economic sector is where the Buhari administration is likely to struggle to deliver on the expectations of Nigerians. It is no use hiding the fact that Nigerians are groaning under the tough economic conditions. The President himself acknowledged it and pleaded with Nigerians to bear with him.
But my problem with the administration’s economic blueprint is that it sets the bar low on the necessary economic transformation of the country. In its essence it can only tide us over a short term transitional period to cater for the effects of the economic downturn being experienced in the country currently. As Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, stated the other day that Nigeria was broke, it is now an auspicious time to think big and deep in raising the bar on economic transformation of the country. The task of fixing Nigeria’s economy must be pursued relentlessly just as is being done with the security and anti-corruption fronts. It is the one area, which will impact on Nigeria more fundamentally. The economic diversification, which the administration promises to pursue can only be meaningful if we set our sight instead on rapid, transformational industrialisation. Industrialisation will drive increased agricultural output, manufacturing, infrastructure, machine fabrication and the whole gamut of technological acquisition and development, making Nigeria the giant economic hub of Africa that it should be. Nigeria’s economic blueprint should not just be for the 170 million plus inhabitants within its borders but for the entire Africa, which should be its captive economic sphere.
As Nigerians pray and look to the future with expectations of better turnaround in fortunes, we could not have wished for anybody but Buhari at this critical time to lead the country.
• Gadu, who just retired from the NLNGN, wrote in from Lagos.
Offside Musing by Okey Ndibe returns next week