The battle of which political party wins the leadership positions in both chambers of the National Assembly has come and gone. It’s indeed self-satisfying that the election of principal officers held last week went the way the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidency wanted. The National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, a man of arrogance and big ego, who enjoys drama and playing fast and loose with the facts, has been gamboling, saying to himself and anybody who cares to listen, that the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the APC ‘rebel’, Senator Ali Ndume, have been “humiliated”.
The new Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege completed the circus last week when he genuflected before President Muhammadu Buhari at the Villa during a courtesy visit. Many prominent Urhobo where Senator Omo-Agege hails from, have expressed utter disgust, if not embarrassment, at kneeling down of the senator while shaking the hands of President.
The President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan watched perhaps in disbelief. Could Sen. Omo-Agege’s conduct foretell something in the 9th Senate? While we wait, it may not really matter much now. As far as the leadership of the APC is concerned, the most significant outcome of the election of principal officers of the National Assembly is the window of opportunity it now provides for President Buhari to perform. The President, and indeed, his party, had in the last four years, claimed that the administration was unable to work as much as it would have wanted because of the frosty relationship with the 8th National Assembly, led by Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
When these two men were in the saddle at National Assembly, President Buhari did not hide his disapproval of their leadership, and therefore, at every stage, he used that as an excuse for his mistakes and missteps. Perhaps, the only thing the APC did not blame the PDP for were miscarriages of women. This deception by the APC was used to great effect to voters’ support, just as it mocked former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as “clueless”. Now, the new leadership of the National Assembly, it seems, has handed to the President a blank cheque of some sorts to get things done for the country.
In that regard, President Buhari must make things happen, or blame nobody for his own errors. A lot of things have gone wrong under his watch in the last four years. Every sector of the economy is bleeding. The economy is wobbling, unemployment and inflation have worsened. In short, economic results of the last four years have fallen short of expectations.
Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has expanded at fraction of potential. Rising misery index and debt crisis now threaten another recession. Generally, a widening divide has since emerged across the country. Today, Nigeria, under the leadership of President Buhari looks like a separate countries in one nation. Insecurity and poverty level are now worse than the President met them. The only thing that has not happened yet is that Nigerians have not started fighting themselves on the streets. Everywhere you look, there’s deep-seated frustration and mistrust that this government must swiftly tackle head-on. Even in its much-fancied war against corruption, some international organisations have scored the government low.
Let’s take some of these socioeconomic indices. Nowhere has this administration compiled a more dismal record than in its handling of the economy. Intellectual dishonesty, according to renowned economist, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, will not allow top government appointees to admit that economic situation in the country has become dire.
But the fact is that the economy has grown progressively worse in the last four years. Inflation rate has jumped to 13.37 percent, according to latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) after consistent drop since January. Unemployment rate is raging, and is expected to top 33.5 percent, the former Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, admitted last month. The value of the naira has only been at the mercy of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and not determined by market forces. Debt crisis is frighteningly rising. Government spends about 50 percent of revenue on debt servicing. Diversification is not going, as it should. Now, look at this: Nigeria’s misery index is rising at frightening level.
As you may be aware, a misery index is an indicator that is used to determine how economically well off the citizens of a country are, and is the sum of of the unemployment, underemployment and inflation rates of the particular period. Statistics show that Nigeria’s misery index has been on the rise consistently in the last four years (and counting). This does not bode well for the country. It signifies economic discomfort and negative consumer sentiment. It’s a time-bomb. The truth is that Nigeria’s economy requires radical surgery, not tweaks, not pretensions. That’s why our country has become the home to highest number of world’s very poor people.
The question now is: Can the President turn things around in his second term, especially now that he has got the kind of NASS leadership he had long wished for? As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it”. Getting what you wish for is one thing, using it to make better choices is another thing altogether. The truth of how we found ourselves in this “one chance” vehicle is that the APC may have discovered that it’s perhaps easier to win elections than to govern. The above observation may offer the best evidence yet why in spite of the transformative Change the APC promised since 2015, the party remains stuck between reality and democracy.
Nonetheless, politics still matters. As political historians say, politics is the “art of the possible”. And a second chance even more instructive, as it provides an opportunity to make amends. That’s why life in the presidency has been described as a profound lesson of a lifetime, a lesson in how to correct one’s missteps and build trust with the people and better their lives. Again, let’s be clear about this fact: Nigerians are not saying that Buhari or APC has the magic wand to solve all the country’s problems. They are saying, ‘we elected you to fix our problems, and stop the blame game’. No more excuses for not performing.
When Nigerians complain about areas the President is not doing right, they are simply telling him that the office he holds is a matter of luck and courtesy rather than by any rights. These are not exactly my own words; they are the words of Donald Regan (President Ronald Reagan’s erstwhile Chief of Staff). Therefore, the people demand utmost performance, not promises. The office of the presidency, and that of the vice presidency, Gerald R. Ford once said, “is not a prize to be won, but a duty to do”.
Altogether, President Buhari needs all the help he can get to assemble an excellent Cabinet. Nigeria has stardust of men and women. The President needs more of strong managers than politicians if he wants to do well in the next four years. Strong managers are who can control career bureaucrats and not become their captives are what we need. These are people who know how to build support across the country, including the legislature.
With age not on his side, the President should leave the details of the administration to these strong managers and concentrate on determining national priorities and directions himself. Anything short of a Cabinet, made of men and women of proven integrity, who can give him unvarnished truth, the President should regard his presidency, to borrow a common Pidgin English jargon, as “waka just pass”. Waka just pass are leaders who come and go, leaving no lasting impressions, no worthy legacy. Mr. President, may that not be your portion.