Garba Shehu : understanding Buhari in 100 days
The enormously popular talk show, ‘Berekete’ on Wazobia FM, Abuja, told the incredible-yet-true story of a hard-working and respected school teacher somewhere in Plateau State who hanged himself. He hadn’t been paid salary for seven straight months. He came home to find that no-one had eaten and two of the children had medical prescriptions for which there was no money. He sneaked out without talking to anyone. After a long while, news came home that he had strangely been caught with a stolen goat.
On his day in court, the teacher confessed to the offense. The reason he stole, he told the local judge, was that he hadn’t been paid for seven months and when he got home to see what he saw, he just couldn’t stand it. The judge allowed him to go home on bail on self-recognition given, as he said, the good impression the entire village had of the otherwise respected teacher. All were shocked to find his body dangling from a tree the morning after. He couldn’t live with the shame.
In the recommendations and notes the Ahmed Joda transition committee presented to him as President-Elect, Muhammadu Buhari was informed that a section of the Federal government, as well as 27 states, hadn’t paid salaries, in some cases for up to a year. The committee advised that this was a national emergency and should be treated as such. It is on account of this that one of the activities – please note the choice of this word: activities, not achievements – of President Muhammadu Buhari in these past three months is the settlement of unpaid salaries. This is going on right now.
Like the proverbial blinking of an eye, Saturday September 5th will mark the 100th day of the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government which took office on May 29th after the new party became the first in opposition to unseat an incumbent government in an election adjudged by everyone as free and fair.
There are many out there who say that the performance of a president and his government in terms of success or failure cannot be judged in 100 days and I agree with them. But history will be written anyway. In the coming week or two, a rash of commentaries and analyses to commemorate the event will be made. I myself don’t deny that 100 days is long enough to know and understand the man who is the head of a government.
Buhari arrived power with strong support from young men and women and this country’s poor. The new government was not favoured at election by monied power-brokers although that did not stop the President from taking measures such as improving security, good for business and investment. This government is business-friendly but not one that is for crony capitalism.
The new government inherited enormous problems created by the tainted PDP administration, largely caused by the lack of governance, corruption and lawlessness. This was mostly evident in the last two years of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. As the President continues to point out, the drift is most evident in the oil sector. I believe that there is enough on the ground in those 100 days to understand President Buhari, his government and what it stands for. I will cite a few of these, after a little confession.
In the course of electioneering, the presidential campaign had so many centers of public communication which, for whatever reason were on the loose. There is a certain document tagged “One Hundred Things Buhari Will Do in 100 Days” and the other, “My Covenant With Nigerians”. Both pamphlets bore the authorized party logo, but as the Director of Media and Communications in that campaign, I did not fund or authorize any of those. I can equally bet my last Kobo that Candidate Buhari did not see or authorize those publications.
As a consequence of these publications, expectations have been raised unreasonably, that as President, Muhammadu Buhari will wave his hand and all the problems that the country faces – insecurity, corruption, unemployment, poor infrastructure – would go away. But that notwithstanding, President Buhari has given the job his best shot and the whole country is saying that we never had it so good. He has re-instituted the values of hard work and administrative efficiency. The President says times without number that this country needs to fix governance and that he won’t tolerate laziness.
Some of the other activities I wish to enumerate also include the fact of his taking relations with the country’s immediate neighbours to new heights. By their open admissions, this country’s neighbours did not have someone they could talk to on the deteriorating security situation in the Lake Chad Basin area in Aso Rock.
Buhari embarked on his foreign policy on Day Four of his administration.
When he met Barack Obama, the U.S president told the Nigerian leader that he was getting it right and that it is only when Nigeria gets it right that Africa will get it right. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who came calling this week said that our president is “courageous, focused and firm.” Relations with the “G-7” group of industrialized countries have since been “reset” and the dividends of this have begun to flow inwards.
In the area of economic management, Nigerians are already seeing things happen that they thought were not possible in so short a time. He didn’t put a Kobo to finance the power sector. Yet, reading his body language alone and knowing that there are things you cannot do and get away with under Buhari, electricity supply all over the country has risen to unprecedented heights.
Actually, some cities are on the verge of calling 24-hour, round-the-clock power supply. The country generates more power than can internally be taken by the deplorable distribution system we have on the ground, which points to the next challenge that the country faces.
Framework for the management of the country’s finances has been put in place. The wobbly Naira is being stabilized and inflation is headed towards a single digit. President Buhari is keeping a close eye on the government treasury. Agriculture is getting its own shot in the arm. Rice importation has been curtailed and seven governors whose states are priming a massive local production of the commodity have had a strategy meeting with the President on the next steps that are coming. Americans say their intervention in our agriculture will come next year.
Boko Haram, which had more or less been allowed to fester for about five years is about being ended but what is even more interesting is that intelligence coming from the fired-up armed forces who now work in synergy with each other is raising hope that the Chibok girls may (repeat: may) be found in good number in a geographic location of interest somewhere in the North-East.
President Buhari is being praised at home and abroad for his ongoing fight against corruption. He said from the beginning that his government will not tolerate this vice. Borrowing the words of India Narendra Modi’s, he said himself that “I won’t steal and I’ll not allow others to do it.”
President Buhari has walked his talk since he come to office. Himself and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have not only given up half of their salary, they have cut a good number of funding lines to their official homes and offices. President Buhari also takes the environment seriously. He blames the lack of security in the Lake Chad region on the recession, almost drying up of the lake. He has undertaken to clean up Ogoniland.
In this country, appointments and removal from office were done usually in accordance with a spoils system. A new government sacks officials on the basis only that it did not appoint them, but the predecessor-administration. President Buhari has shown that his government is different. He wants to look at each case on its own merit and it is clear by now that he is not ready to surrender the country to burnt-out politicians. Technocrats will have a big place in his administration. He has appointed no ministers yet, but the government is running smoothly.
In this period of three months, government certainly deserves a pat on the back for improved power, reform in the energy sector, foreign relations, fight against corruption and insurgency and the fact of Nigerians being at peace, not only among themselves but with their neighbours and the rest of the world.
In summary, I would like to end this piece by saying that President Muhammadu Buhari will turn out to be a leader in the tradition of Lee Kuan Yew and India’s current reform-minded Prime Minister Modi, with strong and clear emphasis on detail and execution. He may however differ with them by not micro-managing things.
*Shehu is Senior Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the President.