In the last days, there shall be a frenzy of “governance”
With Jibrin Ibrahim
Media Trust Limited
There has been a frenzy of governance activities over the past three weeks as the Buhari administration abandons his “Baba go slow” mode of operation and gets into the “let’s work as if there is no tomorrow” mode. Many new contracts are being signed daily. Ministries are being restructured one week before the end of the administration’s mandate. Requests for approvals are flooding the National Assembly, new loans are being taken and above all, publications are being launched on the great achievements of the Buhari Government. The on-going hysteria is best symbolised by the announcement from the Minister of Aviation who is demolishing buildings, restructuring the ministry, sacking and appointing management staff that today, May 26, 2023, Air Nigeria will come into service as it flies into the country. Don’t ask me why it should start service on the last working day of the administration; it’s all part of the governance frenzy. I am one of those who remember that Minister Sirika told us in 2015 that the president had directed him to start a national carrier and it would be done immediately. As President Buhari finishes his tenure, which he says would be at the end of the working day on May 29, all attention would now be on his legacy. Over the past eight years, my good friend IBB, Ibrahim Bida Buhari, has inundated our classmates’ WhatsApp group with tons of narratives on the great achievements of the maker of modern Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. IBB is a quantity surveyor and accepts and propagates the numbers being reeled off on how the government’s agricultural revolution has ended rice importation, created jobs for the youth, revolutionised infrastructure, etc. IBB has always challenged me to seek and see President’s Buhari’s achievements and it’s good to interact with people who see the other side of the argument. While I believe President Buhari does have achievements, the evidence I see tells me it could have been so much more. As he departs from office, one important achievement is the significant gains over the past one-year on security. Boko Haram in particular has been on the receiving end for months. On November 25, 2016, this column addressed the theme of - What happens to governance when the president won’t govern. Our constitution places the power of the executive in one person, the president. At the same time, the constitution, conscious of the fact that the president cannot alone execute the vast array of governmental processes, requires that ministers, advisers and heads of parastatals be appointed to help the president carry out the huge responsibility of executing government policies. At the beginning of the Buhari administration, there was a general expectation that he would hit the ground running. This was because he used the two months between his election and inauguration to consult extensively with his political allies. Having sought power for over a decade, it was assumed that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with power. In any case, he had exercised power previously and was fully aware of the job description of the president. He got inaugurated on May 29, 2015 and then nothing happened for such a long time. Well, he did request for Senate approval to appoint 15 special advisers, which he obtained on June 3, 2015, just five days after his inauguration. 18 months after inauguration, he succeeded in appointing only five out of the 15 that had been approved. Out of the five, he sent three to the vice president and one to the Minister for Budget and National Planning. It took President Muhammadu Buhari five months after inauguration to appoint ministers. The heads of most government agencies were appointed over two years after assumption of office. For almost two years after coming into office, the president had no economic advisers. When he eventually appointed a team and they proposed a plan – the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), he refused to implement it on the grounds that the CBN governor, a nice man called Emefiele, had been giving him trillions of naira through “ways and means” so he did not need to take any tough economic decisions as proposed in the plan. Earlier this month, exactly three weeks to the end of his tenure, the president launched the Nigeria 2050 Plan. It promises to ensure that Nigeria attains a GDP per capita of $33,328 per annum, placing the country among the top middle-income economies in the world by 2050. According to World Bank data, Nigeria’s GDP per capita was only $2,065.7 in 2021. President Buhari said his plan has the vision of a dynamic, industrialised and knowledge-based economy that generates inclusive and sustainable development for the country. Excellent words! But his legacy would be Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world, not the Eldorado he is telling us would be produced by those who come after him. The problem with governance is that if you do not make political appointments for your first two years, civil servants take all the political decisions, including the most important decision of NOT MAKING DECISIONS. Sometimes, civil servants do not want to make decisions so that they do not get noticed or disturbed as they enjoy the perquisites of power, including the most harmful one of looting public funds. When, therefore, the president does not appoint people to govern, those at the head of governmental organisations create forms of governance linked to prolonging their temporary positions. Achieving the policy goals of the government cannot be their priority because their logic is that they are there for a short time until the president decides on who should do the job on a full-time basis. Making numerous appointments just as you are leaving government on the other hand is depriving the in-coming administration of the opportunity to choose and appoint people in line with their policy intentions. As we await the flood of information on misgovernance under President Buhari in the coming months and years, the assessment of his legacy will start in earnest. Meanwhile, I hope I can get an Air Nigeria ticket to Lagos on Tuesday and no one would tell me to go to Katsina and ask Oga Sirika.