Sunday, December 27, 2015

Letter to President Buhari

A guide to PMB’s New Year Resolutions
Dear PMB,
This time last year when we witnessed the last Sunday of the year 2014, things were still somewhat fluid about who would lead our dear country, Nigeria. To the discerning few though, it was clear the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, would not return because of his abysmal failure to lead the country aright, as well as his government’s unholy romance with corruption. Some of us said so directly; some others did indirectly. Some others were too blind to see the handwriting on the wall. One thing was clear though; many of those who felt the former president would find his way back did not credit him with much by way of performance. Rather, they hinged their optimism mainly on what they termed the ‘power of incumbency’. Some of us felt well, if incumbency was that powerful such that we would not be able to remove a non-performing leader, then there was no point holding elections. We jolly well would have told the former president to carry on.
Then came the 2015 elections in which you roundly defeated your predecessor and he had to concede defeat in March. But President Jonathan did not lose the election the day he conceded defeat; he lost it the day you were successfully chosen as the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) presidential candidate on December 23, last year. Some of us told the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then to begin to pack its bag and baggage in readiness to vacate Aso Rock while the then president should join the unemployment queue. Former President Jonathan has since returned to his home town, Otuoke, in Bayelsa State, while your humble self has since May 29 taken his former position.
Since then, there have been a few things you did which Nigerians felt you should have done otherwise, or you should not have done at all. Mr President, some of your comments have not particularly gone down well with many Nigerians. One was your statement to the effect that even without you doing anything, there has been noticeable changes in the country. In other words, your ‘body language’ has been working wonders. This was true to a large extent, at least initially. But, whether in terms of power supply which dramatically improved on your assumption of office, or fuel supply which similarly witnessed relative stability after the initial hiccups then, things have nosedived in both sectors as I write. Electricity supply has returned to its epileptic past even as fuel queues have not only returned but have done so with an uncommon obstinacy.  What these tell us is that ‘body language’ cannot last forever. It seems to have lost its potency  and it can only continually get eroded as more and more people notice this weakness.

Although you have apologised to Nigerians for the fuel scarcity and they have accepted your apology (I guess I am speaking the minds of many of them), but beyond the apology is what happens next. How do we get out of the fuel scarcity conundrum? That is the main issue now as we prepare to usher in a new year.
Aside the temporal efficacy of your ‘body language’, the import of your statement, Mr. President, is that the country is on auto-pilot and this did not go down well with many people. Even if it was true that a few things knocked themselves into shape when you assumed office, one would have expected such statement to come from the people themselves. I am not even sure it is something to celebrate by your top aides. I may be wrong here, though. But certainly the statement ought not to have come from you directly.

Mr. President, we are beginning to see what your policy thrusts are. Your maiden budget of N6trillion appears ambitious, given the downturn in oil prices. Your government’s intention to downplay oil in the government’s revenue profile is good, at least on paper. Whether it is realistic is a different matter entirely; but it is worth giving a trial because that is where we should be going. There are some salient aspects of the budget which appear good on the surface; again, whether they are attainable is the issue. For instance, the proposed creation of about 500,000 jobs for teachers is good, just as the social safety net of N5,000 monthly proposed for the indigent elderly. One can only hope that these have been well thought-out so they do not end the way of the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) of the PDP which was alleviating poverty in reverse by pumping hefty sums of money into the pockets of the party’s wealthy chieftains.

Many Nigerians are also not happy that your government’s major policies are announced abroad. It was in Iran that you first announced that some past public officials who stole public funds have started returning part of the loot.  You were also outside of the country when you said that Nigeria was broke and also that the Federal Government was considering negotiating with Boko Haram insurgents. The same thing applied to your announcement that you would appoint your ministers in September, 2015.

With regard to the anti-corruption war though, we are beginning to see some action, especially with the arraignment of some of the big suspects involved. It has been fascinating as it is revealing so far; but when we realise that the shared arms fund that has given us so much shock was only a fraction of what was stolen in the oil sector where Diezani Alison-Madueke held sway, then we can only see how callous some of our so-called leaders can be, given the millions that go hungry daily and the countless others that were dying and being displaced because some people had stolen the money that was supposed to be used to buy arms.

We are also hearing a lot of speculations about plea bargain. I guess with time, some people would start talking of state pardon, even as the case proper is yet to begin. For me, though, what is most important is the recovery of our common patrimony that was stolen. But that should not be a reason to start giving the impression that things have to be done differently only because those involved are big thieves. Will a poor man who stole a goat or cow have the opportunity of plea bargain if he returns that goat or cow? Although plea bargain is used in some parts of the world as a way to resolve disputes and save valuable time and money on litigation, it is not done the way we do it in Nigeria. So, the president has to be wary of the kind of plea bargain he would allow for the unconscionable looters. Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to have been done.

Dear Mr. President, it is not that you are not aware of some, if not all of these issues; but it is important to put them together in a way that they would attract your attention and enable you decide which of them you may want to rethink in the coming year. You may also be compiling a list of your New Year resolutions. This may as well serve as a guide.
Happy New Year in advance, sir.

The Nation

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