Facts, fancies and fallacies (1) By Douglas Anele

President Buhari

In a series of essays in this column entitled “Areas of  concentration for President Buhari,” I discussed some issues or challenges that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, should pay serious attention to as he performs the functions of his office. In that regard, I suggested that political restructuring of the country to allow the six geopolitical zones greater fiscal and political autonomy is the most important task he should take up.

In my opinion, Buhari’s attitude to Jonathan is an act of bad faith. Government is a continuum: it is pure illusion for anyone to think that a newly elected President can start from scratch without building on what is available already. Having said that, any sincere and ingenuous effort to retrieve looted funds and deal with those responsible for the mind-blowing corruption that has almost crippled the country should be supported by all Nigerians. The problem now is that the so-called war against corruption is too narrowly focused and selective, an approach that might compromise the integrity of President Buhari’s anti-corruption programme.Unfortunately, political restructuring does not count at all in the President’s calculus or agenda for positive transformation. Rather, his government seems obsessed with probing former President Goodluck Jonathan and other high-ranking officials of his government without even acknowledging some of the modest achievements recorded between May 2010 and May 29 this year.

There are conflicting views about the first hundred days of the current administration. While some commentators argue that the practice of assessing the performance of government at different levels after about three months and ten days in office is good and should be retained, others insist that the period is too short for proper or meaningful evaluation, given the enormity of problems to be tackled by the in-coming administration.

The appropriateness or otherwise of assessing government at any point in time depends crucially on the intention of the individual doing the assessment, his expectations and understanding of the functions and mechanics of governance based on extant laws, and on the personal relationship of that very person to key officials of the government being assessed.

Mutatis mutandis, these very factors also determine the validity of judgments by civil society groups and cultural organisations with respect to the quality of governance within a specified period. Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed, spokespersons of President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) respectively, equivocate when they argue that hundred days are inadequate for judging Buhari’s performance and simultaneously claim that the President has “performed extremely well.” If it is possible to say that the President has performed well, then a critic with superior arguments can also insist that his performance is bellow expectation.

A hundred days constitute approximately 6.85% of the 1460 days that Buhari would stay in power as President. Clearly, that percentage is too low for anyone to reach definitive conclusion either way about his performance generally.

It follows that supporters of the President who endorse everything he has done thus far and critics who argue that he has achieved nothing are under the influence of what the English statesman and philosopher, Francis Bacon, described as idol of the cave: they have allowed fantasies and prejudices to becloud their sense of objectivity and critical thinking.

A middle ground can be found between the two extreme positions by engaging in a fine-grained analysis of what the President has done thus far to for an educated conjecture about the future direction of his government. Of course, notwithstanding the insincere hysterical disavowals by Garba Shehu of certain documents detailing Buhari’s campaign promises, it is unrealistic and naive for anyone to believe that politicians really intend to accomplish everything they promised during electioneering campaigns.

The campaign machinery of APC successfully exploited the gullibility of Nigerians and their disenchantment with Jonathan’s government by projecting Buhari as a messiah who would pull the country out of the cesspit of corruption, insecurity, and economic underdevelopment. ut Having triggered hyperbolic expectations in a broad section of Nigerians, the new ruling party has tried to explain away the President’s failure to actualise some of the pledges that are achievable within the first hundred days after his inauguration. Supporters of Buhari forgot that the President himself had already adumbrated his inability to fulfil mounting expectations of the people derived from the “change” slogan when he disclaimed being a magician and pleaded with Nigerians to be patient with his administration.

Perhaps, Buhari knew perfectly well that he cannot actualise all his promises in four years, but he and his party had to tell the people what they wanted to hear in order to win elections. That is the nature of politics worldwide. Deception and politics are like Siamese twins; ego-boosting exaggerations are inherent in every situation that involves authoritative allocation of power within any human group.

While acknowledging that one must be careful in making definitive judgement concerning a new government just after hundred days in power, it is rational to reach certain conclusions with different degrees of validity based on the pronouncements and actions of key actors in that very government. Accordingly, the first issue one should inquire about  with respect to the new federal government is whether there has been improvement in some critical areas of our national life since the “second coming” of Buhari. Media reports indicate gradual improvement in power supply since July this year.

But that improvement is definitely not the result of new policies or additional power infrastructure provided by the current administration. Rather, it is attributable to three main factors, namely, improvement in water volume in the hydroelectric dams due to rainy season, reduction in sabotage of gas pipelines to power plants which has led to improved gas supplies to the plants, and fear of Buhari which has somehow compelled some workers in the power sector to take their jobs more seriously than before.

APC supporters claim that because of Buhari’s reputation as a no-nonsense anti-corruption leader, the level of impunity and official corruption is going down gradually. One of the measures Buhari introduced to check corruption in the management of public finances is the treasury single account policy.

Despite initial hiccups for commercial banks where funds belonging to the federal government were lodged, many financial experts believe the measure will encourage more transparency and accountability in the management of federal revenue. President Buhari has promised to introduce other stringent measures to block financial leakages in the system, all geared towards ensuring that revenues accruing to government are managed efficiently.

Remember, one of the key pillars of his presidential campaign is the war against corruption. Indeed, the conviction that Buhari has the capacity to confront corruption frontally was the biggest selling point of APC’s noisy slogan of change. Thus, it is important to consider what has been achieved now in the renewed anti-corruption campaign, which is a leitmotif in the public speeches of Mr. President. Buhari has promised to retrieve public funds and assets stolen especially during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Recently, some newspapers carried a list of properties recovered from corrupt officials, together with information about civil servants who returned millions of naira to the treasury. Buoyed by promises from leaders of the United States and some European countries that they would support the federal government to recover stolen monies stashed away in their respective countries, President Buhari believes he can kill corruption before corruption kills the country. Nigerians are waiting to see how far he can go, especially because of his ill-advised decision to direct his anti-corruption searchlight towards Jonathan’s presidency only.

President Buhari is trying hard to fulfil his pledge about defeating Boko Haram within a few months.