by Abraham Ogbodo
Let us agree that President Muhammadu Buhari said enough last Friday to set the tone. I cannot say how others interpreted or understood his inaugural speech, but the voice I heard was closer to that of a spiritualist, or at best, a moralist than a politician. Those who had expected to hear all the correctness of a political schemer might have ended up a bit disappointment. The man spoke outside politics, as if he was addressing a congregation of worshippers, instead of a political audience.
He managed, nevertheless, to maintain the plural form of the first person pronoun all through his rendition, which was commendable. Instead of ‘I’, he used ‘we’, in saying the things that will be achieved by government in the short, medium and long terms. It shows good appreciation of the political dynamics, which requires multi-layer engagement to even get the simplest of all things done. But overall, the tone of his speech was tutorial if not dictatorial, almost getting to tell the state governors, judges and legislators how to conduct their businesses in the new dispensation.
Take this for example: “The Federal Executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the legislative and judicial arms of government.” This would have been taken as a good piece of self restraint, if nothing else followed. But what followed in the same breath destroyed that premise: “For their part, the legislative arm must keep to their brief of making laws, carrying out over-sight functions and doing so expeditiously. Emphasis is mine.
This is like rewriting the rules of engagement. My understanding is that the executive is not seeking to check-balance the legislature, but to tutor it on the fundamentals of legislative business, regarding, especially, the wild interpretation of oversight functions by the legislature.
This is good and Nigerians, especially, the incoming ministers and heads of departments and agencies will be happy. It is a redefinition of the code, which gives occupiers of Nigeria’s Dome House unqualified powers to oversight the executive arm of government for purposes other than good governance, including extortion and political arm-twisting.
On the judiciary, the President said, “the judicial system needs reform to cleanse itself from its immediate past. The country now expects the judiciary to act with dispatch on all cases especially on corruption, serious financial crimes or abuse of office.”
Perhaps, without knowing so, President Buhari has signaled his readiness to consolidate, in himself, the whole business of government, which is performed through the three organs of executive, legislature and judiciary. “It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that government will be enabled to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedeviling governance today,” he said.
And which, in the governmental trinity, determines the constitutionality of actions. It is the judiciary, which the President is seeking to redirect and which can rule the President out of order to save itself. In a nutshell, the new President is very angry with the state of affairs and there is a drive, almost like hunger drive, to hurriedly do the needful. In the circumstance, Buhari is forgetting to acknowledge the operating environment of a democratic structure, which is strewn with booby traps and all manner of complexities. He is in effect, proposing good governance outside good politics. This is a very big challenge in a setting where good politics is measured by capacity to compromise both the institutions and persons in attempt to get by.
I am sure legislators of the 8th National Assembly, which will be inaugurated on Thursday, would have laughed to scorn the lofty postulations of the President and consoled themselves that the realities of democratic practice in Nigeria do not support the ideals of Buhari, who has asked to be addressed simply as Buhari and not General Buhari. In the task ahead, the presidential will to rise to the challenge is evidently not in doubt. What has not been guaranteed is the willingness of politicians, who are so central to the recovery plans of President Buhari.
The President did not even limit himself to issues at the Federal level. He said “relations between Abuja and the States have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better.” He explained, thoroughly: “Constitutionally there are limits to powers of each tiers of government but that should not mean that the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operation it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country.”
It is even nice the President mentioned the limitation placed on him by the constitution.
The joint account issue, for instance, is settled in Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution as amended and it may require further amendment if the arrangement has to be reworked along the desires of the president. This is outside the sure uproar that will be generated among governors who will conveniently interpret a proposal to decouple the state joint accounts as irritating meddling in regional matters by the centre in a federal structure.
Yet, it is almost too late to teach Buhari new tricks, much as he deserves to be a quintessential Nigerian politician or know how to work successfully with one. He wants to save Nigeria and he does not understand why critical segments are not readily buying into this noble objective. That is actually the crux of the matter. People simply do not understand why Nigeria should be saved. If they do, Nigeria would have been long restructured along paths of prosperity to guarantee sustainable physical and social infrastructure, strong currency and a Muhammadu Buhari would not be recalled from retirement in 2015 after 30 years to take charge of a mission to rescue Nigeria.
President Buhari is standing tall on vision. Vision is, however, the easiest component of the task at hand. The most difficult component is the strategy to achieve the grand vision. Getting the politicians to buy into the Buhari’s vision so that the mission will be smooth and free of fatalities is part of the overallstrategy. The President, perhaps, does not know that a man who sold his house in Maiataima, Abuja, to add to a huge loan to pay his way through election or selection to the Senate sees this so-called mission to rescue Nigeria as an investment that must attract return.
If, for any reason, Buhari is rechristening the huge financial effort to secure a political office in Nigeria a ‘national sacrifice’ and not ‘economic investment’ as widely believed, he should do so in a manner that will be agreeable to majority of investors.
He must sound more persuasive than he did last Friday. In this regard, and as if mobilising the polity and economy for war, he should create a bureau outside all official channels of information dissemination to undertake a large scale advocacy (I don’t want call it propaganda) to sensitize all sides on the new dawn.
For now, the declaration by the President that he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody is sheer rhetoric. It cannot constitute a good catch-phrase for the planned campaign because the politicians will challenge it.
To state it as it is, Buhari belongs almost exclusively to politicians who invested massively in him. It is, however, closer to the real purpose, if we say Buhari belongs to politicians, but he is a bad investment to politicians. We can then create around that a selling phrase to take to town instead of this “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” which does not sound real.
Abraham Ogbodo is a columnist with Guardian, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.