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Finishing strong: Buhari’s biggest challenge, for now

It must be seen by all right thinking Nigerians as a welcome turn of events, that President Muhammadu Buhari returned successfully from his 10-day vacation in London, hale and hearty. He had travelled out of the country on vacation during which period he was billed to visit his doctors. An indication of general concern over his health status was the big show made out of his 800 metre road march as he returned from the mosque to his residence in Daura, during the last Sallah prayers. The Presidency had touted in error, the exercise as a ’feat’, and by such gesture misrepresented him against the backdrop of his antecedents. Rather subdued is the fact that with Buhari’s antecedents, a distance of 800 metres is hardly an adequate testing ground for him as an old soldier – a war tested general for that matter. Soldiers of his breed do not see an 800-metre trek as a feat. They are hard boiled for more challenging activities. However, the Presidency’s link of the trek with Buhari’s readiness for a second term in office is perhaps one of the most significant misreading of the country’s political terrain. For indeed he will need more than fitness for a road trek, to complete his first term creditably, even before talking of a second term in office. He will need to finish strong on performance of his administration, which is more of a concern to Nigerians, than his physical fitness and athletic prowess.

Having returned to the country in good form and shape, the least that Nigerians expect from him is that he finishes his first tenure on a strong note, especially with respect to the tenets of good governance and in particular his campaign promises. This expectation is informed by several factors including the mood of the country before and at the point of his departure for England, the events that transpired in his absence as well as expectations from him by Nigerians, now that he is back and has resumed as the President of the country. Although a sing song that has dominated the country’s political terrain for some time has been the ‘Buhari for 2019’ agenda, it is not likely that many actors in his team and who serve as promoters of that agenda, really appreciate how much its traction depends on Buhari finishing strong, for his first term. This may be why recent events and developments before and during his vacation proved to be the early salvoes of a political power show, while the main events are on the way, as the days come by.

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Nigerians easily recall that the President left the country on vacation in the first week of August and just few days after a gale of defections of top guns from his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), mainly to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In the course of a yet to be harmonized reaction chain by the leadership and power circles of the APC,  Mr Lawal Daura as then Director General of the Department of State Security Services (DSSS) launched an armed assault by operatives under his command on the National Assembly. The development which attracted all round condemnation from within and outside the country, led to the man losing his coveted position as the head of the DSSS in a deft reaction by then acting President Yemi Osinbajo. If nothing else the sack of Daura had among other fallouts raised the bar for the administration, in terms of responsiveness and stirred the Nigerian citizenry to expect more of such quick-fix gestures from the administration. On a more gratuitous note, it led to the release from DSS cell the long incarcerated journalist – Mr James Abiri.

For the country, the Daura experience constitutes a metaphor, being that the President could actually dispense with any asset with questionable credentials among his lieutenants. And as many Nigerians are rooting, Buhari’s agenda for finishing strong actually lies with the extension of the Daura treatment to many of his ministers and aides who have long lost compatibility and hence relevance with his vision. A pointer to that direction is the daily growing discrepancy between Buhari’s public pronouncements as well as promises, with the uninspiring dividends from the enterprise of most of his lieutenants. Little wonder then that with the return of the President to the country, expectations of Nigerians have hit roof top that if Daura can go, then more heads need to roll, as many believe that such a dispensation is what he needs.

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In the course of finishing strong some of the areas for attention by the President are as follows.

Security: It is beyond conjecture that Nigeria is presently at the worst state of insecurity since its emergence as a country. With the proliferation of flashpoints of social turbulence and associated violence leading to unrelenting sporadic killings, there is no gainsaying that public rating of the administration is at a low ebb. Government needs to rejig the security architecture to win the assurance of the citizenry that it is worth being retained in office.

Anti-corruption fight: The credit which was earned by the administration through its vow to fight corruption has largely been eroded due to public perception of the exercise as a selective exercise aimed at antagonizing perceived and real foes of the administration. If even the Annual Report of the Auditor General of the Federation as the traditional facility for tracking missing public funds, does not drive the anti-corruption war, the entire anti-corruption war suffers a credibility deficit and is at best a hollow exercise.

The economy: As the facility that determines the state of existence of every citizen from cradle to grave, the significance of the economy cannot be over emphasized. Beyond the self-praise that is much of the claims of improvement by the country’s economic managers lies the real truth of deepening pauperization of the wider cross-section of the citizenry.

Deepening of democracy: Perhaps the most significant area for attention by President Buhari with respect to any aspiration of his to finish strong, is with respect to deepening the democratic dispensation in the country. In this respect lies the relationship between the legislature and the executive arms of government, not only at the federal level but also across the states of the federation. It is not debatable that much of the present crisis between the National Assembly the Presidency and by extension the APC leadership derives from an over bearing disposition of the latter towards the former. Since the advent of this administration and the Eighth National Assembly, the relationship between these two arms of government has been likened to that between a cat and mouse. This situation has denied the entire government the opportunity to focus on delivering the dividends of democracy to the people.

With the present fixation of the administration on a second term in office for Buhari, his minders need to be mindful that such an agenda cannot supersede the largely unfulfilled obligations of the administration to the country. This is just as the wisdom in the African proverb proves that “if the first child in the family does not crawl the second child may not be expected to run”.

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