Analyzing The Buhari Appeal
As the old saying goes, a prophet is not recognized in his home but often times, revered outside.
As president Muhamadu Buhari is increasingly being loathed at home-if social media activities are anything to go by- he is now being courted abroad.
By Monday, May 9, he jetted off again to the United Kingdom for a conference on anti corruption – a subject our president is very passionate about.
This is ironic because, president Buhari was first very well loved at home, which is the reason he was overwhelmingly elected president, barely one year ago.
We shall come back to the reason he is now a darling of Western heads of govt and supra national institutions-when opposite was the case, some 32 years ago-when he was military head of state -but first, let’s take a cursory look at why he was so revered about a year ago at home.
General Buhari, as he was known a year ago, was a cult figure but arising from his draconian rule as head of state -dec 1983-1986-Nigerians across tribal divides, loved and disliked him in equal proportion. Hence he ran for the presidency thrice, unsuccessfully.
But following a political re alignment that made him the candidate of a broad coalition of political parties, his candidacy was so popular that he had the appeal of 10 A-list Nollywood Stars together, and could pull crowds to his campaign rallies that only Evangelical preachers like, Reverend Bonkhe could attract to a religious crusade.
The reason for his magnetic appeal, is because he was a symbol of integrity and epitome of probity contesting on a nationally spread political platform.
Buhari brooked no nonsense and he never compromised his rigid principles.
At a time when mind boggling embezzlement of public funds like $49 allegedly un remitted oil proceeds by NNPC, ostensibly aided by politicians in the executive arm of govt and stealing of billions of naira of civil servants pension funds by fellow civil servants-Abdulwalid Maina and John Yesufu-was pervasive, Nigerian voters were looking for a messiah.
More so as Boko haram terrorists were decimating lives in the north eastern parts and rampaging through huge swathes of land and claiming Nigerian territories by hoisting their flags.
While the frightened women saw a knight in shining amour coming to save them, men envisioned ‘captain America’ coming to their rescue and the youths fantasied about superman in his trademark red cape lifting them out of danger.
Comics aside, Nigerians actually totally embraced Buhari as evidenced by the over 15m votes cast in his favor nationwide, which was about 2.5m more than the roughly 12m cast in Favour of Goodluck Jonathan.
Truly, it was the votes of the masses that swept buhari into office as president and Commander-in-Chief, C-In-C of the armed forces of Nigeria on March 28th 2015.
The sense of expectations of Nigerians were as huge as the wave of sentiments that swept Buhari into office.
But soon after taking office, a dirty war ensued within the ruling party, APC as the National Assembly, NASS commenced electing or selecting principal officers. Opposing camps emerged and battle of supremacy raged with many Oxen being gored in the process of office contestation, leaving APC-the party that Buhari leads-badly bruised.
While the APC was reeling in pains, Buhari’s super human image was dented as he was expected to have managed the NASS situation more dexterously.
Then it took awfully long time-five, 5 months-to name a cabinet, Nigerians grew more impatient,and that took a toll on Buhari’s image, too.
Along with the long delay in setting up govt, came anxiety of voters, in addition to fellow politicians , who started feeling frustrated that the reward of appointment of other political stake holders, into political offices,like boards of parastatals etc,had became elusive.
As a result of the foregoing ,the sense of joint ownership of the successful take over of govt by the APC, with Buhari at the helm ,also started evaporating,rapidly.
Another critical Buhari appeal repellent, is the fact that the chibok girls abducted in April by Boko haram terrorists about two years ago, have remained in captivity.
Although, the dastardly activities of the terrorist, Boko haram group have been greatly curtailed and most of the territories earlier captured, are being recovered by gallant Nigerian army bolstered by sophisticated equipment,the danger faced by the victims and misery of the families left behind, still leave bad taste in the mouth.
That too has rubbed off badly, on Buhari’s stellar image, because getting rid of Boko haram and bringing the estimated 218 kidnapped Chibok school ex zgirls home, were campaign promises, which voters took very seriously and they have remained unfulfilled.
To crown all the missteps or sins of Buhari, listed above, 2016 national budget, which is a routine record of planned income and expenditure for a designated period ,has been bogged down in parliament,since last December.
Not only that, the document has also been dogged by accusations and counter accusations of ‘padding’ by the executive and the legislative arms of govt.
Again, though he has apologized for the budget mess, president Buhari is being held accountable for the poor handling of the budget fiasco, thus demystifying his superhuman toga-such as body language, new sheriff in town-earlier conferred on him at inception of his regime.
Even if the global economic melt down stemming from the sudden crash in crude oil price-which is Nigeria’s main fx earner-was not the fault of president Buhari, he has been made the-fall-guy , as the grim and bitting reality of poverty,have turned some former Buhari devotees into critics.
With all of the above listed lofty public expectations not being met by Buhari,Nigerians felt betrayed and the bubble has burst as mr president’s high approval rating plummeted and his legendary invincibility became hollow in some quarters.
The angst in the polity is so palpable that some would argue that if Buhari should contest for an election in Kano- home to his most ardent supporters-he would likely suffer a loss.
So in just one year, president Buhari’s image has swung 360% from very well loved to being resented.
In the light of the foregoing scenario, it is unsurprising that his unprecedented foreign trips, is attracting bile and ire of Nigerians, so much so that all sorts of caricatures have been made of mr president in the social media and even cartoons, in mainstream newspapers.
Consequently, president Buhari’s media handlers are having quite an arduous task trying to restore his pre election image without much luck.
Cabinet member and super minister-controlling three powerful portfolios -power, works and housing , Babatunde Fashola ,had weighed in with his characteristic intellectual fervor. In the manner that he ascribed to ‘stomach infrastructure’, the loss of Ekiti state by his fellow governor, Kayode Fayemi to the Enfant terrible, governor Ayo Fayose of PDP, Fashola tried to justify president Buhari’s frequent foreign trips to no avail.
Incidentally ,not many Nigerians were impressed by Fashola’s salesmanship as he tried to rationalize mr president’s numerous travels, simply because, all other tension points were already stacked up against president Buhari. So his numerous foreign travels to foreign lands,are the most easily identifiable soft targets and sore points to anchor public resentment.
Contrary to the current situation of being loathed back home, Buhari’s frequent international travels is a reflection of the magnetism to his personality, by his fellow heads of govt who are enamored by his characteristic abhorrence of corruption, and have been extending invitations to him, left right and centre to visit or participate in their pet projects etc.
From his first trip to neighboring Niger/Chad republics immediately after taking office to negotiate joint efforts at fighting Boko haram by multinational forces, to honoring invitations to EU meetings in France and then Germany; president Buhari has been airborne most of his time as C-In-C in Aso Rock, seat of govt.
In the space of one year in office, he had been to the USA twice, first on a state visit and secondly to attend a nuclear summit thereafter.
Mr president has also been to India on state visit;London for a trade conference after which he squeezed out a few days for a short holiday.Now he is headed back there.
He has been to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to negotiate possible reduction in oil supply to boost the crashed price that has inflicted huge toll on Nigeria’s fx income and reason for the crippling financial crisis that has resulted in rationing of fx.
The last trip was to China on a state visit from which he returned with a harvest of loans and business deals-naira/yuan swap-that could ameliorate the pressure on the meagre fx in Nigeria’s foreign reserve when implemented .
Remarkably, after his first stint in office as military head of state, 2004 -2006, when he foisted policies such as trade by barter and introduced draconian laws like retroactive death sentences for drug traffickers; jailing of journalist that criticize govt, as well as attempting to kidnap a politician, Umaru Dikko, who was on self exile in London; he was a personal non grata to most Western countries.
Today, the circumstances are diametrically opposed to the former, as instead of being a pariah, Buhari is finding it difficult honoring the deluge of invitations by fellow heads of state of both big and small Western countries, for state visits.
Over all, Buhari’s foreign trips have been justifiable in my view,but a combination of the negative factors earlier listed,plus the acute hunger and starvation in Nigeria,have been fueling the resentment hence the intrinsic value of the shuttle diplomacy is not being well appreciated.
You know how folks feel resentful when a friend, cousin or uncle who recently turned down their request for a small loan, is seen in first class cabin traveling abroad in style.
Certainly, the chief reason, our president is receiving accolades abroad, is his celebrated zero tolerance for corruption which is resonating in the right quarters abroad.
The Western approval is not so much because the supper powers believe it would help Nigeria make further progress , but simply because it keys into their agenda,which is that it would facilitate international trade if there is more financial transparency in Nigeria and the rest of Africa which is the new frontier for business.
Fighting corruption also aligns with the Financial Action Task Force,FATF agenda, which is an agency set up by the OECD, immediately after the unfortunate terrorists attack against the USA on Sept. 9, 2011, now famously referred to as 9/11.
The aim of the agency is to rein in illicit movement of funds around the world, which could be used to fund terrorism and other nefarious activities.
FATF gave birth to the Economic and financial Crimes Commission, EFCC through a sovereign ratification under Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency.
So president Buhari’s hosts abroad, really don’t care, if he is loved at home, as long as he is helping them achieve their objective of being able to track illicit funds likely to be used in activities that threaten their peace.
The ability of Western countries to break into African market which is in excess of one billion people , to sell their products outside of Europe and Asia, that have reached their saturation point and facing recession,is also another attractive motive for their keen interest in any anti corruption African leader that builds his reputation on being incorruptible.
South Africa under president’s,Nelson Mandela and then Thabo Mbeki fitted the role, but under current president Jacob Zuma,who is tainted by corruption,there is a vacuum which Buhari is filling.
With respect to Britain and her prime minister,David Cameron, the anti corruption summit in London is meant to help the prime minister clean up his image, having been implicated in the famous PANAMA PAPERS scandal, where his family is listed as having beneficial interests in a business linked to the financial safe haven.
With gurus in foreign relations like former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku in president Buhari’s corner, he would likely quickly learn how to navigate the treacherous foreign affairs minefields.
Having said that,going forward,the number one task for mr president’s reputation managers, is to sustain Western powers new found love for president Buhari as he continues to fight corruption-in a less destructive and rancorous manner.
Corruption can’t be wiped out over night,so it’s a scientific and systemic approach, rather than a bulldozing attitude that would work better to cure Nigeria of the disease.
Whats the pint chasing a bull into a China shop where all the delicate wares could be broken in the process of catching the bull?
My president must also try to reset his warm relationship with his home base, by reaching out to the poor masses in more profound ways than he is currently doing.
As he pointed out during his budget signing ritual , living in Aso Rock has not changed him, so he still feels the pains of the masses so he has to set about proving his continuous connection to the grassroots.
To find his way back to the hearts and minds of his local base and regain his prime position , president Buhari has to quickly start implementing his social security programs which should not include sustenance of the naira guzzling fuel subsidy.
Yes, five thousand naira, N5,000 stipend would go to the poor monthly and five hundred thousand. 500,000 graduates would get jobs as teachers, as provided in the recently signed 2016 appropriation bill, but how far would that go towards assuaging the disappointment and anger of the hoi-poloi.
The alternative strategy is for mr president to find ways of boosting employment by keeping the industries running.An employed man can afford a roof over his head and ‘three’ square meals.
The two hundred billion naira set aside for capital projects in budget 2016, would also create employment for a good number of Nigerians, but then again, it may not be enough as importation of capital intensive equipment and machinery to drive production, may not be easy to source, given the current tight fx regime, except Nigerians are ready to make do with the inexpensive and moderate quality Chinese made equipments via the yuan/naira swap, which if you ask me,is better than nothing.
The seemingly inevitable capital restriction policy aimed at stemming further depletion of the fx , which is not growing, given the crash in oil price is hurting production and by extension, causing the loss of jobs.
As the trio of mr president ,CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele and minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachiku have admitted, over 60% of fx outflow is applied in importation of fuel products. This implies that if finished petroleum products importation is reduced, there will be less pressure on the nation’s fx reserve and enough to spend in other sectors, like importation of equipment and machinery, to drive industrial/manufacturing production and construction work.
Happily, some of the four oil refineries are already coming back into production, so imports are being augmented, but they have been suffering set backs, arising from vandalization of pipelines that convey crude oil to the refineries.
A quick and simple solution would be to set up asset protection Corp, like the civil defense corps, youths service Corps and road safety corps, to protect critical assets like oil installations and telecoms as well as electricity power installations currently being vandalized nationwide.
Apart from safe guarding critical assets in the process, by setting up the proposed agency, more jobs would be created for the teaming unemployed youth population.
A quaint but implementable proposition, because there is currently a huge pool of unemployed youths that could absorbed into that workforce.
All they need is a crash program on the nitty gritty.
More on that in a future article.
Also, the Chinese are renown for very quickly establishing modular refineries like the one in Niger and Chad republics, so how about getting them to apply part of the $6b loan extended to Nigeria, in building some, just the way they are constructing airport terminals in lagos, abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt?
Also, if govt did not continue the policy of destroying indigenous refineries, instead of supporting the enterprise by improving on the technological know how of the operators and allocating products to them, they could have been augmenting the epileptic supply from the major refineries.There is no reason why both high end and low end,large scale and small scale refining, can’t exist side by side as they all have ideal roles to play in the economy.
It beats imagination that govt authorities accepted the Organized Oil Companies, OICs advise to destroy indigenous marginal refineries, just as they recommended the capping of marginal oil fields,until recently that the OICs sold the capped rigs to indigenous investors.
Furthermore, why cant Nigeria take her oil swap deal further by engaging in trade by barter with countries that are keen on her oil in exchange for goods and services that are needed in Nigeria ? Actually,there are countries, like Nigeria that would not like to spend cash, but have goods and services to swap.
Most of the concepts outlined above are actually low handing fruits which can be plucked within reasonable length of time.
Once, president Buhari is able to create jobs through a combination of the initiatives highlighted above and thus reduce poverty; then restore hope to the increasingly hopeless Masses, who constitute the critical mass of his fan base,trust would return and mr president would be a man of the people again.
***Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, futurologist and former commissioner in delta state govt is an alumnus of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy.