BUHARI'S FIRST 100 DAYS: LESSONS FROM OBAMA'S FIRST TERM CHALLENGES
The expectations of Nigerians are too high. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has acknowledged that several times. Many leading Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Remi Sonaiya of the KOWA party share the same view. As we approach inauguration day, General Buhari has left no one in doubt that he is aware of the enormous challenges he would face as soon as he is sworn in especially against the background of the prevailing though erroneous assumption that Buhari is a miracle worker. The expectations of an overwhelming majority of Nigerians peaked as a result of several years of hardship and suffering amidst the many economic resources mismanaged by successive governments.
But why are we referencing the first term challenges of then President-Elect Barrack Obama? It is because we see some similarities between the Obama challenges and the challenges that Buhari presently faces. First, both candidates’ campaign theme was CHANGE. When President-elect Barack Obama took the oath of office, there were two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a bad economy on the home front as well as deepening financial crisis that threatened the global economy and much more.
President Obama immediately after being sworn in, began to create his presidential footprint by first presenting to congress and building support for an economic stimulus package and eventually got congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by February 2009.The Economic Stimulus plan was initially for $787 billion and was designed to quickly jump start economic growth and save between 900,000 to 2.3 million jobs. Its three categories of spending were:
- $288 billion in tax cuts.
- $224 billion in extended unemployment benefits, education and health care.
- $275 billion for job creationusing federal contracts, grants and loans.
The economic stimulus package was disbursed or spent over a period of ten years. However, to give maximum impact, $720 billion, or 91.5%, was budgeted for the first three fiscal years : $185 billion in FY 2009 , $400 billion in FY 2010 and $135 billion in FY 2011 .
The economic stimulus plan exceeded expectations by the end of fiscal year 2009.The sum of $241 billion was spent within 2009 as follows: $92.8billion in tax relief, $86.5 billion in unemployment and other benefits and $62.6 billion in job creation grants. By the fiscal year 2012, additional funding was approved to raise the total amount in the economic stimulus plan to $840 billion.
We have discussed in sufficient detail how an incoming president with tough challenges can tackle the challenges aggressively with maximum impact on the society. At the end of the first 100 days of Barack Obama his job approval rating was 73% higher than George Bush and Bill Clinton in their first 100 days. Now we will go back to discuss Buhari and the expectations of Nigerians.
In order to fully appreciate how the road leading to high expectations was built, it is necessary to first re-visit Buhari’s pre-convention speech at the APC convention and then take a look at the prevailing state of Nigeria at the first coming of General Buhari on December 30, 1983. At the APC convention, General Buhari declared: “I have always served Nigeria to the best of my ability. I have always tried to give more to the nation than it has given me. This is the principle of service that has guided my public life. Thus, I am not a rich person. I can’t give you a pocketful of dollars or naira to purchase your support. Even if I could, I would not do so. The fate of this nation is not up for sale.
“What I will give you, and this nation is all of my strength, commitment, sweat and toil in the service of the people. What I can give you is my all.
“I do not intend to rule Nigeria. I want to democratically govern it with your help. I seek a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims may practice their faiths in peace and security; a Nigeria that is just and where corruption no longer trespasses into our institutions and national behavior and a Nigeria where our diversity could be used for our national prosperity.
“Nigeria is our home. Let us now turn it into the great nation we know it can and should be.”
This was a powerful and very inspiring speech steeped in sincerity and full of hope and no doubt we believe Buhari spoke from his heart. Nigerians in large numbers saw a glimmer of light from this man who they first knew, back in late 1983 when governments were already failing to pay salaries and when impunity and corruption was the order of the day. From the millions of the unemployed, to the large number of workers with several months of unpaid salaries; from the retired and aged with minimal pensions who cannot afford medical care to the poor families that live in floating slums in places like Makoko and several other similar places across Nigeria. The father of ten with meagre and several months of unpaid salaries who lives in a one bedroom which by the way is an unhealthy condition. All these people who are Nigerians by the way are denied emergency medical care because they can’t pay the bills. They all have Permanent Voters Cards or PVCs. Buhari’s pre-convention speech brought hope to millions of these masses yearning for help and with high expectations.
We have drawn attention to how President Barrack Obama quickly grappled with his challenges from day 1.Professor Osinbajo the incoming Vice President has put the figure of those Nigerians at poverty line at 110 million. It is a huge and daunting challenge that incoming President Buhari will face beginning May 29.But he must not go back to the old way of doing things. He must record major victories as well as small victories to build momentum from day 1.Nigerians want to see change and feel change and President Buhari must not forget the unemployed starting from day 1.
Here are three broad areas that we have identified that should gain the incoming president’s immediate attention. How he manages them will define to a large extent how successful he will be. They are:
* Reassess campaign commitments
* Choose the right people and processes
* Set an agenda for the first 100 days.
We quickly note that governing is different from campaigning. The President must understand that new information he receives once he takes full control of the government should drive the direction the new government takes. There is also tendency for incoming governments of a different political party from the outgoing to jettison all projects of the outgoing government. President Buhari must attenuate the tendency to abandon anything GEJ.
President Buhari will certainly meet a polarized national security community. Therefore, his initial first steps once in office will be to take firm control and resolve old disputes quickly and try to build momentum. He must not and should not delegate this to anyone. Remember, once beaten twice shy. In designing or crafting an agenda for the first 100 days, President Buhari must leverage the honey moon period very effectively by recording small and huge victories immediately. Here are some proposals we think need consideration and which we believe will help the new President take off running and win the support of his political base (not politicians but the masses, his cult like followers)
* Creation of a framework for unemployment insurance scheme for both the public and organized private sector.
* Monthly unemployment payouts to registered unemployed until employed using the PVC or national identity card for authentication of identity.
* Employment quota to government contractors to encourage hiring
* Payment of Unpaid salaries
* Adjustment of pension benefits of pensioners and senior citizens to inflation.
* Prohibit denial of emergency medical care to all Nigerians
* Provide a safe environment to facilitate 24 hour daily operations of the manufacturing sector. This will involve three eight hour shifts daily.
* Develop comprehensive medical assistance scheme for families at poverty line. Families that move out of poverty should lose this benefit.
* Relocation and housing for communities that live in floating slums.
* Construction of highways should be done 24hours daily within secured environments
The APC National Chairman, Chief Oyegun is reported to have stated that the FG requires N4.1 trillion to pay arrears of salaries and settle other debts. We recall that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele recently made a proposal that the FG should consider selling part of its oil stakes to generate N14.9 trillion. In addition we note that, a fully operational financial intelligence system will help monitor the inflow and outflow of cash in the banking system which would also help and support the ability of the governments to realize internally generated revenue.
Just as the incoming government proposes to secure the country we must also look at the broader goal of public safety. To this end, we propose major institutional changes that will go to the very foundation of a number of national institutions. Nigeria must break away from the structures bequeathed to us by colonial masters for their own purposes. Nigeria needs newer institutions with a new orientation and training which will respond to the needs of a fledging democracy in the 21st century. These new structures must be free and not lend themselves to manipulation by politicians for the purposes of repression and oppression of political adversaries and free from political interference. For example, new systems must be developed such as:
* National Public Safety System which must include the Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service ambulances as well as police agencies.
* New National Police System that will include state and municipal police agencies.
* New/reinvigorated Federal Law Enforcement Agencies
* 911 Emergency Communications Centers
Public safety in Nigeria we propose should now be a shared partnership with the organized private sector. This arrangement will now see two different kinds of private sector participants namely uniformed armed and unarmed agencies. The use of arms by private security agencies must be regulated by the federal government and officers must receive the same training, certification and re-certification as government employed officers. Training which a critical component in the proposed set up should be through new police academies that will operate within every state owned polytechnic and college of technology in Nigeria. Their role should be to provide basic law enforcement training (B.L.E.T.) to those interested in the law enforcement profession using a new curriculum different from the curriculum in existing police colleges or academies. In short, we propose that the present police culture must not be imported into these new institutions.
Anti- Corruption Strategy:
A critical component of an anti-corruption strategy for Nigeria must include a business process re-engineering in all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) at all levels of government and the creation and adoption of an e-government infrastructure.
President Buhari and the Press
A good press relationship from the onset cannot be overemphasized. President Buhari needs public understanding in order to govern and there also needs to be good managing of the president’s message. Here we note that the President currently enjoys the support of the huge and domineering presence of two powerful online mediums such as the Sahara Reporters and the Premium Times. This relationship must not and cannot be taken for granted and the incoming president’s media team must foster and build this relationship in order to ensure continued support for the Buhari presidency as President Buhari grapples with the challenges of re-building and re-setting Nigeria.
*** Emmanuel Uzo Obi is a college professor and department head, Information Systems Technologies and is resident in North Carolina, USA.