Mr President, save us from pendulous policies

Published: Sunday, 13 Jan 2008
On assumption of office in May 2007, he enunciated a seven-point agenda aimed at lifting Nigeria up. He promised to declare an emergency in the power sector; to make Nigeria one of the 20 biggest economies in the world by 2020; and to provide security for lives and property. But about eight months after, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s policies have become a pendulous breast that hangs down loosely and swings from side to side. No firmness of purpose. No direction.

In the beginning, Yar’Adua cut the picture of a populist President. He quickly declared his assets and made rule of law and due process the cardinal principle of his government. He also professed zero tolerance of corruption. For the first time, Nigerians thought a messiah had come to redeem the country. They clapped for him.

Apparently, to continue on this path of populism, the Yar’Adua administration decided to reverse some policies of the immediate past administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. It cancelled the hike in Value Added Tax and the prices of petroleum products. It nullified the privatisation of Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries. Unfortunately, it also reversed some aspects of the monetisation policy, which Obasanjo introduced to address the problem of wastage in government.

The reversals assumed a ridiculous dimension when the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Aliyu Modibbo, claimed to have revoked some land allocations, which had earlier been done by his predecessor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. Modibbo, you will recall, claimed last November that he had revoked land allocations belonging to some former governors, including President Yar’Adua, at Pendam Dan area of Asokoro District, Abuja. But he did not tell us then that many victims of the revocation had got replacement plots in other areas of the city during the regime of Obasanjo. Perhaps, Modibbo did this to get at el-Rufai, who tried to bring some sanity in Abuja by demolishing illegal structures. The former minister stepped on toes in a bid to restore the Abuja Master-Plan. Now, I don‘t know the direction of the new FCT Minister, as all I hear from Abuja are stories of filth and a reversion to laxity.

Besides, this government has a penchant for reversing itself as well. The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, came out with re-decimalisation of the naira last year. Without decorum and without considering the merit or otherwise of the policy, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, called a press conference to announce the cancellation of the programme. According to him, the CBN did not get the approval of the President before announcing the programme.

Penultimate week, the Special Adviser to the President on Communication, Olusegun Adeniyi, announced that the present government was not interested in probing Obasanjo. Hardly had he brushed the tongue that made that pronouncement when Aondoakaa, again, cautioned him. The AGF was quoted as saying that the incumbent government was not afraid of probing Obasanjo.

Just last Wednesday, the government, characteristically, reversed its reversal of the monetisation policy. Adeniyi reportedly said the President had directed that the purchase and dedication of official vehicles to ministers, special advisers and permanent secretaries, as earlier approved by the Federal Executive Council in August 2007, be stopped. This stoppage is the right thing to do because the monetisation reversal, in the first place, was ill-advised. Even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, tried fallaciously, to justify it. It shows the quality of advice Yar’Adua is getting from his acolytes. One wonders if policies are subjected to any serious debate before they are announced for implementation.

Look at the recent constitution of a 16-member panel to transform the Nigeria Police Force, for instance. The committee, headed by a former Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Muhammadu Yusuf, will examine the present state of the police. It is also expected to review previous reports and government White Paper on the restructuring of the force.

Surely, no President worth his salt will sleep soundly when armed robbers and assassins are terrorising his people. This is what Nigerians battle with everyday. Those who survive armed robbery attacks may not escape sudden burst of violence either in the Niger Delta or elsewhere in the country.

But pray, what is wrong with the report of the Presidential Committee on Police Reform set up by Obasanjo? That committee submitted its report shortly before the last regime left office. And it made far-reaching recommendations on how to tackle the problems of the police. Moreover, police problems are too obvious to warrant another waste of public funds in the name of a reform committee. To complete the picture of helplessness and confusion that dogs this regime, Yar’Adua approached the British Prime Minister late last year in Uganda to solicit the British government’s assistance for the NPF.

Why can’t this government put its house in order? Why is it confusing Nigerians with incoherent pronouncements and policy summersaults? It professed zero tolerance of corruption, but the actions of the nation’s Chief Law Officer seem to suggest otherwise. At one point, the AGF talked about creating a Special Legal Unit to complement the efforts of these anti-corruption agencies. In another breath, he planned to merge them for optimum performance. When Nigerians were still trying to figure out what direction Aondoakaa was going, the IGP, Mike Okiro, emerged out of the blue to announce that the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, would proceed on a study leave to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru in Plateau State.

A general is as good as his field commanders. Part of the problems Yar’Adua has is that most of those he chose to be his field commanders don‘t seem to know what they are doing. Obasanjo was not the ideal leader Nigerians desired. But his ministers were technocrats who were sure-footed. You could accuse them of anything, but not shortage of smart ideas and good policies. I cannot say the same thing of the present crop of people in the federal cabinet.

For any individual to succeed in business, he must carve a niche for himself. The same thing goes for companies and governments. The question is, what is the niche of this government? Which direction is it going? I have not seen any. Governance is about the implementation of policies that have positive impact on the generality of the people. Good policies inherited from previous administrations should be upheld, while bad ones should be corrected or discarded. Yar‘Adua must beware of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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