Archive for June 2015

APC’s Change Has Come

June 26, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, June 26, 2015

The ferocity with which the All Progressives Congress chanted “change” in the last electioneering drew out the mischief in some Nigerians. The social media was agog with a cartoon of two rural girls laughing and saying, “Buhari Change, Buhari Change, is Buhari a conductor?”

In Nigeria, commuters usually demand the balance of their transport fare, which they call change, from bus conductors. But the promised change from President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC goes beyond the bus conductors’ type of change. It is supposed to be fundamental and a drastic turnaround from the way we do things.

Many Nigerians joined their voices with the APC to chant this change! They accused the immediate past regime of Goodluck Jonathan of being clueless and directionless. They yearned for a departure from the previous ways of doing things and wanted an end to profligacy, high cost of governance, abject poverty and want. They hoped for a serious fight against corruption. They wished for constant electricity, good roads, qualitative education and health care. They needed a president who will hit the ground running, and then voted for a party that promised to bring progress and change. But are they seeing this change?

Some initial steps of the president appear to give some hope. He has held meetings with leaders of the neighbouring countries on how to tackle Boko Haram terrorists. He also ordered the military to relocate operational headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri, the hotbed of insurgency. If his plans sail through, insurgency in the north may fizzle out in no distant time, the current killings and bombings notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, certain happenings in the country give cause for concern. We have seen a president who has spent almost a month in office and three months after he won election without a cabinet. We are currently witnessing a ruling party which has been embroiled in one leadership crisis or the other. We are uncomfortably watching a government labouring to give excuses for leaving certain things undone.

President Buhari started singing the excuses songs last week in South Africa where he regretted that he didn’t become president in his youth. At 72, he  stressed, there was a limit to what he could do. Was he not fully aware of this limitation before he opted for the job?

The next excuse was that Jonathan left empty treasury for the new regime. Some reports even quoted Buhari as saying that Jonathan’s government was worse than the second republic government of Shehu Shagari.

The question is, what is the president really afraid of? At a meeting with the State House Press Corps last Monday, Buhari said, “This culture of 100 days in office is bringing so much pressure with treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries; it’s such a disgrace for Nigeria…we really need your help to protect us from people before they march on us.”

The president does not need to fear. Once he does the needful, Nigerians will hail him and will never contemplate marching on him. He should start by curbing the profligacy in government which, from all indications, is not about to abate. Just as many states of the federation are battling to pay salaries, the legislative arm of government is washing hands with money. They just got N9bn as wardrobe allowance. Each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives will collect N17.5m while each senator will take home N21.5m to sew dresses. Other allowances are not less mouth-watering.

All these don’t even satisfy them. They still fight over juicy committee positions. For many of them, intrigue is the name of the game. Some plot against the president. Some plot to unseat the leadership of the National Assembly. Some plot against some leaders of the party.

That’s why the hallowed chamber of the National Assembly remains the training ground for martial arts and kung-fu. Last Tuesday, APC Senators reportedly exchanged blows over leadership positions. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives did the same thing yesterday. From the way the APC is going, more blows will likely follow.

The question remains, is this the change the ruling party promised Nigerians? Judging from the systemic rot in the country, nobody expects the president or his party to perform magic overnight. But there are basic actions the citizens need to see to be reassured that a great change is in the offing.

For instance, the president promised to tackle corruption. But so far, there is no concrete roadmap on how to do that. It’s all been motion without movement.

Besides, what is the president doing with all the jets in the presidential fleet? He could sell off nine of the aircraft to start with. There were initial reports that some of the aircraft had been sold. But the presidency quickly denied that report. Does the presidency run a commercial airline?

When the erstwhile President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, came to power in 2012, she decided to jettison her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika’s lavish lifestyle. Part of what she did was to sell off the country’s 8.4m pounds presidential jet  and 60 Mercedes limousines.

Similarly, the immediate past President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, abandoned a state palace to live in a farmhouse. He also donated the bulk of his salary to social projects even as he drove an old Volkswagen Beetle and flew economy class. As Mujica put it, “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority…If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should move in that direction.”

So, what is our President, known for his frugality, still waiting for? He should go beyond cutting down on salary, which really amounts to nothing when compared to security votes at his  disposal.

As for the APC’s brand of change, Mujica said it all, “Despite all this lip service, the world is not going to change.”

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Buhari’s First Faulty Steps

June 5, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, June 5, 2015

Unity Bank Plc, the other day, made an unusual public announcement. The Bank informed its customers with bad loans to come forward to fulfil their obligations within 14 days. It warned that failure to do this would leave it with no option but to publish the names of defaulters, their addresses, photographs as well as directors and guarantors of the bad loans.

Being in serious debt is never a palatable experience for anybody. Our President, Muhammadu Buhari, appears to be in this type of situation currently. Seven days after he took over the mantle of leadership of this country, he presents the picture of someone who is highly indebted to some people. Never mind that he said in his inaugural speech, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”

Take the case of his recent appointments, for instance. Mallam Garba Shehu is his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity. Mr Femi Adesina is his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. Pray, who is the president’s main spokesman? And why appoint two people to handle the same function? Are we not going back to the same profligacy of the past, contrary to the public perception of Buhari as somebody who loathes waste?

Make no mistake about it, the two appointees are media gurus. I’m happy  that they have been called to serve their fatherland. But they could have been given different portfolios. One could be a minister of information while the other remains presidential spokesman.

As if to add insult to injury, the President, the other day, sent a list of 15 aides to the Senate for approval. One wonders what he needs 15 advisers for? Or is it to repay some political debts? Remember that ministers will still be appointed. I thought that the days of job for the boys are over?

Some state governors are already toeing the same line. For instance, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, was reported to have concluded plans to appoint 15 special advisers. Besides, the governor reportedly said he would also appoint one senior political adviser and one political adviser. These appointments, according to him, are part of the strategies by his administration to actualise the agenda of prosperity for all Deltans.

Prosperity indeed! How on earth will appointing a retinue of aides translate into prosperity for all Deltans, nay Nigerians? The major benefit I see in this is the building of stomach infrastructure for the appointees and their cronies and family members.

Our political leaders, especially President Buhari, should realise that many Nigerians expect a lot from them. They should not disappoint them. Already, a number of Nigerians are becoming sceptical about the ability of this new regime to take us to the promised land. There is a disconnect between what was said during campaigns and what is happening now.

Buhari had intimated Nigerians during an interview with a national daily that he would scrap the office of the First Lady if he became the President. This is in line with his public outlook as an anti-corruption and anti-wastage man. But from what we currently hear about the wife, Aisha, Nigerians may be in for a big surprise.

Aisha was reported to have spotted a Cartier Baignoire Folle 18-carat white gold diamond wristwatch worth 34,500 pounds or N10,453,000 during the inauguration of the new government at Eagle Square, Abuja last Friday. Since this news broke, neither Aisha nor Buhari has denied it. If it is true, then it contrasts sharply with the President’s advertised Spartan lifestyle. It runs contrary to the report that Buhari borrowed money to buy presidential nomination form. The President’s media team needs to clear the air fast on this.

The President also needs to address some concerns over the recent declaration of his assets. He had promised during his campaigns that he would declare his assets publicly. But he did that secretly together with the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, to the Code of Conduct Bureau. If the President and his deputy have nothing to hide, they should come clean with an open declaration of their assets.

Already, some civil society groups have sharpened their knives of criticism. One of them, the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety), dismissed Buhari administration as parading “the highest assemblage of doyens of corruption in the history of Nigeria.”

In a detailed statement entitled ‘Democracy Day Squandermania: How Nigeria Squandered N105.8 billion ($528 million) on 6,806 Public Officers in Seven Days’, Intersociety noted, “It is heartbreaking that Nigeria, which is a land naturally flowing with milk and honey has been turned into a land flowing with blood and tears, despair, anguish and torture courtesy of governance insanity, naivety and mercantilism; chronically inflicted on it by its 17,500-member  criminal governing council.

“The Team Buhari that just came on board with anti-corruption parroting voice  as its governance agenda  remains the highest assemblage of doyens of corruption in the history of Nigeria dominated by the country’s five leading cartels; and as such, it has earned a new indelible name, All Progressives in Corruption (APC).”

I don’t totally agree with Intersociety. Though a number of corrupt people surrounded Buhari during the campaigns, he is yet to make major appointments and he is yet to stabilise in office. So, it won’t be fair to brand his regime an assemblage of doyens of corruption in the history of Nigeria.

That notwithstanding, the President must do everything possible to stop the looting of our commonwealth in any form. The financial haemorrhage called severance package for some former political office-holders is unacceptable. In the national and state assemblies, in Lagos, Akwa Ibom and some other states, politicians are settling themselves with state resources. Some got houses in choice locations in Abuja and Lagos, cars and jumbo salaries for life. Some settled themselves with television sets, rugs and even kitchen utensils. Our greed knows no bounds.

We should not lose hope, nevertheless. There are still some leaders whose actions are worth commending. For instance, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has announced a 50 per cent cut in his salary and that of some other political office-holders in his state. We have already clapped for him.

But we will clap with both hands and legs the day Buhari and the governors will decide to also reject security votes and run a lean, fiscally-disciplined government. Then, and only then will their names be published, not on the debtors list this time, but in our hall of fame.