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All eyes are on President Muhammadu Buhari to begin to deliver on his election promises that will take Nigeria to the next level. But early signs appear to dampen morale and create apprehension in the polity that the next four years may not hold any hope for the long-suffering Nigerians, after all.
President Buhari was sworn in on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 for a second term of four years. Against all expectations, he did not unfold a new programme for the new administration. Observers have said the President’s action was ominous.
“The fact that the President did not even think that it is wrong not to give a speech at that momentous occasion shows what the country is up against,” an analyst who craved anonymity said.
Some observers also described the President’s silence as the height of insensitivity to Nigerians. Again, the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, a day after his swearing-in for the Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has given rise to different conspiracy theories.
One of such theories is that the President did not want to lay out his second term plans to Nigerians until his consultation with the OIC.
A source in the Presidency who is familiar with the matter, said: “OIC’s main agenda is to get the Islamic countries to take a common stand on world issues. I think the President needs to be guided on that before unveiling his plans in detail”.
Taiye Odewale, an author and political analyst, said the President’s silence portends ominous signs of what Nigerians should expect in the next four years.
“I have never heard it in any part of the world where a President is sworn-in and he has nothing to say to citizens of his country. Whether the ceremony was being done low-key or not, he ought to have said something at his swearing-in even if it is not a written speech,” Odewale said.
“And to make matters worse, he jetted out the following day. There is no link between inauguration and democracy day. He was not sworn in on June 12. He was sworn-in on May 29, 2015. So, he supposed to have read a speech, made a lot of promises, assure them of his readiness to take them to the Next Level,” he further said.
The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alleged that Buhari’s silence also showed that the President and his party were overburdened by the guilt of the “rigged Presidential election”.
A statement issued by Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP national publicity secretary, said:”It is indeed pathetic that at a ceremony such as Presidential inauguration, where truly elected leaders address their people, make commitments and unfold their governance direction, President Buhari did not showcase his plans or commitment to the development of critical sectors of our polity,” the PDP observed.
Charles Onunaiju, a public affairs analyst, said failure of President Buhari to release his policy statement on his inauguration day was a missed opportunity.
“Not making a speech on such important occasion as inauguration is unusual because after his election victory, he delivered victory speech to his party people and during his swearing in as Nigerian president he should have had a word if for nothing to emphasize unity, to emphasize that party division is over and now is the time to build. He should have reached out to Nigerians across party lines,” Onunaiju said.
He also condemned the idea of designating June 12 as Democracy Day, adding that the idea behind it was flawed, which he said reflected the intellectual barrenness of the political class.
“This idea of trying to designate June 12 as Democracy Day is a misnomer, there is nothing like democracy day. Democracy is a process not a product, is a continuum. Those who have started democracy over 200 years ago, are still trying to improve on it, so it is difficult to talk about democracy day; it reflects the illiteracy of the political elite, it is abnormal, it is laughable, it cannot stand up to rigorous logic. So, the whole idea is an exhibition of collective foolery of the political class,” he said.
Reacting to Buhari’s ‘New level’ agenda and the expected ‘tough times’, Onunaiju, who is also the director of the Centre for China Studies, said it was the ruling party’s slogan, adding that no concrete policy framework defines Next Level outside the party.
“We should take it for what it is- party’s rhetorical slogan. Tough times ahead are for sure but the question is do they have the political will; do they have the deep insight to appreciate the contradictions and challenges? Talking about tough time is normal; anybody telling you that things are going to get better too soon is largely deceptive. There is structural gridlock, the political system is dysfunctional, too formalistic and does not promote citizen engagement and service delivery,” he said.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, security expert and columnist, appears less optimistic about the second term of Buhari even as he raised issues with his alleged aloofness in the face of national challenges.
He said that Buhari’s approach to governance was his disturbing attitude of blaming everyone but himself for the lingering national crises even though he is the commander-in-chief.
“Judging by the interview the President granted the NTA, it is clear that we are still trapped in an illusion of rhetorically blaming the past, passing the buck around, blaming every other person than the President taking responsibility for the failings of his own government. If the president is refusing to take responsibility even for security as is clearly spelt out in the constitution as the primary responsibility of government, it means the prospects of social economic improvement in the lives of Nigerians in the Next Level is very dim. I believe everybody should be concerned,” Dahiru said.
Making sense of the ‘Next Level’ agenda
Before now, Next Level, was simply a political and campaign slogan. Today, it is a rude reality that Nigerians are still trying to relate to or make a sense of its meaning, import and desirability in modern Nigeria.
When the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party that has formed the centre came up with the change mantra in 2015, it had universal and unreserved acceptance, particularly among those who felt unsatisfied with the state of affairs in the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Three-and-half years later, it dawned on everybody that change had several meanings and could be subjected to numerous interpretations depending on which side of the divide one stands.
As a way of demonstrating how this change would come, promises were made. 740,000 new jobs were to be created in one year. But by the turn of 2018, Nigeria’s unemployment figure stood at 20 million. Other promises that were made included revamping the coal industry in Enugu.
Analysts converge on the opinion that Nigerians have never had it so bad as they did in the last four years, and that positive change has eluded the country.
When it became very obvious to the government that the change mantra was becoming a hoax, it was modified to read, ‘Change Begins with Me’, making it now a public property. The ambush meant that if ‘me’ as part-owner of the mantra fail to do my part, I would have no moral justification to blame other parties, nor the originators, if change fails to come. And, indeed, change did not come.
Now, Next Level is here. A few attempts at defining this concept may suffice here. By simple reasoning and in a lay man’s understanding, next level simply means a position higher or beyond the present or the status quo. For someone or something or an entity to go to the next level, therefore, means such a person or thing rises above where he is presently seated or standing; or he climbs up the steps of the ladder above the position he presently occupies.
It follows, therefore, that the Buhari and APC’s next level agenda seeks to take Nigeria and Nigerians to a position or situation that is higher than where they are at the moment and this easily begs the question, ‘what position or situation are Nigerians and Nigeria in now that anybody wants to take them higher?
Some observers say that in the last four years there has been institutionalisation of misery, hunger, poverty, joblessness and insecurity in the country as all international rankings along these lines have damned Nigeria.
In 2015 when Nigerians were promised change, little did they know that a bag of rice would be sold for the national minimum wage which, until recently, was just N18,000. This rice price shot up from between N8,000 and N10,000, meaning that an average civil servant who wishes to buy a bag of rice will use the whole of his pay to do that and will be left with nothing else for other needs. And this cannot be an achievement that needs to be taken to the next level.
Today, Nigeria has about 87 million people, almost 50 percent of the national population, that are adjudged extremely poor. About 13 million children were out of school as at 2018 and about 60,000 children under the age of five die from diseases caused by the nation’s poor levels of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. These are also not good to go to next level.
For Nigerians in the North-Eastern part of the country, especially Borno and Adamawa, and those of the North Central, particularly Benue State, and Plateau where insurgent activities have desecrated family bonding, mass-produced widows and orphans, and cramped strange-bed-fellows into sub-human conditions at internally displaced persons (IDPs’) camps, the next level agenda simply underpins arrogance and government’s insensitivity.
In January 2015, former President Goodluck Jonathan reduced the price of fuel from N97 to N86.5 per litre. Buhari’s party, the APC, kicked and responded by saying the price was not low enough, promising the nation a better deal under their government. Today, the pump price of fuel is N145.00 per litre.
Similarly, APC promised it would improve the power situation in the country and the man who was Buhari’s power minister for four years told Nigerians that fixing the power problem in the country should not take any serious government six months because it is not “rocket science”.
Four years after, the situation has become even worse with deep-seated corruption reflected in the estimated bills given to consumers who scarcely get the services they pay for. This must not go to next level.
If government takes the unfortunate power situation to the next level, it means that the few industries still operating under heavy energy cost burden will cave in, either close shop or relocate to smaller neighbouring countries as many have done, just as the generator business fueled by the cabal in and outside government will continue to flourish.
Observers also say that clannishness, which manifested in appointment of aides and other government functionaries, by President Buhari, injected bad blood in the polity. It is also their considered opinion that this must not go to the next level.
Apapa is Nigeria’s premier port city. It is home to the country’s two busiest seaports that account for about 75 percent of the country’s export and import activities. This port city is the highest source of the country’s non-oil revenue. The economy of the port city is estimated at N20 billion a day. Yet, Apapa has become a wasteland where landlords and property investors are crying, business owners are sulking while residents are gasping for breath as fumes from millions of trucks stuff their nostrils.
The spirit of Apapa will continue to wail for as long as the Federal Government continues to dance on the graves of businesses and investments in this port city, more so as government continues to smile to the bank with fabulous revenues generated by its numerous agencies, notably the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).
No cause for alarm – BMO
In response to the swelling allegation that the President’s refusal/failure to deliver a speech was a negative sign, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), said such was “unnecessary, frivolous, mischievous and sheer fault-finding”.
According to a statement signed by BMO Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, a copy of which was made available to BDSUNDAY, it said that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or any other critic on this score got it all wrong, as according to the group, “The President has toed a different path by concentrating on improving the welfare of ordinary Nigerians and we all know it that President Buhari is a performer and not a talker.”
The group urged critics to, rather than whining over May 29 speech, they should, “appreciate President Buhari’s numerous achievements in agriculture, rail and roads infrastructure in the country.”
It also pointed out that “It is non-performers who take refuge in long speeches in order to obfuscate their failures.”
CHUKA UROKO (Lagos), INNOCENT ODOH and OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja