africa

The Buhari Interview Revisited


ONIKEPO BRAITHWAITE

Excerpts of President Buhari’s Interview With Arise TV: On Infrastructure

Last Thursday, as I was listening to some of the highlights of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Arise TV interview of June 10, I did agree with him when he said that we really should ask previous Governments what they did with all the oil revenue that Nigeria earned, especially at the times when it was at its highest, and why they did not plough all that revenue into providing some of the basic infrastructure which Nigeria is in such dire need of. President Buhari said there had been a lot of wastage in the past – I concur, but his administration is also guilty of almost the same level of wastage.

As you may be aware, I’m no fan of the People’s Destruction Party (PDP) or the All Regressives Congress (APC), but truth be told, President Buhari’s question is a pertinent one, though rhetorical, the obvious answer being that the past Governments (military and civilian, his military regime inclusive) didn’t do that much in the area of infrastructure.

For example, several years ago, when we attended the commissioning of the Dangote Cement Factory in Obajana, we were taken on a tour of the facility and shown a power plant which was built to provide electricity for the factory; we were informed that the plant which took only 14-18 months to build, was big enough to provide electricity for the whole of Abuja. So, when we hear talk that the Obasanjo administration laid the foundation for better electricity but didn’t have time to implement it, the truth is that they had ample time to make a significant difference in electricity supply in Nigeria. Using the Dangote model, in eight years of President Obasanjo, they could have constructed just one power plant in each geopolitical zone, replicate that same model and built yet another six plants in each geopolitical zone during the Yar’Adua/Jonathan’s eight years, giving us a total of 12 new power plants all over the country, in addition to the old ones. But, they failed and neglected to. We really only started to experience some traction and marked improvement in our electricity supply, when former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN was Minister of Power, during the first term of the Buhari Administration.

On the Youths and #EndSARS: The Twitter Connection

It was quite interesting to discover from his utterances, that President Buhari somehow saw the #EndSARS Protest not as a demonstration by the Youths against Police brutality, but as an attempt to remove him from office! I had watched an interview of former Minister, Adebayo Shittu last Wednesday, in which he accused Jack Dorsey, the co-Founder of Twitter, of funding the #EndSARS Protest before it was overtaken by hoodlums. I wondered what was wrong with that, since Mr Shittu stressed upon the fact that Mr Dorsey’s financial intervention was made before the Protest went awry. Since Sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution permit freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly and association respectively, I could not quite fathom what offence Mr Dorsey had committed in this regard, until I realised that like President Buhari, key members of the APC saw the #EndSARS Protest as a bid to run this administration out of office. It finally made sense that the anti-Twitter campaign by this administration, is more about allegations that Jack Dorsey supported a bid to topple this Government, and the deletion of the President’s tweet was simply a perfect excuse to set the stage for mounting this campaign against Twitter.

Would Twitter really be capable of toppling a performing Government that is well loved by its people? Is there any truth to these allegations against Twitter, or is it that each passing day, Government becomes more intolerant of any kind of criticism, let alone dissension, and wracked with paranoia, sees it as an attack or an attempt to destabilise their administration, whether or not it is actually so? The irony is that, in a constitutional democracy, the freedoms guaranteed in Sections 39, 40 and 38 (freedom of thought and religion), are the accepted ways to express dissent, and the discussion and resolution of dissent, the only way a democracy can blossom.

On Insecurity

I however, found it rather bizarre that President Buhari sought to lay the blame of being the repellent of FDI and insecurity, or is it the responsibility for securing the country on the Youths (because of the #EndSARS), by tasking them to behave themselves and make sure the environment is secure so people can invest, since no one would be encouraged to invest in an unstable environment. This implies that the behaviour of the Youths, is the cause of Nigeria’s insecurity and discouragement of FDI. With all due respect to the President, this could not be further from the reality of the situation.

While I do agree with the President that security is key to attracting investment, whether local or foreign, the responsibility of securing the nation is the primary purpose of Government (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution), and not that of the Youths. According to the UN, about 350,000 people have been killed in Nigeria as a result of insurgency. It is a very well known fact that insecurity in Nigeria existed long before the Youths’ #EndSARS Protest of October, 2020, so much so that one of President Buhari’s 2015 and 2019 core campaign promises, was to quell insecurity and the Boko Haram insurgency. So far, this administration has reneged on this promise, and on the contrary, the security situation in the country has worsened, escalating to alarming levels with the Herdsmen/Farmer crisis, kidnapping (especially of school children), banditry, more armed robbery, piracy and so on. I venture further to say that, if this administration had expended as much energy and focus on fighting insecurity as it has done on fighting Twitter and the Covid-19 pandemic, by now we would have seen some encouraging results.

Additionally, it is also a well known fact that foreign companies had started to leave Nigeria long before the #EndSARS Protest for a variety reasons, including but not limited to, insecurity (for instance, for the oil companies, kidnapping in the South South region and destruction of installations by the militants), inconsistent Government policy, high level of corruption and the astronomical cost of doing business in Nigeria as a result thereof (recall the comments of Sir Richard Branson and the reasons he gave for pulling out of Virgin Nigeria in 2010 – those reasons still exist today), difficulty in repatriation of income to home countries, and Government’s lack of respect for the rule of law.

Everyone knows that it was hoodlums and undesirables that hijacked #EndSARS, and if at all, the Youths could at best, have been accused of an irrelevant misdemeanour of civil disobedience because they blocked the roads. If anything, the world supported the Youths. Ironically, it was the Government’s action of descending on unarmed Youths with such venom, and the clumsy attempt at a cover up thereafter, plus the hoarding of palliatives donated by Ca-Covid meant for Nigerians by Government/Public Officials, that proved to be more than enough to discourage FDI and engender a distrust in those who may even want to assist us, since our Public Officials cannot be relied upon to even distribute donations fairly and properly!

I disagree with the President’s claim that his administration has done well with security; its more like the opposite. Its not just the North West that is trying to overwhelm him, insecurity has spread throughout the country from the North East where it was once, more or less localised, prior to this administration assuming office.

President Buhari laid emphasis on the fact that Nigerians called for a change of guard in the security apparatus, and we have received it. I wish the new Chief of Army Staff the very best of luck; hopefully, we will see a change for the better in our security situation with his input. This is possibly as good a time as any, for the Nigerian Army to review the unlawful dismissals of some of its capable Officers who were unceremoniously let go without the requisite due process during the regime of Lt General Buratai, some of whom went to court to seek redress. The Army has been ordered by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to reinstate a number of them, but to date, has failed to comply with the order of court. The Army needs as many capable hands as possible, in this fight against insurgency and insecurity in general – and the sooner, the better.

On the Economy

President Buhari while admitting that the poverty that has pervaded the country is unimaginable, was also correct when he said no country develops without infrastructure. But, the borrowing spree that Nigeria is on to purportedly finance the building of infrastructure, cannot be the only way to raise money for this purpose – it is simply the easiest way out of several, to raise funds.

Other ways include attracting FDI, harnessing and boosting production of other products (not necessarily oil) and exports, and selling national assets where it makes sense to do so. Section 16 of the Constitution mandates the Government to harness the resources of the nation, inter alia for the maximum welfare and happiness of the people, and to build a self-reliant economy.

According to Segun Awolowo, the CEO of Nigeria Export Promotion Council, “…..Nigeria needs an economic model that also sees non-oil exports, as the means of raising the capital to also fund its socio-economic and infrastructural needs” (2016). With the falling and somewhat unstable oil prices, the ‘Zero-Oil’ Plan inspired by President Buhari in 2015, which lays out a master plan to generate up to $100 billion in non-oil exports annually, is a good start.

For example, while Enugu can continue to export pineapples to Europe, and coal mining in the South East, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and Katsina have the potential to earn up to $2.5 billion per annum from revamping their cotton industries by cultivating their millions of hectares of land, and doing cotton and yarn exports. There’s also leather that can be exported from the North, from the North Central, Soya beans, Cocoa and other produce from the South West, Petrochemicals from the South South, and the South East, Zamfara State etc, gold mining. The list is endless, as every part of the country is endowed with something or other; and it would also create so much employment, if these opportunities are seized.

Unfortunately, the actualisation of the objectives cannot be realised without the country being secure, because majority of these initiatives that are income-generating, are based on people being able to go to their farms, mines and other businesses without fear of kidnappers, killers, herdsmen grazing their cattle and destroying their crops, and so on, something that is getting more difficult to do as the days go by because of the continuous rise in insecurity. President Buhari rightfully said that those who disturb Farmers must be dealt with in a language that they understand, because if people cannot go to their farms, we will all starve.

Conclusion

President Buhari stated that he will continue to convince Nigerians, that he means very well for the country. However, there is a huge difference between meaning well and doing well. The President leaves the people to evaluate his legacies, and hopes that we will be fair to him. While so far, this administration may not have fulfilled any of their three main campaign promises – eradicating corruption, overcoming insecurity and revamping the economy, at least, we can point to a few improvements since they assumed office, even if all they did was to borrow money to achieve them – increase in electricity supply, expansion and actual use of the rail network, improvement in the inter-State road network, and recognising late Chief M.K.O. Abiola GCFR as one of the symbols of our democracy. There is still time to do more, even if it’s only limited to bringing peace and calm to the nation – security. This will be something for the next administration to build on.



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