22 August 2017

Nigeria: Now That the President Is Back

Photo: The Government of Nigeria
President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Shola Oyeyipo identifies urgent issues begging for President Muhammadu Buhari's attention now that he's back from the United Kingdom

After spending 103 days in London on vacation to attend to an illness unknown to most Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria on Saturday, August 19, 2017 looking rather healthier than he was before leaving the country on May 7.

The president's fans, members of his All Progressives Congress and indeed all Nigerians are relieved to have him back.

‎While he was away, rumours flew around to the effect that the president was dead. The secrecy that surrounded the president's health condition further heithenend tension within the country particularly as all that the people could see were pictures of some privileged persons who travelled to London to see him.

That gave the likes of the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose ample opportunity to make unsubstantiated claims about Buhari's state of health. At a point, Fayose, who had said the president was not healthy enough to rule Nigeria, said he was on life support. On another occasion, when Osinbajo visited the president in London, Fayose described the visit as a deceit. He and those who shared the same sentiment insisted that the president should address the nation. In a country where many believe what they hear, especially when it comes from an executive governor of a state, many became confused. Until last Saturday, nobody could say for sure how and when the president was due back.

While the president's return has finally put to rest the insinuation in some quarters that he was dead, mischief makers are already speculating on whether or not he is strong enough to manage the affairs of the country.

But if the position expressed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives; Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara, is anything to go by, Buhari should be deemed fit enough to shoulder the responsibility of running a country that has been polarised while he was away.

Now that he is back, many people have already set agenda for the president. The economy remains in recession. Many hope the president has come with the magic wand to turn the economy around. Unemployment remains very high while the foreign exchange crisis has yet to disappear. No doubt, on the economic front, the president faces a daunting task. With the next presidential election less than two years away, time is not on his side to turn things around.

Yes, the economy, security and anti-corruption fight, which were the tripod on which the administration won the support of Nigerians are important, but as he returns to the country there are already major issues that the president must urgently and decisively address to reduce tension in the land.

His ability to man Nigeria will be best measured in how he is able to intervene in the growing restructuring debate that is gathering more storm by the day, particularly with prominent Nigerians including former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar and other prominent politicians of Northern extraction supporting the clamour for restructuring.

The clamour for secession in the South-east being spare headed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which is equally gaining more ground and sparking violent clashes with security forces, is by every standard an issue that must be given urgent attention by the president.

The unresolved issue of the quit notice given Nigerians of South-east extraction to leave the north by October 1, by some northern youths must also be on the front burner. It is a delicate matter that needs to be handled in a manner that the country is not plunged into avoidable crisis. The concern has been that the youths who issued the quit notice to the Igbos did so with the backing of their leaders and that this xplains why no decisive action has been taken against them. So, Buhari, being a northerner himself, will be expected to wade into matter and come up with a resolution.

Finding a political solution to the quit notice from the north becomes very important because a group of Niger Delta youths too has asked Nigerians of northern and the south-west presently doing business in the Niger Delta to leave the region by October 1, 2017 or expect to be attacked.

How the president handle the dispute over the appointment of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu will also be of great interest to Nigeria. While he was away, the situation degenerated and resulted in a standoff between the Senate and the Presidency. The matter is not yet resolved. Magu is still at the helms of affairs at EFCC and the lawmakers are not happy about that.

The president left for the UK before the panel headed by the vice president could submit to him the reports of investigation into the cash found in an apartment at Ikoyi in Lagos which the National Intelligence Agency claimed belonged to it and for which its Director General, Ambassador Ayodele Oke was suspended. The same panel also investigated the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. How the president handles these two reports will be crucial

Though the Buhari administration has done so much to curtail the activities of Boko Haram, the terrorists fought back and recorded some success while the president was away, They abducted a group of policewomen, killed many soldiers guarding an oil exploration team in Borno, kidnapped some of the researchers from the University of Maiduguri and went on a killing spree through suicide bombings.

Just as the president has always said that he would not consider Boko Haram defeated until the abducted Chibok Secondary School girls are returned and reunited with their parents, he would be expected to double his efforts to ensure that more of the girls are returned safely.

A few days to his return, the Academic Staff Union of University went on strike. This is another challenge the president must resolve.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in a statement by its Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, aptly captured the issues the president should be dealing with thus: "While we join the rest of the country to share from the spirit of the on-going jubilation to commemorate the president's safe return, we are intrinsically inspired to remain focus and articulate contentious socio-economic and political issues awaiting the president's prompt attention and decisive actions for secured, productive, peaceful and progressive nation.

"We express unreserved worry over the recurring but unhealthy and divisive agitations for separation by different groups from respective geo-political zones in the country with growing threats, precarious verbal attacks and hate speeches which if not holistically addressed may pose grievous challenges to the peaceful-coexistence, unity and diversity of our beloved nation.

"We are also worried by the growing social vices such as kidnapping, violent attacks and re-emerged insurgency in the country. We demand proactive strategies and appreciable actions by the president to secure lives and property of Nigerians.

"We are concerned by the recent but dubious trend and development in the nation's anti-corruption fight with the emerging threats and physical attacks on the anti-graft facilities and operatives by sponsored bandits, primarily to subdue or suppress existing achievements and progress in the anti-corruption fight. We demand enabling environment for various anti-corruption mechanisms, strengthened and secured anti-graft institutions and their operatives for sustainable and progressive anti-corruption fight in the country.

"While we are not unaware of the habitual menaces and dreadful impacts of the growing youth unemployment to the execution of the nation's social, economic and political development planning, we call on the president for more practical and immediate efforts to address youth unemployment to complement the administration's existing efforts to ensure progressive, productive and secured nation.

"We are disturbed by the on-going unpleasant and hard-hearted development rocking our already underdeveloped and poorly funded tertiary institutions with resultant resurfaced industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU), and the potential consequence to the productive and qualitative lives of the Nigerian students and sustainable development of the country. We encourage the President on prompt political intervention to respect and honour Federal Government-ASUU agreements for well-funded, productive and uninterrupted educational activities in the country.

"As constructive legislative-judicial relationship remains paramount to appropriate interpretation and implementation of pro-poor legislation, we call on the President to ensure more concerted effort with proactive measures towards strengthening legislative-judicial relationship for fair and judicious interpretation of laws without favour or intimidation.

"The continued reluctance exhibited by the executive and legislative arms towards confirmation of some key appointments and re-appointments in the country remains our major concern that if not promptly addressed will frustrate the good efforts and resources hitherto committed to the fulfilment of the administration's promises and mandates. With several appointments and reappointments germane to the fulfilment of the promises made during electioneering campaigns and critical to the attainment of change mantra are awaiting announcement and confirmation, we call on the president to build healthy executive-legislative relation and fast-track confirmation of key appointive and re-appointive positions to ensure accelerated delivery of the administration's agenda.

"We as well call on the President to uphold full-fledged implementation of the 2017 budget; timely preparation and presentation of 2018 Appropriation Bill to the legislature and ensure such reflects the citizens' expectations and aspiration to resuscitate the poorly funded social sector of the economy, giving cognizance to the dwindling donors' resources in the country."

Then there is one big question that the president will be expected to answer: is he considering a re-election bid in 2019?

Then also, having been through life threatening health challenge himself, Buhari will be expected to take steps to urgently improve the health facilities in the country because where an ordinary Nigerian suffers a similar health challenge, he will have no access to state's funds to fly him abroad.

The plan to change the cabinet has been in the offing for a while. This should come any time from now, particularly considering the need to strengthen the president's economic team.

Also, there is the need to resuscitate his dying political party, the APC with many conscious fault lines. The party needs to have its congress and convention so that some of the problems afflicting it both at the national and state levels can be resolved.

There is no doubt that most Nigerians are eager to see how the president handles all these issues.

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