22 March 2019

Nigerians Need Reassurance of Hope From Buhari - MM Abdu

interview

Alhaji Musa Maigida Abdu is a contemporary of President Muhammadu Buhari. The elder statesman is the chairman, Nigeria Discussion Group (NDG), a group comprising professors and respected elders of thought in the country. The septuagenarian, in this interview, speaks on the just-concluded presidential election and sets out a far-reaching agenda for the president.

What is the NDG's position on the just-concluded general elections?

First, I would like to, on behalf of myself and the members of the NDG, congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari on his well-deserved victory. As one foreign newspaper said, the election was, in a way, a referendum on integrity and the result was clear. We pray for good health, strength and wisdom for him to fulfil the mandate that Nigerians have given him.

After his victory, the president reportedly said his second term would be tough. How do you interpret that?

Nigerians have been through - and are still going through - very tough times. I think what they are looking forward to is hope and re-assurance that the days ahead would be better, and that their sacrifices would not be in vain. The toughness which the president reportedly spoke about may be in the context of the work that needs to be done; but I'm sure he understands that the people need a reassurance of hope now more than ever before.

How would you describe the role of INEC in the elections so far, especially the complaints by some politicians in the opposition that the commission was partisan?

In any election, losers will often complain. You will recall that even in the 2016 election in the US, candidate Donald Trump even complained that if he lost, it would mean that the election was rigged! So, complaints are not new. As far as NDG is concerned, however, INEC can do a lot better. It is not an acceptable that INEC spent four years planning, after getting all the resources it asked for, but could still not conduct the election on the agreed date.

There are also genuine complaints and concerns about the frequency of inconclusive elections. I'm sure INEC will try to improve in its decision making, logistics and delivery. But keep in mind, too, that all stakeholders, especially the politicians, have a role to play as well. When politicians are desperate to win, it's very difficult to have the kind of peaceful and free outcome we all desire.

People often criticise President Buhari as often neglecting those who worked hard to support his campaign. Do you think that may happen again this time?

I know people who shared his vision from the beginning in 2002 or thereabouts, who worked towards actualising such vision both openly and sometimes covertly. They have invested so much in time and resources on the project over the years and they took personal risks but were not appropriately accommodated in the governance structure after the 2015 win. In other words, they were not properly compensated - as Nigerians would say. Thus, their potential contribution to the collective vision was nearly lost. Some have already gone, while others have remained against all odds. I think President Buhari should, this time, listen more to the well-meaning Nigerians.

How would you rate the performance of the outgoing cabinet?

Clearly, the president picked those that he apparently personally liked, and whom he thought would deliver. But regrettably most of them failed to perform, letting down not only the president, but the country. This time, the president should be dispassionate and firm; focus on capacity to deliver, competence, track record, and professionals, most especially, within the party's ranks, because there are many such people within the party cadre.

He needs professionals that are bridge builders also, because together these are the people who will help him and help the country make choices that will produce a long-lasting legacy, which is really what the president needs now more than anything else.

What specific areas do you think the president needs to focus on as soon as he begins his second term?

The three areas prioritised earlier by the president are still important and very relevant. These include security, economy, and the fight against corruption. He did very well in ensuring security in this first term. He has left no one in doubt that security has been significantly restored in the North East. You also remember that only recently we had roadblocks even here in Abuja. But now the situation has eased, and confidence restored. No one can take that credit away from him because we need peace and security to do anything at all.

Also, getting the country out of recession, especially considering the situation in which he met the economy was not an easy job.

However, in his second term, execution should be a key strategy across all fields of priority. In security, for example, considering the population growth rate, greater use of technology will be essential in dealing with the symptoms of insecurity; whereas the actual underlying factors would have to be addressed from the roots through the provision of quality education, greater opportunities, inclusiveness and hope for all citizens.

On the economy, the president needs the right pool of talents to bring ideas to the table to generate resources within the economy that will help stimulate growth and development. I cannot over-emphasise the need to get the right talents in various fields as quickly as possible because it is only by so doing that the right ideas can be generated. Those of us who are fortunate to travel abroad and see how major cities are run, with good infrastructure and technology we would like to see that happen here in our lifetime and only by getting the right talents can you achieve that.

Using the right talents to manage and regulate our institutions will also inspire confidence of the investing community around the world.

On agriculture, the president has done extremely well especially in making fertilizers available in timely manner and at affordable rates across the country. The government has also done well in drastically reducing rice imports. But there's still a lot to be done. For example, several genuine big-time farmers could not access the intervention funds from the Central Bank, while a few around government were playing with the said funds. That needs to be addressed. An impression has also been created that rice importation has stopped. This may be so officially, but there's still foreign rice finding its way into the country and the president needs to know this. The president should look at the whole supply chain, deal with the root causes and remove incentives from smugglers by channelling government's support to the appropriate beneficiaries.

With respect to electricity power, in the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan's administration, the sector was unbundled and privatised. While a few of the companies are doing well, others are not being well-run at all, and consumers are at the receiving end, while government continues to inject its funds in order to subsidize their operations. In fact, the Federal Government should review the condition precedent for the privatization of the unbundled companies and impose appropriate sanctions for defaults.

Government should guard against assets stripping and financial leakages in such companies, because 24/7 power supply is the key to growth, security, and the health of the economy.

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