Nigeria: A Missing Item On the Buhari Agenda

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (file photo).
26 August 2020
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President Muhammadu Buhari listed yesterday "nine priority areas" for the next 33 months.

Buhari said the areas of focus would "guide policy directions" so as "to improve the livelihood of Nigerians."

The areas of priority include poverty reduction, food security, power and energy, fighting corruption, security, promoting entrepreneurship, quality education, and affordable healthcare,

The President spoke in Abuja as he received letters of credence from ambassadors and high commissioners from eight countries. The important statement is the type you expect from Aso Rock in a National Day broadcast.

It might not be out of place to say that the President is gradually advancing into the legacy mode. In any case, there have been calls on him to be more conscious of his place in history. He has been urged to reboot the dynamic of his administration.

Essentially, the listed areas of priority are a distillation from the broad cardinal programmes of Buhari on managing the economy to reduce poverty, ensuring security and fighting corruption.

No honest assessment could yet return a verdict of satisfactory performance on the Buhari administration in the broad areas of the economy and security. Not with the worsening poverty and widening inequality in a scary climate of insecurity. This is without prejudice to visible efforts to revamp infrastructure -railway projects, roads, bridges, food production etc.

Meanwhile, the consolation should probably be that Buhari still has a good chance to register his name in history as a president whose policies markedly improved the condition of the people.

Doubtless, 33 months are enough for the President to make a difference in the identified policy areas given competence in governance and sincerity of purpose. It doesn't take eternity to demonstrate competence in governance. After all, the idea of celebrating 100 days in office has been traced to the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, who took some landmark political decisions in just 100 days after arriving in Paris on his escape from Elba. In a more modern sense, American President Franklin Roosevelt launched the largely social welfare and constructive programmes backed by laws, which defined his era, in the first 100 days in office. That was a period of about three months.

Here, Buhari still has good 33 months! So it would not be a misplaced optimism to insist that rather than dismiss the statement as another official gaseous talk, the Buhari administration should be put on its mettle. The administration should be squarely challenged to implement people-centred policies in these areas.

By the way, this is precisely why he was elected. Tackling mass poverty is the challenge of the moment. If Buhari takes giant strides in improving the education and health sectors as well as in completing the infrastructural projects in progress, he would be leaving office in 2023 with a great applause.

There is, however, an item that is glaringly missing on the Buhari rebooted agenda. That is the imperative of working actively and honestly towards national integration. To achieve the purpose of any development agenda for Nigeria today, national unity cannot be discounted. It is a central factor. The issue has to be confronted in action and words.

The fact that Buhari did not list national unity as a priority could be an indication that the factor is taken for granted.

Yet, all the other priorities could only be achieved within the context of a stable and united country in which people in every part feel a sense of belonging.

In fact, the achievements in the listed areas would be gravely impaired if the conditions that could nurture warlords are created while Buhari is in the saddle. The matter is not helped by the seemingly insensitive statements by elements believed to be wielding enormous political influence in Abuja.

Such a posture on the part of those in power would amount to ignoring the realities of the nation. Nothing should be taken for granted in matters of unity. The important thing is for those who want it especially the leadership to make it a priority.

It has been repeatedly emphasised here that nations are built by a committed people under a visionary leadership. Perhaps the only indispensable ingredient in the making of a nation is what a scholar calls the "collective state of mind." The leadership should by its action and words promote this "state of mind." It is the subjective feeling of having a sense belonging to a nation. It is more decisive than ethnicity, race, blood, geography, language or ancestry. There are people strongly committed to a nation without a state. The Palestinians are still struggling for a state. There are nations of races and ethnic groups. That is the reality of America. There are nations of different languages. Switzerland is an example. There are nations with contested territories. China once had its territory sequestered and the nation is still in the process of asserting its sovereignty on parts of its claimed territory. However, with the "collective state of mind" that a people belong to a nation all other gaps in nation-building could be filled.

As the President spoke of his priorities in Abuja, there were reports of bloody clashes involving the State Security Services (SSS) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that is campaigning for secession. The other day, a prominent politician in the southeast reportedly threatened: "If Nigeria tells the elites from the southeast that they would be treated as second class citizens in Nigeria, and that they can never be president, almost all of them will join (Nnamdi ) Kanu to fight for Biafra."

It is premature to start campaigning for the 2023 presidential election, you may rightly say. But the threat speaks volumes about the degree of alienation from the Nigerian nation felt by factions of the elite. The influence of the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu must be widening for a former governor to even project that the elite would join in the campaign for secession.

If the militancy in the Niger Delta appears to have slowed down, the discontents in the region are far from vanishing. Leaders from the unjustly treated region have taken the federal government to court over marginalisation in federal appointments. The degradation of the environment in the Niger Delta remains largely an unanswered question.

The cry of marginalisation is almost universal in the Nigerian political landscape. It is not only the minority ethnic groups that say that they are being pushed to the margins in the management of national affairs. Every part now claims to be marginalised.

The separatist impulse is also evident among the Yoruba of the southwest, the region that is said to be having relatively lower indices of underdevelopment on the average. All manners of maps and emblems of an Oduduwa Republic circulate in the cyberspace. Some are even talking of Yoruba Exit (Yexit), a most inappropriate imitation of the politics of Britain's exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU). To some of the elite the proposition of national integration has become a very naïve one, if not contemptible. Such feelings should understandable to a sufficiently perceptive national leadership, or what the inimitable Dr. Chidi Amuta calls "enlightenment leadership."

As in other zones, insecurity is a major reason cited by those in the southwest losing faith in the ideology of a united Nigeria. Despite the existence of the Nigerian state, people feel helpless in the face of violent crimes. Hence, the question: "which Nigerian nation are you talking about?" This trend is being given a strident voice in the media.

The discontents might not have assumed a noticeable separatist tone in the three zones in the north. But the failure of the Nigerian state to protect people in the east, west and central zones of the north is undeniable. There are certainly ungoverned spaces in northern Nigeria given the activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements. There have been reports that terrorists might be moving southwards. The crisis in Southern Kaduna has clear ethnic and religious tones. The toll of the dead and the scale of material destruction are such that the crisis is now attracting bitter responses from other parts of the country.

The circumstances of many communities in Nigeria are not the type that could generate nationalist feelings.

A noxious combination of these trends should worry a leadership that correctly reads the socio-political barometer of the nation.

Some of the statements being made in Nigeria today would be anathemas in the Second Republic. The context, of course, was important. It was barely a decade after the tragic civil war. National unity was a big issue. The party that controlled the centre, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) always claimed with pride that one of its achievements was commitment to national unity. President Shehu Shagari was presented as a unity president. Despite the word unity in its name, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)'s commitment was always questioned by opponents who could not fault its social democratic agenda. The UPN leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was never trusted by his rivals on the question of unity despite the unmistakable national character of his agenda on education, health, job-creation and rural development.

The point is that unity was at the centre of national conversation.

So official indifference cannot be an appropriate response given the dimensions the issue of national integration has assumed. It is also dangerous to assume arrogantly that the discontents would frizzle out.

What is to be done?

The greatest immunity against disintegration is the cultivation of a sense of belonging by doing justice to the people who feel inequitably treated in the nation.

During the civil war, the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon had a battle cry relayed daily on radio : "To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done." To perform the task, Gowon needed the full weight of the armed forces on the federal side. Buhari may need to adopt the spirit (if not the words) of the slogan if things are not to degenerate further. But unlike Gowon, Buhari only needs more of moral and political weapons to perform the task. Political engineering should be employed as no leader can force nationalism down the throats of his people.

Buhari should rise to the occasion as a true Nigerian leader. He should disprove by body language and concrete action the perception that he is a regional or an ethnic leader. His defenders may say he is doing a lot in this respect; but looking at the national horizon his best doesn't seem to be good enough. It is unhelpful to ignore the cries of marginalisation from any part of the country. It is the duty of the leader to make those who feel alienated to see the beauty of integration.

For instance, Buhari should take a nationalist look at the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference. He should not forget what his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), promised the electorate in its programme. The political strategists of the administration should rethink the official response to the clamour for restructuring. The administration has to decide what to do about it. To do otherwise is to create the atmosphere for the continued manipulation of the people along ethnic, religious and regional lines by the elite which substitutes its class interests for the interests of the people .

More fundamentally, the President has to intensify the implementation of programmes of sustainable development to reduce poverty and promote social justice and equity in the interest of the poor majority, those who are horizontally marginalised in every town and village in Nigeria.

That is a way of winning back those who are increasingly getting alienated from the cause of a united Nigeria.

QUOTE

"The greatest immunity against disintegration is the cultivation of a sense of belonging by doing justice to the people who feel inequitably treated in the nation"

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