FELIX NWANERI reports on the seeming unending war of words between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on virtually all issues of governance
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has despite the gains of its anti-corruption war been under fire over what the opposition political parties describe as failure to turn things around as promised, but the President recently blamed his predecessors for the current challenges confronting the country.
No doubt, the President was reacting to the barrage of criticisms trailing the All Progressives Congress (APC)- led Federal Government despite the party’s continual pledge to deliver on its campaign promises even though it has less than three years to go. It would be recalled that it was euphoria, when Nigerians ushered in the Buhari administration in 2015 after 16 years unbroken rule by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The then opposition party had made a catalogue of promises during the campaigns, which according to it will bring positive changes in the lives of Nigerians within two years. The promises revolved around three key issues – fight against corruption, insecurity and job creation.
Though it is indisputable that Buhari’s first term in office witnessed, what many have described as more vigour in the fight against corruption, but expectations as regards the economy were not really met. The President was reelected in 2019, but it was evident that the optimism that he will turn things around had waned.
Many believe that more than five years of the Buhari administration, not much has changed. The discontent in the polity and rising cost of living that compelled most Nigerians to seek for a new beginning in 2015, are yet to be addressed. President Buhari had claimed that he met an empty treasury on coming to power, which was worsened by dwindling revenue as a result of fall in prices of oil at that time but many Nigerians seem not to be interested in listen-
ing to the tale of economic recession as a justification for non-performance. To them, the President and his party were aware of the prevalent situation before they made promises of a better life for the citizenry.
With patience running out, the government kept appealing for time to work out measures to alleviate the sufferings of the citizenry. The opposition political parties, particularly the PDP, on its part, kept reminding the ruling party of its promises to turn the country to an Eldorado within the shortest possible time.
While it has been a blame-game between the ruling and opposition parties since 2015, President Buhari, recently put the responsibility for the current challenges confronting the country on the doorsteps of his predecessors in office. The President, in a nationwide broadcast to commemorate Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary, specifically accused leaders of the PDP, who were at the helm of affairs between 1999 and 2015 of presiding over the near destruction of the country.
He added that leaders of that era are acting in bad faith by trying to criticize his administration over numerous issues that ought to have been resolved during their era. Although, he did not mention the names of his predecessors, the veiled reference was to former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Musa Yar’Adua (late) and Goodluck Jonathan, who were in office during the said period.
Buhari, who acknowledged that his government has been grappling with the dual challenge of saving lives and livelihoods in the face of drastically reduced resources, said that no previous government was able to do as much as the present government under difficult circumstances.
He said his administration had in the last three years, introduced unprecedented measures in support of the economy and to the weakest members of the society through programmes such as Tradermoni, Farmermoni, School Feeding Programme, job creation efforts and agricultural intervention programmes. His words: “In addition to public health challenges of working to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, we have suffered a significant drop in our foreign exchange earnings and internal revenues due to 40 per cent drop in oil prices and steep drop in economic activities, leading to a 60 per cent drop in government revenue.
“No government in the past did what we are doing with such scarce resources. We have managed to keep things going in spite of the disproportionate spending on security. Those in the previous governments from 1999 – 2015, who presided over the near destruction of the country, have now the impudence to attempt to criticize our efforts.”
While the PDP, through its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, was quick to berate the President over his comment on the trio of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) described his speech as one that lacks substance.
Ologbondiyan said: “It is unfortunate that our President can turn around today to attempt to rewrite history. Nigerians are aware and the facts are there that this country of ours was not as divided as it is today.
If he disputes this fact, let him tell Nigerians how he won the 2015 election. It is a fact that the Boko Haram terrorists were driven out of their strongholds and elections were held in the 774 local government areas of Nigeria and results were declared.
“It is also an undisputed fact that the agitations by component units of this nation for self-determination have not been as loud as they are today under General Buhari; you have people from the South-West calling for Oduduwa Republic, the South-East for Biafra, the Middle Belt and so on.
The reason is simple; this regime from its conduct and utterances has given an impression of ‘we versus them.’ The level of nepotism is legendary; the corruption is beyond imagination, yet the regime carries on like nothing is wrong. We appeal to this regime, especially the President to change his ways, so that history can be kind to him.”
The SMBLF, on its part, said: “In the midst of all the country is going through that requires the leadership to summon the constituent units to the table of brotherhood to seek fundamental ways out all, we were treated to the usual bland sermons and empty rhetorics. “It is shameful that on this type of occasion, our president had to be lecturing us on why we had to pay more for fuel because countries like Ghana, Egypt and Niger are paying more.
The President would have been more inspiring if he had used the opportunity to lay out the process of reconstituting Nigeria to return it to the path of productivity, autonomy for the federating units, sustainable peace and development.
To leave Nigeria under its failing structure and be talking of launching ethical whatever is a meaningless distraction.” Whereas it is expected that the opposition will continue to put the ruling party on its toes, the presidency had over time, said it is wrong to attribute to the President, promises he did not make during the campaigns and hold him accountable to them. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, at a time, warned against misleading Nigerians on the promises made by his principal.
No doubt, the Buhari administration has made appreciable progress in the fight against systemic corruption that has bedeviled the country for decades and the Boko Haram insurgency that ravaged the North-East during the last administration; it is however grappling with new challenges that have cropped up in the last five years.
They include dwindling resources, depreciating value of the country’s currency, rising cost of living, upsurge in the menace of herdsmen, resurgence of insurgency, banditry in the North-West as well as agitation for self-determination in the South-East and South-West. With inflation at 13.39 per cent, most Nigerians are finding it increasing hard to meet their basic needs.
But for a man, who had in his inaugural speech in 2015, said he is ready to make a change, Buhari seems to have failed to meet expectations of his numerous supporters even as the opposition insists that the country is now worse than the APC met it and that hope of the ruling party’s promised Change has faded. But Buhari’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who disagreed with the opposition’s assumption, insisted that the APC government has done more in area of poverty alleviation and job creation than any previous government.
According to the minister, “no government in the history of this country has ever methodically and seriously put in place measures aimed at addressing poverty alleviation and creating jobs for youths like this administration.”
Mohammmed, who stated this in Kaduna State on Monday during a meeting of the Northern Governors Forum with traditional rulers on aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, listed projects initiated by Buhari’s government and targeted at providing job opportunities and alleviating poverty to include the N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), which he said, was part of the N2.3 trillion Economic Sustainability Plan meant to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on most vulnerable Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) across the country.
He added that the Fund, which the Federal Executive Council (FEC), approved on July 22, is targeted at young people between ages 18 and 35 and is expected to last for a period of three years (2020-2023). He equally mentioned the MSMEs Survival Fund, which he said Buhari’s government initiated as a cluster of grants to support MSMEs to meet their payroll obligations and safeguard MSMEs jobs from the shock of COVID- 19 pandemic.
He said that the MSME Survival Fund included payroll support for businesses in the health, education, hospitality and food production sectors targeted at 500,000 beneficiaries as well as one-off payment to support self-employed individuals like mechanics and drivers, hair dressers, Keke Napep and Okada riders, plumbers, electricians with a one-time payment of N30,000 for 333,000 beneficiaries.
Other initiatives by the government listed by the minister include the N-POWER project which he said had engaged 500,000 beneficiaries with 400,000 more in December, FARMERMONI, TRADERMONI and MARKETMONI.
Besides the claims and counterclaims over APC government’s performance, the renewed clamour for restructuring of Nigeria has also triggered another round of battle of wits between both parties presently led by Governor Mai Mala Buni (APC) and Prince Uche Secondus (PDP).
Two APC governors, Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Nasir El- Rufai, had at the weekend, while speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Centre for Historical Documentary and Research, otherwise known as Arewa House, reiterated that restructuring is the only to make the country work better for everyone.
While Fayemi, who is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) said that Nigeria must be recreated to satisfy restructuring agitations, if the nation’s socio-political and economic greatness must be attained, el-Rufa’i said restructuring Nigeria is an opportunity that should not be toyed with, as it will allow each state to be independent in managing its affairs without relying on the Federal Government.
The Ekiti governor, who was the Guest Speaker at the event, in a paper titled: “Unfinished Greatness: Towards a More Perfect Union in Nigeria,” said: “In our quest towards a more perfect union therefore, the main challenge is one of re-creating the union and the basis of its fundamental national association.
“Unfortunately for us as a people, it is a challenge that has been affected by mutual suspicion and unnecessary brickbats. Caught in our politics of difference and otherness, devolution, decentralisation and restructuring often used as synonyms and such other epithets have come to mean different things to different peoples, depending on the ethnic and regional toga they wear.
“Our age-long distrusts and suspicions of one another are now being tested and contested on these epithets. However, stripped of all opportunism and dysfunctional baggage, these epithets should simply refer to a way to re-imagine and reinvent our country to make it work well for everyone.
“The challenge is how to address the issue of restructuring the Nigerian federal system without upsetting the apple-cart; that is, how to add value to the structure and systemic efficacy of the federal arrangement, without unleashing instability occasioned by the mobilisation of ethnic, regional and religious sentiments and identities.” The Kaduna State governor, on his part, called on the federal legislators and the National Assembly Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review to take advantage of his committee’s report and initiate constitutional and legislative amendments to take care of restructuring without further delay.
He said: “I will not hesitate to admit that I am passionate about what constitutional framework will best enable the promise of this country to manifest. I had the privilege of chairing the APC Committee on True Federalism with membership across the political and demographic spectrum to lay out our party’s roadmap for our nation’s greatness.
In its report, that committee defined the values that, in its opinion, promote and the APC Committee on True Federalism produced clear recommendations to strengthen federalism and achieve national cohesion and healthy subnational competition connote True Federalism and proposed a clear roadmap for implementing the recommendations.
“As its report show,. The committee also made efforts to accelerate the implementation of its recommendations by producing draft bills that incorporate the recommendations either as proposed amendments to our Constitution or our national laws.
“It is a matter for regret that for some reasons, the consequential action by the APC leadership to adopt and implement the report has not happened since it was submitted in January 2018. The urgency of our challenges dictates that we should move fast with a sense of purpose to remove the structural bottlenecks that hobble our country. There is very little time left to secure and begin to implement the necessary constitutional amendments.”
But the PDP, in a swift reaction to the submissions by the governors, rejected the APC Committee on Restructuring, describing it as an attempt by the ruling party to manipulate and frustrate the clamour by majority of Nigerians for a genuine restructuring of Nigeria.
The PDP, which further described the committee as part of the plans of the APC to replace the 2014 National Conference report with its committee’s report on restructuring, said the move would be an unpardonable assault on the sensibility of over 200 million Nigerians, whose collective interests were contained in the confab report.
The main opposition party, in a statement by Ologbondiyan, urged Nigerians to be at alert over what it described as a fresh ploy by some ambitious APC leaders to blackmail the legislature and create an impression of commitment to restructuring in order to beguile the people and soften the ground for their personal presidential ambitions ahead of 2023 elections.
The statement read in part: “Our party stands at the forefront of efforts for genuine restructuring and holds that the authentic materials for a genuine restructuring are contained in the 2014 National Conference report, wherein, Nigerians, across all the divides, collectively provided a road map out of our constitutional quagmires; and not a partisan report by the APC.
“It is therefore unacceptable that the 2014 National Conference report, which embodies the desires and hopes of over 200 million Nigerians, has been shelved by President Muhammadu Buhari, since his predecessor in office, President Goodluck Jonathan, personally handed it over to him in 2015 for implementation in line with the wishes and aspirations of the people. “Our party, therefore, charges President Buhari to bring out the 2014 National Conference report, dust it up, and present it as an executive bill to the National Assembly to guide the desired amendment to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) with regard to restructuring.”
The PDP insisted that the partisan whims of one party, in a multi-party country of over 200 million people, cannot override the decisions that were meticulously reached by the majority of Nigerians at the National Conference.
The party, therefore, cautioned the APC to note that Nigerians are not interested in its deceptive antics but in a genuine effort towards a holistic amendment process that would restructure the country in the areas of true federalism, devolution of powers, electoral reforms, and unbundling of critical items in the exclusive list. “It is rather unfortunate that those who hid in their shores to dismiss and blackmail the PDP on restructuring are now coming out today to sell cosmetic and partisan notion of restructuring to Nigerians as a decoy to further their selfish political ambitions.
If the APC is indeed sincere, it should call on President Buhari to immediately do the needful, today, not tomorrow, by presenting the 2014 National Conference report to the National Assembly as an executive bill on restructuring as desired by Nigerians.”
The opposition’s stand is not unexpected but its view seems to have been corroborated by some known supporters of the administration, a development that should remind the ruling party that the deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principle on which it was founded.