GUEST COLUMNIST by Charles Onunaiju
By the groundswell of popular support and grand expectations that swept President Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015, his performance in office is mediocre even as his governance style has been timid. But to assess President Buhari’s performance in the nearly past four years of his tenure without taking into account the depth of abyss, he had to struggle to climb out would be grossly unfair.
Those who dispute the mileage he has reached in tackling security challenges and even mock his claim of not only technically subduing the terrorist Boko Haram but putting the bandits in disarray, yet go to the church, mosque, motor parks, even shopping malls without worrying about the next blasts are living in denials of the reality of our recent past. Today especially, in the federal capital territory of Abuja and the Northern and north-central regions, it is now taken for granted to stay in long traffic jams and worry only about when to get home and not whether one would get home at all. Just about four years ago, to stay in any queue at all, whether in a traffic or at ATM (Automated teller Machine) is almost a suicidal act but not anymore.
In the hey days of the Boko Haram dastardly romps, police headquarters, Army barracks, Secret Service headquarters were fair games let alone, such soft targets as churches, mosques, shopping malls, media houses and other places where the dare -devil mass-murderers can perpetrate their heinous acts with maximum damage.
If today, the terrorist group mostly confront the military and other armed security forces and whether they overwhelm them or were overwhelmed, is as improvement, to the previous situation, when they roam free among civilians, perpetrating mass murders and leaving in their wake, highly traumatized civilian populations.
President Buhari security architecture still reeks of serious intelligence deficit which leaves the, terrorist group with significant supplies that fuels some of their daring confrontations with the military and other security forces and while it remain a major worry that the highest echelon of the terrorist leadership has not been infiltrated despite the capture of its high-value operatives, it is beyond argument that the terror group has lost key essentials of a thriving terrorist organization – surprise, speed and secured base. The days of driving in a long convoy hillux trucks as they did in Buni Yadi, where they slaughtered school boys, warned the girls to stay off schools and returned to base without challenge is certainly gone for good.
However, despite that Boko Haram dark flag is not hoisted in any Nigeria’s territory anymore, President Buhari’s job of securing Nigeria’s territorial integrity is not done yet.
The open sore of the Bakassi Peninsula sold out on the alter of the criminal third term ambition of former President Obasanjo need to be revisited. Along with the lost of that territory, the lingering travails of Nigerians who were uprooted from their ancestral land and dumped at a squalid refugee camp for more than a decade now is a national scandal that must be urgently revisited especially in the second and last term of President Buhari tenure. Nigeria should establish a bilateral mechanism to re-engage Cameroon on the Bakassi Peninsula issue, leveraging the political crisis of the country’s Southern Anglophone region to nudge Yaoundé to a negotiated political settlement of the Bakassi Peninsula, while completely putting aside the controversial outcome of the world court ruling.
Surely, Nigeria’s security challenge have not all, vanished in the past four years but is not as porous as when a seating governor was kidnapped and hidden away without consequence to the perpetrators or when soldiers throw their guns at pregnant women urging them to defend themselves, then change into mufti dress and melt into the thin air.
As the Boko Haram terrorist millipede feet-like, by which it sows death and destruction among civilian population are badly cut off, it still wag the tails and rears its ugly head, both of which requires a grand strategy of deadly blows.
President Buhari most serious challenge in his re-election bid has been the economy and it is not because he has not done much or even well, but because the effort has not reflected yet in the improved living standards for Nigerians. To be fair to him, no measure by anyone else could have delivered visible improvement in the quality of life of the people of an economy that was recovering from the intensive care unit of a disastrous crash in the more than a decade; it was pilloried, pillaged and plunged into a coma.
In a more than decade, a rent economy was meticulously fostered, which while delivering high returns to speculators, middlemen and deal makers of all sorts, were punishing workers with stagnant wages and layoffs, professionals, artisans, peasants and even manufacturers with distorted home market and free- plunging currency.
Huge foreign exchange receipt accruing from high oil price were burnt in an over bloated head cost of parasitic elite, while others were brazen stolen and poured into mind-boggling luxuries. The national festival of corruption soaked in, all the sectors of the parasitic elite, including the religious establishment that invoked vacuous miracles and fatalistic rhetoric while feeding fat and smooching in an unfathomable luxury.
President Buhari correctly focused on financing massive infrastructure regeneration, the basic pillar for an inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development. Unfortunately for him, investment in key infrastructures, though of enormous importance for growth and development, do not yield quick results and its effects cannot be felt immediately on the quality of food on the table. But the experience of thriving Asia which includes Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and many others is that, if you want get rich, build roads, a metaphor for all the critical infrastructures that makes for sustainable growth and inclusive development. Any meaningful campaign against Buhari re-election would have to be premised on improving on what he is doing and not to reverse or cast away what he has been doing, because that would simply mean returning the economy to the intensive care unit from where it is struggling to hop out. President Buhari State-led development strategy to create the critical fundamentals on which the market and private sector can anchor and flourish without the pitfalls of the distortion and dis-articulation implicit in the misguided ideological fundamentalism of the market and the private sector is in the right direction
To build an economically un-viable border wall, the high priest of free market and private sector fundamentalism, the government of the United States of America is shutting down itself to arm-twist an unwilling Congress to appropriate public fund to build wall.
President Buhari should seek to extend the role of the state in more strategic sectors of the economy, while endeavouring to improve efficiency of public service and fostering the integrity and credibility of state institutions.
President Buhari’s war on corruption stands accused of been selective but it must be targeted at only those who latched their itchy fingers at our common till. For an epileptic anti-corruption drive, the returns have been massive and the former public office juggernauts whose families regale in opulence are re-learning how to be modest.
President Buhari has no way of eliminating corruption from Nigeria public life but even the most implacable and inveterate corrupt public official now, know there will be consequences and a certain day of reckoning. In the past, no such worry exists.
In the main issues of his tenure, President Buhari has shown strong and steady hand that has rescued the Nigeria’s state from a bare criminal enterprise leveraging a mere formalistic legitimacy to perpetrate callous expropriation of its own people. While much work are still to be done, quite a lot has already been done and nobody seeks the luxury and pleasure of President Buhari, in canvassing for his re-election for a constitutional second term, but to for him to bear to the full, the cross of national recuperation and restoration, which he began nearly four years ago
· Mr. Onunaiju is research director, Centre for China Studies, an independent Think Tank based in Abuja.