GUEST COLUMNIST LAW MEFOR
The inaugural speech by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari following his swearingin as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 29th May, 2015, captured the main essences. His voice was reassuring, sure-footed and resolute, like that of a prophet without doubt.
What remains to be seen is indeed walking the talk, as the Americans would say. If you say that someone talks the talk but does not walk the talk, you mean that they do not act in a way that agrees with the things they say. The enormous challenges are, without a doubt, myriad and he named the ones for his immediate attention as insecurity, pervasive corruption, Boko Haram Insurgency, unemployment, resurfaced fuel crisis and power supply.
Though he did not state exactly how he would go about tackling these problems, it can be excused, giving the very nature of the occasion. But these are the real issues that have to be confronted and others would follow. The President assured his Government would tackle them head on , saying further that Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national leadership into his hands. On major thing that stood out was the “We Can” spirit, which he said Nigerians inherited as heirs to great civilizations: Shehu Othman Dan fodio’s caliphate, the Kanem Borno Empire, the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire and King Jaja’s.
And then, his acknowledgement of national consensus that the chosen route by Nigerians to national development is democracy; and to achieve such national objectives, the citizens have to consciously work the democratic system. The President’s resoluteness and desire to respect the quintessence of the principle of separation of powers are key to his success and therein lay the booby-traps also. The President does not really have much choice since some of these are safety-nets guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution to guard against dictatorship and ensure democracy.
But many of the issues the President raised are within his constitutional powers and those requiring constitutional amendment can also be reined in if he remains politically sagacious and ready to work for rapprochements with the legislative arm. His promised civil service reform is the first key step. The cesspool of corruption in Nigeria is the civil service. Top civil servants are aberrantly contractors to their own establishments and there must be a way of auditing who owns what firms in Nigeria – those that are major contractors to the MDAs.
The result will shock Nigerians. Any fight against corruption that does not start in the civil service shall not go far. Another issue the President has to think through is the legal framework for fighting corruption, which, through Procedural Act and other poor legal provisions, can keep corruption matters going on in courts for upward of a decade.
Governors charged by the EFCC and ICPC since 2007 are hiding behind these provisions and some of them are even senators. President Buhari also wants the legislative arm to keep to their brief of making laws, carrying out over-sight functions and doing so expeditiously. This means Constituency Projects would go. But how about their jumbo pays which are said to be the highest in the world? This has to be addressed seriously as part of the fight against corruption.
The clarification, which Mr. President seeks in the relations between central Government which he heads and the States, lies in the weak 1999 Constitution. Yes, constitutionally there are limits to powers of Abuja to oversight the States and the route to travel in to streamline all that is still via constitutional amendment and not through administrative fiats that could be voided by the courts. The real problem in Nigerian democracy is the State Governors who are operating with no checks and balances at all.
They live and act like Russian Chars of old and emasculate the three tiers of government. The President says the Federal Government should not fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments, but he will soon realize how he is encumbered by the laws. Much of the absurdities in the States are precipitated by the constitutional creations and the President cannot fully address them without first amending these constitutional provisions, which give the Governors the leeway they have continually exploited and abused.
Take for instance the operations of the Local Government Joint Account, which Governors have hijacked; this may not be abolished without constitutional amendment, which created it. Unfortunately, Local Government autonomy failed again in the last constitutional amendment and has to be revisited without delay if the President would have his way in trying to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country.
Some have called Buhari’s order for the Military Central Command to relocate to Maiduguri in order to better face the Boko Haram challenge a blunder. No, it is not. Half of Nigeria Army Divisions should even also relocate to Maiduguri, for that is where the action is. What is the point for them to sit in air-conditioned offices in Abuja and in other places, while swaths of Nigeria’s sovereign territory are daily annexed by Boko Haram?
It is a good paradigm shift in the fight against insurgency, which is even long overdue really. The President wants to replace the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta, which is due to end in December, with remedial projects and programmes. His olive branch to the leadership and people of Niger Delta is necessary also. If not for anything, resurgence of the Niger Delta militancy, with its highly disruptive and distractive potential, is certainly one distraction Buhari cannot afford if he is to gain traction in good time.
Then, the big issue – power supply – which the President rightly noted is the single cause that can be identified to explain Nigerian’s poor economic performance over the years. Indeed, it is a national shame that an economy of 180 million people generates only 4,000MW, and distributes even less.
The President’s lamentation: “Continuous tinkering with the structures of power supply and distribution and close on $20b expended since 1999 have only brought darkness, frustration, misery, and resignation among Nigerians. We will not allow this to go on”. To me, two issues are responsible for lack of electricity. One is again the 1999 Constitution, which vests the power of electricity distribution solely on the Federal Government.
This has given rise to the so-called national grid, which remains amorphous and corruption-ridden. What this means is that the ostensible privatization is superfluous since the GENCOs and DISCOs operate on behalf of the Federal Government. The right thing to do is to amend the constitution to move Power to the Concurrent List, to enable States with the capacity to give themselves light and thus exit the national grid and leave it manageable. Some States can also sell light to neighbouring States and make revenue therefrom.
The other issue is the competence of the holding companies, which now run the Gencos and Discos. One cannot understand why they were engaged whereas it is obvious they lack the financial capabilities and even technical know-how. Government is said to have offered them huge bailouts and guaranteed loans for them.
What then are they bringing to the table? Unemployment, notably youth unemployment features strongly in his Party’s Manifesto, he wants his Government to attack the problem frontally through revival of agriculture, solid minerals mining as well as credits to small and medium size businesses to kick – start these enterprises. While this is in order, it is equally important to point out that Government, the world over, can never provide enough employments to the teeming youths.
Government provides the enabling environment for small, medium and large scale industries to thrive and soak up unemployed people. In Nigeria, the route to solving the unemployment problem is threefold, namely: power, power, and power! More importantly, Solid Minerals, which is currently an exclusive preserve of the Federal Government, has to also be moved to Concurrent List so that States can link foreign partners to develop minerals in the States and create wealth.
Yes, there is indeed a tide in the affairs of men, which, if taken, makes all the difference, and omitted would be a gravely missed opportunity. The route President Muhammadu Buhari takes the nation through at this critical epoch shall make or mar. It is therefore time to walk the talk.