A New Argument For Buhari – TheCable
August last year, I made a post on my Facebook page with the title, ‘The Argument for Buhari’. The post acquired a life of its own with a sizeable number of people sharing on Facebook and circulating via Whatsapp. I later developed it to a full length opinion article for a few online publications. This is a sequel to the earlier article. Now that the President has told Nigerians that he would seek another term in office in the 2019 general elections, I make a new argument for Buhari.
Nigeria has never had a leader with the personal moral credential of President Muhammadu Buhari, I dare say. The current administration came in at a time of very serious economic crisis occasioned by the mismanagement of the country, more by the immediate past administration. Those who caused the damage and their sympathizers would rather have us all live in collective amnesia. They say we should not talk about the past. We should just move on, yet they are the loudest about the present dire consequences of their roguish past behaviors.
By mid-2014, more than 30 states owed salaries of civil servants and by the end of 2014, salary arrears in over 20 states had reached average of 6 months. By May 2015, salary arrears to workers in the states had reached between 7-11 months and to pensioners, between 15-18 months. The economy had collapsed, in part, because of low purchasing power and almost nil disposable income. The economy of all the states, except Lagos, relies heavily on salaries paid to civil servants to drive it and yet, salaries were not being paid. The situation was horrible and very gloomy! FMCG companies had very low sales because consumers could not buy what they were producing. Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Flour Mills, Guinness, other blue chips and multinationals posted very bad results.
The construction industry literally died because of heavy indebtedness by the Federal Government and the States. In 2013/2014, the Federal government gave out construction contracts worth over N200billion without backing it with cash. Where mobilization fees were paid, some of the contractors simply abandoned sites. The country was on a free fall. By the time the Buhari administration resumed in 2015, the Federal Government, according to the Federation of Construction Industry, (FOCI) owed its members N700billion. FOCI is the umbrella association of the construction companies operating in Nigeria. Some of the FOCI members include Julius Berger, Costain West Africa, RCC, Capper D’Alberto, Dantata & Sawoe, Setraco among others. According to FOCI secretariat, most of its members were not paid for contracts executed from 2010. By 2014, many of the construction companies had laid off staff and put many on redundancy, while interest on members’ bank loans kept mounting.
This is where leadership and integrity matter. According to Mrs. Bunmi Adekoje, Director General, FOCI, few months into the Buhari administration, some member-companies lobbied the Presidency to alert President Buhari’s attention on the plight of the construction sector. To the surprise of those who came to see him, the President asked about FOCI. He directed the lobbyists to come under FOCI to present their case. The lobbyists were shocked that President Buhari even knew about FOCI. He reportedly told his visitors that in 1984, as Military Head of State, he commissioned the FOCI Secretariat Complex, Construction House at Adeyemo Alakija, Victoria Island, Lagos. That is Buhari, a man of process.
The Board and Management of FOCI later met with the President where they presented their prayers. The President directed the Ministers of Finance and that of Works, Power & Housing to sit with FOCI and find a solution. After a reconciliation of figures, the Federal Government paid N300billion with an agreement to issue government Bond/Promissory Note of N300billion to cover the balance. FOCI member companies were shocked that such was possible in Nigeria without anyone demanding a cut. But that was the case, to their surprise. With the intervention by the President and the payment made, over 100,000 of the sacked and redundant construction workers have been called back to work at various project sites across the country by FOCI member companies.
In dealing with inherited problems that are distorting the economy, the Federal Executive Council in July 2017 approved N2.7trillion for the payment of Federal Government debts to local contractors, pensioners and oil marketers, including workers salary/promotion arrears which government had owed for the past 20years. After confirmation of figures by the Government Verification Committee, the beneficiaries are to be settled through the issuance of 10-year tenure Liquid Promissory Notes, phased over a three-year period, to minimize the impact on liquidity. Preference will be given to those willing to offer FG the largest discounts.
Ministers, Presidential aides and private sector leaders including Aliko Dangote have publicly said that President Buhari is the only Nigerian leader nobody can discuss any shady deal with. Nobody can even dare. He is ramrod straight. I found it no surprise when I heard from Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media & Publicity, that President Buhari has not once given anybody a note to any Ministry or Agency to influence a job or contract in his/her favour. He allows his appointees to do their job. His recurring question after every session with his appointees is, if what they are doing is in the best interest of the country. For him, all that matters is the interest of Nigeria.
The level of decorum and decency the immediate family of President Buhari has displayed since he got into office is worthy of note. This is a reflection of the character and spartan life of the man Buhari. Being a President’s wife and children come with some rights and privileges anywhere in the world. In our kind of environment, it comes with right to dispense patronages and even commandeer state resources, but not with this President. We frequently have reports from the EFCC of millions of dollars in the bank accounts of a former President’s wife and those of his relations. To Buhari’s credit, in almost 3 years in office, there had been no scandal or allegations of bad behavior against members of his family.
While the economy is still struggling to gather steam, coming from a very hard-biting recession, real business people have acknowledged that the business environment is now more open and competitive. Sometimes last year, an elderly friend told me of a meeting he had with two top CEOs in the country. He told me that the consensus among the three of them was that if there is any good thing the Buhari leadership has done for the country, it is the fact that the administration has brought some sanity into the business and political space.
The fact that the rent-seeking-billionaires and the so-called corporate raiders no longer have Aso Rock as their playground is a major achievement, according to my senior friend. The culture of vested interests creating fiefdoms within the economic space while competing for photo opportunity for Newspaper front pages, in subtle bully of competitors in ‘I-am-closer-to-the-president-than-you are’ ego trip, a common feature with previous Presidents, has disappeared with President Buhari.
At a social function not too long ago, my friend, a senior level manager at one of the top telecommunication firms told those of us on the same table with him that there is change in Nigeria. When I asked him why he said so, he told us that his boss, a well-known Billionaire, told his management team more than two years ago to ensure compliance with regulatory issues and tax matters, because there is no President in Aso Rock to call or run to. If people who yesterday felt they were the law are now afraid to go against the law because there is no ‘padi-padi’ President, then we are making good progress. President Buhari is changing the way government business is conducted and how leaders should conduct themselves in public office. In a country with a pervasive culture of corruption and impunity, where people exhibit worst behavior as gold standard, it will not be easy to demolish decades of entrenched waywardness.
In an address delivered at the Vanguard Newspaper Award, with the title, ‘Nigeria-How to Win’, Mr. Bode Agusto identified what Nigeria must do to engender a politically and economically viable polity. At the core of his presentation are reforms that should be happening already. Only an incorruptible leader can lead reforms that will deliver on the expected outcomes. The Obasanjo administration was credited with key reforms in pension, banking, civil service and National Health Insurance. Power sector reform started with Obasanjo’s regime and partially concluded with the privatisation of power distribution and generation under the Jonathan administration. But corruption undermined the reforms and the people of Nigeria have had to deal with the short end of the stick. When drivers of reforms rigged the process in favour of special business interests, the outcome is disaster like we already have with power.
Power distribution and generation were farmed out to companies that had neither the technical know-how nor the financial strength to run them. A former Minister of National Planning, sometime back, revealed in a press interview that the senior officials of the last administration, including him, are the people behind the Discos and Gencos. Those who are supposed to bring money to invest and improve power generation and distribution have been bailed out with N300 billion tax payers’ money. That is how corruption impairs and stunts progress. President Buhari will not superintend over a process that will gift out national assets to dubious investors.
We have read of former Presidents whose sprawling mansions were gifted by construction companies. One abused his office to raise over N10billion in donations from private companies doing business with government and government agencies, to build a Presidential Library and Resort. Nigeria can not win as envisaged by Mr. Agusto, when institutions, systems and processes that should be the springboard for the reforms are serially compromised and abused.
While President Buhari has instituted a new paradigm and leadership template that should be built on and sustained into the future, he can be comforted that he is building an army of believers who have already bought into his vision of public service where self-interest will no longer be an overarching and directive principles of governance. I strongly believe Nigeria needs him for 4 more years with his steady and unblemished hands.