As President Muhammadu Buhari resumes work today, stakeholders want him to tackle a myriad of socio-economic and political challenges confronting the country. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU highlights pubic expectations.
His return may have jolted his detractors out of their delusion. Those already dreaming of a post-Buhari era now have to pull the break. Gradually, the anxiety over his health may fizzle out. As President Buhari resumes work in Aso Villa, the seat of government, speculations about his fitness may reduce.
The nation is full of eagerness. Much is expected of President Buhari as he makes a broadcast to the nation today.
In the last 103 days, the nation had been enveloped in apprehension. In some online releases, some real and other largely doubtful, President Buhari, was sighted in as a much slimmer man, with a frightful fragile frame. The clips evoked sympathy and empathy. At 74, the Daura-born leader is a carrier of multiple burden. The first is the burden of repositioning a country that has been battered by corruption, insecurity and economic recession, and other challenges he inherited from his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The second is the obvious challenge of ageing.
Despite his focus and determination to frontally confront the tasks, he has been slowed down by personal burden; the burden of ill-health, which in some circumstances, is the inevitable companion of old age. One question critics may continue to ask is +:what is the nature of the president’s illness that cannot be disclosed even now that there are claims that he is hale and hearty?
Yet, the lesson of his absence is not lost on the polity. His Senior Special Assistant of Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, noted that President Buhari has contributed to process of building institutions of democracy. She noted that, before he embarked on medical leave abroad, the President followed the path of the constitution. He informed the National Assembly that he has handed over to his loyal deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). Therefore, there was no void in the Presidency.
Many stakeholders have also commended the synergy between the president and his deputy. University of Lagos law teacher, Wahab Shittu, described Osinbajo as a dependable ally and trustworthy deputy, who could not rub the boat. His learned colleague, Jiti Ogunye, hailed the trust and mutual confidence between the number one and number two citizens, urging governors and their deputies to emulate them. The last time a governor handed over to his deputy while on vacation was in the Second Republic when Ogun State Governor Olabisi Onabanjo sworn in his deputy, Chief Sesan Soluade, as acting governor.
No doubt, the Acting President has justified the confidence reposed in him. He has lived up to expectation. But, due to Nigeria’s level of political culture, presidential absence literately translates into a vacuum. Now, the president’s return could draw the curtains on the notion of a presidency at half.
The non-disclosure of the nature of the president’s ailment provoked rumours and falsehood. The opposition split fire, saying that the president’s whereabout should be disclosed. For partisan reasons, it became the main issue in the polity.
Observers pointed out that President Buhari was hunted by the ghost of the past. He was reminded about his reaction to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness. When Alhaji Yar’Adua was on flown abroad for medical treatment, Buhari called for his impeachment and resignation. Then, Yar’Adua made a mistake of not handing over power to his vice president as stipulated by the law.
In the last three months, individuals and groups have asked the president to quit. A source disclosed that, twice, the president wanted to consider the option of leaving the stage, but the cabal prevailed on him to jettison the option. As he heeded doctors’ advice to complete his medication for an undisclosed ailment and rest in London, the controversy over his actual state of health grew in leaps and bounds.
Many groups held prayer sessions for his recovery. Relations, associates and aides who visited him dispelled the rumour of a terminal health problem. Also, governors and National Assembly members who visited him brought back a good news that smiles lit his face as he received them. Yet, all these, to critics, were in the realm of conjectures.
Anti-Buhari campaigner, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, took the central stage. He told the anxious nation that the president was on his voyage to eternity. He said President Buhari was on a life support machine, threatening to release the picture as an evidence. Subsequent events may have rendered Fayose’s claims invalid. But, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), other smaller parties and sponsored interest groups intensified their campaigns, demanding for information on the president’s health.
One of the campaigns backfired in Kano, where people met the insensitive campaigners with hostility. In some parts of the North, some leaders have earlier cooked up a ‘poison theory,’ which may have sparked intense ethno-religious conflict, if the president had not returned alive. Yet, others said that President Buhari’s health had worsen because he has lot appetite. They foreclosed hope about his return this year.
While in London, Nigeria’s journey to recovery was at a snail-like speed. Although the Acting President took charge, the perception in Nigeria is that the acting president is not the power-loaded President and Commander-In-Chief. Thus, national attention shifted to an ailing president recuperating in United Kingdom. The tragedy of illness did not restore soberness in the corridor of power. The beleaguered country was almost at a standstill. The budget passage was delayed, owing to the persistent executive/legislative feud. President Buhari’s nominees as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Acting Chairman Ibahim Magu, was rejected by the Senate for the second time. Prof. Osinbajo insisted that he is the president’s preferred choice for the important job.
Tension also engulfed the country as the Arewa Youths gave Igbo in the vast Northern Region ultimatum to leave, in reaction to the persistent clamour for secession by Biafran agitators. Northerners who were from Yoruba towns of Offa, Moro, Kabba/Ibunnu and Kogi were taken aback because there was no bone of contention between them and Igbo traders. The acting president’s consultations and deliberations with major ethnic leaders doused the tension. But, since then, calls for restructuring have filled the air, prompting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to set up a committee to harmonise its position on the contentious issue.
Also, during the president’s absence, the APC continued to wallow in deep crisis. Indeed, the ruling party is in disarray. Its leadership appears to have lost respect. The party could not successfully broker a truce between the executive and legislature and stem the face-off. Even, Senate President Bukola Saraki berated Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun for ineptitude. In the last two years, the APC has not held its National Executive Council Committee (NEC) meeting. Its National Working Committee (NWC) is dysfunctional. Its Board of Trustees (BoT) is merely existing on paper. No meeting of the National Caucus has been held. Its mid-term convention is put on hold. Troubled state chapters in Kano, Kaduna, Kogi and Osun, where aggrieved chieftains are up in arms against the governors, are unattended to by the national leadership. On his sick bed in London, news got to the president that the race to 2019 has started; the PDP, which survived its protracted litigations, has started firing salvos. It was being transformed from a weak opposition to a virile platform.
Back in the saddle again, President Buhari needs more energy and speed to tackle the challenges of governance. Ogunye said the nation will demand more effective governance, following his return. In his view, Nigerians want the president to fulfill his campaign promises before the next election.
Contrary to public expectation, the ratings of the APC-led Federal Government has nosedived. Although the fight against corruption and insurgents have been commendable, the economy has not shown any prospect of speedy recovery. The picture is still gloomy. There is bitterness in the land. Hope has turned into despair. Unemployment is still soaring. The infrastructure battle has not been won. Even, the anti-terror war appears to be relapsing. Insurgents have changed tactics, shifting to new areas in Borno, Adamawa and Plateau. Yet, the president has less than two years to complete his first term. Within the relatively short time, can he still make a difference?
The president’s return may checkmate the activities of presidential aspirants in the APC and opposition parties. The feeling that a vacancy exists in Aso Villa is debatable, especially if the president fully recovers and swing into action. Already, members of his party, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso and Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai, are allegedly nursing presidential ambition.
President Buhari has an unfinished business to urgently tackle. Will the president reshuffle his cabinet, as being speculated before he travelled? He made a lot of promises to the country during the electioneering. Some ministries and departments are critical to their fulfilment. Will he reorganise them, put the right peg in the right hole and demand more effectiveness and efficiency? Will Buhari present Magu again to the Senate? How will he manage the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike? Will he as a statesman overlook the tirades of his detractors and refrain from vendetta?
In months to come, attention will shift to the next election. Will the president seek re-election? He is constitutionally entitled to a second term. If not, does he have a succession plan?
According to observers, President Buhari, who is the National Leader of the APC, should pay attention to the platform. The edifice appears to be ebbing away. There are cracks on the wall of brotherhood. They should be mended without delay. Analysts have urged speed, saying that delay could be dangerous. It is the first time that a ruling party at the centre would appear to be in disarray. To foster unity and cohesion, APC needs a strong crisis resolution mechanism. Its original leaders should make more sacrifices for the platform to survive. The president should call a peace meting and unite the aggrieved chieftains. Unless the multiple crises are resolved, there may be a gale of defections, ahead of 2019. President Buhari should also free himself from the cabals.