Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, former military Head of State and candidate of the leading opposition party in Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the rescheduled presidential election slated for Saturday, March 28, 2015 recently unveiled his programme of action, aimed at repositioning the country and giving a new lease of life to a citizenry already traumatised and disenchanted as a result of years of untold suffering, criminal neglect, deprivation and abject poverty; a situation that has culminated in the loss of confidence and lack of faith in the political authority.
Buhari, having carefully studied and understood the failings of the Nigerian state has put together a concise, but precise people-oriented programme, extracted from his party’s manifesto, to serve as a guide, if given the mandate, in the process of re-ordering a thoroughly distorted system.
In the document My Covenant with Nigerians, General Buhari shows his concern for the plight and welfare of Nigerians in coming up with an all-around development agenda, covering all sectors and our challenges as a nation – health, education, agriculture, power, sports and welfare, economy, corruption and governance, insecurity and insurgency, employment, and the rule of law.
Buhari’s track record as a disciplined and incorruptible person endears him to the hearts of most Nigerians as the right choice to bail the nation out of the present mess in which she is enmeshed. As the nation’s military Head of State between 1983 and 1985, he instilled discipline in a society already paralysed by decadence; though, incurring the wrath of many who were quick to point out that he was high-handed. But he was appreciated and applauded for dislodging a thoroughly discredited civilian regime which had then plunged the country into a stunning mess, and immediately embarking on efforts to clear the Augean Stable. He was the first Nigeria leader to confront – headlong – the menace of drug and currency trafficking, the hoarding of essential commodities and other forms of economic sabotage, capable of ruining the Nigerian nation. Buhari it was, who instilled sanity in Nigerians through his War Against Indiscipline.
On corruption, he says “no matter how vast our resources, if they are not efficiently utilised, they will only benefit a privileged and corrupt few; leaving the majority in poverty… if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” Everyone in this country today knows that the major problem holding the nation down is corruption. It has become so endemic that it has pervaded every facet of our national life. No other time can, therefore, be more auspicious than now for Buhari to come on stage.
In order to boost public confidence in the administration he is going to run, he promises the public declaration of his assets and liabilities, affirms the strategy of not only punishment, but disclosure and transparency in tackling the menace of corruption, and the enactment and inauguration of a National Council on Procurement and the Whistle Blower Act, while seeking to make the Financial Intelligence Unit autonomous and operational. He also promises to show personal leadership in the war against corruption, to hold those working with him to account, and review and implement the audit recommendations by Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).
Looking at the burning twin issues of insecurity and insurgency, the major challenger of the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan declares: “As a father, I feel the pains of the victims of insurgency, kidnapping and violence whether they are the widows and orphans of military, paramilitary or civilians… Never again will Nigerian children be slaughtered or kidnapped at will.”
The biggest form of insecurity in Nigeria until recently was armed robbery. The situation has assumed new dimensions lately, of kidnapping and insurgency, making the citizenry lose any sense of security and thereby living in perpetual fears. Apart from the loss of precious lives running into several thousands, the economy of the nation has not been spared either, as investors are keeping away from the instability in the country and normal commercial activities are badly affected.
Buhari promises to boost the morale of fighting forces and the generality of Nigerians and emplace state guaranteed life insurance for security personnel, while delivering a Marshall Plan on insurgency, terrorism, ethnic and religious violence, kidnapping and rural banditry.
He says that as the president, no force ( internal or external) will occupy an inch of the nation’s territory while all will be done to rescue the Chibok girls and have them integrated back into society alongside their families. Other components of his programme on insecurity include recognising and celebrating acts of heroism and valour in the service to the nation, and establishing close working relationship with the governments of states affected by insurgency, including leaders around the world to combat and eliminate criminality.
One of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria, Buhari notes, is the building of a country that is fair to all her citizens; a country in which all her citizens feel and know that they are valued members of the society with constitutionally guaranteed rights; and a country that respects human rights, promotes human development, fosters human equality and advances human freedom. His response to the flagrant abuse of citizen’s rights and impunity in the land is to lead a government founded on values that promote and protect fundamental human rights and freedom, and to promote the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law, whilst affirming the separation of powers and supporting the independence of the judiciary. He also promises to lay emphasis on the rights of the disabled as well as access to justice and prison reforms.
The Buhari response has become imperative in a country that has turned the constitution upside down; where the rights of the citizenry are trampled upon at and respect for human dignity is virtually absent. There is the urgent need to reorder the society and prevent anarchy. For a nation wreathing under the yoke of lawlessness, there is need for strict adherence to the spirit and letters of the constitution and respect for the rights and dignity of every citizen.
The Niger Delta
Buhari’s approach to the Niger Delta challenge is the regeneration and protection of the environment and ensuring strict compliance by all companies to global best practices on environmental protection, while sustaining and streamlining the human capital development in the region with a focus on youth and women. There is also the need, according to him, to reform investments in the infrastructural development of the Niger Delta and ensuring that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) is held accountable to its mandate.“I believe that protecting the livelihood of our people in the Niger Delta should transcend our interest in its oil”, he says.
His approach, which appears more comprehensive than others before him, may stem the tide of militancy in the region as it is capable of dousing the tension engendered by environmental degradation resulting in worsened socio-economic and health conditions of the people of the area. If the approach is vigorously pursued and religiously by implemented, the Niger Delta may be on its way to an era of peace and prosperity.
Nigeria, a multi-religious society with over 500 languages and 250 ethnic groups, is essentially pluralistic and heterogeneous. Diversity, like it is the case in the United States of America, is supposed to be a strength rather than weakness as the nation is blessed with abundant human and material resources that are ordinary expected to be a blessing to the largest black democracy. But over the years, this latent factor has been exploited by those who profit from instability and dividing the people.
As Buhari notes in his document, Nigeria’s greatest asset is her people and the best way to harness this to a positive end, according to him, is to invest in the people and ensure that they have opportunities to achieve their full potentials and enjoy the full benefits of their citizenship, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender or disability. He, therefore, pledges to acknowledge the nation’s diversity and consciously promote equality and equity in all government businesses, and to also implement the natural gender policy, including 35 percent affirmative action for women; alongside working with the National Assembly to pass the National Disability Act and the Equal Opportunities Bill.
The main thrust of Buhari’s message to Nigerians on the health sector is his promise to unveil a review policy to ensure efficient and effective management of the nation’s health system with a focus on prevention. He also pledges to ensure that no Nigerian will have any reason to go outside the country for medical treatment, and guarantees financial sustainability to the health sector, as well as partnership with state governments and development partners to ensure all-round implementation of primary health plans by expanding access to health insurance for rural communities.
The nation’s health system has been in crisis for too long. The situation was so bad at a time that one of the military juntas observed in its coup speech that Nigerian hospitals have become “mere consulting clinics” which was one of the reasons for the change of government at the time. The situation under successive military and civilian administrations has not faired letter. Most Nigerians cannot afford medical care; many still depend on unorthodox practices to get treated while far too many die as a result of negligence and from diseases that could be easily treated in saner and more serious climes. The health statistics is not only alarming, but frightening!
Against the backdrop of the sorry state of the nation’s educational system and the need to restore confidence and bring back the lost glory in the sector, Buhari pledges reforms capable of bringing quality back into schools, and positioning tertiary institutions to provide market-relevant skills. Other components of his plans for the education sector include mass mobilisation of children of school age into schools; investments in infrastructure, learning materials, nutrition and healthcare; the provision of on-the-job re-training opportunities for existing teachers and the right incentives to keep teachers in the classrooms, while attracting bright young men and women to the teaching profession. Other aspects of his plan include the implementation of a comprehensive review of the goal and content of the nation’s secondary schools; the setting up of Colleges of Skills and Enterprise, with the direct participation of relevant industries and professional groups; and the pursuit of a non-discriminatory policy between university and polytechnic graduates, among others.
For a long time, Nigerians have lost confidence in public schools. Although a majority of the elite class attended public schools in their time, their children now attend private schools from nursery up to the university level. The reason for this is the collapse of the public school system. Yet, the irony is that private schools cannot – in anyway – be compared to public schools, both in the quantity and quality of teachers, as well as in terms of infrastructure. Any reform(s) to redress this anomaly would be welcomed by Nigerians. The retraining of teachers and provision of learning materials will, no doubt, enhance their jobs and lead to the improved quality of their output (graduates turned out of school).
Incentives to teachers will not only keep them within the profession and make them comfortable, but will also attract a large army of the nation’s bright and brilliant young men and women who, hitherto, have shunned the chalk-and-blackboard job, and prefer to roam the streets looking for non-existing white collar jobs. Restoring confidence in the public school system would definitely increase patronage in them and save many folks the stress of paying through the nose in private schools. Mass mobilisation of children into schools will check the rising incidence if illiteracy and ignorance in the society.
Observing that oil has almost become a curse, rather than a blessing to Nigerians, as the product has excluded the majority of Nigerians from the mainstream of the nation’s economy, Buhari has pledged to revamp the agricultural sector by making it a major focus and laying institutional foundation to attract large-scale investments and capital into the sector. This is projected as occurring by establishing agricultural produce storage, pricing and marketing systems; actively promoting a well co-ordinated and innovatively funded Youth in Commercial Agricbusiness Programme; revamping, revitalising and improving the national agricultural extension and rural support service system; reforming key development banks and agricultural co-operative systems, and developing a programme of small-scale irrigation systems to ensure all-year round farming, among other plans. The importance of agriculture in an agrarian society and a mono-product economy like Nigeria’s cannot be over-emphasised. Apart from boosting foreign exchange earnings, agriculture has the potential of providing employment to the legion of unemployed Nigerians. Agriculture will equally provide food and raw materials for industries.
Any nation, especially a developing country like Nigeria, that ignores agricultural development does so at her own peril. Indeed, if well developed, the agricultural sector alone can revive the comatose Nigerian economy. The Buhari intervention, if honestly pursued, will lift Nigeria up from the morass of economic doldrums and social degradation. For instance, the Youth in Agribusiness Programme can open up employment opportunities for the Nigerian youth, majority of whose future remains bleak due to chronic unemployment and underemployment. The economic buoyancy of this class will definitely have spiralling effects of huge proportions. The crux of the programme is that the Nigerian nation will be able to feed itself and even attain prosperity through proceeds from agricultural produce. The beginning of the freedom of a nation is her ability to feed herself.
Then Buhari document touches on the problem of power failure and its concomitant negative economic consequences. Some of the solutions offered in the document include addressing the gaps in power sector privatisation to serve the needs of the people; exploring and developing alternative sources of power and investing in technical skill development for the efficient management of energy sources. It is noted that the nation’s failure to ensure stable power supply has been an impediment to her economic growth, productivity and national security.
With stable power supply, industries will grow and the ones that have fled the country would come back. Once the industries start to flourish, employment will be generated in the manufacturing and service sectors; those involved in the distribution chain will make money and pay taxes to government and meet other obligations, while production costs will go down. Presently, many of the industries around are apparently operating at low capacity, leading to the downsizing of labour (unemployment), which results in impoverishment and insecurity, as the unemployed have the tendency of looking for survival through means that are inimical to peace and order.
Sports and Culture
Buhari pledges to invest in and encourage investments in both small and large-scale sports facilities, and to ensure that participation in sports becomes a core component of education at all levels, while incentivising the private sector to invest in the development of high performance sports. He also promises support for real investments in the entertainment, arts and creative industries, in addition to strengthening regulatory frameworks to protect and preserve the culture and creative industry, as well as developing and strengthening the value chain of the culture industry to deepen the industry and provide jobs.
Both sports and culture, if well developed, have the potential to foster and promote friendliness and international co-operation as well as enhance the nation’s tourist potentials. Sports and culture are veritable tools for image making, apart from engendering social cohesion and national integration. It is noteworthy that as divided as we are in Nigeria, it is only sports that unite us as a people. If the kind of nationalism displayed during tournaments and fiesta were sustained, Nigeria would have been on her way to true nationhood today. Development in sports and culture would create employment, generate income for practitioners and the nation and provide entertainment. Entertainment enhances the health status of the individual.
This sector has been treated with indifference by the past and present governments, in spite of the enormous advantages derivable from its development.
Management of the Economy
The Buhari presidency, according to the Covenant, will not leave any Nigerian behind in its determination to create, expand and ensure equitable and effective allocation of economic opportunities. In essence, General Buhari promises to run an all-inclusive economic agenda that would make every Nigerian a partaker in and beneficiary of economic activities of his her country.
This is important as it would give every citizen a sense of belonging and patriotism. Nigerian citizens would be mobilised to stand up for the growth, development and progress of their fatherland once they are convinced that the system would be beneficial to all, as Buhari himself put it “No matter the amount of wealth we create, it would be meaningless unless it benefits the majority of our people.”
Babatunde Adeleke, a journalist, is based in Lagos.