HONESTLY, the fear I have for President Muhammadu Buhari and his one-month old administration is as real as it is gripping. On this point, I do not need any analyst to let me in on what the expected reaction of many Buhari believers would be. But if the truth must be told, it may not have developed into angst of any sort, there is palpable fear in the land as to the capacity of the President to deliver on not just his campaign promises; his recent remarks on governance too, throw up same concerns.
In his first meeting with governors since his inauguration on May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari has given indication of how the next three months will look like for the nation.
Besides the deepening crisis rocking his party, All Progressives Congress, APC which of course must interest him, Buhari may be directly and indirectly courting the ire of state governors as well as more troubled Nigerians even at this teething stage of his administration. And this is not forgetting the fact that his traditional political foes will always be there waiting like hawks for any wrong step by the president to rubbish him and whatever good works he delivers.
At least, indications to this effect started emerging Monday when in his maiden parley with the media, he declared Nigeria broke financially. Though at that meeting he courted the friendship of the press, it was vintage Buhari when he reportedly showed no remorse for his bad relationship with the media when he was a military Head of State.
And as if that was not enough, next day, in his meeting with state governors, he went further.
The President told the governors that he would spend the next three months recovering funds looted under the immediate past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, adding that the period will be tough for Nigerians economically.
“There are financial and administrative instructions in every government parastatal and agency. But all these were thrown to the dogs in the past. Honestly, our problems are great, but we will do our best to surmount them,” the President said, adding, “the next three months may be hard, but billions of dollars can be recovered, and we will do our best.”
But he was not done. The President like a headmaster, warned the state governors at the meeting that impunity, lack of accountability, and fiscal recklessness would not be tolerated in his administration, vowing that funds stolen by government officials who abused their offices in the recent past will be recovered and systemic leakages stopped.
In a veiled reference to his predecessor, Jonathan’s administration, he said the recklessness under Jonathan was worse than that of Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari.
Other commandments reeled out to the governors, and by extension, fellow Nigerians were more telling. They include:
. Three or more months of hardship ahead
. Days of impunity over
. To make comprehensive financial situation public in one month
. Refund of monies spent on FG projects by states to follow due process
. Bailout for states dependent on Osinbajo panel
. Special assistance to Borno, Adamawa and Yobe badly affected by insurgency
. Comprehensive statement on the nation’s economic and financial health to be made public in the next four weeks.
Against the foregoing background, I fear that the President may have a very steep uphill task to deliver and/or achieve any appreciable dose of compliance by the states. Tag me a skeptic if you like. But you must note that the antecedents are there; there have been there and could continue to be there.
For crying out loud, we are dealing with state governors, whether new or second termers who in the first instance are atypical Nigerian politicians whose sole agenda of seeking election to such offices is self aggrandizement. These are people who misapply the Biblical cliché: “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall it be,” in secular matters.
To them, if a certain former Governor Lucky Igbinedion looted Edo state blind when he was in office and got a minor penalty from the law, there can be no stopping them from looting in excess of the record set by the former governor. Recall that a court fined the former governor N3.5million, about 17,345 pounds for corruption which he was to pay as an alternative to serving six months in jail. He had been charged with embezzling N2.9billion, pleaded guilty to one count of corruption in a plea bargain at the Federal High Court in Enugu. The court also ruled that Igbinedion was to also refund about N500million and forfeit three properties, including one in Abuja.
The foregoing classic example of how justice applies in this environment is not new to any political office seeker in Nigeria. They are always several steps ahead of the law. The current spate of interrogation of immediate past former state governors by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for graft-related allegations underpins this point. And if this is not making any sense to Buhari, he must note that for reasons that may be altruistic or self-serving, no fewer than three current state governors have had their respective legislatures approved N10billion loan for them for purposes described as developmental. I join millions of fellow Nigerians to hope and pray that the governors of Benue, Delta and Rivers States and would positively employ the loans for the betterment of their states. But if antecedents of their predecessors are anything to go by, it may become additional burden for the states.
Accordingly, what impunity is Buhari declaring is over? State governors as “Emperors” of their states have little or no regard for the government at the centre. They easily rally themselves together to get what they want from the centre. As masters of the political strategy of blackmail, they have their arsenal full of all the needed tricks.
This is a country where state governors can undertake some civil projects which the country’s Constitution and relevant extant laws schedule as under the federal authority, then turn around to arm-twist the government at the centre for some questionable refund. Or may be Buhari needs to ask Jonathan how state governors blackmailed his administration to share monies from the Excess Crude Account.
Inspite of interventions from the centre, the country still records tales of unpaid salaries of civil servants running into billions of Naira, uncompleted projects for which mobilisation fees have been paid and sharp practices of various proportions.
The litany of reasons to fear for Buhari in his unique and peculiar anti-impunity war against state governors remains open-ended. Can he like Julius Caesar wrote in his letter to the Roman Senate around 46 BC, in the city of Zela declare Veni Vidi Vici at the end of his peculiar crusade? Can he then declare: I came, I saw, I conquered? Nigerians wait.