By design or default, politics – like governance – is an art and a craft of infinite variations. It is definable in hope and despair; expectation and doubt; fair play and chicanery. In its art form, the ideals of democracy are dainty and purposive.
This product of the fine points of human nurture ,natural justice and democratic culture was founded on integrity and trust through a social contract. But, the heft of its practice and the deft of its usage require the finesse of a craftsman to smoothen its rough-edges caused by human nature to dominate and control his environment.
This is the point at which the portrait of politics on a Nigerian canvass becomes a mosaic of intersecting strokes and lines of ideas flowing from an ink of expediency and a brush of exploration. Think about the nudge of self- indulgent ambition disguised as an urge for selfless communal service and the image of the average politician is etched on your consciousness. Perhaps, that explains why political campaigns and manifestos, in the Nigerian context, are – to the politician – what budget is to the economist: a mere statement of intention or an invitation to treat.
The Nigerian experience in the last two decades seem to support the theory that promises are meant to be broken and expectations are stacked to be dashed. Being a little charitable may excuse the rankling disregard for pacts made with the electorates while seeking office as the cognitive dissonance between reality and the ideal.
But this argument is hardly sustainable when the obvious bent of politicians to impress the people – before an election – is contrasted with their apparent inclination to repudiate agreements, ignite primordial sentiments and make lives more miserable than they met it.
With the advent of a new season of passionate excitement and animated expectation bursting on the Nigerian political landscape, the issues relating to why and how promises are flagrantly dishonored and exiting governments are almost always shooed away with ignominy are worthy of explication. Why, one may ask, would successive governments since the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999, over-promise and under-deliver? Is there anything in our character that makes our politicians “artful dodgers” of responsibility, co-starring with a cast of naive or grovelling electorates. Perhaps, the problem resides in an electoral process which produces a leader that could easily be held hostage by an uncanny interest group or a scheming power block.
An appraisal of the electoral promise quotient or post election performance profile of past administrations as a means of setting an integrity-driven, trust-sustaining and expectation-surpassing agenda for the incoming administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is valid, at this juncture. At last check, there seemed to be no previous government that did not push the country to a tipping point of strategic inflection where seismic change became inevitable to deflect frustration and prevent a descent into an abyss of socio- political and economic morass.
A throw back to the “Green Revolution” catch phrase of the National Party of Nigeria in 1979 and the military regimes’ War Against Indiscipline/Anti Corruption (Muhammadu Buhari: 1983-85) and Structural Adjustment Programme (Ibrahim Babangida: 1985-93) is signposted with broken promises that created trust deficit. While it could be said that the belief of citizens in government policies had shrunk due to failed promises of the Shagari government to revolutionise agriculture, the rash of military putsch which followed spotted more disappointing patterns of messianic posturing, “maradonic” hypocrisy and sheer autocracy.
For instance, the masses were swooning from the grandeur of hope in 1983 when the General Buhari military junta gave the oddly valid excuse that “our hospitals have become consulting clinics”, and “corruption has become the order of the day” to sack the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari. By August 1985, however, when the nemesis of a palace coup by General Babangida upstaged the short-lived Buhari junta, they were still too busy sniffling the press with the enactment of the obnoxious Decree 4 and waging a losing war against indiscipline to effect a smattering improvement to the nation’s health sector.
This ghost of hyped expectations was to haunt Babangida throughout his eight-year-long administration on many anticipated socio-economic reforms. Accusations of high-handedness and autocratic tendencies levelled against Buhari soon found greater expression under Babangida with signs of internal resistance manifested in General Mamman Vatsa’s “abortive coup” (1985-86) and Colonel Gideon Orkar’s failed putsch (1990).
The cup of Babangida’s serial deceit and lip service to handover to civilian administration became full with his annulment of 12th June 1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party.
A fallout of the litany of failed promises that the citizenry had to put up with over the years threatened national unity and resulted in historical dark days of an Ernest Shonekan’s interim government and General Sani Abacha’s near-totalitarian intervention (1993-98).
The point to note is that the raison d’etre behind these opportunistic leadership changes under the military were initially perceived as patriotic call to duty and embraced as a breath of fresh air by the people who would later cling to unending hope for a better tomorrow at the departure of those governments.
Regrettably, this experience subsists from the inception of this largely stable Fourth Republic. What with the roller-coaster political mood swings of the first 16 years of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party governments (1999-2015).
In that epoch, expectations that the harshness of the military era would be toned down by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration went awry. He must have drawn on the military might of his undemocratic leadership (1976-79) to order the Odi massacre (20th November 1999) and orchestrated a gale of extra-democratic impeachments and declaration of a State of Emergency in Plateau State (18th May 2004), for instance.
Apart from the historic re-admission of Nigeria into the comity of “civilised” nations, debt cancellation and the GSM magic in 2001, citizens were highly disappointed with the Obasanjo administration for its legacy of perennial blackout and non-functional refineries.
Needless to stress that all the anticipation for a resurgence of hope was stymied by President Umaru Yar Adua’s ill health and demise (2007-09)
The Goodluck Jonathan administration, given the circumstances of its emergence, dramatised by the invocation of a Doctrine of Necessity was expected to be a harbinger of hope. Alas, that government toyed with the peoples’ anxieties as it displayed a lack of political will to resolve recurring national embarrassments of corruption and insecurity.
Reeling under the weight of these problems, many were quickly sold to the idea that a no-nonsense General Buhari; a proverbial comeback kid and the brand face of an emerging All Progressives Congress (APC) was best suited to drain the swamp.
Incidentally, the fatally flawed execution of Buhari’s promise to fix the economy, banish corruption and quell insecurity has left as much bitter taste in the mouth of the sponsors of this government as to spit it out. As things stand today, whatever claims of redemption of pledge Buhari administration could appropriate in the area of infrastructure is muted by a deluge of rising debt (N77 trillion), hyper inflation (22 per cent), kidnapping and internecine ethno-religoius clashes and rankling terrorism/insecurity.
Yes, expectation of improved economy was blighted by convulsive price of crude oil, global wars and Covid 19, but the massive theft of Nigeria’s crude oil assumed an unimaginable dimension under President Buhari watch – both as Petroleum Minister and Head of Government.
According to The Nigerian Extractive Transparency Initiative, the nation lost N619.7 million barrels of crude oil valued at N16.25 trillion ($46.26 billion) to crude oil theft between 2009 and 2020. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation would later admit that it was losing 470000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude amounting to $700 million monthly due to oil theft.
The rigours of economic management may not be forte, but many who had thought the eagle-eyed general and war hero would be decisive in confronting issues of insecurity were rudely disappointed. They were scandalised not only by his slow response to farmers/herders and ethnic clashes but were total befuddled by his suggestion that an obsolete gazette that created grazing corridors through existing farms be reintroduced in contravention of the Land Use Act. The disingenuous and sentimental viewpoint of Buhari’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami (SAN) cast the issue in its worst light
A recent report of Global Rights, an international human rights organisation, said at least 4,556 persons died in “mass atrocities” in Nigeria in 2020. The group stated in the report released in Abuja that the figure represents an increase of 1,368, a “glaring spike of almost 43 per cent” in the number of casualties compared to the 3,188 recorded in 2019. It attributed the tracked deaths to “violent attacks, clashes, terrorism, kidnappings, and extrajudicial killings.
A major trust eroding action of the Buhari government resides in its inaction to facilitate restructuring and devolution of state power to enhance efficiency as promised during his electioneering campaigns.
And, just when you thought the infliction of pain and insensitivity had reached its apogee, the Buhari administration embarked on a knee-jerk new currency swap policy on the eve of an election that was perceived as a referendum on the APC seemed “happy” to lose.
With less than 30percent of the new Naira notes printed to replace the old currency within two months and attendant disruption to socio economic life of Nigerians, the stage was set for a spell of restiveness that could either make the idea of an illegitimate interim government attractive or loss of power by the ruling government inevitable.
But, as if by divine intervention, the ominous cloud blew over, the 2023 elections were conducted, winners including APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emerged. And candidates or parties that would not have stood a chance under an old election machinery won to confer an historical credibility on the conduct of the polls.
The crux of the matter arising from the apparent assault on citizens’ sensibilities and serial victimisation of trust by the political elites resonates in how the Tinubu administration would steer the ship of state away from the turbulent sea of distrust and mutual suspicion occasioned by Buhari’s infidelity to the APC mandate. Given the harsh reality that the Buhari administration has surpassed expectations only in retrogression, the Tinubu government would have to plan to exceed its own capacity to perform in progression.
The first assignment, which grapevine sources have confirmed to be in progress, is that of national reconciliation ,cohesion and unity. A sizeable proportion of stakeholders in the Nigerian project need to be on board to achieve initial inertia in policy implementation.
The politics of subsidy removal, which the Buhari administration activated hypocritically, comes to mind in this respect. Tinubu would have to deal with it conclusively within a relatively time span. Hopefully, latent benefits of the recently- commissioned $19b Dangote Oil Refinery with a capacity of 650,000 bpd may yet offer some leeway.
Also, from the outset, the issue of insecurity has to be tackled creatively. The use of force in an asymmetric war is as much a farce as the rehabiltation of underserving terrorists and criminals. The most innovative means would be to set in motion the process of state police and engage our youths more profitably.
It is a no-brainer that devolution of power to states in the area of security, prospecting for and processing of their resources is a stone that could kill the birds of increased revenue and unemployment at once.
Of course, corruption would be greatly minimise when the siege mentality created by weaponisation of hunger, deprivation , injustice and depletion of values is lifted.
Lest we forget, the carefree and ill-timed acquisition of debt that the Buhari government being serviced with over 90percent of our revenue could be a major headache for Tinubu. A forensic audit of the source and utilisation of these debts would be confidence reposing and trust restoring. While a probe of a past administration may be counterproductive, transparency and communication of the state of the nation’s finance would be a short cut to the people’s understanding of , faith in, and support for government policies .
The efficient and timely use of communication as a vehicle for progress to reduce the damage caused by a taciturn, stonewalling Buhari administration cannot be overestimated. Information sharing or regular parley with the public will light up dark and sinister crevices which continue to thrive as a result of eight years of emergency/crisis communication model.
The reassuring thing is that the persona of candidate/President-elect Tinubu could not be subdued by diplomatees of politics as he waged an unrelenting emilokan war as well as a brave pro-masses onslaught during the fuel/new Naira crises. But, he also could be assured that Nigerians would speak up more vociferously if he failed to address their anxieties immediately and frontally.
May he not by his actions or inactions resign Nigerians to Alexander Pope’s poetic frustration that, “blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed”; under the weight of a paddy-paddy arrangement between the two APC governments.
Jenrola is a seasoned journalist/communication consultant