‘May 29 was when this President was sworn in. It is an international norm, there is a honeymoon period, at least a minimum of 100 days’ honeymoon. And you won’t allow honeymoon at all?’
These words, uttered by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in July have quelled concerns over the sense in assessing President Buhari’s four-year tenure on the basis of 100 days. But whether or not 100 days matters, the polity expects an assessment, and history must be written.
According to the ‘Buharimeter’ app, which allows citizens keep track of Buhari’s promises, only one of his 222 promises has been fulfilled so far – the declaration of assets. Yet even this is incomplete. This is because according to Garba Shehu’s statement, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) will release the original asset forms publicly, and until then, the information remains to be verified.
Back in March when Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan, he promised to deal swiftly with Boko Haram, tackle corruption and improve the country's economy. Since his victory, the pressure on his government has been immense, and expectations could scarcely be higher. The new government has found itself under unprecedented scrutiny from an attentive and hopeful new media. So on this 101st day of Buhari’s government, the ‘honeymoon’ is over. Has the President delivered on his promises?
There is a feeling that President Buhari’s past 3 months has eradicated ‘business as usual’. ‘Sai Buhari’ has become consistent with the belief that the Nigerian government is accountable and transparent. In this time, there has been a common feeling in Nigeria: ‘Buhari cannot steal one single naira. One naira he cannot steal.’ With a personal reputation that contrasts strongly with the stereotypical Nigerian politician, some international recognition has been accorded to Nigerian leadership and the integrity associated with Aso rock. This confidence is difficult to express, because for most people it can only be felt. Yet there is the likely risk that it is exaggerated, and the feelings are vestiges of the political goodwill that saw him unseat his predecessor, but not too many can be out-argued on his reputation. The man yet inspires.
Corruption is the bane of Nigeria, and the most widely discussed issue. Buhari’s stance on corruption was probably the single most relevant reason for his March victory. And as expected, steps have been taken, but results are still lacking.
The oil industry has traditionally been an area of concern, where widespread opaqueness and secrecy have run deep since the inception of the NNPC. In a drastic move, he removed the Board of Directors and brought in Ibe Kachikwu, a Harvard trained lawyer to head the NNPC. Despite this, skepticism remains, as would be expected of all new appointees especially as under Goodluck Jonathan, there were five GMDs in five years. Clearly, change is not about recurrence, it is about quality – and Kachikwu will need to repay Buhari's faith, and in turn, the faith of a nation.
In other chapters, though the anti corruption agency – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has revived its ways after a few quiet years, it is still too early to call. The EFCC has gone as far as arraigning former governors such as Ikedi Ohakim of Imo, and Nyako of Adamawa. Yet the people remain unsatisfied.
Going by the allegations of Governor Adams Oshiomhole, there is a long way to go with probing old regimes and arresting former Ministers. But rhetoric should not overtake reason. In Nigeria's war against corruption, simple measures have a strong part to play. Buhari’s strategic choices such as the use of the Treasury Single Account to block leakages should be encouraged over public naming which play to the gallery, but not the public purse.
Pushing on with his war on corruption, Buhari has set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, tasked with probing the previous administrations of Jonathan and the late Yar’Adua for mismanagement of contracts and funds. It is an uphill battle. Tackling corruption is not simply a matter of political will, because the best strategies must also be employed. Corrupt officials will not make the task easy – they are known to keep foreign or domestic accounts in false names and employ diverse tactics in covering their tracks. This means that quiet consistency must be the watchword for Buhari - the real battle will not be fought on the front pages of newspapers.
Despite the good, doubts remain. Since Buhari’s inauguration, over 1,000 people have been killed in mostly suicide attacks by Boko Haram. The North-East faces challenges that go beyond military solutions. The impact of Boko Haram’s insurgency has long running socioeconomic consequences for children born into the war, youths warped by the violence, and parents left to pick up the pieces of families torn apart. With over 2.1 million internally displaced persons, there is a battle to be fought not just in Sambisa forest, but on the streets, amongst the homeless.
Buhari has shown an appreciation for the scale of the task. He has made strong military efforts. In visiting West African neighbours, the G7 in Germany, the African Union Summit in South Africa and the United States, attempts have been made to seek foreign support. Nigeria’s leadership of the military union of Cameroun, Chad and Niger to tackle Boko Haram has been intensified with the 8,7000 strong task force. As expected by many, if for no other reason than novelty and confidence, he has replaced the military chiefs with new faces. There has been no lack of action so far, but Nigerians remain understandably anxious to see the end of Boko Haram.
Nevertheless, it is the economic wellbeing of the nation at greater risk. The economic challenges have intensified and have triggered Buhari's other crowning title – ‘Baba Go Slow’. This is perhaps the most unsatisfying result of the President’s first 100 days. Nigeria based its budget on an oil price of $53 per barrel. A barrel of the benchmark Brent Crude is currently trading at $49. The implication is that new fiscal direction is not just expected, it is needed.
This has created unnecessary uncertainty, especially with the lack of a cabinet to run the Finance ministry. Expectations are high that Buhari will recruit a cabinet of technocrats that will inspire the nation, yet the absence of any cabinet at all, coupled with a negative economic outlook and falling indicators, is enough to raise questions about the future of the nation.
Yet many commentators have exaggerated the problem. Government departments are run by civil servants, with ministers serving as political heads. This implies their continued absence has served to depoliticise the ministries, not cripple them. But unsurprisingly, many have expected miracles concerning the economy, a difficult ask given the global economic headwinds. Buhari's focus on corruption – an obsession many believe has stalled his economic agenda, is actually a reasonable inward economic initiative. Plugging leakages in the public and private sectors and truncating the huge economic costs of corruption will serve Nigeria's economy well in the long-term. The aforementioned TSA already seems to be having an effect with Nigeria’s foreign reserves rising from $28.6 billion in May to $31.2 billion in July, two months after Buhari’s inauguration, despite the low oil prices.
Thus, expectations must be tempered in the short-term. As an open economy, Nigeria has suffered deeply from the oil price drop yet we have seen neither the near-crisis scenario of Russia nor the negative GDP growth of South Africa. Economic performance has been roughly on par with, if not better than that of Angola. Nevertheless, this does not exonerate Buhari. A clear fiscal agenda is required for Nigeria to tackle the current economic climate with the help of largely foreign investors.
Nevertheless, there has been no limit to speculation surrounding the cabinet appointees. But Buhari’s team asked Nigeria to wait till September, and until the appointments are made, uncertainty persists.
Without a doubt, the most criticised aspect of Buhari’s new leadership has come in the last month. Nigeria is a diverse country with historical sensitivities that cannot be ignored. Yet it appears the President has not allayed the fears of those who wish to label him the 'King of the North'. So far, appointments have favoured the northern region of the country, with 75% of appointments favouring the north, 25% in south, and quite remarkably – only one woman and no one from the South-East.
The appointments, though still small relative to the size of appointments at the President's disposal, have created some tension. Some have recanted the federal character principle, which mandates that the President considers gender balance and regional equity. Others have rebutted this on the basis that the notion that some appointments are ‘juicy’ and need to be spread is symptomatic of the institutional decay of our nation. It is reminiscent of the concept that the national cake ought to be ‘shared’ amongst the people to satisfy regional leaders and factions. But this holds no sway amongst those who simply want representative democracy – or sensitive leadership.
Most concerning is that there has been no indigene of the South-East, where Buhari received the least votes. This creates the impression of political compensation which he has been accused of supporting. Yet if this was the case, the South West region is yet to be ‘compensated’ for its support, despite delivering all but Ekiti State to the President. On this basis, this compensation argument is not very convincing. Potential explanations abound for the high number of northern appointments but the hope is that the sample size of appointees so far is simply too small to infer a trend.
Unsurprisingly, more time is needed. The people can do very little but agitate for more transparency. Buhari's centenary of days offers many narratives, some encouraging, some discouraging. How well the President has done is a decision for each citizen, each voter and each man or woman to make.
The journey which promised so much has just begun. In all the finger pointing and criticism, each Nigerian should remember that ‘all this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days . . nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But [we have begun]’ – John F Kennedy.