Will Buhari Break The Jinx Of Underperformance

The question posed by the title of this write-up is raised countrywide and globally as is sworn in as and Commander-in-Chief today at the Eagle Square, Abuja. That question assumed fresh urgency in the past one week as the nation, virtually shut down, reeled under the assaults of an all-time low in the generation of power and an uncommonly severe petrol scarcity.

The hangover and scars of the nation’s recent leap into darkness and the memories of queues for fuel that looked like scenes of fresh riots, in the dying days of the Jonathan administration will remain with us for a long time. A wanton epitaph to another season of failed governance, the recent groaning of Nigerians, underlines the tragedy of a resplendently resourced nation jinxed by underperforming leaders and a corrupt elite.

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There is a tiresome repetitiveness about the woes of the nation. The PUNCH columnist, Uche Igwe, reported on Wednesday the feeling of déjà vu he had as he participated in the recent policy dialogue of the All Progressives Congress held in Abuja. Wrote Igwe: “It was a collection of experts of some sorts. However, exactly 16 years ago, as the civilian regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo was preparing to take over from Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, a similar conference was held. I looked around and saw exactly (probably a majority) of the people who attended the conference in Abuja. They also offered the same nice proposals and suggestions that we had last week.” This pinpoints the recurrent character of Nigeria’s problems which have remained unsolvable by successive governments notwithstanding several promises.

Browse through the inauguration speeches of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan and you will find grandiloquent avowals to make life better for all by improving infrastructure; in particular electricity, tackle corruption and reduce transport deficits. Obasanjo told the nation in 1999 that he would “make significant changes within a year, curb corruption and restore public confidence in governance.” He repeated those promises in 2003 with a new emphasis on improving public services and infrastructure as well as healing the nation; most of those promises went unfulfilled. For example, despite spending $16m on the power sector, the country remained in darkness. Similarly, in spite of his personally supervising the petroleum industry, the fundamental problems of that industry remained unresolved. His successor, the late President Yar’Adua, took over with the familiar bag of pledges to “concentrate on rebuilding our physical infrastructure and human capital as well as accelerate economic and other reforms in a way that makes a concrete and visible difference to ordinary people.” Needless to say at the time of his unfortunate passing on, Nigeria’s familiar woes were not alleviated.

President Jonathan at his inauguration speech in 2011 waxed eloquent by pledging a leadership that would be “decidedly transformative”. He went on to say that “the transformation will be achieved in all the critical sectors of the economy.” He would, he promised, transform the power sector, create jobs, fight corruption and rebuild tottering infrastructure. His dismal record is illustrated by the fact that the presidential election has been interpreted as more of a vote against Jonathan than one for . I do not know how many promises Buhari will make at the Eagle Square today but he made quite a number some of them clearly unfulfillable during the recent campaign.

A sampler: He will grow the economy by 10 to 12 per cent annually, mount an elaborate social welfare programme which would pay 25 million people N5, 000 monthly and dish out one free meal a day to all public primary school pupils. Not done and not minding a recessive economy, he said he would raise the to be at par with the , give Nigerians electricity round the clock and create millions of jobs. Although Buhari has commonsensically toned down on these promises after he won the election, his critics are not likely to let him off the hook lightly should he fail to redeem them. The fundamental point, however, is that between 1999 and today Nigerians have been fed a diet of unfulfilled declarations while their lives have slipped from bad to worse.

There is no better illustration of the crisis of underperformance and of ambitious pledges chasing weak executive performance than the recent energy crunch in which a nation which is a major oil producer could neither guarantee the efficient supply and distribution of fuel nor more than a few hours of electricity in days.

No single refinery has been built since 1999 and no increase worth talking about has been recorded in the generation of electricity since then. This remains the case despite several road maps to power efficiency and several panaceas canvassed for managing the oil sector.

It would be interesting to do a comparative analysis of what other nations have done with their time and resources in the same 16 years in which Nigeria has not only stagnated but backslid into serial national deficiencies. It is this unhappy narrative that has pushed the question to the front burner of whether Buhari admittedly taking over at a time of grievous economic decline can the cycle of underperformance and of inflated expectations quickly followed by bitter disappointments.

It should be remarked that as Igwe’s anecdote about the same experts canvassing the same solutions within the space of 16 years reminds us, the nation already has a surfeit of remedies and policy proposals in its archives that were either not implemented or implemented half-heartedly. This points to deeper dysfunctions within the polity related to the crisis of institutions and programmed incompetence, the crisis of a leadership more concerned with its material comfort than that of the masses and as a corollary the pervasive corruption in the public sector.

These are also deepened by the gap between what leaders promise and what they actually do. What is required therefore is an overhaul of the way governance has been conducted thus far, an overhaul touching on such areas as the cutting of the privileges of office holders, resource generation by thinking outside the box of the current allocative federalism with its money sharing orientation, and above all the rebuilding of malfunctioning institutions and the enthronement of leadership by example.

Fortunately, Buhari has wisely opted for a trim cabinet and a modest retrenchment in the outsized salaries and emoluments that are paid to office holders. In other words, he has correctly discerned that no meaningful change or reform can be carried out without redesigning the architecture of a governance system which guarantees good life only for a few.

Obviously therefore, it cannot be business as usual neither can entrenched attitudes and habits which landed us in the current mess be changed by gestures, publicity or tokenistic efforts to construct an identity as “a friend of the masses”. If the new administration repeats the decadent routines of previous underperforming governments, it will get the same results that they got leaving the citizens in the lurch.

And, of course, it will get the same treatment underperforming governments get from a disgusted and disenchanted electorate. As several commentators have suggested, Nigerians are willing to make sacrifices to make the nation great again but only if their leaders are upfront leading the sacrificial procession rather than enjoying feasts while the people suffer deprivation.

Opinions expressed above were solely of the author: Ayo Olukotun



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