Echoes of the he Buhari Presidency

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By: YUSUF ALLI

Since President Muhammadu Buhari took over the reins of power on May 29, his governance style has been a major discourse among citizens. His traducers, especially the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have turned fault finders overnight and won’t give him a breathing space. In this piece, explores the ‘slow and steady’ pace of Buhari and his unsung silent initiatives which may turn the nation around.

Contrary to the awkward and uncomplimentary claims of a governor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during the countdown to the March general election, President Muhammadu Buhari is waxing stronger by the day. His capacity to cope with the workload has remained amazing to his aides, friends and associates. And in the last two months, it is becoming obvious that a new dawn is imminent for the nation. There can be no better testimony than that of President Barrack Obama, who lodged Buhari at the famous Blair’s House meant for philosopher leaders, and gave Nigerians a lot to cheer about their president. Obama said: “President Buhari came into office with reputation for integrity and a very clear agenda that is to make sure that he has been bringing safely security and peace to his country.”

Trailing Buhari in the last two months has revealed many dimensions of the new President and the how he is laying foundation for a robust future for the country.

Buhari’s unusual schedule causes stir in The Villa

Apart from going through some discomfort (through a make-shift life) before packing to the Presidential Villa, the President lives an austere life. He works from 7am to the wee hours of the night with intermittent time for his five daily prayers. He consults with few underground advisers (close and old associates of many years) in House 7 and aides on daily basis to weigh options. Talking on the tight schedule of the President, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu said: “Maybe because of his military background, the President wakes up early and he is an avid listener to radio stations. Before he reports for work by7am, he must have listened to all the talk shows on radio and you will be amazed how he picks you up on some national issues discussed on radio. Most times, he starts his day by 6am.

“The President works from the early hours of the day till 1am and 2am. In fact, there was a time the team around him had a meeting and expressed worries that the President was having only three hours of sleep. They therefore redesigned his schedule by saying no more appointment by 9pm. The new policy did not last more than one week. After that, the President worked till 1am.” Responding to a question, Shehu said: “I think it has to do with his military training because it got to a point that one of the youngest staff working with the President could not cope with his schedule.”

Unveiling Buhari’s moral curtains

Coming into power with a hard-earned reputation, Buhari has changed the face of Aso Rock – the seat of government. Unlike in the past administrations, loafers, busy bodies, political heavyweights, multi-colour businessmen masquerading as investors, chieftains of banks seeking to influence financial policies, portfolio investors and money bags do not have easy access to the Presidential Villa again. Instead, they now loiter around the corridors of the Senate and House of Representatives to have a peripheral feeling of what Buhari or the Federal Government is up to. This is the first time since 1999 when those who usually alter the fortunes of Nigeria at night over champagne have been shut out of the Villa. They can no longer drive in and out of the Villa at will; they cannot have gossip dinners with the President and have no access to every file signed by the President or a privileged knowledge of appointments and government policies again.

The situation got to a ridiculous stage under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua that a businessman was always getting the copy of policy statement even before Ministers or Permanent Secretaries knew of the government direction. While ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was in charge, some businessmen and money bags could influence policies within minutes after a shuttle to the Villa. They sought monopoly of everything in the country, they wanted waiver to direct the economy as they like or determine how Nigerians breathe, and some of them manipulated the oil, industrial and financial sectors from the tip of their fingers. At a stage under Jonathan, Ministers feared these money bags and Presidential friends than the ex-President himself. All the luxury is gone with Buhari in charge. A source said: “To Buhari, any businessman, political heavyweight or money bag visiting the Villa must come to add value and not to diminish or deplete the system.”

These men of means are unhappy being on the same pedestal with the poor but Buhari is unruffled. Besides having quality time to meditate on the state of the nation and plan, the Vila is saving huge cost often spent on accommodation at state expense, choice foods and exotic champagne like Vodka which was the delight of some people in the last government.

Instead, Buhari runs a tight administration with a code of conduct for his immediate family and aides. Aides must live above board and keep sealed lips on official secrets, especially crucial policies and itinerary. Once you cross the border line, you are either redeployed or isolated or ejected from the Villa. To the shock of every staff in the Villa, Buhari woke up one day and relieved his Chief Security Officer, Abdulrahman Mani and Administrative Officer Widi Liman of their jobs. Although the government has kept mute on the removal of these confidants, findings revealed that Mani might have been redeployed for allegedly “leaking Buhari’s itinerary to a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke who strove to travel on the same flight to London in May. It was also learnt that Mani was sent out of the Villa following power tussle between him and the Aide-de-Camp of the President, Lt. Col. Muhammed Abubakar Lawal over the security changes effected in the seat of government. Another source said Buhari was unhappy with Mani and Liman on how they mismanaged the ‘opportunity’ to take care of his appointments. He suspected some connivance when unwanted guests or some corrupt elements were placed on appointment list.

Also a desperate businessman looking for an oil block had attempted to bribe a brother-in-law, Musa Yola, to get access to the President but the in-law paid dearly for it. The dubious transaction was not only busted, Buhari ordered the arrest of his in-law in handcuffs. He ordered the State Security Service (SSS) to investigate the scam.

This is the first time that the First Family will be under some restrictions. Buhari has listed no go areas for his wife and children in order to avoid abuse of power. When his wife and children went for lesser Hajj (Umrah) a few weeks ago, he made sure they travelled on Emirates Airline, a commercial flight with a caveat that they must not receive any gift from wealthy Nigerians who are usually using the pilgrimage to curry favours. A top source said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has adopted a strict policy on the use of presidential aircraft in order to save cost. His wife and relations have been restricted to the use of the aircraft in the presidential fleet.

“A situation where the aircraft were used anyhow by some friends, associates of the President during the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan can no longer be applicable in this dispensation.

“For example, the Wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari and three children travelled for lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia on Emirates Airline instead of using presidential aircraft.

“Buhari is determined to ensure the judicious use of the presidential aircraft to save cost. He is also setting a new template for governance. Do not be surprised if you see the President using commercial flights.”

Findings also revealed that Buhari is blazing another moral trail as a leader because his wife still cooks for him. While hosting some children to Eid-el Fitr festival, the wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, made the unusual disclosures. She said: “I’m going to leave you soon. I want to go back home to cook for my husband. Because my children are here playing with you, nobody is at home, only my husband. I want to go back home to be with him and also cook dinner for him.” As at the time of filing this report, Buhari is yet to acquiesce to pressure to make his wife to go about with the appellation of the ‘First Lady’. A source added: “I think the President does not want the Office of the First Lady hijacked by vested interests as the case between 2010 and 2015 when Jonathan was in charge. So far, Hajiya Aisha Buhari is known and addressed as the ‘Wife of the President.’

Awaiting the fate of presidential jets

Going by his level of contentment, it was apparent that the President does not need all the aircraft in the Presidential Fleet but he is yet to make up his mind on what to do. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, about N9.08billion was spent annually to maintain the 10 aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF). The aircraft are two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulf stream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and Gulf stream IVSP.

Others are one Gulf stream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet.

A presidency source said: “Do you know that it costs about N747 million to fuel the aircraft in the presidential fleet per annum. President Buhari said his administration cannot afford such a luxury. He has limited the use of presidential fleet by his wife, immediate family and friends.

“The US President, Barrack Obama uses only two Boeing jets and one helicopter. So, Buhari is determined to cut cost. In any case, he lives an austere life. If he can ask his wife to fly on a commercial jet, then other public officers must emulate his standard.”

How he is running government without ministers

Gradually the President is restoring the old glory of the nation’s civil service in line with the 800-page report of Ahmed Joda Committee, which was submitted on June 11. Ahead of his appointment of ministers next month, the President is running the government with the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, Permanent Secretaries (who are the accounting officers of ministries) and the Chief Executives/ Directors-General of parastatals and his key aides like some Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants. The Permanent Secretaries and the CEOs of agencies are enjoying every bit of freedom because for the first time since 2007, they can now make suggestions, rub minds with the President and implement without anyone breathing down on them. The Senior Special Assistant on Media, Shehu said: “The Permanent Secretaries are there to assist him and he has given them independence to take decisions (including financial ones) unless it is something extra-ordinary.”

Reforms/ the coming structure of government and new ministers

Sources in the Presidential Villa confided in this reporter that the report of the Ahmed Joda Committee and the 2012 document of Steve Oronsaye panel will go a long way in shaping the surgical reforms which Buhari will carry out. These reforms may include merger of ministries and agencies, cutting waste in public service and putting in place a culture of transparency and accountability. In its report, the Joda committee said: “There is no direct relationship between the number of ministries and efficacy of service delivery. The US with a population of 316million and with GDP of $17, 328 trillion (30 times Nigeria’s GDP) has 15 ministries. India has 24 ministries while the UK has 17.

“The current structure of the Federal Government of Nigeria with 28 ministries and 542 agencies (50 of which have no enabling laws) results in very high cost of governance. The portfolios of ministries are not responsive to all the major critical national challenges such as family and child affairs; religious affairs; vulnerable and elderly group affairs as well as the North-Eastern crisis.

“There is an apparent conflict between the desire of reducing the cost of governance through cabinet downsize and the constitutional requirement of a cabinet-level ministerial appointment from each of the 36 states of the Federation.”

More than any group, the new ministers coming into Buhari’s cabinet may not enjoy the same luxury like some of their reckless predecessors in the administration of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Shehu said: “The President has said he will cut wastes everywhere. He used to tell us that as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, he was always applying to the Federal Executive Council for estacode each time he was going for OPEC meeting. You can predict his policy.”

But the only challenge Buhari might have is about his plans to reduce the number of ministers from 42 to 18 or 19 because it will amount to a violation of the 1999 Constitution unless the relevant Section 147(1-3) is amended.

The section says: “There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.

“Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.

“Any appointment under subsection (2) of this section by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of this Constitution:

“Provided that in giving effect to the Provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state.”

When contacted, one of the strategists of the new administration said: “The President is still keeping the list of ministers to his chest; he has not disclosed any list.”

What has changed in the past few weeks?

Nothing sums up the turn-around being championed by Buhari than a confession by one of the immediate past ministers who said: “I don’t believe that everything can be done in an orderly manner as presently the case. Buhari’s personal leadership qualities, including hard work, have made a difference. Former President Jonathan said he was caged but I have realized that we were all caged.” Without firing any shot as a military General or visiting any establishment, the President’s body language has done much magic in the past few weeks. The system is working in every Ministry, Department and Agency because public servants and government officials know that Buhari will not take nonsense. Since no one wants to incur the president’s wrath, civil servants now report at their desk on time.

The same body language charm afflicts the electricity generating, transmission and distribution companies such that the nation’s power supply is reasonably stable since May 29 when Buhari only inherited a “historic low” of 727 megawatts (mw). According to the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) on Wednesday, the National Transmission Grid has recorded another peak of 4,662 megawatts (mw) of electricity. The TCN’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Mrs. Seun Olagunju said: “Power generation and transmission have been recording new peaks above 4,500mw following improvements in gas supply to the generating stations as well as equipment/ infrastructure upgrade and enhanced human capacity of system operators.”

Revving up anti-corruption agenda

Contrary to the posture of his predecessors who used to receive brief from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies, Buhari has only left these agencies to “read his lips and be on the same page” with him in fighting corruption. A presidential aide, who spoke with our correspondent in strict confidence, said: “Do you know that Buhari has not asked any of the anti-corruption agencies to arrest anyone? He has not called for the file of any suspect or given them a list of the untouchables. Suddenly, these agencies increased their pace because Buhari does not place any inhibitions on their way, no presidential interference at all.” In the last few weeks, some heavyweights either quizzed or arraigned in court were ex-Governor Sule Lamido and sons; ex-Governor Martin Elechi and son; ex-Governor Ikedi Ohakim; Mrs. Oluwatoyin Saraki (the wife of the Senate President); Hajiya Zainab Dakingari (the daughter of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua); ex-Governor Murtala Nyako and son; a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi and Mrs, Ifeoma Nwobodo, who was the Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime.

Asserting the principle of separation of powers

For 49 days, the National Assembly was on the verge of brinkmanship because the President refused to interfere in the internal affairs of the Legislature. There were conflicting reports on whether or not ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo prevailed on Buhari to intervene, it was however obvious that the President took a constitutional risk which almost overshadowed his victory and the electoral gains of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In the end, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Speaking on a live interview chat with NTA on Monday, the President explained why he refused to interfere. He said: “I have to be very sensitive to the Constitution of the country. I do not like to be told by anybody, especially the legislators that I am interfering in their matter. There are three arms of government: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Over the years, they have developed the system of choosing their leaders.

“There is no way I can directly interfere. All I can do through the party is to appeal to their conscience that what I already observed, we should go over it as soon as possible. When I say we, I mean the APC.”

Corroborating his claim, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said Buhari stuck to his stand till the end. He said: “Mr. President made it once again clear that everybody has no alternative but to listen to what the party says. He emphasized the fact that all of us were what we are thanks to the platform that the party provided for everybody. I think this message resonated very intensely with all the members of the House. He still did not interfere and his parting words to us were that the leadership of the House and the party should go and resolve whatever issues that were militating against a resolution.”

Buhari’s unique visit to the US

This trip was a major breakthrough for Buhari because it came early in the day of his administration and he can now settle down for work. Besides mending the strained diplomatic ties between the US and Nigeria, Buhari was able to seek support for the nation’s war against Boko Haram and anti-graft campaign which may lead to the repatriation of about $6billion looted funds. The shuttle also fetched a commitment of $2.1billion loan from the World Bank (through its International Development Agency) to rebuild the insurgency-ravaged North-East. While the first 10 years of the loan will be interest free, additional 30 years would attract interest “lower than capital market rate.” On its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) might invest about $300million on immunization against malaria. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is expected to work with Dangote Foundation for a zero polio free system in the country. A former Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora told this reporter correspondent during the week that the gains of the trip were significant. He said: “It is a measure of goodwill Obama and the United States have for President Buhari and his administration. That goodwill goes beyond America; it also extends to international community especially the Western world.”

Giving anti-terror war a new bite

Since the appointment of new Service Chiefs, the nation’s counter-insurgency campaign has heightened. Troops have seized many camps of Boko Haram, killed more than 300 insurgents and set free hundreds of captives including a six-day old infant. Buhari has also initiated a military alliance with Chad, Niger Republic, Cameroon and Benin Republic. A military source said: “With the way we are going about the campaign, we will rout out Boko Haram in the next six months if we sustain the tempo.”

Bail out for states

Worried by the collapse of the economy of most states, the President has reeled out some bail out measures including the release of N713.7billion intervention funds for states; N413.7billion represents special intervention funds; and the balance of about N250billion to N300billion as a soft loan to states. While about N413.7b ($2.1b) was sourced from the recent LNG proceeds, the remaining N300b came from a Central Bank-packaged special intervention fund. The Debt Management Office (DMO) is expected to assist states to restructure over N660billion commercial loans crippling their economy.

What should Nigerians do?

National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu during the week asked Nigerians to be patient with Buhari to effect the much desired change. He said: “Change is not by magic, it is driven by the people… You see, we have had so much problem in this country in the past because we run into policy blindfolded without adequate and effective planning. You don’t have results unless you plan well. The time it takes you to plan, examine, re-jig, re-evaluate is more important than the time you just rush into taking action because you are either being sentimental, being emotional and being driven by forces that are not expected.”
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