Beyond Taking Responsibility

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“In which case, rather than acting as a progressive government that is dynamic, action oriented towards improving the welfare conditions of citizens, President Asiwaju Tinubu’s administration is behaving more like a reactionary government. Given such reality, it is almost impossible to predict what the goal or vision of the government is”.

BY SALIHU MOHAMMED LUKMAN

On Wednesday, February 28, 2024, in a press release, signed by Chief Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to President on Media and Publicity, President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was reported to have assured Nigerians that the country ‘will survive the economic hardship’ and that he ‘take full responsibility.’ It is quite reassuring that President Asiwaju Tinubu is not in denial. However, the crucial issue is, having taken responsibility, how long would it take to get to the end of the ‘tunnel’ when will the expected ‘light’ begin to shine? What are the specific initiatives of government to take Nigeria to the end of the tunnel and what is the guarantee that bright light and not some other shades of light is what will shine? Being a democracy with an elected government, which claimed to be progressive, to what extent can citizens influence implementation of initiatives to get to the end of ‘tunnel’ and see the ‘light’?

The main issue worrying Nigerians, and particularly APC members, in addition to whether citizens will survive the current hardship being experienced, is also to understand what the details of government initiatives covers to get Nigerians out of the hardship. Both as Nigerians and as members of the APC, these are worrisome realities, which weaken confidence about the prospect for getting to the end of the ‘tunnel’ and whether any bright light will illuminate the lives of citizens. This is partly because what is becoming very disturbing is that since the assumption of office of the President Asiwaju Tinubu, on May 29, 2023, major policy decisions are taken impulsively without clearly defined plans, at least not shared with Nigerians. Three good examples are the issue of removal of subsidy on petroleum products, floating the exchange rate of the Naira, and sanction against Niger Republic following the coup of July 26, 2023.

Adding to the impulsive approach to decision making, on Monday, February 26, 2024 after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) Meeting, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris announced the resolution of the Federal Government to implement the recommendations of Steven Oronsaye Committee report. With that decision, out of the 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies that existed in 2012, 263 agencies should be reduced to 161, 38 abolished, 52 merged, and 14 returned to departments in ministries. To facilitate implementation within 12-week (3 months) deadline a committee comprising the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of the Civil Service, Attorney General of the Federation, Budget and Planning Ministers, among others has been empaneled.

Giving further explanations about the decisions of FEC, Mrs. Hadiza Bala Usman, Special Adviser to President Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on Policy Coordination informed that the committee is to ensure necessary restructuring and legislative amendments to achieve implementation. Ideally, this should have been made an integral part of a policy of rebuilding the Nigerian public service to make it more efficient and productive. After implementation, what is the guarantee that the new outlook will result in reduced cost and will be efficient and productive in delivering services to Nigerians?

As it is, the emphasis is more about trimming the size of the civil service based on the old neoliberal agenda of World Bank and IMF. The approach, from the way it is being introduced is almost exactly the way previous administrations, especially military governments have initiated public service reforms in the country. Issues of engaging stakeholders aimed at guaranteeing inclusivity in policy implementation would appear to be taken for granted. Even the committee setup excludes critical stakeholders, which means stakeholders can only react to challenges of implementation with hardly any potential to influence or minimise possible negative consequences.

Arguably, with respect to all these issues, it is as if government first announce decisions before beginning to think in terms of what needs to be done to manage the consequences that followed. In which case, rather than acting as a progressive government that is dynamic, action oriented towards improving the welfare conditions of citizens, President Asiwaju Tinubu’s administration is behaving more like a reactionary government. Given such reality, it is almost impossible to predict what the goal or vision of the government is. This was clearly the same problem we had with former President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. The incomprehensible reality is that both former President Buhari’s and current President Asiwaju Tinubu’s governments are APC governments, which got elected based on the promise of changing Nigeria. Part of the change that is expected is having a government that guarantees and accommodates inclusivilty, based on which the outcry of citizens is factored and utilised to guide design and implementation of government policy.

From the time of former President Buhari to the current era of President Asiwaju Tinubu, issues of inclusivity are in reverse gear. Rather than engaging Nigerians and getting them to own policies of government, supposedly progressive governments talked down on Nigerians and like dictators almost tell citizens to take as given every decision taken, even when faced with grave consequences, threatening survival as is presently being experienced. With a manifesto that was the product of robust internal consultations during the merger negotiations that produced the APC in 2013, the expectation was that, starting from the government of former President Buhari, through strong engagements of diverse interest groups in the country, the APC will begin to translate the party’s manifesto and all campaign promises into clearly defined policy decisions.

This would have been the progressive thrust of the APC and all its governments, especially the Federal Government. Without doubt, this wasn’t achieved throughout the 8-year tenure of former President Buhari. Any achievement recorded is far below what could have been recorded had the APC manifesto been used as a guide for policy decisions of government between 2015 and 2023. Part of the unwritten expectation of many party members is that the emergence of President Asiwaju Tinubu in May 2023, will produce a new reality whereby the APC controlled Federal Government would begin to find its bearing from the provisions of the APC manifesto and most, if not all, the lost opportunities will be recovered.

Coming with a well-defined action plan – Renewed Hope 2023 – which clearly further outlined thoughtout roadmap consistent with provisions of the APC manifesto, many expected the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu to come with articulated policy plan, which was lacking during the tenure of former President Buhari. Had the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu come with an articulated policy plan oriented to implement both the APC manifesto and Renewed Hope 2023, the government may have saved itself the problem of limiting itself to only reacting to challenges produced by its policies. Instead, it would have been strengthened to at the minimum simulate engagements with Nigerians across diverse interests to negotiate expeditious implementation and perhaps fasttrack getting to the end of the ‘tunnel’ and produce the expected ‘light’ that should shine on Nigerians to herald the better nation, which is being promised.

Unfortunately, the most unexpected manifestation of lack of inclusivity in democracy is what appears to be a conscious demobilisation of the APC as a political party. From a situation whereby the challenge was to enforce the activation of party structures as provided in the constitution of the APC, through which party members and leaders could have a say in the process of managing governments produced by the APC, the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu has succeeded in completely insulating itself from basically all structures of the party. Few party leaders have access to him, which except for the National Chairman and may be National Secretary, other members of the National Working Committee (NWC) could at best be having distant or shadowy access to the President and other government functionaries. Perhaps, unlike during the tenure of former President Buhari when National Chairman meet the President periodically together with other members of the NWC, at least up to June 2020 during the tenure of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the current reality is that only the National Chairman meets the President.

The consequence is that we are in a democracy that produce a ruling party, which scorn meetings. We have elected self-centred Presidents who hardly see the value of other party members. From the time of former President Buhari to today’s President Asiwaju Tunubu era, the orientation of government and party politics is that President is omnipotent, who no one can question. This has continued in a worse form under President Asiwaju Tinubu largely because at least under former President Buhari, he never invokes his omnipotent status to nullify subsisting agreement within the party. Interestingly, President Asiwaju Tinubu who is expected to be more democratic and progressive as well, one of the first exercise of his omnipotent leadership is to nullify zoning agreement within the party by moving the position of National Chairman out of North-Central to North-West with hardly any consultation with party leaders in both the two zones.

Betraying any commitment for justice in terms of distribution of positions to the zones, the new configuration of distribution of political offices in the country favours the North-West with Kano State alone occupying two major positions of National Chairman of APC and Deputy Senate President. The North-Central completely excluded from any political position. How can a party envisioned to be progressive produced such a backward unjust reality? Given the combined reality APC has produced, from the time of former President Buhari to President Asiwaju Tinubu, it is difficult to justify all the promises made to Nigerians producing all the electoral victories since 2015. What is responsible for all these?

Some of the explanations being canvassed by especially many disappointed APC members is that both former President Buhari and President Asiwaju Tinubu just wanted to win election and become Presidents of Nigeria. Once they achieved that, any other thing with respect to good government and policy orientation is hardly a priority. Impliedly, this means that the whole merger exercise producing the APC was a deception. Rightly or wrongly, many APC leaders and members have come to accept this explanation as the main objective for the merger. Sadly, the current economic hardship arising from impulsive decisions of the Asiwaju Tinubu government without an articulated policy plan is strengthening the belief that the commitments of both former President Buhari and President Asiwaju is not more than becoming Presidents, which they have achieved.

With APC now increasingly becoming a closed shop with virtually all its organs demobilised and the omnipotent status of the President strengthened, what is the future of the APC? Being an envisioned progressive party but end up producing progressive governments in reverse gear, what is the implication? Is it a question of leaders becoming indifferent to the electoral fortunes of the party? Does the fact of being indifferent to the electoral fortune of the party also mean being unconcerned about the future of democracy in Nigeria?

These questions are being asked not in agreement with any conclusion of being indifferent but to attempt to rekindle the conscience of our leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu. Without any hesitation, one can argue that at the rate we are going, our party, APC, and our leaders have short changed Nigerians. What Nigerians are having today wasn’t what was promised at all. The most disturbing reality is that given that the current economic hardship is produced during the first term of President Asiwaju Tinubu, with no end in sight, does it then mean that President Asiwaju Tinubu is not interested in second term? Certainly not. If he is interested in second term, why is he managing affair of government like a military dictator, shutting down the structures of the party and talking down on citizens like a philosopher king who has absolute knowledge of what will produce possible happiness for citizens?

Unless the objective is to secure second term by other means and not votes of electorate, there can not be any logical reasoning. Could that be the reason for the newfound love with some identified political mercenaries who were strongly opposed to the election of President Asiwaju Tinubu? How successful could they be? If military governments with all their recruited mercenaries could fail to guarantee their survival how could anyone imagine that mercenaries could win second term for the President Asiwaju? It is so painful that party members have been denied access to meeting President Asiwaju Tinubu but some shylock political mercenaries have now become the faces and promoters of our so-called progressive government.

Where are our founding leaders who negotiated the formation of the APC? What exactly do our founding leaders want to leave behind as their political legacy? Is it that they have also resigned and accepted that the whole APC project is limited to making it possible for former President Buhari and President Asiwaju Tinubu to become President? In that case, why should Nigerians trust any political leader in future when they come with proposals for mergers, or even political alliances? Certainly, once leaders cannot function within structures of political parties, such that leaders only operate based on omnipotent status, no matter how loosely defined, commitment of leaders to democratic development of Nigeria will be weak. As it is, commitment of President Asiwaju to democratic development of Nigeria is increasingly being withdrawn. And so long as he continues to manage his government without allowing structures of the APC to operate and through that contribute to the decisions of government, President Asiwaju Tinubu, just like former President Buhari’s government will risk being on the path of continuous betrayal of expectations of Nigerians. Worst still, being a government that detests inclusivity, it will be anything but progressive.

It is my hope that President Asiwaju will recover his democratic credentials and reactivate his progressive politics before it is too late. As long as he continues to operate a closed government in which party leaders and members are unable to access him, he will continue to miss the golden opportunity God has given him to put Nigeria on the path of sustained democratic development. No amount of mercenary propaganda will change that. May Allah (SWT) give him and all our leaders the necessary guide to return to the path of democratic and progressive politics, Amin!

…Lukman, a former National Vice Chairman of the APC is based in Kaduna.

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