So Far, So Bad, Mr. President
My unilaterally declared cease-fire with the Vice-President does not cover the President. If readers will remember, I have written off the President since when I reviewed his performance after his first 100 days in office, promising never to speak about him again.
But the press worldwide is accustomed to reviewing the performance of administrations periodically, especially after 100 days or a year in office. It is with this feeling of tradition that I reluctantly took to the keyboard to discuss the performance of the Obasanjo, once more.
Now, what yardstick do we use to measure his achievements? Do we judge him by asking how gentlemanly has he been, that is, to what extent has he kept, or attempted to keep, his campaign promise? Do we judge him by how much happiness has he added to our lives? And since it is a democracy, do we judge him by the degree of his adherence to its tenets, or do we judge him by comparing his achievements to that of his military predecessors? A politician will add another dimension, a certainly critical one, that is, would the President win another election were it to hold today? And so on.
If an equation were to be used, its variables would certainly be too many for discussion within the limited space of a newspaper column. But we can pick on the few important ones. I think democracy is an important index. Added to it is stability of the federation and the quality and success of programs embarked by the administration. I will drop the fight against corruption because there seem to be no shift in position from where it stood since our last review. As far as electoral satisfaction is concerned, Obasanjo has turned the dinner table upside down. The southwest may be happy to vote for him, but other regions will not. This much is clear.
So let us revisit Obasanjo on basis of democracy, stability of the federation and quality and success of his programs. If other variables would become stronger in his second year, we shall talk about them later, God willing.
First, on democracy, the executive does not seem to be interested in respecting the rules of the game. It usurped the powers of the legislature on a number of occasions. An example was at the debut of the administration where appointments like that of the Inspector General were done without following constitutional procedure. When the attention of the President was drawn to the violation, he apologized, promising to rectify it later.
But instead of showing rectitude, he carried the violations further. Almost all the extra-ministerial bodies established by decrees during the military were scrapped without recourse to the legislature. The president acted ultra vires, notwithstanding the approval of the National Council of State, a mere advisory body. When it was apparent that the legislature was not in the mood of recalling the action of the president, two legislators filed a case seeking a court order to restrain the executive. I cannot say where the matter slept, but I know that all such bodies remain scrapped.
Procedural ultra vires has become a normal practice of the executive. It is a way of bypassing the check and balances of democratic governance. In most of its appointments the presidency preferred to violate constitutional provisions that will ensure fair representation of various parts of the federation.
An imbalance was pursued in favor of a section of the country, sometimes blatantly. In the appointment of ambassadors the Presidency had the courage to acknowledge its violation of the federal character principle. Here, the legislators acted a bit more decisive, albeit too late. There are also accusations that the executive does not stick to budgetary approvals, and so on.
Then came the greatest anti-democratic actions of the President, his attempt to castrate the legislature. Conflict between the executive and the legislature is expected and, many times, it is regarded healthy for the growth of democracy, if it is not a calculation by one arm of government to emasculate the other. Unfortunately, this conflict seems to be harmful to the future of democracy and also to the services provided by both arms of government.
The executive has a phobia for a strong legislature. I have no doubt about that. Right from the beginning, there have been reports in the press that the presidency has developed interest in the leadership of both houses and of their committees. It started as rumor during the election of Evan(s) Enwerem; today it is openly said by no less personality than the leaders of the National Assembly itself. They are openly accusing the president of being consistently behind unseating both Na’abba and Okadigbo. But this is necessary to the President once he is bent on flouting constitutional provisions. Someone there, with skeletons in his cupboard, is needed for an easy ride. At first, it appeared that he has succeeded, with Salisu Buhari and Evan(s) Enwerem; but it did not take time for the scene to turn scandalous. Today, it is a bit different. At least, some resistance is there to his whims.
Lack of cooperation between the executive and the legislature is stifling governance, and it is the masses that suffer in the end. Vital projects that have direct bearing on our lives are delayed, abandoned or postponed indefinitely. The President is yet to sign the 2000 budget bill. In fact, in a bizarre display of executive belligerence, he has recently sent a letter requesting exemption from implementing areas where he disagrees with the amendments made by the legislature. He promised to re-present them in an appropriation bill that will be submitted later in the year.
In my judgement allowing the president to seek exemption from carrying out his primary responsibility – executing what the legislature has passed – violates the fundamental supremacy of the legislature. In fact, this makes nonsense of the legislature. It shows that they are ineffective in their primary function as representatives of the people and the primary difference between democracy and dictatorship. We wait to see whether they will approve his request or not. If they do, they should know that they have traded off their function to the executive over a platter of gold.
Though that will not be the first time the legislature is paving way for the wishes of the President. We have seen them do so especially at the beginning of the administration, during the tenures of Enwerem and Salisu Buhari.
This problem could partially be associated with how the ruling party, the PDP, was subordinated by both the executive and the legislature. Who remembers the PDP since its last convention? What are its programs? Due to the contradiction in its composition, members of the party retain their allegiance with the primordial political associations that made up the party. This has led to a situation where different groups within the party pursue different agendas. The executive is pursuing an Afenifere agenda, as confirmed by Uncle Bola, while the legislature is agenda-neutral, except of course the politics of ‘Ghana must go.’
Talking about ‘Ghana must go’, the President must try to cleanse the legislature of this unholy practice. It is dangerous to the President and to national security. Once they are used to it, and I am afraid to say that a year is enough a period for an addiction, anybody, including Tilde, can buy the legislature to impeach the President or cause one problem or another. As an illustration of my point, Senator Nzeribe has recently challenged the President to a duel of ‘Ghana must go’.
We can go on and on. The point we have tried to make so far is that the President has not proved to be the best custodian of democracy. He prefers to be a dictator. When I said it a year ago, after his first fifty days, some people felt that I was unnecessarily being preemptive. Today, that position has been reiterated by thousands of commentators. I stand vindicated.
The results of most programs undertaken by the president are woefully poor. Some are launched without any clear picture of what they mean. An example here is the Universal Basic Education program. I do not know whether its blue print is ready is finally ready. Some programs look like a child’s play. Imagine that the poverty alleviation program, designed (?) to cater for over 60 million people, is allocated only N10 billion, an amount just 25% higher than the cost of the President’s tokunbo presidential jet. Some of the programs are reminiscent of the one he scrapped as being unconstitutional. An example here is the recently launched Childcare Program of the first lady. How sweet is the forbidden fruit, Mr. President?
Let us turn to programs that took off. The nation has witnessed the mother of all blackouts in its history. Ige is written in charcoal. Winding up the PTF ended in a scandal that saw the sacking of its interim management committee. The president still owes us an explanation. Then came Hajj 2000, the mother of all failures. We are now hearing that there will be a cabinet reshuffle. Mr. President, so early?
Talking about failure of programs, it is important to say that they have failed essentially due to two reasons. One, lack of a political ideology to back them; and two, the wrong choice of people that will focus on success that is defined not in terms of political objectives or personal gains, but cogent social benefits accruing to all. We have had occasions to elaborate on these two sources of failure in the past. It is unnecessary to risk a repetition here.
One thing deserves a mention, however. The World Bank and the IMF are clearly dictating the economic policies of the government. Experts in this country have said a lot on the social, political and economic detriments of their measures and conditions. This forms the basis for the consistent condemnation of the Babangida administration. It is an irony that a person who was pleading with Babangida to give a human face to SAP is today the proprietor of more inhuman measures like complete removal of subsidy on petroleum products and fertilizer, further devaluation of the naira and so on. In addition, regardless to all calls for caution, the administration is bent on auctioning the country to multinationals. May the soul of Murtala rest in peace. Amen. This Aaron is not like Moses.
Finally, the chief reason why Obasanjo was sold to Nigerians is the expectation that he will reconcile between the southwest and the rest of the country. Most of us felt that the cancellation of the June 12 election was unjust. Still, I felt it was too defeatist for the North to carry the guilt of the cancellation. Babangida is not synonymous with the North. After all, if Babangida will agree to publish his memos, I believe we will be surprised to know who actually advised him to cancel June 12. It was the southerners themselves, and guess who had the loudest voice among them.
Nevertheless, the shift has taken place. What is unfortunate is how the President squandered the opportunity to reconcile the nationalities by choosing to please only one of them, who happens to be his kinsmen and the most powerful group in the economy, civil service and the press. The explanation given is that pleasing them is essential for stability.
I beg to disagree, Mr. President. And my basis of disagreement is clear from the unrest that this country has witnessed in the last one year, especially in the southwest. You are chasing a shadow. Another evidence is the discontent that the policy has earned the regime. If elections were to be held today, it is most likely that the President will not succeed.
I have the strong feeling that instability will continue to characterize our polity so long as a return to true federalism is not effected. This single act has the capacity to solve a lot of problems and it is what our elders have foreseen decades ago. I do not see it as retrogression because the various unrest that took place recently have proved that our nationalism has just been rhetorical and pretentious. The resurgence of regional differences should be seen as an indication of the ripeness to restore federalism.
A strong center with monopoly over every sector of the economy and governance is not consistent with successful models of countries with multiple cultures, beliefs and worldviews. Instead of pursuing this goal however, the government is busy exploiting, or rather harnessing, our differences. We have recently seen a case in the renewed agitation of the Middle Belt.
On this lane too, the federal government does not seem to be successful. So our hopes for stability by voting Obasanjo are far from being realized.
I have chosen to address the failures of the regime with the belief that it will aid the administration in making corrections. It still has three years to go. In addition, I know the president will be handed a clean bill by the southern press and government-owned media, for obvious reasons.
The President will definitely be bored with their chorus. So why would not Friday Discourse be benevolent enough to accord him a different version of the story. We are sad to hand him a bill that reads thus: especially in non-Afenifere parts of the country and where ‘Ghana must go’ has not yet reached, the ruling on his performance is so far, so bad.