Few had ever seen President Muhammadu Buhari so dramatic and emphatic. But on the day he decorated the new service chiefs with their new ranks, and speaking sternly, and perhaps feigning righteous anger, he gave them only a few weeks to secure the country to such a level that farmers could return to their farms. It was an impressive show. Why it took him more than five years to come to the conclusion which many Nigerians had reached years back is hard to tell. The point, however, is that whether slow or not, he had finally felt the same exasperation that has long befuddled the country. Unlike how he indulged the former service chiefs, it is ironic that he gave the new service chiefs only a ‘few weeks’ to restore order, though the country had all but descended into the vortex of violence and lawlessness on account of the lethargy and lack of imagination of the former security chiefs and a complicit presidency.
The president may not want to hear it, but the fact is that the country is at war. Killings, abductions, religious conflicts, shut educational institutions, cessation of farming, vicious herdsmen attacks, highway robberies, uncontrollable security agencies, mindless stealing added to inflated and needless contracts, cult and gang wars, and villages and communities seized and renamed by Fulani militia. On President Buhari’s watch, the country has become an active volcano and catastrophe. In contending with this total breakdown of law and order, the president has, until the decoration of the new service chiefs, been largely silent, preferring his spokesmen to issue bland and sterile, and sometimes conflictive, statements. Complementing the presidency’s statements are the fitful and provocative interventions by special interests inside the government, some of them prompted by competing cabals with an eye on politics and 2023.
Some two years ago, this column argued that the president’s success or failure would depend on his advisers and close aides, the so-called kitchen cabinet. The president had made heavy weather of governance, the piece suggested, because he had nepotistically and parochially assembled vindictive and superficial aides who had no regard for the rule of law or the constitution, and who had no depth or breadth of knowledge to avail the president the ideas and temperament needed to govern a 21st century country. Some of his aides were angered by that piece, and it received short shrift. It is time to restate that thesis again. Somehow, the president is still oblivious of the uninspiring quality of his kitchen cabinet, some of whom are neck-deep in political manoeuvres that may cost the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), its unity, and condemn and vitiate the legacy of the president himself.
There is little hope that the president can draw a connection between the parlous state of the country and the many weak and sterile policies and ideas issuing from his presidency. Should he draw that conclusion, he will be forced to rejig his kitchen cabinet, reset and retune his policies, run an inclusive government, and enthrone justice. But his conflicted kitchen cabinet made up of squabbling cabals have such a strong hold on the Buhari presidency that it is hard to see him freeing himself, let alone repudiating the narrow interests that undergird their actions and feigned patriotism. The president faces a dilemma. He will need to get fresh and wise aides in order to succeed; but without his current aides, he will feel naked and unsure of everything. Given his background, his peculiar brand of religious sympathies, his cultural hang-ups that see him looking wistfully north towards Niger Republic, and his political ideology whose leitmotif is feudalism, he will probably opt to be safe with what he is familiar with than risk his presidency for what, in his view, may turn out to be a chimera.
But should he opt to be venturous, here are the things he needs to do, for he really needs help to succeed. He has probably been told that the banditry laying the Northwest waste has socio-economic underpinnings. It is true, but it is much more. He must avert his mind to the injustice his government has inspired through its pestilential hijack of the judiciary, an action that has made virtually the whole country to mistrust the courts and encourage them to take the law into their bloodied hands. The judiciary needed reform to retune it for service delivery, and equipment and funds to make justice delivery timely. Instead, the president and his legal aides began wholesale demolition of the bulwark of the rule of law, total denunciation or trivialization of the principles of natural justice, and enthronement, at all judicial levels, of incompetent and sympathetic judges who deliver bizarre and politicized judgments devoid of sense and law.
Great and ambitious leaders reform and restructure their society’s basic norm to inspire regional and continental envy and imitation. Instead, President Buhari’s heavily politicized law officers, apart from their questionable understanding and interpretation of the law, propound monstrous legal principles, including subordinating the rule of law to diverse and trifling security exigencies, pack the judicial bench with loyalists and mediocrities, and institute an unprecedented level of ethnic favouritism and patronage, as recently witnessed in the controversies surrounding appointment of judges to the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal. Consequently, on the streets and elsewhere, disputants prefer to settle their grievances with guns and machetes, and even the security forces themselves have promoted and practiced jungle justice. It is safe to say that the president now has a judiciary after his heart. He will neither reform it nor brook changes or challenges to its structure, preferences, menaces, and decisions. He does not think he needs help to change anything in this critical third arm of government. But he really does.
Against the run of play, and like a bolt from the blue, the Buhari administration has decided to spend an obscenely huge $1.5bn to repair the 200,000 barrel per day capacity Port Harcourt refinery. For almost two decades, the refinery had been either dead or operating in fits and starts. It became a veritable sinkhole consuming billions of dollars and offering vexatiously little in return. Who or which group advised the president to look in that profligate direction when a much bigger and more modern private refinery will soon come on stream is difficult to guess. But at a princely $1.5bn or over N700bn repair cost, the Port Harcourt refinery, like Nigerian roads, will become one of the world’s most insanely expensive to maintain. It all boils down to who is advising the president, what his kitchen cabinet looks like, who does he listen to, and what does he himself know about modern refineries and the growing competition from electric cars and alternative energy sources?
To be concluded next week