The Sun News

Buhari’s charter of national renewal

By CHARLES ONUNAIJU

THE return of President Muhammadu  Buhari from his medical vacation in London has considerably calmed anxieties of most concerned Nigerians, while a few appeared unimpressed. Prior to his return, some naïve voices had called on him to resign. Calling on any sitting Nigerian president to resign is tantamount to asking a section of the country to relinquish its turn at national governance.

Since access to the highest office in the land is by regional turns, especially between the North and South, it was callous and insensitive to ask President Buhari to resign, with intent to deprive the North of its turn. Even, if Buhari had dared to resign, he would have had no place to return to, because the North would have justifiably felt betrayed. This fact of regional turn-by-turn as the current criteria for recruitment of national leadership has subsisted as an accommodational and consensual framework, agreed on by all, though, short of constitutional endorsement.

President Buhari’s detractors, the “Resume or Resign” protesters even had the temerity to ask him to resign and return to his hometown of Daura in Katsina State, as if their democratic rights consist of deciding where General Buhari would live, even as a private citizen. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan was said to be privately disposed to serving the only remaining two years of the Yar’Adua presidency which he inherited, following the death of his principal, but was threateningly dissuaded by his kinsmen, who saw a once in a generation opportunity for one of their own to mount the pinnacle of national leadership.

The resign or resume agitation was clearly a non-starter in the context of Nigeria’s existential politics and despite a claim to democratic licence, is a breach of a subsisting national consensus.

Even as President Buhari has returned, resumed and even unfolded a charter of national renewal, few Nigerians still questioned why he was not forthcoming on what had ailed him, claiming it was obligatory for him to do so. However, there is no moral obligation to put his health dossier in the public domain, as far as he fulfills the obligations and duties of his office and even failures in this respect cannot logically flow from a failing health as Nigeria’s leaders, previously assumed healthy and physically strong, have failed woefully to deliver positive results.

The simple truth is that anyone who has difficulties in coming to terms with Buhari’s presidency has ample time to prepare and meet him at the ballot box. Buhari’s long march to power was through a path riddled with thorns, bumps and valleys, driven and sustained by his abiding faith in the powerless mass of ordinary folks. Any attempt to drive him out of office through the back door, other than the open electoral process, is doomed to hit the wall.

The President Buhari charter of national renewal, a short synopsis of about five minutes broadcast, encapsulated the trajectories of his broad vision which he believed, is shared by the “vast majority of Nigerians”. His reaffirmation of Nigeria’s “non-negotiable and settled unity,” echoes the widespread sentiments among a majority of Nigerians that the train of our existential indissoluble unity has long left the station and the question that remains germane is how every passenger can be made reasonably and fairly comfortable.

Nigeria is an immense and bountiful opportunity to every Nigerian and the search to find a niche is not necessarily about what we can get but more of what we can contribute. There is an obvious crisis of governance, a challenge that has been made more difficult by an unsavory history of successive leadership inability to find a sustainable and inclusive trajectory of strategic political and socio-economic path. The structural lacuna of this governance deficit is not derived from the differences in our ethnic, cultural and even geographical disparities and diversities, but in the institutional dysfunction of a weak state, reinforced by powerful and reckless political elites, whose strength is a corollary of state weak institutions. The structural deconstruction of the Nigerian State, sought desperately in the orchestrated agitations for restructuring, would further erode the state institutional capacity in favour of omnipotent oligarchs.

The strength of co-ordinate federating units, according to Professor K.C.  Whereare, a world renowned authority on federalism, is the institutional capacity of the central state to guarantee a foundational mechanism upon which the exclusive and concurrent lists can be exercised. There is no true federalism, except to the extent to which federalism is suitable for the socio-economic and political context of any state aspiring to be federal.

Most federal states evolve from original sovereign states wishing to bind together in pursuit of a common goal and the case of a sovereign state wishing to devolve power to component units in aspiration for a federal structure, must of necessity, proceed differently from those of the former. Nigeria’s most urgent political imperative is to re-impose institutional clarity and reinvigorate a state that can hold out on  its own, resisting a capture by specialized interest groups, no matter how powerful.

President Buhari was right to assert that some parts of the national conversation, “especially those in the social media have crossed our national red line”, but insisting that only “the National Assembly and National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse,” is basically foreclosing several responsible citizens on civic forum, through which national conversations can be moderated to reach a consensus. Democratic consensus is not only issued from formal state institutions but basically distilled from citizen’s forum.

As President Buhari settles into his job, he must re-examine and interrogate several orthodoxies, especially as they relate to economic policy and management. The mantra and ideological fundamentalism of private sector-led initiatives have dominated the policy arena for nearly four decades, especially in the past nearly 20 years of return to civil rule, without evident improvement in the fortunes of the country. Central planning is scandalized and out of any meaningful economic management paradigm but state-led planning and coordination remains a credible framework to drive inclusive and sector-by-sector prioritization, which is essential to sustainable growth and development. The broad legitimacy of a state is not essentially in its existence as a legal entity, but as a functional enabler, whose actions unleash chains of value creation, thrusting to the citizens,  opportunities for personal fulfillment and increase of the common wealth.

President Buhari must lead the charge in the shake-up of the existing economic orthodoxy because not only has it contorted and shackled the economy to the atrophy of a bird cage, but was premised on assumptions  which were congenially non-existent in our peculiar condition. It is only by feeling the stones that we can cross the river as any reckless dive is bound to result in a disaster.

Nigeria’s perennial cankerworm of corruption and the besieged national security are President Buhari’s main political turf, on which his national mandate rests. Even his detractors believe he has discharged himself creditably, but gaping holes still persist, that must be confronted headlong.

Buhari’s burden of national renewal comes at a very inauspicious moment, when national nerves are badly frayed, economic recovery is slow and painful, social discourse hostile and even his health and courage are under fire but only in this context are statesmen made through the hard choices they make, that normal politicians will like to avoid.

Onunaiju, writes from the Center for China Studies, Utako-Abuja

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