One year of change: Not yet morning on creation day

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Abdul Mahmud
Abdul Mahmud

The pall of grief that enveloped the two geopolitical regions – south east and south south, the political bases of exPresident Jonathan- had barely lifted when bugles and drums sounded, car horns blared, and machine guns boomed to herald the coming of President Buhari, winner of the 2015 presidential poll. Supporters of exPresident Jonathan were visibly sad. They chose not to share the joys of those victorious Nigerians who rooted for President Buhari.

With their candidate losing the keenly contested and divisive presidential poll, their future in a polity of the winner-takesall invariably became uncertain. For them, and understandably so, sadness was a sad place to be. They learned to carry sadness into their homes, away from streets filled with the cries and chants of “Sai Baba and Sai Buhari”!! President Buhari’s supporters were in charge of the streets. They owned them. They made no pretense about possessing them for good. The Presidential Inauguration Day wasn’t for sadness. Success has many friends.

There were joys etched in the faces of leading opposition figures and their friends who gathered in Abuja to witness that epochal moment never before experienced in the history of Nigeria. For the first time the ruling party in Nigeria was dethroned by the opposition, in spite of the ruling party’s boast of occupying the seat of power for sixty years. As it turned out the ruling party’s hold on power lasted for a little over sixteen years before the impossible happened.

Truly the impossible happened. The mission of the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), to capture power, was accomplished on Inauguration Day. For the APC, the journey from the wilderness of opposition wasn’t an easy one, neither was the road to power an easy road to travel, nor were the many battles that raged along the road to power any easier. The Presidential Inauguration Day met a nation torn by sadness and joy. A strange oxymoron that highlighted the nature of politics in Nigeria: how it gives joy to those who are victorious at the poll, while losers possess only sadness. Nigeria politics is tribal. The celebrations in the southwest and the entire north showed why tribal ownership of victory was important at the time.

The north and southwest owned the victorious President and Vice President. The northerners and south westerners had every reason to party beyond the Inauguration Day into the morning after the night before, map and renew the boundaries of their geography of joy. President Buhari understood the tribal nature of Nigeria politics very well. He understood the adverse effect the struggle over possession and ownership of the victors of power has on national unity, so he made that famous remark to counter the claims of possession and ownership: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. Welcome to the country of everybody and nobody.

His mission, no matter how it was misread at the time, was clear. He didn’t fail to unveil his plans to restore order to the Nigerian House; at least, contain the Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast. He also promised to take corruption head on. On Inauguration Day, President Buhari presented Nigerians the workable agenda for reinventing Nigeria. How far has Nigeria fared since the Inauguration Day Address? There were considerable improvements in public services few weeks following the inauguration of President Buhari. Reports of Nigerians who enjoyed unbroken hours of electricity flooded the Nigerian public space. Countless photographs of frozen refrigerators and chilled bottles of beer were produced as evidence.

No fresh investments flowed into the privatized Nigerian power sector during that time, but something jolted the indolent electricity workers into action. “The Buhari Magic is working”, his ardent supporters swore. Many Nigerians put the electricity workers love of work to President Buhari’s body language. His chief spokesperson screamed: a new Sheriff is in town. Perhaps the image of the Sheriff holding up manacles under the hot Abuja sun overhanging the seat of power- Aso Rock- compelled electricity workers to take their work seriously. One year after the chickens have come home to roost. Electricity workers have returned to their bad habits. Refrigerators have forgotten their first nature and beers have given up their chilled tastes to time. For six hours on a certain day in March, Nigeria generated zero megawatt. The opposition mocked the famous body language of President Buhari.

The Minister of Power, Raji Fashola, became the butt of public joke. Many called him out on the claim he made when he was in the opposition that a serious government can generate enough megawatts of electricity in six months. They asked: “Mr. Minister, Sir, do you consider President Buhari’s government unserious having failed to provide regular electricity for ten months?”.

Meanwhile, small and medium enterprises are still suffering constant blackouts. Many enterprises have closed shops. Many more are struggling to keep their doors opened to customs. The prospect of keeping them afloat, or as going concerns, is dire. The light up Nigeria project is faltering. The unemployment rate is at an all-time-high. Banks are shedding staff weights on a daily basis. The manufacturing sector is comatose, and it has been so for many years though.

The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics says the national economy contracted in the first quarter of the year, putting the GDP growth rate at -0.36%. Recession is here. Damning. President Buhari’s anti-corruption war is progressing slowly. Several politicians have either been clamped into detention or arraigned before the courts. Many notable opposition figures are also standing trials. Opposition supporters have accused President Buhari of a political witchhunt. Here is what appears as President Buhari’s riposte: the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, a member of President Buhari’s governing party, is fighting false declaration of assets charges.

President Buhari’s supporters readily tell their listeners that fighting corruption is possible under the President’s watch. Believe them. Anti-corruption is one area where President Buhari’s governance imprints have been most noticeable. No corrupt politically exposed person of note has been convicted just yet. Nigerians were promised change last year and so far their groans and pains hint at the reality that the road to change is paved with bumps and torture. The Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, says: “It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true”.

Femi Adesina is the typical spokesman who sees no suffering, hears no wail and feels no pain of the suffering masses of the people. Change is torturous, bumpy ride through time and space, yet there is no visible evidence on the ground that suggests that the current managers of change appreciate the pains of transiting between two political epochs and the casualties in-between.

There is growing hardship in the land, growing despondency, and growing unbelief in the change agenda. Critics and skeptics of the change agenda are doing NTORR – that nonverbal, gestural mockery, a way of pressing the fingers to the lower eyelids- a kind of déjàvu- at the believers of change. They point at the rising cost of living and the depressing value of wages.

They point at the removal of oil subsidy. They taunt them with electricity tariff hike. Nigerians want change NOW. They are impatient. Can anyone blame them? Can anyone blame stand-up comedians who pull jokes out of the bag to ridicule President Buhari and his supporters? Here is one of such jokes: “If the Jonathan years gave Nigerians HALF-CURRENT and all President Buhari can offer with his change is BLACKOUT, please, bring back the Jonathan years, Nigerians go manage am like dat”. It isn’t all gloom and doom. This government has brought sanity to the way public funds are warehoused through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), a scheme proposed by ex-President Jonathan which President Buhari faithfully implements.

Bombs are no longer exploding in the cities centers. Boko Haram insurgents have been chased into Sambisa forest. President Buhari has spent a year in office and it is stupid, if not wishful thinking, to imagine that the social, political and economic problems of Nigeria can be solved in three hundred and sixty five days. But he has to show Nigerians he is dirtying his hands and his agbada for the sake of the change he promised the electorates at the stomp. Bringing that change about is a task that must be done. The road to change is a bumpy road. But for Nigeria and Nigerians, one year after the government of change came to power, it is not yet morning on creation day

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