Buhari – Yes He Can

by May 24, 2015

Buhari – Yes He Can

The victory of President-elect Buhari in Nigeria’s presidential election is a welcome break in a country where changes in governments have only happened when the military has intervened or in the last fifteen years when the baton has been passed from a member of the same party. With all his faults, and there are many, Goodluck Jonathan must be lauded for accepting defeat. The country needs to move on and address the enormous challenges the new president will face. This paper attempts to provide an agenda for President Buhari. These include security, the economy and corruption, all of which are related. The Nigerian electorate has given the mandate to a man with unique skills and track record, the country has the resources and the new leader has demonstrated that he is up to the job. Buhari is rare among Nigeria’s leaders, when he ruled the country in the 1980s, he did not amass millions. As a leader then he took measures to develop the country’s industry and attempted to make the country a more disciplined society. While there were issues with measures adopted, the objectives are still very relevant.

The first challenge that the new president will face is national security, namely, the Boko Haram problem and the long simmering unrest in the delta region. The Boko Haram problem must be resolved using hard and soft power and Buhari as a northerner, Muslim and former army general is well placed to deal with it. He needs to give the military the necessary support and direction and work closely with neighbouring countries to defeat the insurgents. He must also engage political, ethnic and religious leaders to counter the Boko Haram propaganda. He must take measures to enhance economic growth and reduce unemployment to remove incentives to young people attracted to the group. A similar approach is necessary for the delta region, but in its case, the emphasis must be on ensuring that a significant proportion of oil revenues are used for development in the region where Nigeria gets most of its revenue from. Resolution of these security issues is paramount if the country is to attract investment and embark on other measures noted below.

The key to Buhari’s success is the economy. He needs to come up with a comprehensive and cohesive plan and implement it as soon as possible. The cornerstone of this plan should be the infrastructure, namely, the physical and soft infrastructure. The plan must make use of the country’s rich and diverse resources to enhance Nigeria status as the largest economy in the continent. A top priority must be electricity power generation to make sure that a country with oil, gas, rivers, abundant sunshine has ample and regular electricity throughout the country. It is perverse that Nigeria with its huge potential has one of the lowest per capita electricity power consumption on the continent. He needs to move away from the crony privatisation adopted by his predecessor and attract foreign investment in the sector. Huge improvements in electricity power generation are essential for all sectors. Other improvements need to be made in roads, railways, ports and airports to attract local and foreign investment.

President-elect Buhari needs to also invest in what is often referred to as soft infrastructure, the building blocks for development, namely, education and governance. The emphasis must be science and technology to ensure that the country’s schools, technical colleges and universities provide the skills required by industry. Government policy and support must be heavily weighted in favour of institutions that have a science and technology bias. The administration must take measures to make state and federal employees more efficient and effective, that their raison d’etre is serving the public and businesses. These institutions must be partners in the development effort rather than as is often the case, merely vehicles for the enrichment of office holders. A major war must be waged on corruption, the cancer that is a huge drag on the country’s development. He must take bold and comprehensive measures with severe penalties and incentives to the public, the media and civil servants who expose corruption. A starting point must be an audit of President Jonathan’s officials with penalties and incentives to make sure that those who have unjustly enriched themselves pay back funds stolen.

The measures adopted on the infrastructure must be augmented by policies to encourage investment in the country. By adopting these measures the government will demonstrate to local and foreign investors that it is open for business. Policies must be taken to encourage investment in agriculture and industry to make use of the country’s vast resources and market.

The new president has many challenges but the country is well placed to enhance its role as a major player in Africa. It has the natural resources, huge market and a resourceful population. It must make the most of these and in doing so it can draw on the African experience. He may need to talk to Jerry Rawlins who rescued Ghana from the abyss and cracked down hard on corruption. He may also need to look at the Rwanda situation where the government has achieved major success in the efficiency of services to the benefit of the general public and investors. He needs to look at his predecessor’s action with Boko Harem to see how an African solution is often the best. President Jonathan made a trip to Paris even before visiting the epicentre of the problem. The recent success against the group has come from the coordinated approach of the country’s neighbours, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, indicating that solutions are often much closer to home than African leaders realise.

It should be noted that while the electorate has chosen Buhari in his resounding victory he faces a number of hurdles. Firstly, he was elected after opponents to Goodluck Jonathan realised that they had to unite under a single party list. Let us hope that in victory this remarkable unity holds. Another related issue is the how the spoils of victory are divided up among stakeholders. Buhari needs to ensure that while the political, ethnic and religious diversity is fully reflected he must choose people who can deliver. Finally, electorates worldwide have very short timespans particularly in Africa. The challenges facing the nation are significant and he must avoid quick fixes and instead focus on the fundamental changes required to make the country realise its potential. Buhari would also need to overcome the challenge relating to his military background as. The job description for his new role is quite different from his army role where orders are given and taken. As president he needs a consultative approach, selling his ideas to other politicians of all parties and the general public. In a previous paper I noted how, in a speech given at Oxford University, he did not quite have the appropriate sales pitch. He may have overcome that hurdle to win the election or the electorate were so fed up with Goodluck Jonathan that they voted for Buhari. Governing is different though, he would definitely need that sales pitch.

Buhari’s victory is a new and better leaf for the country, Africa and democracy and a huge improvement on the outgoing administration. He needs all the support he can get from the electorate and the rest of the world. President Obama should take note and make Nigeria one of the African countries he visits in his next trip to the continent.

MEMO provides marketing and media and event management services. J Boima Rogers, the Principal Consultant has written for publications and websites in Africa, the European Union and North America. Two of his reports of conferences, available in this blog, have been used as reference documents in negotiations between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. In addition to participating in many events in the regions noted, often making presentations, he has initiated and/or managed events in London, Birmingham, Oxford and Bournemouth in the UK which have had record participation and audience, often at a fraction of the cost of similar long established events. He organised the first smart city workshop in Oxford and that event and the background paper for the event, smart city is a smart move that he co-authored with Dr Stefano Bonfa, have provided a significant input in the conversation on smart city in the city and county.