22 Jul 2015

Buhari And The Challenge Of National Reconciliation - by Uche Igwe

A few days after Muhammadu Buhari was declared the winner of the last presidential election, then Senate President, David Mark, sent him an important congratulatory message. In that message, he enjoined the then President-elect now President to initiate a programme that would reconcile all aggrieved persons across the country irrespective of their ethnic, religious and political differences. For someone as experienced in politics as the messenger, one should immediately conclude that such a message must be something that should be taken very seriously.

Anyone who watched the exchanges during the campaigns will appreciate the level of passion and even temper that was raised. The keen nature of the contest meant that both sides used everything at their disposal for the sole purpose of desperately advancing their chances. Like any hate campaign, derogatory words were used freely.

Religion and ethnicity were very important tools that were used and their divisive consequences polarised the polity. At the end, the results of the election exposed a pattern of voting that reflected that some parts of the country had specific preferences. To be clear, the winner of the election, President Buhari scored a majority of his votes from the northern part of the country. It confirmed that some sections of the country did not support him and may have one grievance or other.

However, President Buhari emerged to preside over both those who supported him and those who did not. It is therefore his responsibility to bring everyone on board his leadership. That is where the counsel of Senator Mark should and must be taken seriously. Regardless of what you hold against the Benue-born senator, no one can contest the fact that he has been around for a while. What that counsel meant is that every action taken or pronouncement made by the President must reflect the fact that he understands these differences and is sensitive to them. That is the only way to get Nigerians to trust him enough and not to misinterpret his motives. So far, however, I do not think that is the case and unless the President becomes more responsive, the consequences of his action and inaction may end up hurting his administration and his party in the future. As someone who campaigned and voted for him, I am getting very worried about the mumblings within the polity. I have been asked questions whose answers I cannot provide and there is a limit one can go in defending what appears to be becoming a pattern.

Before getting to a more general discourse, let me underscore the frustration of many observers about the lingering face-off in the National Assembly which does not speak well of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Such an intra-party misunderstanding should have been swiftly resolved so that it does not snowball into a distraction. I believe that so far, what has played out is indicative of the inability of the APC to reconcile competing interests that came together to form the coalition. Without knowing the details, one will imagine that a ruling party without some understanding with the parliament will have a tough time pulling through relevant appropriations for programme implementation. As a democrat, I do not expect a perfect harmony as this could be potentially unhelpful to the oversight responsibilities of the parliament. How then will a political party that is slow in resolving its own internal differences expect to be trusted to champion the kind of reconciliation that the country needs urgently?

Another important dimension of this conversation is related to the appointments that the President has announced so far. Let me state very clearly that it is the prerogative of the President to choose those who will work with him to actualise his vision. Some may be quick to suggest that it is rather too early to be judgmental. Without attempting to be just so, one can at least draw some inferences from the comments from the citizenry. So far, the appointments like the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Director-General of the Department of Security Services, the National Security Adviser and even the service chiefs as seen by many appear to be lopsided. There are many more appointments that could be used to achieve the required spread and balance, however these initial ones do matter a lot to many Nigerians. Apart from their geographical origins, their competence, performance in their previous positions and circumstances of exit are relevant issues to consider. One can excuse the the new National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Mungono, who unmistakably possesses the contextual knowledge to confront the so called boko haram insurgency in his area. What about others? There is another set of Nigerians who insist that those who are qualified should be selected for the job regardless of where they come from.

However, many commentators suggest that a more accommodating and inclusive body language is something President Buhari must urgently consider. We know he is a grateful person and means well for the country but regardless of how well-intentioned his motives may be, his actions must reflect the political complexities that define modern Nigeria. He must immediately step up to resolve any outstanding intra-party issues within the platform that he rode on to power. He is a beneficiary of popular goodwill and must not allow that to slip away. Besides, he must open up objective feedback channels to feel the pulse of the people and do his best to reflect them as much as possible. There are potential benefits that could be derived from scrutinising every decision that a leader must make because they will come with consequences.

However, more than 90 days is enough time to announce positions and let Nigerians have a clearer picture of his policy thrust. Beyond the inauguration speech, very little has happened to define and deepen the priorities of Nigeria’s ruling party and government. For someone who won an election with a little more than two millions votes, the implication of a Nigeria where citizens begin to murmur should worry both Buhari and his political party. That the Peoples Democratic Party might have been defeated does not mean that the party is dead. The lessons from the recent National Assembly drama should demonstrate to everyone that the PDP may be positioning to take advantage of any flaw of the APC to score a political point. President Buhari needs to demonstrate to Nigerians that he is committed to reconciling our nation and also charting a course of good governance and national prosperity.

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