World Bank projects and Buhari’s reputation
It is very unfortunate that the perception of President Muhammadu Buhari as a sectional leader was further given fillip when World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim revealed that the bank had received a presidential request to focus on the northern part of the country in locating projects.
The frenzy, negative reactions and bad reputation that the revelation caused should be a nightmare for any government. Unnecessary as this fiasco is, it not only shows that Buhari and his team in Aso Rock have not been able to shake off allegations of sectionalism, it seems to have confirmed a certain betrayal of the massive pan-Nigerian mandate that brought Buhari to power in 2015.
Sadly, his media handlers were caught off-guard in this matter as some of their utterances were simply inane and frivolous. It took a private citizen in the person of Oby Ezekwesili to provide a plausible yet unacceptable context to the reported presidential request. It is therefore regrettable that the man whom Nigerian once revered as a modern-day saviour and symbol of the nation’s unity still has the toga of an ethnic or sectional leader hanging over his persona.
The questions in search of answers are: Why this apparent betrayal of national trust? What accounts for the failure of the President to appear as a broadly-elected leader who is passionately committed to the development of the entire country? To achieve a healthy balance, why did the President fail to add the degradation of the South South to the request to the World Bank? What can the President and his men do to remedy this precarious situation? Even if it is simply a question of misperception, does the President realise the power of perception in making or marring the fortunes and reputation of a government? Does President Buhari really want to be remembered as a sectional President, or, as he promised in his inaugural speech, a leader who belongs to everyone and to no one?
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural country whose diversity remains a major challenge on account of the failure of successive governments to fully appreciate such diversity and harness it for the purpose of building a proper federal state. Every government since 1960, to different degrees, had factored this diversity into policy formulation as a way of keeping the nation together, though not well enough.
The diverse political interests and sensibilities of all the ethnic groups and regions must be taken into consideration, therefore, in policy formulation. This is particularly true at this time when the very basis of national unity is being seriously challenged by partisans across the country. Apart from the proscribed Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra, IPOB, in the South East, the militants in the South-south have passed a vote-of-no-confidence in the current political configuration. Some leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum have called for a breakup of the country. It is against this background that Buhari needs to put his act together and govern as a father of the nation. As poignantly captured in the Nigeria’s old anthem, ‘though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.’ All policy formulation and implementation must, of necessity, take this nation’s plurality into cognizance.
It is true that the North East section of the country remains ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency and therefore needs attention. Thousands have been displaced and infrastructure has been severely destroyed. When Buhari took office, he promised to deal decisively with the insurgency in the North East and with his remarkable achievements on that, no one will dispute the need for a reconstruction of the North-east. But the request from the president was that the World Bank should focus on the Northern Region. This choice of words, inexcusable as a mere slip, is insensitive, unbecoming and uncharitable of the President.
It has been reported that since 2015, that is, during the tenure of the incumbent government, one billion dollars worth of projects have been concentrated in the North East while the sum of $2.9 billion has been expended on the entire country, including the northern states. If this is added to the report that International Oil Companies (IOCs) doing business with the national oil company, NNPC, had been directed to deploy one hundred million dollars annually to the North east, then the motives of the hands behind the face of the Buhari administration naturally become suspect. Why has the directive ignored, for example, the hard-pressed, restive oil-yielding Niger Delta?
Is the President really in charge? Are there mischievous persons in this administration who are running agenda different from the President’s? Who, if any, are these fifth columnists? Why has the President also chosen not to speak on the brouhaha, carrying on as if all is well? On such sensitive matters, in deference to the people who elected him, the President owes an explanation to the country. It is one case in which silence is certainly not golden.
The president, on whose desk the buck stops, does not need to be told that his mild reaction to the menace of ravaging Fulani herdsmen across the country has not helped his image. He must do something decisive about the genocidal actions of the murderous herdsmen. Also, his post-election victory statement about giving positions to those who gave him votes and those who did not continues to haunt him and that mindset appears still active in his approach to the nation’s development. The result is a perception, right or wrong, that Buhari belongs to some people or sections and is hell-bent on serving only those of his preference instead of the whole country. It is a perception that the President should deal with for his anti-corruption fight to have credibility and for his legacy as a President of a united Nigeria to be established.
The President should recognise and deal with national issues in the knowledge that the Nigerian federation can only thrive on fairness, consensus and confidence building. The World Bank should have been directed to handle projects across the country wisely, proportionately and fairly.
The President should therefore be more sensitive in his actions and utterances. Nigeria will remain one united country under a re-structured, functional federal state and no actions or utterances from the Presidency should suggest bias for a section of the country in a manner that can undermine the quest for peace, progress and unity of the entire nation.
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