THE QUESTION: Is Muhammadu Buhari already flouting his campaign promises?
By Taiwo George
It is certainly too early to deeply assess the direction of the new federal government, seeing it has only been in office for three days out of its stipulated four years.
But many Nigerians, whose high expectation stem from campaign-ground promises –of the new president, may already be harbouring thoughts of the saying of Mario Cuomo, 52nd governor of New York, that campaign is poetry, governance is prose.
Being critical of his predecessors’ style of governance, Buhari made several promises bordering around doing things differently and Nigerians across all divides gave him an overwhelming support.
But early signals show the new president is already reneging on some of his campaign promises.
‘UNCONSTITUTIONAL’ OFFICE OF THE FIRST LADY
The president believed that the office of the first lady, which came into existence in the late 80s, was not recognised by the constitution; and he said he would not recognise it.
“The [office of] first lady is not in the constitution, so there’s no official role for them,” he had said in December 2014. “Ministries, which are constitutional, should be allowed to play their own roles. There is the ministry of women affairs, and so on.”
The then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), latched on to this point to discredit Buhari. Then first lady, Patience Jonathan, went all out to convince women not to vote for him if they wanted their rights to be acknowledged. As a counter-strategy, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was compelled to unveil Aisha Buhari, a woman who had lived a private life until that moment, to the public She toured the length and breadth of the country, standing by her husband as he campaigned.
In one of her campaign outings, Aisha promised to limit her roles to the traditional functions of visiting orphanages and caring for society’s downtrodden if the office of the first lady is scrapped.
“When my husband is elected as the president of this country, he will rule the country within the rule of law based on the constitution of the country. If the office of the first lady is constitutionally recognised, he will not tamper with it, but if it is not, I will perform my duties and role as the wife of the president of Nigeria traditionally.”
As it stands now, there is no provision for the office of the first lady in the constitution but an official portrait of Aisha is in circulation, fuelling the belief that Aisha would also run that office. And Mr. President has yet to say anything on it.
PRIVATE ASSETS DECLARATION
The late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua warmed his way into the hearts of Nigerians by publishing his assets on his 30th day in office. Prior to that development, no Nigerian leader had ever contemplated such. Goodluck Jonathan, who was then his deputy, also toed his line out of respect for his boss, but he never quite hid his aversion to the idea. So it was little surprise that he refused to do the same once he succeeded Yar’Adua.
During a presidential media chat in June 2012, Jonathan was asked if his refusal to make his assets public like his predecessor would not make Nigerians feel he was corrupt and in his response, he said: “I don’t give a damn.” Trust Nigerians, particularly on social media, the president came under serious scrutiny. Three years after, it was one of the talking points of the election that sent Jonathan out of Aso Rock.
In a document on his plan of action within the first 100 days of assumption of office as president, Buhari had promised to make his assets declaration public and influence his appointees to do the same but he and Yemi Osinbajo, his deputy, have failed to do so. They may have made details of their assets available to the Code of Conduct Bureau, but this is not what Buhari promised us. Still, he will have the benefit of doubt for the moment, as he still has a grace of 90 days to fulfill that promise.
TWO SPECIAL ADVISERS ON MEDIA
Buhari accused past governments of wasting the resources of the government and of also having too many aides. Nigerians were impressed when pictures of him aboard the economy class of British Airways on his return trip from the United Kingdom last week, went into circulation.
At last, Nigeria now has a leader who would be considerate but his first set of appointments has undoubtedly done a lot of damage to that reputation. Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina have been announced as Buhari’s spokesmen, the former a special assistant on media and publicity, and the latter a special adviser on the same subject.
Even Jonathan, whose administration is widely considered as wasteful, did not have two people in that office when he became president. He brought in Doyin Okupe ahead of his re-election campaign, unlike Buhari who is starting off with two men.
Too early to embark on a far-reaching assessment of Buhari’s tenure, but the auguries of his early days are outright discouraging.