I attended Kashim Shettima’s inauguration for a second term as governor of Borno State last weekend in Maiduguri. There was colour as to be expected of Borno; but there was also a somber thread to Governor Shettima’s thought as expressed in the opening sequence of his speech.
It was understandable against the backdrop of a six-year insurgency and the indescribable levels of destruction of lives and property that Borno has witnessed. How the people have managed to continue to get by, smile and laugh, hope and work, must be great advertisement for the human spirit.
They even put up the famous Borno Durbar on Saturday but the backdrop had been two hours of firing of mortars and anti-aircraft weapons into Maiduguri, between midnight and 2 am. By Saturday afternoon, Maiduguri witnessed two suicide bombings and the casualty figure began to mount.
It seemed Boko Haram had chosen to test the resolve of Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari. He, afterall, had vowed to crush the insurgency and security would become a major item in what must be a full in-box for the new president.
But things had appeared too slow at the beginning when there were no announcements of the first appointments of aides by the President within the first 48 hours. Thankfully by late Sunday evening, we knew the spokespersons and the Chief of Protocol.
For Buhari, not even the best preparation can be enough to take in the enormity of troubles that Nigeria can throw at its president. Unlike when he first came to power in December 1983, Nigeria of 2015 possesses a completely different picture in practically every endeavour. There is first of all the issue of demography; 75% of the population is under the age of 35.
Incredibly enough, this is the majority of our population that chose to believe in Buhari’s message of change; they were his often, unpaid advocates and defenders in cyberspace and it was this generation of Nigerians in the main, who also voted massively and whose votes midwifed the administration of change! Buhari must discover the creativity to keep the young on side by making their aspirations for education, skills and jobs the central concern of his administration. Unfortunately, these cannot be easy, given the depth of rot that he has inherited.
This is the reason why I do feel worried for him.In the age of social media and of very restive youth, the honeymoon period for the administration cannot be very long.
To underline the central place of security in the new architecture of governance, Buhari met the security chiefs by Tuesday this week and would be setting out into our neighbouring countries of Niger and Chad, without doubt, to strengthen regional cooperation in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.
It is heartwarming that Buhari chose the “near abroad” as the first places to visit, thus setting a tone for what hopefully, might likely become a trend into the future. Buhari’s presidency must deliver on security, which was one of the central points that he canvassed during the campaign.
The Chibok Girls must return home so that we can find closure; the Nigerian armed forces should be given a new fillip in order to finish off the insurgency and the decision to move the command centre of the counterinsurgency to Borno is a most useful step in that direction. Nigerians want to see resolve and a much better managed security system that will reflect the military background and know-how of the new president.
This will include managing the resistance that could ensue from a military/security system that has an entrenched interest in keeping things going as they have so disastrously gone, under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
If the security reform envisaged can be described as a familiar terrain for President Buhari, it is clear that his most difficult decisions will have to be made in re-positioning the economy. Nigeria is in a very bad way economically and there can be no prettifying the position.
This is where Buhari will deal with the largest collection of banana peels. Can we get by with an economic structure programmed to create the levels of inequalities and frightening destitution that are the hallmarks of Nigeria’s social existence today? And can the uncritical surrender to the market and neo-liberal orthodoxy (in short, more of the same)be the way to pull out of the current crises that we face? Or will the Buhari administration find other pro-people means to stem the slide into an anarchic state of nature? How will the interests of the imperialist powers influence choices made in economic management? This isn’t an idle question because, on Sunday, President Buhari will be travelling out to attendthe G7 summit holding in Germany.
The British Prime Minister David Cameron had in fact urged Buhari to come to the summit with a “wish list”. But it was also reported that Cameron also sought Buhari’s “backing” for “free trade”, which the President’s office described as having the support of a number of countries.
But “free trade” as sought is actually not in our interest, since the Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, between the EU and African countries seeks that African countries open up to 83% of their markets to European imports. African countries cannot compete with Europe, meaning that these imports will clearly destroy existing and future industries in Africa, including Nigeria, if Buhari accepts the invitation to “support free trade”. President Buhari is beginning to come to terms with governance.
The work at hand demands that everybody pulls in the same direction to succeed; but the political situation conditions every decision that will be made and that is never easy given the various tendencies at work!