By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – On President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015, hope of a new dawn resonated across much of Nigeria.
Two years into his four-year tenure, Buhari now faces criticisms not only from Nigeria’s opposition but also from citizens who say not much has changed from the way the country was run under his predecessors.
"The president has failed to manage the public expectations that greeted his ascendancy. We feel there is need for the blame game to end and for the government to face the challenges of fulfilling its campaign pledges,” Idayat Hassan, head of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a West African civil society think tank, told Anadolu Agency.
Hassan rated Buhari “average and headed in the right direction” overall. The president must also learn to communicate with the people, the activist added.
She was speaking on the sidelines of a town hall meeting in the capital Abuja last Friday. At that meeting, top civil society leaders and opinion makers questioned Buhari’s commitments or his ability to fulfil electoral promises after spending 884 days in office.
The meeting was organized by the CDD and BuhariMeter, an ad-hoc civil society initiative that tracks the president’s campaign promises, grouped under three main headings: the fight against corruption; security; and the economy. The event was sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
At least four in seven participants were not exactly happy with Buhari, although they stopped short of calling him an outright failure.
“Governance is not a family or private matter. But we have the president handling issues like they are his private matters. It is an impunity for the president to set up a probe panel on corruption allegations against some officials and then fail to make the report of such a panel public,” Alhaji Garuba, a participant, yelled.
Many citizens share such sentiments. On April 19, Buhari suspended top aide Babachir Lawal and another senior security chief following allegations of corruption against them, ordering a probe into the charges.
The report from that probe was submitted to the president on Aug. 23 but Buhari has since been silent about its outcome.
A few other presidential appointees face similar allegations, although Buhari repeatedly asks their accusers to bring forward concrete proof. Claims of secret job recruitments by officials of the government have added to the outcry.
Garuba insisted the president failed to act on these corruption allegations against members of his kitchen cabinet, questioning his commitment to a campaign which is central to his persona.
Other participants at the meeting, however, said Buhari’s corruption fight has not been mere rhetoric.
“We have seen people hitherto considered to be untouchables now facing corruption charges. We have seen former governors now being sentenced to jail. I think we should concede these grounds to Buhari,” said Professor Ishaq Akintola, a panelist at the meeting.
Debo Adeniran, executive director at the Center for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), agreed.
“I will not be stampeded into parroting the views of the opposition about Buhari. Yes there have been challenges, especially from his own fractured political coalition, but the president has done well in the fight against graft,” Adeniran told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of the event.
“He has shown that he doesn't care whose ox is gored. We have seen him deal with judges and top army generals, serving and retired, and even politicians from his party. We have seen people volunteering to return loot. Some of us believe we should support him rather than chastise,” he added.
Having previously been derided for his alleged rigidity and autocracy, many claim Buhari might have been blackmailed by his own past into not acting decisively on issues, to avoid being called a dictator.
But there are other issues against him, including the slow pace of the administration. More than two years into a four-year mandate, several government boards have not been constituted and decision-making has been sluggish.
Despite emerging from its worst recession in nearly three decades, analysts say the economy remains in danger.
Tope Fasua, head of Global Analytical Consulting — an economic think tank — said the president's handling of the economy is below par.
Whereas the president has claimed credit for diversifying the economy, Fasua said no such thing is taking place:
“If you want to grow or diversify an economy, you should identify and concentrate funding on things that people spend their money on. That is not happening. We are still fixated on oil,” according to the economist who was a panelist at the meeting.
Peter Ozo-Esan, a labor leader, agreed with Fasua.
“We will like to see the administration aggressively pursue policies that will cause inclusive growth and massive employment. This is not happening on the scale needed to pull the country out of the wood,” according to Ozo-Esan.
The labor chief said the infrastructure needed to support any economy remains lacking or in poor state and not enough is being done to fix it.
Regardless, the president got applause on the social investment program of his administration. Under the program, hundreds of thousands of people considered to be extremely poor get a $14 monthly stipend.
“This program is real and has helped several families,” Hajia Hamza Zumaye, executive assistant to the governor of central Nigeria Plateau, remarked.
“So is the school feeding program, although one believes the implementation could be better handled and there has to be mechanisms to ensure sustainability,” she added.
How has Buhari fared in tackling the country's security challenges? Many speakers gave him a pass mark in the handling of Boko Haram insurgency.
But the president was blamed for widening divisions among the country's ethnic groups and the resurgent secessionist agitation in the mainly Igbo southeast region. His handling of the farmers-herdsmen crisis was also adjudged poor.
“Much more needs to be done. Claims that the insurgents have been defeated are at variance with reports of people still being killed in the northeast,” Professor Nuhu Yaqub, a former university vice chancellor and chair of the event, said.
Perhaps nothing better sums up the public opinion on the president's performance than a warning for him to urgently restore the ebbing hope in his ability to not just fight corruption and stabilize the economy but to also unite the people of his country.