Dare We Dream? [opinion]

The tradition of assessing the achievements or otherwise of a newly elected president in the first 100-days of his tenure was given currency by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1933. It might seem like an arbitrary measure, but it is now generally accepted that it provides a way for the electorate to keep tabs on the new government and score the President against campaign promises. It can also be seen as a barometer for the remainder of the presidency.

President Buhari came into office on the crest of a wave. Promising to tackle insecurity, corruption, and good governance amongst other things, the Buhari-led APC campaigned on a platform of ‘change’. Nigerians voted for ‘change’. The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat. Democracy had truly won. It was widely considered a big, indeed seminal moment in our country’s history.

To the extent that Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy, the success of our elections has sent a strong message across our continent and to the world. As a people, our confidence in our abilities and ourselves has been raised. But, in order to stand a chance at meeting our expectations of ourselves, and the expectations of others on us, the insecurity issue, which was the top of the nations wish list, has to be tackled head on, and now.

The activities of Boko Haram have not been curtailed, and the Chibok girls are still not home. In these first 100 days of the Buhari Presidency, about a thousand people have been killed as a result of the insurgency. Boko Haram, which had been pushed back in the last weeks of the last government, has returned with a vengeance. Nigerians were sure that in electing President Buhari the scourge of Boko Haram would be a thing of the past, or at least considerably contained. During the campaign Presidential Candidate Muhammadu Buhari promised to crush Boko Haram.

In April shortly after his electoral win, President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said “Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas.” All were optimistic and in a Bloomberg report on the President elect, it was declared that he had “talked a good game” on both insecurity and corruption. All were now waiting to see how he would deliver.

In his inauguration speech, President Buhari referred to Boko Haram as a ‘mindless’ and ‘godless’ group. He announced that army command centre would be moved to Maiduguri and remain there until Boko Haram is completely subdued. Within hours of that statement, Boko Haram launched an attack in Maiduguri.

On the heels of that attack, the President embarked on his first foreign trip to Chad and Niger for talks with his counterparts on the Boko Haram insurgency. A meeting in Abuja swiftly followed at which Chiefs of Defence Staff from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin held talks to determine strategies for a new African Union-backed regional force against the insurgents. Nigeria would lead the regional force.

In June there were at least four suicide bombings in Maiduguri alone. A statement condemning the attacks quoted the president as follows: “They will not find Nigeria a safe haven, because they would be hunted down without mercy and compromise… .”

In July, alarmingly, Boko Haram bombed Maiduguri whilst the Vice President was visiting a camp for Internally Displaced Persons. Soon after, President Buhari ahead of his visit to the United States to meet with President Obama, and in a move seen as taking back the initiative on the fight with Boko Haram, sacked and replaced all service chiefs – Chief of Defence Staff; the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff, and the Chief of Air Staff. In that same month there were also bomb attacks in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Plateau states. Major General Isiah Abbah was appointed to lead the AU backed regional force fighting the insurgents.

We are now in September. The attacks have not stopped. The President continues to assert that the insurgency will soon be a thing of the past. Most recently at an event in Cotonou, he announced, “I assure you that we will defeat Boko Haram by the end of this year.”

A few days later we were told that the United States Department of State and Department of Defence has said that it will soon relax or completely lift the restrictions imposed on Nigeria under the country’s Leahy Law, which prohibits the Department of State from giving assistance to foreign military units that allegedly violate human rights with impunity. No date has been given for this relaxation, but we assume the President’s categorical statement is informed by this report.

Nigeria and its neighbours have finally strengthened their coalition and increased their capacity to deal with Boko Haram, and now have an 8,700 strong force. This should clearly address the previously reported challenges – an ill equipped force, and the decision by ‘certain countries’ to deny Nigeria weapons, as reported by former Chief of Defence, Alex Badeh.

As the government marks 100 days in office with the inevitable question on the report card of progress made thus far, presidential spokespersons informed us that the “president never promised he was going to do anything in 100 days”, and that the president can only be judged on the constitution and manifesto of the party, as these are the “only two documents that are registered with INEC”.

Finally, President Buhari at a recent youth event assured his audience that the campaign ‘change’ chant was not just a political slogan. But the Chibok girls should also have been at that event – it has been more than 500 days since they were abducted.

May the next 100 days focus the hearts and minds of the administration on what needs to be done to bring about the promised ‘change’. And, may the President succeed in his promise to bring back the Chibok girls to their parents and indeed all Nigerians.

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