On Monday, Nigeria’s presidency released another of those unhelpful press statements. The statement, which Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, signed, negates the objectives of public communication in two ways. This made it a counterproductive initiative, at the end.
Mr Shehu’s objective was to establish the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), as a devoted democrat and compassionate leader. One whose purpose is to advance democracy and protect the people’s interest. While the latter is the persona Buhari wanted since 2015 when he became President, the former is a “notorious fact.”
In the Monday statement, the spokesman told Nigerians that their president did not instruct the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria,Godwin Emefiele, and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to disobey “any court order…”
For context, the statement concerned the February 8 and March 22 orders of the Supreme Court that the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes continue to circulate alongside the redesigned ones as legal tender. This order remained largely disobeyed until Monday, and this man saw the need to exonerate his principal from complicity. But the intention to polish Buhari’s image on this score fell flat and even did damage. It came across as one of those knee-jerk reactions from government people.
First off, rather than show respect for Nigerians as you would expect of public communicators, this statement appears as an attempt to play on the people’s intelligence. To twist an obvious fact before their eyes, pretending that they have no eyes to see or are unable to read between the lines. I have reasons to say so.
Chief of this is that President Buhari spared no opportunity, including internationally, to speak about how lofty his administration considered the naira redesign policy to be. He spoke glowingly about how it would stop vote-buying and money politics, even after the Supreme Court’s interim order.
Not just that! Although he was silent on the February 8 order of the Supreme Court, Buhari met Emefiele shortly after the ruling. On February 14, the latter met with members of the diplomatic corps, and insisted that the old notes were no longer legal tender. This clear defiance of the court order came only a few days after he had an audience with the President. The news media reported this event yet Buhari neither cautioned Emefiele nor denounced his assertion.
What did he do instead? Two days later, he addressed the country! His message was that only one of the three outlawed currencies would remain legal tender. This “decree” defied the court order, which was clear about the reinstalment of the three denominations as legal tender.
In essence, the administration laid no foundation for plausible deniability on this matter. Mr President’s fingerprints were all over the actions of the CBN every step of the way, and so, these new denials are a waste of time.
The more serious damage the statement did is to President Buhari’s image. A man who has always sold himself as compassionate did not need the intervention of the Supreme Court to take appropriate action on a matter that brought so much hardship on Nigerians. The endless social crises witnessed before and after the legal interference are an unwholesome negation of the personal and political reputation of the President. Proactive governance did not need the courts to see the need for the reversal of policy, defying expectations. At least for a government that is high on its own morality.
Even without that “man of the people” reputation, the government’s primary objective is the security and welfare of citizens. So, a president must realise that, regardless of any purgatory or redemptive mission he appoints for himself, anything derogating from the collective dignity of the people is an aberration. This is exactly where Nigerians have been in the past couple of months. Now, all the government does is try to look good and throw its appointees under the bus.
Or does the government have problems with intelligence? Why did the President need state governors to seek legal redress when citizens started to trade naira for naira? When people who have money in banks cannot access their funds for weeks on end, how did the Federal Government not seen danger?
Between the court’s intervention and consequential order, Buhari’s unconstitutional varying of that order, and the March 2 judgement, people died, and property was destroyed. Apart from deaths reportedly recorded during protests, there were reports of people slumping and dying while standing in long queues on bank premises. There was pervasive confusion and disillusionment across the country, yet the President looked on! Even after the Supreme Court passed its judgment on the matter, things remained unclear until this week when the CBN asked banks to issue and accept the old notes! How does a government operate that way?
Since Shehu said that the President didn’t tell Emefiele and Malami to ignore the court order, we should ask whether he told them to follow the order?
And this is not the time to cite the CBN’s autonomy as an excuse. Neither Buhari nor Emefiele made a secret of the alliance between them. That nocturnal relationship is why the duo sat by themselves in the President’s bedroom, conceptualised and sealed a policy that required robust consideration of all the monetary, fiscal, and private sector stakeholders.
If, despite evidence to the contrary, the government argues that the President didn’t instruct the CBN governor because of the institution’s independence, couldn’t he also direct Malami to enforce the court order? Is Garba suggesting that Emefiele and Malami went rogue on the administration?
But that wouldn’t even be a surprise. One of the most evident abnormalities in the outgoing government operation is the lack of cohesion. In the past eight years, multiple agencies of government have moved in different, even contradictory directions in the execution of government policies.
We had the Department of State Services tackling the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We saw an Inspector General of Police go against the directive of the President. We saw allies of a CBN governor starting a partisan campaign on his behalf, while many ministers just ran riot. The selfish and manipulative tendencies of the political class have brought so much tardiness to this administration, largely without consequence. This evident lack of leadership hints of government within a government as some stalwarts of the ruling APC recently suggested, and the statement under discussion literally validates. It is something which does the administration no good!
It is a good thing that the Buhari administration is on its way out. But while we wait for its exit on May 29, those who speak for it will do well not to add insult to the injury already inflicted on Nigerians.
Concerning the naira redesign, the people picked no quarrels when the CBN announced the policy. As with most of the things that the government brings on them, they accepted the policy and waited to see its effect on the economy and their lives. As we know of Nigerians, failure to deliver as promised wouldn’t even have been so much of a problem. What makes the people angry is that this policy has denied them access to their own resources while the government literally looked away. To go further and suggest that the President did everything within his power to stop this misadventure is an expression of how much successive governments take Nigerians for granted without remorse. What Nigerians deserve from this government is an apology, not any attempt to pass the bulk.