Saturday, 14 October 2017

Buhari and Magufuli: A tale of two presidents By Eugene Enahoro

As things get progressively worse in Nigeria, President Buhari’s supporters claim that his incapacitation aside, two years isn’t enough time to effect change, but this simply isn’t true. When contesting their respective elections in 2015, both President John Magufuli of Tanzania and President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said the right things and were more popular than their political party. Buhari said “one of the major killers of our economy apart from corruption is waste”. He promised that “when we come into office all this waste will be blocked and properly channelled into our economy.” He also promised that our Presidential Jets would be given to a new national carrier “within a year”.

Two years into his tenure none of this has happened. While Nigeria under Buhari continues to deteriorate, Magufuli nick-named, “the bulldozer”, has had immediate impact dealing positively with corruption, inefficiency, and wasteful spending in government. One of the first things he did was suspend Tanzania’s Independence Day celebrations. He said spending money on celebrations after 74 citizens from a Cholera outbreak was totally inappropriate. In Nigeria where mass deaths occur regularly through terrorism, outbreaks of epidemics, and avoidable road accidents, not once has any official party, ceremony or celebration been cancelled.

Tanzanian officials had budgeted 4 Billion Tanzanian Shillings (N560 million) for independence celebrations. Magufuli diverted the money to effect repairs on a dilapidated 4.3-kilometre section of a major highway. To further curb wasteful expenditure, he stopped public officials from foreign travels at government expense except with presidential permission. He also stopped Diplomatic and Ministerial delegations from travelling abroad, in their place he ordered High Commissioners and Ambassadors to represent the nation at international conferences. When he had to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Magufuli cut Tanzania’s delegation from 50 to just 4, saving over N80 million in the process! Insisting that government officials have no right to live in luxury at public expense, he limited government officials to using of saloon cars or pick-up vehicles, banning the sort of expensive V8 Jeeps and SUV’s widely used in Nigeria. Magufuli also restricted those who must fly at government expense to economy class. To further reduce waste, he banned government Workshops and Conferences from holding in private venues, ordering them to be held in Ministry Board Rooms or Conference Halls at no expense to government. In moderating the lifestyle of government officials, he reduced their perks by banning all sitting allowances, He condemned it as immoral to collect sitting allowances for a job which already pays salary! Contrast this with Nigeria where our self-aggrandising political leaders refuse to moderate their lifestyle or perks, in spite of a deficit budget which requires the nation to borrow.

Magufuli has a reputation for undertaking surprise visits to government institutions. While visiting a major hospital unannounced he was distraught at the non-functional equipment, and patients lying on mattresses on the floor. He sacked the Hospital Director and Board Members and ordered the newly appointed Director to repair all equipment within two weeks or also face the sack. The machines were repaired in three days! There was also the matter of a State Banquet budgeted to cost approximately N42 million.  Magulfuli slashed the amount to N3.5 million and used the balance to supply beds to the hospital. 300 hospital beds together with mattresses and 600 bedsheets were purchased with the N38.5 million savings from what officials wanted to spend just to eat dinner! Deplorably, lavish Official Banquets continue unabated at Federal and State level in Nigeria.  To further save money, Magufuli reduced both the Presidential convoy, and the size of delegations that travel with him. Rather than fly, he drove 600 kilometres for the opening of parliament, saying the nation couldn’t afford to operate its Presidential jets “willy-nilly”.

He also said he wasn’t interested in waving to people on streets which are given emergency facelifts for official Presidential visits, but wanted to see the real state of things. Turning his attention to Tanzania’s “organised private sector”, which thrives off defrauding the nation and impoverishing people just like in Nigeria, Magufuli outlawed all forms of tax exemptions and duty waivers. Despite this having some negative effect in the economy, Magufuli’s style has indisputably re-woken patriotism in his country. His critics accuse him of being a dictator and mere populist who violates human rights of the wealthy. This may indeed true but he claims that the wealthy violate the human rights of the poor daily. In these times of widespread suffering and hopelessness, only populist actions can relieve the suffering of the underprivileged and give hope that leaders actually care.

Democracy is about the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Magufuli’s populist actions level the playing field and make the majority happy. It’s not just enough for President Buhari to return home in good health. He must return with a new style. He won the election because people thought he would act with military dispatch and humanity like Magufuli.  He has to show that in Nigeria it’s possible to quickly make a positive impact upon