By Emmanuel Aziken
It is an irony that while many Nigerians are lamenting over the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the same situation may turn out to be the biggest break for President Muhammadu Buhari in erecting a veritable legacy!
What a twist of fate!
Indeed, the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic could turn out to be the defining circumstance that may garb Buhari with alluring garlands as he runs towards the end of his second term.
If Buhari sees and seizes the big moment, it will not only put him on the right side of history, but it would also rub off positively for the good of the country.
When nations are distressed and morale goes down, as Nigeria is now facing, it becomes an opportunity for leaders, even failed leaders to shine themselves. Only thoroughly incompetent leaders miss such opportunities.
The United States was in such a situation until President Franklin Roosevelt appeared in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. Remarkably, it has now been said that it was in that period that the United States produced its greatest proportion of millionaires.
Those who were already millionaires like Ambassador Joe Kennedy expanded to the extent of envisioning the political scheme for his sons to emerge president of the country!
So, with Nigeria being brought to its knees by the global pandemic which is not Buhari’s making in any way at all, it, however, provides him the opportunity to shine. But only if he will seize the opportunity.
Some commentators and informed sources say that he may have started on a good note with the appointment of Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari as Chief of Staff.
That is despite the noxious whiff about his alleged sectionalism and vindictiveness as alleged by some. Hence the appointment is especially seen as positive and if not, then for Buhari’s legacy.
Gambari was obviously the president’s personal pick as he was not handed over to him by any of the contending interest groups within his inner circle.
Given his outstanding reputation in the international community, Gambari is in a good position to polish Buhari’s image among critical western powers. Recall that less than a year ago, the United States stamped a visa ban on four governors belonging to his party and two of his ministers.
With Gambari, Buhari could after 2023 even end up like Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo conducting shuttle diplomacy around the world.
One Peoples Democratic Party, PDP critic, however, put a pessimistic note to that prospect as he said that Gambari would help to pull the wool over the eyes of Western countries and make them close eyes to the perceived ‘evils’ of the administration.
Another good move by the Buhari administration arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is the decision of the administration to implement the report of the Steve Oronsanye Committee on the Reform of Government Agencies. The report had been submitted to the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The committee’s outstanding recommendation on the streamlining of government agencies and departments had been much canvassed by advocates for the streamlining of government and its resources.
However, after five years in power with Buhari doing the opposite in several cases, entrusting him with the implementation of the report does not spur enthusiasm.
Among the major failures of the Buhari government in tackling big government is the notorious fact that he formed the largest Federal Executive Council, FEC in the history of the country with 44 ministers!
That is despite the constitutional requirement for a minimum of 36 ministers.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for the president to push for a constitutional amendment that would delete the stipulation for each state to produce a minister.
The pandemic also provides the president the opportunity to yank down the argument of aides who had held him back from selling the majority of planes in the Presidential Air Fleet, PAF as he promised during his 2015 campaigns.
Why keep a private airline for a few persons when the nation does not have a thriving public-owned airline?
Another opportunity offered by the pandemic is the full-scale restructuring of the oil sector. With an estimated 10,000 man workforce and almost zero refining capacity, this is an opportunity to take the big decisions on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Even more, the period also offers the president who is also the minister of petroleum to make the big statement on subsidies and effect it. After all, it was Buhari who during the 2015 campaigns expressed serious doubt on the existence of subsidy in petrol prices.
The global pandemic indeed presents Buhari with an opportunity to take the strong decisions that will put his name on the positive side of history.
Remarkably, he has a technocrat cum academic who is not tied to the apron strings of political interests to enable him to act in that direction.
That is if Buhari summons the courage to act!