- The Morning Shows the Day…
There are so many versions of the story that the easy conclusion to draw is that it is a myth but it is nonetheless a compelling one as it applies to leaders in all spheres of life. In the version that is common, an outgoing leader of a country hands over to his successor who assumes office to find a note on the desk which reads: “To my successor, I have left three letters in the top drawer of this desk. When you find yourself in a very difficult situation and many of the citizens are turning against you, open the first letter and it will help you to navigate the challenge. Later, when you find yourself in a more difficult situation, open the second letter. And if the problem persists, then open the third letter and it will resolve everything.”
Six months into his tenure, according to the story, this particular leader felt that many of the citizens had started complaining about the state of the nation and the personal challenges they were going through. In trying to find a solution, the leader remembered the letters left by his predecessor and when he opened the drawer, he noticed that they were numbered 1, 2, and 3. Since the instruction was that they be opened in ascending order, he picked letter number one. When he tore it open, he found a one-liner message: “Blame everything on your predecessor.”
Following that instruction, the leader sent out his men to go all out with the message that his predecessor spent his years in office not only stealing all the money but also doing nothing and that the people should know who to hold responsible for all their woes. The idea worked like magic because his country men and women shifted attention to the failings of his predecessor and the leader believed the problem had been solved. But not long after, citizens started to complain that they could not see any appreciable difference in their lives. Again, the leader remembered the letters. In desperation, he opened the drawer and pulled out letter number two which stated: “Blame the media”.
With that, the media handlers of his government and other hired propagandists went out on the offensive against the media whose men were blamed for inventing stories to damage the administration while ignoring the progress being made by his government. There were also allegations that many of the journalists were working for the displaced politicians hence it was ‘corruption fighting back’. This strategy also worked for a few months until the disenchantment with the government grew to a level in which some people were clamouring for the leader to step aside. Now certain he had a solution, the leader opened the drawer, took the third and final letter, only to find this message: “Time for you to write three letters.”
The moral of the story is that blaming predecessors and the media for inability to meet popular expectations will get a leader only so far because a time would always come when the people would demand that a government they elected should take responsibility for its failings. Unfortunately, that is one lesson the current administration in Nigeria has failed to learn in the past three years.
From President Muhammadu Buhari to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (especially the latter) to Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, there seems to be no appreciation of the fact that placing blame doesn’t fix any problem. Besides, they also fail to get the message that Nigerians voted out President Goodluck Jonathan because they were not satisfied with both his performance and their material condition. To therefore imagine that only megawatts of excuses would do is to misunderstand the essence of the mandate secured by the political strange bedfellows who congregated to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013.
In a democracy, when new leaders are elected, especially from the opposition, conventional wisdom teaches that they do an evaluation of the critical challenges on ground and then begin to proffer solutions. Leaders who are desirous of making a difference in the lives of their people know that they do not have the luxury of time to whine about how their predecessors screwed up because what that exposes is their bankruptcy of ideas.
It is against the foregoing background that Tuesday marks the third anniversary in office of President Buhari who came to power on the wave of a popular mandate that saw him defeat an incumbent. And in continuation of a tradition we started in 2011 (although we skipped last year in deference to the health challenge that made the president stay out of the country for months), members of the editorial board are given a platform to air their personal views on the state of the nation under President Buhari.
While as a board we are restrained in the editorial positions we take on issues, in this edition, members who choose to write do so in their own voices. In a ‘Dilemma for Optimists’, CHIDI AMUTA argues that while Buhari’s distinctive vision and leadership style can no longer be in doubt, the essential outlines of that leadership derive from a past that most Nigerians would rather forget while TOKUNBO ADEDOJA believes that even when major successes have been achieved in the battle against Boko Haram in the Northeast, a new frontier of insecurity featuring marauding armed herdsmen storming communities and inflicting pains, deaths and destructions, has emerged. Meanwhile, PETER ISHAKA expresses serious concerns that as we prepare for a general election next year, not many Nigerians think the country is on the right track.
Living in denial, according to TONY URANTA, has become the default pastime of the Buhari administration to the collective detriment of the nation, even when there are obvious lessons to learn from the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Dissecting the economy, ALEX OTTI contends that ordinarily, the year before election is normally slow with governance but strong with political activities but that the situation is now compounded by a late budget. On his part, IYOBOSA UWUGIAREN argues that going by his policies and programmes in the past three years, the president has not demonstrated that the democratic credentials sold to Nigerians before the 2015 general election were genuine.
President Buhari, also in the estimation of SONNIE EKWOWUSI, has not met the expectations of most Nigerians while ANGELA ATTAH and OKEY IKECHUKWU examine the past three years of the administration and draw their own conclusions. As usual, BISI OGUNBADEJO speaks to the Nigerian condition in his cartoon.
However, it is important to stress that the editorials published in THISDAY six days in a week (except Saturday) represent the position of the newspaper and are always constructive both in the choice of issues and in the framing of arguments–all in a bid to serve as a check on the power of those in authorities at all levels, and in both the private and public spheres, without losing sight of our diversity as a nation. But what we publish in this edition are the personal opinions of some members of the Board as they reflect on the challenge of leadership in Nigeria in the past three years under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Chairman, Editorial Board
A Dilemma for Optimists
In the campaign for the 2015 presidential election, Buhari’s image technicians unconsciously prefigured what was to come. They dressed the man up to be all things to all men. It is hard to forget images of Buhari in an ill-fitting three-piece suit behind a desk in an executive office lavishly draped in national and APC flags. Someone in the campaign had apparently crossed the line between political theatre and outright comedy. A business friendly Buhari was a curious oddity.
Other lavish costumes and adornments followed, obviously aimed at re-establishing the man’s multicultural possibilities and nationalistic image. But soon after he won the election, Buhari quickly shed the deception of political costumes and the attempt by others to brand him. The authentic native son re-emerged in his favorite Bedouin tunic and has since stamped his curious style, for good and for ill, on the Nigerian landscape.
President Buhari’s distinctive leadership style and informing impulses can no longer be in doubt. The essential outlines of that leadership, I daresay, derive from a nightmarish past that most Nigerians would rather forget but chose to forgive. Undoubtedly, President Buhari has a retrospective fixation, constantly relishing his brief tenure as military fascist as his brightest legacy in our history.
Against the background of President Goodluck Jonathan’s lack luster performance, Mr. Buhari was coming into office in 2015 shrouded in a larger than life messianic mythology. He had briefly headed an unsmiling military junta that abducted fleeing politicians in Western capitals, publicly flogged people in queues for scarce basic goods, jailed politicians and journalists for minor infractions and marketed an ancient pastoral economic style and vision.
Buhari’s glorious past is the ancient world of state control of the economy and export of primary produce. His golden age is that brief regrettable dark spot in national history when sirens tore through the night as the goons of state knocked on nearly every door with pre-signed detention orders. It was that period when no debate was allowed except the deafening rants of regime apologists. No dissent was brooked and freedom of assembly was treasonable. In that world, to be a politician was anathema as errors of commission or omission earned people the equivalent of several life times in jail. In that dark valley of our national history, to be a journalist was dangerous since the state defined what was the truth, how and when best to tell it.
The populist mythology around that despotic interregnum appeals mostly to two groups of Nigerians: a small group of elite ideological simpletons and a vast army of unschooled and desperately poor young Nigerians who see Buhari’s famed ascetic discipline as the antithesis of recurrent recklessness among successive political leaders.
Therefore, at his 2015 inauguration at Eagle Square, the multitude thought they heard Buhari say he would solve all the nation’s problems in four years. While public expectation was effusive, Buhari was economical with his promises. He identified security, the economy, agriculture and corruption as his cardinal priorities. It is only fair, therefore, that he be judged more by what he freely promised rather than an agenda foisted on him either by an irrational mob in their moment of frenzy or an elite consumed in populist mythology.
Based purely on this limited agenda, it would be uncharitable to dismiss the last three years under Buhari as wasted. While the fear towards the end of the Jonathan administration that the country could melt down and disintegrate largely remains, the clear and present danger that Boko Haram could sack the entire northern half of the country has fizzled. The insurgency has largely dissipated and can no longer hold territory let alone foist its pet Caliphate on any expanse of national space. Yet, its ability to dispatch hapless kids as suicide bombers remains potent. It is now largely a roving gang of armed thugs and unruly zealots, which can no longer make and post propaganda videos at will.
Yet Boko Haram remains a potent threat more as an occasional security irritant, Its periodic attacks is a rude interruption and frequent reminder to a government that prematurely celebrates the defeat of the ragged and rugged insurgents. It is becoming a political tool and an instrument of blackmail and extortion through dubious abductions and ransoms.
Recently, Boko Haram terrorists brazenly invaded a girls high school in little known Dapchi, a dusty small town in the northern state of Yobe and carted away 110 girls aged between 11 and 19 reportedly in three trucks branded with sectarian graffiti. The operation, quite reminiscent of the assault on Chibok over four years ago, defied the bragging and propaganda of Nigeria’s overstretched security forces. For a government, which has insisted that it has defeated Boko Haram, the Dapchi abductions and mass kidnapping was hard to understand. Happily however, the drama ended with the equally dramatic negotiated return of all the girls but for the lone Christian, Leah Shuaibu. Perhaps the remaining Chibok girls and the plight of Leah indicate that Boko Haram remains dangerous work in untidy progress.
To his credit, Buhari’s style of governance has largely reflected his personal austerity and aversion to flamboyance. The old concept of government as a bazaar of wasteful expenditure is somehow in abeyance. The garish ostentation and authorized hooliganism, which hitherto characterized government officials, has gone underground for now at least. But not much has changed in terms of emplacing institutional regulations to make a future return to previous prodigality more difficult.
A belated but sensible economic growth and recovery blueprint (EGRP) was deployed and activated towards the end of the administration’s third year in office. Many doubt why a government would wake up only in its twilight months to the necessity of an economic development and management document. Sensible as the document may look in most parts, many still doubt the ability of the Buhari government to effectively implement the policy measures it stipulates given the limited time it has left and the low executive capacity of its major drivers of the economic policy. The belated launch of the economic plan is akin to a pilot filing a flight plan just before landing at his destination.
There is evidence of renewed interest in the rehabilitation of decayed national infrastructure. Highway rehabilitation and railway expansion have in recent months witnessed increased tempo of activities even if funding remains erratic.
The economic performance of the administration remains largely woeful if measured by the declining quality of life and general performance of key indices. While some stability has returned to the foreign exchange market, the rates remain high relative to what they were in 2015. Nevertheless, foreign reserves have only recently been on the increase as a result of recent increases in oil prices as well as serial government default in funding capital spending on infrastructure projects, preferring to leverage improving foreign reserves for more foreign loans. Local and international alarm bells on the dangers of increasing foreign borrowing have fallen on deaf ears in a government whose most visible economic policy designers are either lawyers or mid capacity economists assisted by foreign consultants.
In the interim, the things that matter to people have in the last two years been receding. Arguably, the last three years have witnessed the highest migration of Nigerians into poverty. Many jobs have been lost while living costs have escalated as the exchange rate has stabilized at a rate twice the worst of the Jonathan years. The usual visible markers of economic recovery or basic well-being have evaporated. Few new homes are being built by honest Nigerians; hardly any new private cars are being registered; retail traffic is only beginning to tick up even as inflation begins to drop in relative terms. The rate of savings is near nil as most fixed incomes have been eroded by exchange rate and recessionary pressures on other essential family bills.
While the Buhari led APC government has muddled along, it has come under a heavy barrage of criticism by both opposition politicians and the national elite of disappointed and baffled former Buhari supporters. This combination of criticism has forced the administration into an unproductive defensive posture, blaming its poor perception on the views of opposition politicians.
But major international assessments of the performance of the Buhari administration have been less than flattering. Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian government of gross human rights abuses ranging from extra judicial killings by the military and police to outright cruelty in the treatment of accused persons and the underprivileged. Similarly, Transparency International has ranked Nigeria 148 out of 180 countries in its 2017 annual corruption perception index.
The International Police Organization has followed suit by adjudging the Nigeria Police as the worst police force in the world. On the eve of president Buhari’s state visit to Washington in April, 2018, the United States State Department handed down a searing indictment of the Buhari administration on literally all the planks that brought the president to office- security, corruption, the economy, governance. That did not however stop Buhari from visiting Donald Trump for a back sapping session aimed literally at find an alternative market for US agricultural exports.
Similarly, a recent CNN documentary on modern slavery has identified Nigeria’s Edo state as a leading source of much of the Europe human trafficking that feeds the infamous Libyan slave auctions with human cargo. Underneath that documentary are loud suggestions that the human trafficking from Nigeria is spurred by unemployment, desperate poverty and hopelessness bred by flawed governance.
There is a lively debate as to whether President Buhari’s style of leadership is sufficiently responsive and proactive to carry the burden of Nigeria’s complex polity and its equally daunting problems. The president’s executive capacity has proved rather sluggish and tardy. It took him a hefty nine months to appoint a cabinet, over two and half years to appoint boards of government owned companies and two years to appoint ambassadors and mission heads. Even where strategic appointments have been made, the president has tended to be nativist and parochial in key appointments while representing the rest of the country for statistical purposes to fulfill constitutional requirements.
With Buhari, one looks in vain for the informing ideas behind Buhari’s sense of national mission. Even more wanting is a vision of Nigeria that fires his repeated interest in the office of president, hence his repeated contests for a job he lost in a coup in 1985. Even his pet anti-corruption obsession has so far ended up as just that: a personal obsession. No one has ever heard the president proffer any informed insight into the social and economic basis of corruption. For him, corruption begins and ends with his political opponents while he seems indifferent to the proven malfeasance of his closest staffers and associates. At moments when decisiveness and strength were needed in national leadership, Mr. Buhari proved inexplicably weak or was away in a London hospital.
For a president part of whose claim to political relevance and pre-eminence is a background in the military and security forces, the current state of insecurity in the country is embarrassing. The prevalence of armed killer gangs all over the country and the random mass killings of innocent citizens by gunmen of curious identity ought to keep Mr. Buhari and his security chiefs awake at night.
By a curious sense of priority, President Buhari has visited more foreign capitals than state capitals in Nigeria. While these trips may be necessitated by the president’s personal definition of national interest, it is hard to defend the preference for foreign trips over touching base with fellow Nigerians whose votes earned him the tenancy of Aso Rock. Even more worrisome is the fact that three years after assuming the presidency, the Buhari administration has not found it necessary to review Nigeria’s foreign policy let alone outline a new foreign policy to contextualize the president’s numerous foreign visits.
Arguably, a good number of the foreign trips undertaken by the president could have been performed by his foreign minister. Yet, there are fresh imperatives in the new world on which Nigeria ought to provide leadership and direction, which should fuel a new foreign policy. There is a new Trans-Mediterranean slave trade with mostly Nigerians on sale; there is human trafficking again richly supplied by Nigeria; there are new trends in Africa’s trade with the world and among African countries; there is terrorism and there is global youth employment and empowerment etc.
In the hands of a more reflective and creative party and government, the APC’s ‘Change’ mantra ought to power a total turnaround of Nigeria’s leadership and politics. The irony however is that President Buhari is not in tune with the changes that have occurred in the nation. The nation itself has vastly changed; its demographics have changed with the youth now in majority; the perceptions of the people have changed just like the indices of our nationalism have vastly been altered. Most of all, the profile of leadership that the people now expect, going forward, has changed.
To have remained frozen in an untenable past is perhaps President Buhari’s greatest disservice to both his own legacy and the Nigerian nation.
QUOTE: The garish ostentation and authorized hooliganism, which hitherto characterized government officials, has gone underground for now at least. But not much has changed in terms of emplacing institutional regulations to make a future return to previous prodigality more difficult
Insecurity and the New Frontiers
When candidate Muhammadu Buhari stood at the podium to address an expectant audience at the Chatham House in London in February 2015, he knew that was a rare opportunity to gain global acceptance for his presidential bid. He was not oblivious of the fact that his speech could define how his aspiration would be perceived by a foreign audience keenly interested in Nigerian elections. He also knew that those words could make or mar his chances among undecided voters back home. With this in mind, he carefully chose his words, focusing on the most challenging issues, chief among which was the dire security situation in our country.
At that time, elections had just been postponed for six weeks to enable the military degrade Boko Haram, a terrorist group that had been waging a deadly campaign of death and devastation on communities in the Northeast. The attacks of the terror group were deadly and large cities in the zone were threatened daily by suicide bombers and IEDs planted in markets and other crowded areas like motor parks.
There were also daring attacks on military formations, including an Army Division in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram terrorists stormed and freed their members in detention. The nation’s airforce could not operate unchallenged in Nigerian airspace as military aircraft were shot down in the Northeast by insurgents using anti-aircraft guns. Camps for internally displaced people popped up in several states, creating a huge humanitarian crisis for government and international humanitarian agencies. No fewer than 270 young girls preparing for their final examinations were abducted from their school in Chibok and displayed as slaves in video clips released by the terror group. The horizon was bleak and the situation was depressingly alarming.
Candidate Buhari seized the opportunity of his presentation at the Chatham House to do a quick review of the grisly security situation in the country and noted that there was a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. “Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory the size of Belgium,” he told his audience, noting that “apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure.”
Touting his pedigree as a retired general and a former commander in chief of the armed forces, he told his audience that Nigerian soldiers were capable, brave, well-trained, patriotic and ever ready to serve the country. He cited their exploits in many peace-keeping operations around the world including in Burma, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Darfur. He blamed their inability to tackle the insurgency on the failure of Nigeria’s leadership to provide the support and incentives needed and the lack of will to rally a multi-dimensional response to the insurgency, thus making the country to be dependent of its neighbours to tackle the problem.
Against this background, candidate Buhari made a solemn pledge: “Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas. We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism.”
That pledge was warmly received by a world that had become alarmed by how Nigeria was dangerously tottering on the precipice. Among the undecided voters back home, Buhari’s words were also very reassuring. He rode, literarily, into the election on the wave of the positive reviews of his speech at the Chatham House, making history as the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent president in Nigeria.
Three years down the line, President Buhari has tried to fulfill that solemn pledge. At his inauguration on 29th May 2015, he ordered the relocation of the military command and control centre to the Northeast, the epicenter of the anti-terror war. By that order, defence chiefs relocated to Borno for a more effective coordination of the campaign against the insurgents. Army Chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, visited troops at the battle front to boost their morale. The military became more proactive, launching relentless attacks on territories held by Boko Haram and dislodging the terror group from villages, towns and local governments in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the three most affected states.
Apart from personally visiting the war theatre to boost the morale of the troops, Buhari, at regional level, cultivated warm relations with neighbouring leaders and brought them back into the regional coalition against the terror group that had become largely ineffectual because of Nigeria’s inability to provide the required leadership. The revival of that coalition made it possible for the multinational joint task force to wage war against Boko Haram terrorists from the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – pushing them into Sambisa Forest, their operational base.
A major onslaught was later launched by Nigerian troops on Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram had made its headquarters. The insurgents were dislodged from Camp Zero, their command post. With the successful prosecution of the military campaign in Sambisa Forest, government declared it had technically defeated Boko Haram. But the terror group has continued to carryout deadly attacks on chosen targets from the fringes of Sambisa Forest.
While there are strong indications that the terror group still holds territories from where it launches attacks and keeps hostages, despite government’s claim that no Nigerian territory is occupied by Boko Haram, the portion of land it currently occupies is a far cry from the situation three years ago when about 17 local governments were fully under its control.
Buhari’s efforts at fulfilling his promise are also evident in the procurement of hardware for the military, upon which the successes recorded on the battlefront are hinged. In the past three years, the Nigerian Airforce took delivery of aircraft from Pakistan and Russia, while the army received mine-resistant armoured-protected vehicles donated by the US. The Buhari administration also ordered 10 SU-30 fighter jets from Russia and 12 Tucano aircraft from US.
Even though Boko Haram has been greatly degraded, the terror group still remains a potent threat to lives and property in the Northeast. This year alone, scores of people have been killed in suicide bomb attacks and direct gunfire from Boko Haram terrorists. The Rann attack in March claimed the lives of three UN aid workers and 10 Nigerian security personnel. Multiple attacks launched on Maiduguri by the terror group on Easter Day claimed 29 lives and injured 89 people. A suicide bomb attack on Konduga fish market in Borno, in February, claimed 22 lives while 28 people were injured.
On 19th February, Boko Haram terrorists invaded Dapchi, a town in Yobe State, and abducted 110 school girls unchallenged. The ease with which the terror group drove in and out of Dapchi showed how Boko Haram terrorists could still operate at will. These are just few of the several attacks carried out by the terror group in 2018. Attacks launched between 2015 and 2017 were deadlier, with higher casualties.
While successes have been achieved in the battle against Boko Haram in the Northeast, a new frontier of insecurity has been opened in another part of the country. This new frontier features marauding armed herdsmen storming communities and inflicting pains, deaths and destructions. Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Zamfara, Kogi and Kaduna are among the states where these armed bandits have wreaked havocs. The global Terrorism Index 2015 named Nigeria’s Fulani militants the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, coming after Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabab.
They have lived up to their inglorious reputation. In Benue for example, 73 people were killed in Logo and Guma local governments by armed herdsmen on New Year Day. Another 24 people way killed in a community in Okpokwu local government in March. Just last month, two priests and 17 parishioners were killed in a community in Gwer East local government during morning mass.
Such gruesome killings take place regularly in Southern Kaduna, Taraba, Zamfara, Plateau and Kogi, where farmers-herdsmen clashes are daily occurrences. In Taraba, there were reports of attacks on Fulani settlements on the Mambila where scores of people were killed.
These wanton killings have continued to attract condolence messages from around the world and the displacement of people from their communities has continued to drain the resources of international humanitarian agencies.
Though the herdsmen-farmers crisis had been on for decades, it became deadlier in the past three years due to the failure of government to quickly address the underlying factor – the scramble for land for grazing and farming. While the herdsmen demanded the retention of grazing routes which had been in existence for decades, farmers insisted that animal rearing should be treated as economic venture and ranching should be adopted to protect their farms from destruction by cattle.
For months, rather than provide a solution that would allay the fears of herders and farmers, government dilly-dallied and allowed unhealthy debates over grazing routes and ranching to fester. Through impolitic remarks of top officials of the federal government, a pernicious indication was given that government prefers grazing to ranching.
This was further compounded by the fact that the President and a majority of his security chiefs share the same ethnic background and religion with the herdsmen, consequently driving the debate into a dangerous terrain. This made it difficult for the administration to be seen as impartial arbiter.
Also of late, in the Birnin Gwari axis (an area between Kaduna, where there are several military institutions and Abuja, the seat of government) traveling has become a risky venture as bandits continue to ambush travellers in scores and herd them into the forest as hostages.
Unarguably, there is a relentless war against Boko Haram, the terror group has been substantially degraded and occupied territories have been reclaimed. But the group’s campaign of death and destruction is still on and the new threat posed by armed bandits operating in the Middle Belt region have continued to retain Nigeria on the terror map. Three years after Buhari’s pledge at the Chatham House and innumerous assurances, the road to a secured nation is still long and the world has not stopped worrying about Nigeria.
QUOTE: While there are strong indications that the terror group still holds territories from where it launches attacks and keeps hostages, despite government’s claim that no Nigerian territory is occupied by Boko Haram, the portion of land it currently occupies is a far cry from the situation three years ago when about 17 local governments were fully under its control
So Far, So Underwhelming
Last Tuesday, thousands of Catholics and others, wielding placards, staged a protest in the wake of indiscriminate killings of innocent men and women by herdsmen across the nation. It was perhaps the first of its kind by the Church in Nigeria and indicative of a simmering discontent. The protest was evidently planned to coincide with the mass burial of two slain priests –Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha who were brutally murdered along with 17 worshippers last month at Mbalom in Benue State.
Crestfallen Benue State governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom, who has buried almost 500 innocent victims this year, and conducting the third mass burials for victims of herdsmen brutality, asked the audience, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo: “What was the offence of the priests and the parishioners?”
Indeed, what was their offence?
Nigeria has degenerated to the level where life is meaningless, where people are killed without reasons, where crimes are committed and no one is punished, and where government’s response had been underwhelming. Yet, when President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power three years ago, he pledged to secure the nation. But perhaps not since the civil war have streets and communities seen such bloodshed.
From the brutal insurgency of the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram to the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis to armed robberies, kidnappings and free-wheeling banditry, Nigeria is has unwittingly become a nation at war with itself. No one is safe. No place is sacred. The tragic end of the priests and the parishioners could have been anyone else, and across the nation. Thousands of men, women and children have been killed at homes, farms, on the streets and in the oddest of all places – in the place of worship.
Benue State unfortunately has a disproportionate share of the tragedy. The criminal herdsmen exercise a murderous grip on many communities in the state. But what is most tragic about the crisis of the herdsmen and farmers is the inability of the administration to offer leadership. It acts as if it is answerable to no one. Its wooden response or indeed widespread indifference to the crisis has given wings to general unease, despair and a heightened sectarian tension and indeed a deeply divided country. The murderers, until very lately, seemed untouchable.
The parlous security environment is aggravated by the increasing underwhelming battle against the rebels in the North east. The common refrain by the administration since December 2015 that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated” is more a product of hope rather than evidence. It was a decision based on incomplete information. Since 2016, the militant group has been wreaking havoc in many communities in the North east, killing, maiming and laying waste farmlands. Hundreds of people have been killed this year alone through suicide bombers and coordinated attacks on communities.
Millions are living in emergencies as thousands of families are still being displaced. The insurgents with taste for teenage girls are still holding onto more than 100 girls from Chibok and were even bold enough to repeat the Chibok abduction at Dapchi, Yobe State more recently. Even if all the girls except Leah Sharibu, a Christian, had been released, that Dapchi happened in the first place is an admission that the government is yet to live up to its rhetoric – that Chibok would never happen – again!
Besides, that the administration is asking for $1 billion approval from the Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram apart from the hefty budget for the ministry in charge is a poignant reminder that the long-drawn and costly war is far from over. Even if the rebels have been weaned largely of their territorial ambitions, there is still plenty of work to be done. As Mr Fayose, governor of Ekiti State rightly put it, we can’t spend a billion dollar on a defeated group. The insurgents, indeed, still have a significant foothold in the Northeast and sowing fear all over.
A combination of factors is making life much more difficult for many Nigerians. Even if we admit that the administration took office against a dismal backdrop, with oil crashing for as low as $30 a barrel, its management more or less worsened and indeed contracted the economy. The naira has lost more than half its value; many companies shed and are still shedding weight, tossing many of their employees into the streets. Many jobs have vanished. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment rate has increased 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 per cent in the second quarter of 2017. Even the most purblind could see that the level of poverty among Nigerians has grown and still growing.
And despite the administration’s criticism of past governments in terms of power supply, it has not made any significant difference, judged by its performance in the last three years. Access to electricity power is a growing pain: despite the so-called increased megawatts, the Discos are still rolling out blackouts every day of the year, thus limiting access to opportunities. Education is still in a state of emergency, to borrow the words of those who man the important ministry.
To be sure, the country has made some progress in some areas of health. For instance, there has been some progress in tackling malaria even if it still kills about 800 Nigerians daily; and a relatively impressive record in polio eradication. The Buhari administration has also invested in road and rail infrastructure with some appreciable results. Despite these successes, Nigeria is in a health emergency. The country is among the worst place in West Africa to be a poor child or mother and the situation may be getting worse.
Even in the core anti-graft battle, President Buhari is yet to live up to his rhetoric. There is no doubt that some improvements have been made, particularly with regard to the impunity with which many in the past looted the treasury. But the successful efforts are on small scale, restricted more or less to the political opposition and foes, and which has earned it endless cynicism.
The state oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is still the by-word for corruption. There are many privileged insiders.
This is not helped by the concentration of many top security positions and others in the north – what former President Olusegun Obasanjo called “nepotic” circle, and thus sowing mistrust and making the governing of an already fragmented country much more difficult.
As we for a general election next year, not many Nigerians think the country is on the right track. The confidence is lacking. We are in a desperate state, which is not good enough. It is not a heartening example of leadership.
Still, A Very Fragile Economy
In a paper I presented at the Vanguard Economic Discourse on 10th March 2017 titled, ‘Stagflation, Fragility and the Arrested Development of the Nigerian Economy’. I observed as follows: “We have argued that recession is a temporary situation that can easily be reversed once the economy becomes GDP positive. If for instance, oil prices suddenly recover and we begin to see pre 2014 prices again, we will be out of recession in a jiffy. If for some reason we reduce imports either by fiat or by accident and begin to spend less foreign exchange or if foreign exchange supply increases for some strange happenstance either by reason of increased exports or inflow of foreign investment, recession will abate.
“If we increase spending in real terms, either by reducing interest rates or by borrowing, recession would give way. The government may also choose to reduce taxes and tariffs to leave more money in the hands of people and business. The same effect will be witnessed if government finds a way of paying salaries and domestic debts owed to local contractors. An expansionary government spending policy by way of issuing fiscal stimulus package will put more money in the economy, encourage consumption, jump start production, and create jobs. All these will cure recession, but the fundamental problems with the economy will remain and recession can happen again if any of the challenges that led us here shows up again and the bad news is that they are bound to show up again.”
We all recall that the economy had technically gone into recession by the end of the second quarter of 2016. This was the first time that Nigeria was going into a recession in over 25 years. Between 2005 and 2015, the county’s GDP grew at an annual average rate of around 5.7%. The sad reality of this growth was that it was driven mainly by crude oil production and export. We didn’t require a soothsayer to tell us that we were going to face dire consequences in the event of crude oil price decline. So, when oil prices eventually tumbled sometime in 2015, our economy literally went into a tailspin.
Like we had warned above, getting out of recession was not rocket science. One or two of the conditions we stated had happened and after five consecutive quarters of GDP decline, the economy recorded a real GDP growth rate of 0.55% (revised to 0.72%) at the end of the second quarter 2017. The growth was sustained in Quarter 3 as GDP growth rate touched 1.40%. By the last quarter of 2017, growth rate had increased to 2.11%. The average growth rate for 2017 therefore, was 0.8%.
As at the end of the first quarter of 2018, the discomfiting realization came that the economy was still in the doldrums. It was reported that economic growth had slowed down for the first time post-recession to 1.95%. The reason for this decline was basically because other than oil, every other sector in the economy underperformed. So, if not for both the improvement of the volume of export of crude from average daily output of 1.95m to 2m barrels in the first quarter and oil price increases, the growth rate would have come in at significantly lower levels. Meanwhile, please bear in mind that oil continues to account for close to 70% of government revenue.
Granted that government has been making efforts at diversifying the economy, particularly in the area of Agriculture, the results have not been very encouraging. The Oil sector continues to dominate the economy, growing by about 15% in the first quarter of 2018 while in the non-oil sector, growth stood at a miserly 0.76%. The resumed dominance of oil can be seen from the fact that the sector’s contribution to GDP had increased steadily from 7.35% in the 4th quarter of 2017 to 9.61% in the 1st quarter of 2018. As the oil sector continued to grow, the non-oil sector contracted from 92.65% of GDP in the 4th quarter of 2017 to 90.4% in the first quarter of 2018.
We must at this juncture bring into the discussion, the number of people who are supposed to share in the GDP and of course, in its growth or decline. According to recent figures from the National Population Commission, Nigeria has a population of 198m people. This figure is not too far away from the United Nations estimate of 195m people. The United Nations goes further to state that the country’s population is growing at close to 3% per annum. On the face of that therefore, to maintain the same level of GDP per head which economists call GDP Per Capita, Nigeria’s economy must grow at no less than 3% per annum.
When therefore we see numbers like 1.95% GDP growth, it simply means that population growth is outpacing economic growth by over 100 basis points. Any wonder why the misery index and poverty index have continued to head in the wrong direction? GDP per Capita for 2018, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook is around $2,108, placing Nigeria in the 143rd position out of the 191 countries ranked. This is a decline from the 2017 actual position of 137th even though at lower GDP per capita of $1994.
Meanwhile, inflation remains at double digits of 12.48% as at April 2018. Even though this was an improvement on the 16% rates we witnessed a year ago, this figure remains very high for a depressed economy like ours. Unemployment officially hovers around 19%, though analysts strongly believe that this number is significantly understated and there is anecdotal evidence to support same.
It has, however, not been all bad news for the economy. In the first place, some stability has been achieved in the exchange rate management system though there are still worries about the persisting multiple exchange rate regime which creates room for manipulations and round tripping. There has also been stability in interest rates as the Monetary Policy Committee of the CBN kept policy rates steady at 14% after its latest meeting.
This is the10th consecutive time that the rate had remained unchanged at 14%. Even though experts argue that for an economy just recovering from recession, interest rates should be low enough to encourage spending and stimulate the economy, the CBN insists that lower policy rates will not only put pressure on the foreign exchange market, but will also discourage savings and therefore push inflation up. Accretion to foreign reserves has also been on the upward swing, moving from less than $26b early 2016 to over $47b as at April this year. This is also on the back of increased foreign investment inflow in the wake of oil price recovery. Most importantly, the administration rolled out a clear road map for the management of economic recovery and growth as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). We hope that the administration will live up to its words by ensuring that the plan is implemented.
Having said all these, the year 2018 is a year to watch for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, we seem to have started on a sad note with respect to the budget. It is a known fact that the year before election is normally slow with governance but strong with political activities. As we enter the second half of the year, political activities, starting with the primaries and campaigns, will take centre stage. Meanwhile, the National Assembly only passed a budget of N9.12t (circa $30b) just on 16th May 2018, a clear six months after it received the document from the Minister of Budget and Planning in November 2017. This is a very sad commentary for the ruling APC government in particular and the country in general. With only six months, it would be foolhardy to expect full implementation of this budget by year end.
Beyond these, I believe there are other risks to which the managers of the economy must pay attention in the remaining part of the year and going into 2019. Being an election year, there must be a concerted effort not to heat up the system as to scare both the international economy and foreign investors. Every effort must also be made to enthrone at least a semblance of stable macroeconomic environment. Election spending must be managed in such a manner that its impact on inflation, exchange rate, budget deficit and foreign investment would be neutral.
The temptation to invade the treasury and cart away money in the guise of funding elections must be resisted. Uncertainties, particularly those related to succession, will definitely affect the direction of the economy. Insecurity and insurgency remain major risks that managers of the economy cannot afford to overlook. The Boko Haram attacks and the incessant herdsmen attacks on farmers and defenseless villagers alike, will continue to take its toll on stability in the polity, if not contained. I make bold to say that the country could withstand profligacy in the past because the economy was strong, it may not be able to do the same in a fragile economy, just managing to recover at a very slow pace. It is therefore my considered opinion that we should resist the temptation to behave once again like the oil sheiks of the Middle East, who by the way, have fewer mouths to feed.
On account of the fact that the economy remains fragile and is still dependent on oil, we cannot assume that the latest moderate oil price recovery has come to stay. In fact, it is still possible to see oil prices go back to 2015 and 2016 levels. All that needs to happen is for the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) to renounce production cuts or for the US to pump more Shale oil into the market. It is also possible for the US to change gear on Iran and withdraw the sanctions and one would then see production increase and price drops. Finally, if for some reason our trade partners, including China, India and the UK, begin to face economic challenges, their consumption of oil will be the first casualty. Once demand falls like economists would postulate, prices will fall likewise.
Still on Crude Oil, even if the international prices do not drop, we still face the risk of a drop in production. In the light of this, we must not take the present relative peace in the Niger Delta for granted. Government must continue to engage to prevent disruptions that may lead to shut-ins and lower production figures that will dent our revenue projections. Again, with oil price discovery, the debate on petroleum subsidy must be brought back to the table. This is because subsidy will definitely increase. Until this matter is resolved, the effect of subsidy cannot be overlooked. There are also debates about the power tariffs. These debates must also be addressed and positions taken to manage the risks associated with them.
I consider all these important if we are to avoid the euphoria of celebrating our exit from recession and doing things that may eventually lead us back to recession or even depression. We had warned earlier that our exit from recession will not make fundamental changes in the economy, given that the structure of the economy remains fundamentally flawed. Our economy remains a mono product economy, to all intents and purposes. Diversification has failed to yield the desired results. Agriculture, which seemed to have some traction a short while ago, has slipped back to insignificance.
Matters are not helped by the uncontrolled attacks unleashed on farmers by herdsmen resulting in the sacking of a lot of farmers and the destruction of their crops and farm lands. The nominal growth of the economy has indeed not left anything to celebrate, given the published GDP growth numbers. Beyond the population growth which we had mentioned earlier, there is the issue of base year numbers, which seems to mask the fact that the economy may actually not be growing in real terms, after all. The base year theory simply explains a situation where it is easier to show growth where the numbers to compare with are very low or negative. In view of the fact that we were coming from a negative growth trajectory, any growth, no matter how minute, seems to attract recognition.
Putting it simply, it is easier to double N1000 than to double N1, 000,000. If we don’t understand and appreciate this, there is a tendency to exaggerate growth from a very low base like we have in our GDP. We had extensively dealt with the issue of government debt in previous interventions. I believe the government must begin to rethink its high exposure to lenders including our own Central Bank. The reason is that repaying those debts may pose a huge challenge to the economy if an inordinate percentage of our budget would be applied to debt servicing. Building a strong economy should also be at the heart of policy making. While the recent attempts at building infrastructure are commendable, the government must, and should, do more.
A situation where over 70% of our budget spending goes into recurrent expenditure, is very unhealthy for the nation. It means that we are just scratching the surface in terms of infrastructure. An economy that has lost 41% of its productive base between 2012 and 2017 – according to the African Development Bank – requires that things be done differently. Our unwritten de-industrialisation policy is the major reason for the very high level of unemployment.
All we have done here is to tell our story, the way it is from a political economy perspective. You must not agree with us, but the truth is that we are a poor nation. We drove the economy in the wrong direction through poor policy choices and ended up with a recession. We have struggled with it and have luckily been able to get ourselves out, at least for now. Nevertheless, the fundamental problems of the economy still remain unresolved. Grandstanding and self-deluding claims (including that of being the biggest economy in Africa) cannot resolve them either. We must now try and tell ourselves the truth and act in accordance with that reality.
In the Fragile States Index, we moved from No 17 in 2014, to No 14 in 2015 and to No 13 in 2016. In 2017, we maintained the 13th position. Put simply, we are the 13th most fragile nation in the world, out of the 178 countries measured. Failure, therefore stares us in the face. We must do something drastic to pull our country out of the brink of real and imminent failure. We may have been lucky in the past, but ‘Mother luck’ does not take permanent resident permit in any country or economy, much less, one that continues to blow its chances like ours.
QUOTE: there are other risks to which the managers of the economy must pay attention in the remaining part of the year and going into 2019. Being an election year, there must be a concerted effort not to heat up the system as to scare both the international economy and foreign investors. Every effort must also be made to enthrone at least a semblance of stable macroeconomic environment
How Do We Rate the President?
A glance at President Buhari’s scorecard in the last three years reveals that despite his good intentions, he has not managed to measure up to popular expectation. Let us begin from the economy. It must be understood that the Buhari government inherited a fragile economy. Besides, the crude oil price had slumped to $65 per barrel at the swearing-in of President Buhari. But as Mr Bill Gates rightly observed on his recent visit to Nigeria, the economy under Buhari is not positively impacting on the lives of many Nigerians.
Writhing under the pains of suffocating policies, many multinationals shut down theiA glance at President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard in the last three years reveals that despite his good intentions, he has not measured up to popular expectation. Let us begin from the economy. It must be understood that the Buhari government inherited a fragile economy. Besides, the crude oil price had slumped to $65 per barrel at the time he was assuming office.
However, as Mr Bill Gates rightly observed on his recent visit to Nigeria, the economy under President Buhari is not positively impacting on the lives of many Nigerians. Writhing under the pains of suffocating policies, many multinationals shut down their operations in Nigeria while others simply fired workers. It is instructive that from 2016-2018, 9.3 million Nigerians lost their jobs. From 2015-2018, poverty in Nigeria tremendously increased.
According to the African Development Bank (ADB) in its 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook, about 152 million Nigerians now live on less than $2 a day, representing more than 75 per cent of the country’s estimated population of 190 million. To compound the situation, the foreign exchange corruption under the Buhari government has caught the attention of many people. For example, the Emir of Kano and former Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has been complaining about the foreign exchange corruption under the Buhari government.
Hear the Emir: “we created billionaires from oil subsidies in the past. We are making the same mistake with Forex…as an Emir, I can seat in my garden and make phone calls to access $10 million at N197 per $ then sell it off at nothing less than N300; with just a phone call, I am making a profit of over a billion Naira. That is what people are doing now…Any system that allows you sit in your garden and make a billion Naira without investing a kobo is a wrong system”.
In fairness, the Buhari government deserves applause for inheriting and implementing the Treasury Single Account (TSA) aimed at forestalling financial fraud especially in government transactions. We must also give kudos to the Buhari government for increasing the budgetary allocation for capital expenditure. The Ministry of Finance has reportedly stated that the government has disbursed over a trillion naira for capital expenditure for the 2016 fiscal year, by far the largest amount in Nigeria’s history.
However, increase in capital expenditure has also brought Nigeria into another huge debt burden. In three years alone, our country has borrowed over N14 trillion (the highest borrowing since Nigeria’s independence in 1960) with no meaningful projects in sight to yield income to repay the debt. Happily, the Buhari government has unveiled the much-vaunted Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which contains the roadmap for Nigeria’s economic development and recovery.
The four-year plan (2017-2020), envisages that by 2020, Nigeria would have made significant progress towards achieving structural economic change. But to have an economic plan is one thing, implementation is another. So there is no guarantee that the extant plan will succeed, especially when the Buhari government has only one year to go.
On security of lives and property, despite the claim by the Buhari government that it has defeated Boko Haram, on 19th February 2018, no fewer than 110 Nigerian schoolgirls (Dapuchi girls) aged 11–19 years old were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Thanks to the intervention of the Buhari government some of the Dapuchi girls have been rescued except Leah Sharibu, the only Christian girl among the abductees who refused to denounce her Christian faith and embrace Islam. Within the last three years, the herdsmen have successfully carried out countless attacks and killings in different Nigerian communities.
Meanwhile, in the past three years several human rights abuses and violations have been recorded in Nigeria. Recently, the United States Department of State issued a damning assessment of Nigeria’s 2017 Human Rights Report. In the 48-page report, it stated that impunity remained widespread at all levels of government in Nigeria in the last three years. The report also indicted the Buhari government for not adequately investigating or holding the police or military personnel accountable for the extrajudicial killings of supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
This Report corroborates the Amnesty International (AI) position on the 12th December 2015 massacre in Zaria, Kaduna State of .almost 400 defenceless and unarmed civilians by the Nigerian military. Two months later, on 9th February, 2016 the Aba massacre took place when Nigerian soldiers shot and killed scores of pro-Biafra protesters who were holding a vigil inside the football field of Ngwa High School, Aba in Abia State.
While investigations on the Aba massacre were still going on, the Onitsha massacre occurred on 30th May, 2016. Over 30 civilians were killed and many injured by the military after the several clashes involving the military, police and members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and members of the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) during the Biafra day celebration at Nkpor-Agu, Niger Bridge, Onitsha and Asaba.
The list of the atrocities committed by agents of state under the current administration is endless and many of them are already documented. On the fight against corruption, President Buhari is well disposed towards fighting corruption in Nigeria. He came to power on the mantra that he would combat graft and corruption in Nigeria. Initially, the fight against corruption was well focused. For the first time in the history of Nigeria monies stolen by many corrupt Nigerian politicians were recovered. The whistle-blowing concept introduced by the Buhari government has helped in locating where many stolen monies were hidden. Unfortunately the fight against corruption has become a comedy of errors and a one-sided war targeted against some perceived political opponents and enemies of government.
In order to escape justice, perceived enemies and political opponents are now decamping from their political parties and joining the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). That perhaps explains why the 2017 United States Human Rights Report scored President Buhari’s government low on corruption.
The report states, among other things, “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services”.
The report also faulted the EFCC in prosecuting corruption charges because, according to the report, the Commission failed to follow due process. Also in the annual Corruption Perception Index 2017 of the Transparency International, Nigeria was ranked 148 out 180 countries. The Index showed deterioration in perception of corruption in public administration in Nigeria.
On political appointments, President Buhari has appointed the persons he could trust and work with. But unfortunately these appointments have failed to conform to the pluralistic and multi-ethnic nature of the Nigerian society and the Federal Character principle as enshrined in section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. For instance, there is a glaring lopsided-appointment at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
From all indications, the scorecard of this administration is, to put it rather mildly, not endearing. Yet, the president does not seem to care!
QUOTE: The whistle-blowing concept introduced by the Buhari government has helped in locating where many stolen monies were hidden. Unfortunately the fight against corruption has become a comedy of errors and a one-sided war targeted against some perceived political opponents and enemies of government
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
For a man who contested for presidency four times before winning the election, the strong desire by Muhammadu Buhari to serve his nation was probably not in doubt. And he came to the office with what some political experts described as ‘unquestionable’ honesty and integrity. The cult-like following, especially in the northern part of country, was indeed remarkable. Even Buhari himself could not fathom the reason for such kindness from Nigerians.
However, if we ask many Nigerians today on their assessment of President Buhari’s stewardship in the past three years after, most of the responses will most likely be rash, harsh and caustic, suggesting that the man they so much relied on to fix the challenges of good governance–allegedly created by his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan might have failed them.
Yes, some progress has been made in the past three years: there are people who strongly believe that impunity has reduced; that the ease of doing business in the country has tremendously improved, and quantum of looted funds has been recovered. But, to a large extent, the disenchantment is swelling; there is a near consensus among Nigerians and the international community, including the ‘conspirators’ that helped Buhari to power, that he has not demonstrated any capacity to arrest the drift or inspire the efforts for good governance.
Stinking revelations that recently emanated, and still emanating, from the federal government agencies point to the telling fact that fraud and pilfering of public funds are still being systematically perpetrated by officials of government, especially those very close to the President. And there is a consensus that incompetence, human rights abuses, lack of transparency/accountability and open display of naked-power have become very pronounced.
For instance, the massive killing of hundreds of Shia Muslim members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), by Nigerian soldiers between 12th and 14th December 2015, in Kaduna State is inexplicable. The barbaric act could only have happened under the watch of an unfeeling tyrannical ruler. In the attacks by the Nigerian army, no fewer than 350 Shia sect members were brutally mowed down in cold blood with hundreds of others injured. It was more brutal and callous that the soldiers involved in the heinous crime quickly buried the bodies in mass graves without the consent of the family members of the victims, making it problematic to decide an accurate death toll.
Apart from reported cases of extrajudicial killings in the past three years, the security agencies appear to have been overwhelmed by the deadly activities of the bloodthirsty terrorist group, Boko Haram, especially in the northeast. Coupled with the on-going senseless killings by herdsmen across the country, life has become so ‘cheap’ in the country as hardly a day passes without reported cases of killings in many parts of the nation.
Sadly, Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram has led to the death of over 25,000 civilians and a large-scale humanitarian crisis – as documented by several respected organisations and institutions. Red Cross Society said recently that over 3.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict, while over eight million are said to need humanitarian assistance. The United Nations warned recently that Nigeria was facing famine-like conditions due to insecurity triggered by the war. Unfortunately, efforts by the government to stem the killings only yielded little success.
The conduct of some bad eggs within the security forces has further compounded the human rights abuses in the country. On 17th January, the Nigerian Air Force carried out an airstrike on a settlement for displaced people in Rann, Borno State, killing approximately 234 innocent people, including nine aid workers, and injuring 100 more. The military initially claimed the attack was meant to hit Boko Haram fighters they believed were in the area, blaming faulty intelligence. After several months of investigations, Nigerian authority later said they had mistaken the settlement of displaced people for insurgent forces.
For sure, the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Armed forces, have recorded remarkable accomplishments in the war against terrorism in the past three years. But the repeated claim that the Boko Haram terrorist group has been defeated is untrue. Researches show the group has killed more than 3,000 people in the past three years.
Against the popular global campaign for openness and accountability in public offices, the culture of secrecy within the government is still dominant in Nigeria. There is strong feeling that the Buhari-led government is careless about the fact that access to information is a fundamental component in the effort to reduce corruption, increase accountability, and deepen trust among citizens and their governments.
In spite of many existing laws, like the Freedom of Information Act and other local/international instruments, to which Nigeria is a signatory and which allow access to public information; hold government accountable, and guarantee same treatment and equal justice, official bureaucratic bottle-necks inhibit the implementation/enforcement of the Act.
In fact, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) in his 2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Act, submitted to the National Assembly recently, confirmed the “formidable challenges” in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, observing that up to 90 per cent of public institutions do not comply with their annual reporting obligations under the Law.
President Buhari may have made efforts to change the way things are done in the country in the past three years, in line with his electoral promises, but his efforts have not been good enough. It may be safe to argue that going by his policies and programmes in the past three years, the president has not demonstrated that the democratic credentials sold to Nigerians and the international community before the 2015 general election were genuine. And the popular view among many Nigerians right now is that he absolutely lacks the capacity to deliver on good governance.
Pix: Iyobosa Uwugiarem.jpg
Niger Delta and the Yar’Adua Model
“The security problem faced by our Nation is a small problem exaggerated by the media!”
–Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El Rufai
When the security challenges of the Niger Delta were reined in substantially by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009, he did so, basically by first admitting that there were obvious and very critical issues that needed to be resolved. He followed up taking some decisions after hearkening to rational counsel from within and outside the nation. One, he appointed a Special Adviser on the region to both guide him and interface daily with the diverse publics involved. Two, he supported the deployment of a professional independent monitoring and evaluation system that would guarantee the best good governance practices to drive the successful and most speedy resolution of the reality on ground then.
One thing Yar’Adua did not do was allow himself or his close associates to wallow in unprofitable denial! The quote with which I opened this page attributed to Governor Nasir El Rufai that is now trending and attracting frowns from our key allies in the international community are therefore not only very disappointing, but potentially dangerous.
Governor El Rufai is one bright mind, one must admit; but his quirks may throw spanners into the works of many key security players in Nigeria, including those of my brilliant King’s College alumnus such as General Babagana Monguno, President Buhari’s National Security Adviser, who definitely would not have chosen such blatantly mendacious words in an attempt to downplay the fact that Nigeria is currently experiencing a level of blood-letting never before seen, except when the country was undergoing the 1967-1970 Civil War.
One is totally confused as to what my friend, the Kaduna State Governor was hoping that such a level of untruth would gain him or President Buhari: either from the citizenry, who are getting more aware of the reality of Nigeria’s predicament with each passing; or, from the country’s international stakeholders who are even more up to date about the killing field that our country is fast becoming. This last fact was highlighted by the United States President Trump when he recently had audience with President Buhari at the White House.
Yes, we know the country is entering the campaign season when outrageous lies, brazen propaganda and “spinning” of facts will be on the rise. But I am sure President Buhari does not need to be confronted with any avoidable challenges or opposition created, even if inadvertently, by his many foes, let alone by his putative friends. This is a period when the President and his cronies would do best to remember the words of the Chinese Sage, Confucius, who advised that, “Silence is a true friend, who never betrays”.
Whilst I am non-partisan still, I would advise all political parties to resolve differences, support security agencies to exhibit global-level integrity and efficiencies; and, remember how Yar’Adua achieved a modicum of peace and stability in the Niger Delta.
There are horrific killing fields in Nigeria that are not even given adequate media attention, and they could very lead to Nigeria’s collapse if not handled urgently, delicately, and wisely. Let us not wait till 180 million Nigerians are mobilised to prove El Rufai and his ilk of revisionists wrong before proactive damage control is kicked off.
I am not omniscient, but, until the killing fields are acknowledged; until the security forces are seen to be truly doing what Nigerians expect of them; until the overt and covert infighting in Abuja end; and, until folks learn to stop putting their feet in their mouths, so long will this Buhari Administration be seen as NOT having succeeded in meeting its vows to keep Nigerians secure, even “though tribes and tongues may differ”.
A Misfortune Foreseen and Foretold
Truth be told, the political coalition that birthed the Buhari government had all the trappings of a group affiliated to Bedlam. Disparate and largely unrelated, no fewer than four political parties joined forces to oust the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 without foreseeing the trouble ahead. On one side were aggrieved PDP members and a South West based Action Congress (AC) that sought power at the centre without close attention to the dangers littered along the road. On the other side was the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) with its isolationist politics that had held it back since its inception. On the fringe was the irascible Rochas Okorocha, whose personal ambition to dominate Igbo politics had taken into the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). That was how politicians with different motives boarded a boat called the All Progressives Alliance (APC).
However, the red lights were also on Buhari, long before the elections. He was profiled as a man of strict and unbending reflexes, not given to consultation and so set in his ways that he rarely hears alternative viewpoints; no matter how loudly, or stridently, expressed. His love for Nigeria was not in doubt, but it was love on his own terms and based on his untested personal assumptions. His loyalties were said to run deep and unapologetically so. But they run backward, to his roots, his primal, personal, communal and ethnic instincts; as well as real and imagined grievances that he must address to the disadvantage of his target. His disinclination to ever sit down and get some serious work done was also pointed out. His tenure as military Head of State, and as Boss of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), were said to bear out this prognosis.
The inchoate nature of the APC coalition and the “tissue rejection” by its presidential candidate was apparent during the elections. Campaign facilitators made promises at the few rallies the President attended, but the promises showed the APC`s limited understanding of what the issues were. There was no scientific basis for most of its claims and assurances. It knew nothing about the state of the national economy it was threatening to rescue. Some of the reckless declarations of Lai Mohammed, the opposition spokesman, were mistaken for informed submissions and even dubbed policy statements of the incoming government.
In the midst of all this, an electoral victory for which the APC was clearly unprepared came. Lai Mohammed had to be tapped on the shoulder before he realized that he was no longer an opposition spokesman. The President`s early pronouncements alarmed informed investors, especially foreign investors leading to a run on the Naira and plummeting of the value of the Naira. Staff reduction, increased production costs, underutilization of installed industrial capacity and capital flight joined forces with business shut downs to unleash a deluge of unemployed persons into an already saturated unemployment pool.
Meanwhile, the government was doing nothing, absolutely nothing, for months after being sworn in. It took the President six months to appoint ministers. When he finally did, the names and profiles were hardly inspiring. Some even had integrity deficits, already much touted for years, in the public domain. Worst of all, they also sat around for months after their appointment, doing nothing in particular. Just like the President!
That is why today, three years down the road, all the birds have come home to roost. Incompetence is the word everywhere, even as the government stands baffled and clobbered by its own history, its confirmed ineptitude and the fallouts of its many avoidable blunders. As it marks three years in office, the ruling party is spinning uncontrollably on its originally wobbly hinges. It could not organize credible party primaries. Yet it scores itself very high in precisely those areas of leadership and service delivery that it has failed spectacularly: (1) national security, (2) poverty alleviation, (3) reflation of the economy (4) job creation, (5) religious harmony, (6) national unity, (7) effective political leadership (8) professionalization of the armed services, (9) equitable distribution of national resources and much more.
The problem on the table at the moment goes beyond opposition rhetoric to the fundamental one of how to tell a party and government that had boxed itself into a dark hole to stop digging. Everything, and everyone, that could help the Buhari government is held in abeyance by the latter`s now-legendary instinctive rejection of advice and refusal to learn or birth new ideas. That is why incompetence is the umbrella concept for the government`s profile today.
Added to the foregoing is a cheerful disregard for truth. There is also lack of basic decency in the management of public affairs. The misapplication of data to create rosy pictures where none exist, especially in the face of perceived and confirmed nepotism, rankles. Then there is the overall failure to treat issues of national security, national survival, national unity, youth development and ease of doing business in Nigeria with the urgency they deserve.
It is in the midst of this that the APC is threatening to give President Buhari another shot at the Presidency. The performance indices point to the need to ensure he does not return as President in 2019. But he may be return. Not because Nigerians are happy with him, or because the mainstream APC leadership and members are want with him back, but because some politicians believe they need him in order to retain their own seats. The quarrel over the order of elections is predicated on this. The assumption, and expectation, is that if the Presidential elections come first and Buhari wins, then governors and members of the National Assembly can take it for granted that the APC would sweep the polls. So, they want the Presidential elections to come first. The courts will be corralled into playing along This has already been indicated in the recent High Court judgment on a matter that was not even qualified to go to court in the first place.
Do the odds favour the return of Buhari as President in 2019? The answer is “yes.” First, the opposition is not organized. Second, the list of registered voters from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shows that the votes from just two regions of the North where Buhari is believed to have massive following can drown all the votes from the South East and South South, where he is not popular. Three, the inexplicable tinkering with the number of Wards, particularly in the North, is another factor. We say nothing about rigging.
Meanwhile, this government has done enough damage to the national economy, national unity and national security this past three years. It is all thanks to many well-meaning Nigerians, and especially the self-styled ‘technocrats’ now prancing all over the place. They have learnt nothing about their individual and collective hollowness and are clearly unaware of their loss of legitimacy. As for the old politicians hoping to get a new baptism from President Olusegun Obasanjo, they should please recall that it was the same Obasanjo who installed the last three presidents. So, in a way, it was his meddlesomeness that got us to where we are today.
It is a road we must not travel again.
QUOTE: It took the President six months to appoint ministers. When he finally did, the names and profiles were hardly inspiring. Some even had integrity deficits, already much touted for years, in the public domain. Worst of all, they also sat around for months after their appointment, doing nothing in particular. Just like the President
A Nation with So Much Promise Yet…
In President Buhari’s first 100 days, many Nigerians were appalled at his slow pace in decision-making but extremely hopeful that he had a positive agenda to rescue Nigeria from the intense corruption, bad governance and despondency that had marred the previous administration. For five months, his administration was unable to name ministers and we believed that it was part of a careful vetting process to reveal a great team for the work ahead. However, after three years in office, can we confidently look back with contentment and forward to the next year with expectations?
Over the nineteen years of our current democracy, Nigeria has slowly emerged unto the world stage leveraging a free press, continuous digitization, globalization and improved transparency. In this period, the expectations of citizens have increased due, partly, to the promise of democracy for a free and fair society. Yet as we watch the increasing political fiascos, executive privileges, parliamentary show downs, legislative contempt and other shenanigans, one may stop to consider whether there is any marked difference in political party ideology or the leadership of our country. Each with its own shortcomings, each with its own cabal, each with its own hidden agenda and each pursuing its own interest at the exclusion of the masses.
Amidst all of this, the country continues to produce very many creative and award-winning artists such as Wizkid, Davido and the like; skillful athletes such as Oluwatobiloba Amusan; talented software developers and ingenious small entrepreneurs amongst others. Many of them are gaining international acclaim and contributing to the more positive story of Nigeria today. Only recently I learned that there are over 10,000 Facebook developers within its circle in Lagos alone, accounting for a significant proportion of Facebook developers globally with plans underway to train 50,000 in Lagos over the coming year.
All over the country, young people are engaging in interesting and unconventional lines of work that allow them to work at the time and pace of their convenience and to deliver decent incomes, which hitherto were unimaginable. But I dare say that all of this is happening in spite of the current administration and in the face of severe hardship. It is because we are a resilient group of people who have been conditioned to thrive under almost any circumstance and not have learned over time not to expect anything from our government.
Let’s take a cursory look at some of the achievements under this administration. The Vice President’s office has successfully coordinated agencies of government to collaborate towards improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Bureaucratic constraints to doing business are being removed and outdated processes, forms and requirements are being discarded in favour of more progressive means, structures and best practices. Our improved visa processes, airport procedures and customs handling are a few of the evident areas where improvements have been recorded. These are commendable. However, many local micro and small businesses continue to struggle under the weight of a difficult terrain evidenced by a severe lack of access to credit, wide-spread insecurity, poorly trained human resources and a very costly and overly competitive operating environment.
Looking further, our education system remains very poor as outdated curricula that do not promote critical thinking and practical applications are used by unqualified instructors who leverage outdated teaching methods within dilapidated structures. The result is the hundreds of thousands of unemployable and disadvantaged youth in the country. The problem of education is deepening with time and one wonders what our government is doing to substantively improve the quality of education in Nigeria. Healthcare has remained terrible with hospitals representing killing fields for the majority of Nigerians while President Buhari, his family, appointees, cronies and other elected officials access state-of-the-art treatment abroad paid for by ordinary citizens. Unfortunately hardworking Nigerians who want any measure of decent healthcare must save, source from scarce resources or relatives, endure the inconvenience of securing visas and scrounge to also go abroad in search of medical treatment. This is a very small proportion of the population as the masses only dream of doctors in public hospitals not being on strike and billing with mercy. How long will Nigeria go without affordable and professional healthcare?
Over the last two years, power has remained very poor and in many areas worsened amidst higher tariffs, lower power supply and an increasing dependence on generators. There are still communities that are not connected to the national power grid and therefore have never had electricity. The absence of power continues to affect the potential for businesses and general living standards. Meanwhile, the anti-corruption agenda of this administration is another issue altogether. Some sacred cows have been spared because they align politically with the ruling party. Yet, corruption must be prosecuted at all levels irrespective of person or party and convictions must result and be enforced.
Worst of all is the inability of the current administration to rise up to the security challenges which have ravaged the country. Insecurity appears to be worsening in most quarters and this government does not guarantee its citizens any form of safety. Sadly, Mr. President also appears insensitive to those who have lost their loved ones tragically as he shows no empathy, offers no remediation and does not openly promote justice. This is of particular concern.
This administration has succeeded in squandering most of its goodwill, esteemed international audiences above Nigerians as information is released abroad before it is at home, pursued a tribal and sectional agenda, appointed a few dead and dying men to Boards while young and intelligent minds lie fallow and embraced archaic practices that endanger a core of the population such as cattle colonies. The list goes on. This administration has not taken responsibility for any of the ills that plague our land and has blamed everyone else but itself; it faults the citizens, accuses the main opposition party and indicts other African countries for domestic challenges. President Buhari has disappointed many who voted the previous government out in favour of his unsubstantiated change agenda. Problems continue to deepen across the country and the last three years have not delivered the requisite change we hoped so eagerly for.
While it may be impossible to change the ills of the last three years, there is still one year when President Buhari can govern. Sadly, his bid to run for a second term in office, despite his frail health and dated ideology, may cloud any possibility of such governance over the coming 365 days.