BY BOLAJI ADEBIYI
The Yoruba say if a deity cannot improve their material condition it should at least leave them the way it met them instead of leaving them worse off. For Nigerians, Muhammadu Buhari, who has been at the helm of affairs of their country for more than seven years, adequately characterises this unhelpful deity.
Carried into office on the back of the widespread disappointment with the erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government of President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was thought to be the change agent that would pull Nigeria out of the cesspit of perceived economic downturn, rising insecurity and massive corruption. Seven years after, many of those who conned their fellow citizens into accepting ash as salt, are gnashing their teeth rather regrettably. So spectacular is the failure of the Buhari administration that looking back. Many Nigerians justifiably think 2015 was a critical error of judgment that has produced the worst mistake ever made by them.
The evidence is all over the place in the comatose national economy, the widening and worsening insecurity and the insidious corruption of high officials of his government. Not only are Nigerians now being nostalgic about the Jonathan years, members of Buhari’s own kitchen cabinet even attempted to move the former president across the carpet in an awkward attempt to return Jonathan to power. Although it has been suggested that the clumsy detour on Jonathan by Buhari’s political tacticians was intended to return the North to power sooner than the power-sharing project, facts on the ground also point to the desire of the presidential minders to face up to the reality of the poor records of their principal and its impending negative effect on the fortunes of the APC in the forthcoming general election.
Signs of the incompetence of the president emerged early when he hit the ground and sat there rather than run. He had narrowed his areas of priority during his electioneering to the economy, security and corruption. He said he would revive the economy and lead from the front in stamping out insecurity and corruption. But for six months, he could not form a government.
Meanwhile, within 11 months of taking power, the economy became acutely distressed and went into a recession, the first in 32 years of the nation’s economic history. Rather than take responsibility, Buhari heaped the blame on the Jonathan administration complaining that the previous government left it an economy that was in a dire strait. It conveniently forgot that it left the country without any direction for six months by its failure to appoint ministers and key functionaries.
As the failings of the government began to manifest in those early days, Lai Mohammed, its garrulous minister of Information and Culture, never spent a day without castigating the unseated Jonathan administration for all the ills of the nation. But the figures would show that the buck-passing was unjustified and that Buhari inherited an illustrious economy compared to what he has bequeathed to Nigeria.
In 2015 when Buhari took over, the economy had appreciable indices. The size of the economy was $500 billion, the largest and fasted growing in Africa at seven per cent, yielding 8.09 per cent unemployment. That was largely possible because capacity utilisation was 60.5 per cent with a foreign direct investment of $3.06 billion. Inflation was a single-digit 9.01 per cent while the exchange rate was N197/$. Although the debt portfolio was N12.3 trillion, the external reserve stood at $29.13 billion. The Jonathan administration also left a $6 billion Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas Limited dividend in addition to a Sovereign Wealth Fund that yielded N26.3 billion in that year.
Rather than build on these records, Buhari demobilised the economy within a year, taking it into depression twice in four years. Under his watch the economic indices became epileptic, rising and falling like the president’s personal health. Seven years into his leadership, the figures dipped South safe in two areas. In fact, a 2022 World Bank report, ‘Global Economic Report’, which examined Nigeria’s economy among other countries in the last 10 years was emphatic that it was the worst ever.
What are the records of the man who was brought in to revive the economy? The size of the economy stagnated and eventually shrunk to $480 billion by 2021 with a debilitating 33.5 per cent unemployment rate. With the exchange rate rising to N435/$ it became so scarce that it played at the parallel market for as much as N600/$. No wonder, therefore, capacity utilisation came down to 55.1 per cent even as the GDP hovered sluggishly around 3.4 per cent. The glaring corollary was the rise in the poverty rate from the 2015 figure of 33.5 to 47.3 per cent.
His heavy borrowing which moved the nation’s debt portfolio to N39.56 trillion has not reflected substantially and positively either on the quality of life of Nigerians or the economy as inflation rose steadily and fluctuated around 15.60 per cent. But he improved in two areas. He jerked the foreign reserves and foreign direct investments to $40.52 billion and $6.7 billion respectively.
In moments of extreme cynicism, some Nigerians often derisively inquire how these figures by both local and foreign rating agencies impact the lives of their fellow compatriots. The negative impact of Buhari’s abysmal performance is an open sore that is manifested by the astronomical rise in the prices of essential commodities. From the basics such as energy, including electricity, petrol, diesel, Jet A1 and cooking gas plus kerosine as well as food, to luxury items like cars the evidence exists that not only the poor are crying but the rich are also weeping. Any wonder why Nigeria became the poverty capital of the entire world under his watch?
There would naturally be an organic linkage between poor economic management and rising social strife. In the case of the Buhari administration, bad political management compounded the latent ethnoreligious cleavages as well as the social crises that have undermined the nation’s security. When he arrived on the scene in 2015 the country was in the grip of the violence sponsored by the terror group in the North-east, Boko Haram. Within six months of its coming into office, the administration announced the technical degradation of the group that continued to terrorise the region, particularly Borno and Yobe States.
It turned out, however, that each time the administration boasted about its routing of the terrorists, the outlaws responded with either an attack on a military fortress or villages close to the Borno State capital, Maiduguri. Meanwhile, as Mohammed boasted in Abuja, federal legislators from the troubled areas complained that several local councils in their constituencies were under the firm control of the insurgents.
While the Buhari administration remained in denial of the severity of the insecurity situation in the North-east, the armed violence by non-state actors spread like a bush fire to the North-central under the command of armed herdsmen most of whom were believed to be Fulani from outside the country. The armed violence soon spread to the North-west with terrorists called bandits ravaging several communities in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger States.
Kidnapping for ransom was an isolated political tool in the hands of Boko Haram in 2015 with Nigerians expressing their disgust over the failure of Jonathan to find and rescue over 200 girls abducted from their school at Chibok in Borno State. Under Buhari, the crime had by 2021 become a thriving multi-million industry dominated by bandits who routinely pick up children from their schools in the North-west. The terrorists had spread their wings to the South-west before the region’s governors and leaders rose to stop them in their tracks.
Although the South-south appeared pacified with the militants going into hibernation, issuing threats of renewed violence intermittently, the South-east also erupted in a different kind of armed struggle as members of the Indigenous People of Biafra developed an armed wing whose activities have enveloped the entire region in an orgy of strange killings perpetrated by a splinter group referred to as unknown gunmen.
By the staggering figures of the deaths procured by these marauding non-state actors and the multitudes displaced and pushed into the several Internally Displaced Persons’ Camps, Buhari’s unimpressive record in tackling insecurity after a boastful seven years is clear even to the blind.
More embarrassingly audible also to the deaf is the abject failure of his fight against corruption. If this social malaise was rife under Jonathan, it became subliminally ingrained in the DNA of his top officials with some of them charged with the task of preventing crimes, falling short of glory. Ibrahim Magu, the loquacious chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was forced out of office by a petition by Abubakar Malam, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, alleging massive corruption.
About two years after a high-level enquiry by Ayo Salami, himself retired from his headship of the Court of Appeal in controversial circumstances a couple of years ago, the Buhari administration went mute about its outcome. Last week, pictures of Magu’s decoration having been promoted from the rank of commissioner of police to assistant inspector-general of police surfaced in the media.
The most recent financial heist under the watch of Buhari was revealed some weeks ago. Ahmed Idris, the Accountant-General of the Federation, was alleged by the EFCC to have cornered a princely N84 billion for himself. Further investigations suggest that the theft might be up to N200 billion. While the nation was still in shock, the suspect got administrative bail last week.
In the meantime, the oil industry that the president directly superintends as minister continues to retain the title of the opaquest. Oil theft that was a developing crime in 2015 became mammoth by 2021, forcing international oil companies to divest from the onshore sector with the emergent Nigerian investors like Tony Elumelu, a prominent banker and businessman, complaining that over 90 per cent of the nation’s production goes into the covers of the thieves.
Those who may argue that these instances of corruption under Buhari are isolated would have their argument easily deflated by the consistent downward performance of Nigeria on the Corruption Perception Index which stood at 138 in 2015 and rose to 153 by 2021.
So, judged by the task he set for himself in 2015 and his performance in the last seven years, Buhari has not done well and Nigerians have since stopped complaining about him, taking solace in the imminence of his departure on May 29 next year. “If he could not do much in seven years, there is no chance in hell that he would improve in the next one year,” Abubakar Faruk, a political activist, said in a conversation with a group of reviewers last week, adding, “We take solace in the fact that his tenure would end next year.”
Now that the presidential candidates of the political parties have emerged, I hope that Nigerians will actively engaging and interrogating their credentials and antecedents to avoid a repeat of the mistake of 2015 in 2023.
BOLAJI ADEBIYI A two-term presidential aide and immediate past editor of THISDAY Newspapers, Bolaji Adebiyi is the managing editor of the newspaper. Elected the vice president (West) of the Nigerian Guild of Editors last year, he attended University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile-Ife, obtaining both bachelor and master’s degrees in History. A British Chevening Scholar, Adebiyi also holds post-graduate and advanced diploma certificates in Journalism from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos and The Thompson Foundation, Cardiff, Wales.