BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
Perhaps, the question to ask is really this: what exactly did President Muhammadu Buhari say that has been interpreted widely as an admission of failure?
In a clip produced as part of the remarkably modest celebration of his 80th birthday, Buhari said inter-alia: “I wonder if I am going to miss much. I think I’m being harassed. I believe I’m trying my best but still, my best is not good enough because there are people around that think that they can intimidate me to get what they want instead of going through certain systems to earn whatever they want to earn. And they are some people who want to be clever by half.”
The President was actually asked what he would miss about the presidency on leaving office.
Now, no charitable reading of that statement would be that the president has admitted five months to the end of his eight-year tenure that his administration is a failure. He couldn’t have, of course, passed such a damning verdict on his government. Only three months ago, Buhari lamented in Owerri as follows: “On the question of insecurity and bandits, the Second Niger Bridge, if Nigerians will reflect; anyway, to be frank with you, I blame the Nigerian elite for not sitting and thinking hard about our country.
“Between 1999 and 2015 when we came in, I will like people to check the Central Bank and the NNPC. The average production was 2.1 million barrels per day at the average cost of $100 per barrel. So, Nigeria was earning at this time 2.1 million times 100 times the number in those years.
“But look at the state of infrastructure; some of the roads since the good old PTF days. Look at the railway; it was virtually killed. Power, we are still struggling.
“But when we came, it was an unfortunate incident — the militants in the south-south were unleashed; production went down to half a million barrels per day. Again, unfortunately, the cost of petroleum went down from $28 to $37.
“Look at the problem in the north-east. Check with anybody from Borno or Adamawa. How many local governments were in the hands of the government and how many were in the hands of Boko Haram? Bloody fraudulent people, whoever they are; they are fraudulent.
“But now, go and ask the hardworking governor of Borno state — a very hardworking governor. The federal government is in charge now.
“So, in relative terms of time and resources, this administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say are not saying it. I don’t know why.”
By the way, the President made this statement extempore after reading a prepared speech on the occasion.
He was in Imo State at the invitation of Governor Hope Uzodinma to commission some projects.
Incidentally the Second Niger Bridge (which, by the way, some analysts have given the stylish code name 2NB !) was one of the achievements mentioned in the statement.
In the birthday video, the President was rather humble about whatever achievement his government has recorded by acknowledging that his best performance in office has been perceived by his critics as not being “good enough.” What he actually did was self-criticism, which is a virtue.
To be sure, nothing in the President’s statement suggests that he has admitted failure. Just as it would amount to a great delusion to deny that the nation still faces a multi-dimensional crisis; so also would it be extremely uncharitable to claim that nothing good has happened to Buhari’s Nigeria in the last 91 months.
Little surprise, dismissive comments have greeted the president’s statement from the quarters of his political opponents. No one should, of course, expect anything different especially in an electoral season when politicians are competing for power. It is legitimate for the other parties to subject the record of the government to severe scrutiny. It is indeed their duty to do so. In the course of the criticism, the opposition may afford not to pay attention to whatever achievements the party in power has recorded. It is not the business of the other parties to count the strong points of the APC, whatever the number. That’s the logic of competition in a liberal democracy. And that’s what political publicists have been doing with the Buhari statement. After all, it is easier for the publicist of a political party to declare the other party a failure than to articulate alternative policies that his party would implement if it gets to power. It seems that a greater intellectual energy is required of a publicist to market the policies of his own candidate than to de-market the opponents in the rancorous political field. There is so much heat of abuse and insults and little or no light on the competing policies. Some political publicists virtually canonise candidates of their parties while demonising the candidates of other parties.
The problem is worsened by the notorious fact that in the debate on the Buhari record in the public sphere the comments of some supposedly non-partisan pundits are hardly distinguishable from those of political publicists doing their legitimate thing. The line between analysis of issues to serve the public purpose and outright partisan campaigns is getting increasingly blurred. This is not helpful. With this trend, the public sphere is impoverished with the diminished quality of debates.
Any public intellectual who embarks on a judicious analysis of the Buhari legacy will no doubt be confronted with some contradictions. And it takes some dialectical rigour to do that efficiently in the service of history.
Some of Buhari’s critics who never concede that the government has achieved anything insist that it is “the reality” for everybody to see. That “reality” obviously discounts the tangible and intangible things that the administration has done right even while getting it wrong in many other areas. The reality ought to encompass what is done and what’s left undone. It is the place of the critics to say that what has been done is not good enough; but it would be wrong for any assessor to deny obvious achievements no matter how little it may be considered.
Policy articulation is not a strong point of the Buhari administration. Hence what the administration has achieved is easily dismissed as nothing. These include physical infrastructure (roads, railways, bridges, housing projects etc.), agriculture, water schemes, aviation facilities and social investments. At the intangible level, Nigeria has managed the crisis triggered COVID-19 better than some developed countries. Recent advances against the insurgents and bandits are hardly acknowledged.
The positive news about the Buhari administration has been eclipsed by the avalanche of the negative ones which are also true. Despite making social investments and humanitarian issues a focus of the administration, about 133 million Nigerians officially are victims of multi-dimensional poverty while millions of poor people are still languishing in the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. Social protection is still a dream. No formula has been founding for financing tertiary public education as well tertiary public health institutions. Inequality has become more pronounced in the socio-economic landscape. Whatever statistics you choose to believe, what is indisputable is that more people have been pushed below the poverty line in this unjust neo-colonial capitalist system. Misery is a prominent feature of this society. In sum, the quality of lives of the majority of the people has not improved.
All the development indices are certainly no tribute to the economic managers. High cost of living, youth joblessness and disabling business climate are prominent among the many woes often listed. Electricity supply is yet to be made steady. Hunger is still an existential threat. Basic needs such potable water, social housing and sanitation are still luxuries for millions.
Stories from southern Kaduna, Benue, Zamfara, the southeast and other places point to the fact that insecurity remains the issue. Insecurity is even a threat to a successful conduct of the 2023 elections. Some local government areas remain virtually ungoverned spaces.
The foregoing catalogue of problems and much more dominate the discussions in the public sphere. There is, therefore, the temptation to assess the administration in absolute terms.
The sort of verdict being passed on Buhari is not new. In 2015, the coalition of political forces that transformed into APC also dismissed the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as “the years the locusts have eaten.” The APC publicists once played this same game. The electorate was told that the time of PDP in government was an absolute disaster.
Incidentally, some PDP leaders who were then seeking power on the APC platform joined in dismissing the PDP government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Today, some of these politicians are back to the PDP to seek power once more. And they are resting their case (as lawyers would say!) on the “great achievements” of the PDP governments in the past. Doubtless, the PDP returnees are also making a statement of fact when they say that some of the rail projects, roads and bridges being completed by the Buhari administration were started by previous PDP administrations. The sovereign investment funds that the Buhari administration is creatively using to execute some truly landmark projects originated from the policies of the administration of President Jonathan. But these PDP returnees and their publicists are never generous enough to give the Buhari administration the well-deserved credit for not rendering those crucial projects as “abandoned” like the previous administrations. The Buhari government has commendably re-awarded some of the contracts while completing some other projects.
From the vantage point of optimism, a few things can still be done by Buhari in the remaining 153 days at least in the areas of laying foundations in political and economic terms. After all, the things which have defined French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt in history were done in their first 100 days in office. Napoleon made changes in the Imperial Constitution and forged alliance with opponents on marching upon Paris. Roosevelt laid the foundation for the New Deal. The bills for the legislations backing up the policies were sent to the Congress in the first 100 days.
In his understandably scathing Christmas Homily, Bishop Mathew Kukah actually suggested some symbolic gestures at the subjective level that the President could make to bolster national integration.
Buhari could not even form a cabinet in his first 100 days in 2015; but it is possible for him to make his last 100 days in office historic by taking some well-considered steps specially to promote national unity and engender socio-economic development.