Buhari’s Long Farewell
ENGAGEMENTS BY Chidi Amuta
In recent weeks, President Muhammadu Buhari has been unusually busy. In addition to his normal routines in the line of duty, the president has been making the most of the last lap of his rather unflattering tenure. Through a series of farewell utterances and gestures that will last from now till May, he has been reminding Nigerians that he is on his way out of an eight year long paid vacation in Aso Rock Villa. In the process, he has assumed the role of his own personal valedictorian. Perhaps unsure of the tenacity of his in- house squad of town criers, the president is personally laying the guideposts for his way out of power and, in the process, implicitly defining the outlines of what he considers his legacy.
While in Washington to attend the US-Africa conference last December, Mr. Buhari told virtually everyone that dropped by that he was tired of the job he has occupied for nearly as long as he spent seeking it. He told one audience that he felt constantly harassed on the job. He equally portrayed his Nigerian compatriots as hard to satisfy, insisting to a visiting United Arab Emirates interfaith delegation that he has ‘done his best’ for Nigeria. He continued on the same note a few days back when a government delegation from Burundi came calling at the Villa. In all of this, he has not failed to sing his own praises by highlighting what he considers his sterling achievements and landmark legacies.
In an hour long documentary on his life and career trajectory which recently aired on major television networks nationwide, the president fills some gaps about his private life and provides some background to his actions both in office and in his private life.
Buhari capped his valedictory resume in his final New Year message to Nigerians on January 1st.
He summed up his defining mission in the theme of a man who meant well and gave of his best to his nation, but is leaving the helm under appreciated and harassed. The impression he gives of his fellow Nigerians over whom he presided is that of a people that are difficult to satisfy, a public whose expectations are so high that even the leader’s best is hardly enough. One of the highpoints of this recent personal self portraits is a certain note of self pity and even self- deprecating pathos when the president recalls his bitterness on realizing that quite a number of Nigerians had gone to town with the incredulous tale that the real Buhari died in a London hospital and was replaced by an Aso Rock power cabal with a Sudanese clone called Jubril. Nonetheless, like the old soldier that he is, Buhari indicated that he is leaving office on the familiar military commander’s note of: “mission accomplished”. The summary of what may turn out as Buhari’s long farewell is, therefore, simply this: ‘I have done my best for Nigeria.’
Before the praises and condemnations drown out reason, Buhari needs to be acknowledged in his correct historical location. In the growing pantheon of Nigeria’s former rulers, Mr. Buhari is about to leave office in a blaze of some landmarks. Hate him or love him, the sprightly Daura general is likely to be the last of the civil war generals to ever seek elective presidential power in Nigeria. Buhari is also the second Nigerian leader to have presided over the affairs of the nation as both an active duty soldier and an elected civilian politician. Even in that capacity, he holds a record as the first of the retired civil war generals to seek the office of elected president for the highest number of times.
More significantly, Buhari is the first Nigerian leader to be propped into elective power by a series of myths and to exit power after personally bursting and demolishing nearly all aspects of his enabling mythology.
The myth of the ‘can do ‘ advocate has turned out a pathetic embodiment of epic incompetence. The man believed to be an island of personal integrity has comfortably co-habited with and stomached all manner of crooks around the citadel of power for eight years. His famed façade of impeccable nationalism has degenerated into unparalleled nativism, sectionalism and sickening nepotism. A reputation for careful economic management has plunged the nation into a N77 trillion debt pit with an exchange rate of over N750 to one US dollar. A general belief in the man’s military background as a solution to insecurity has converted the nation into a brutish killing field and virtual Hobbesian state of nature. A belief that Buhari could unite the nation around prudence and nationalism has yielded a nation that has become fragmented into hostile factions and ethnic enclaves. Our famed unity in diversity has turned into a nightmare of hate and endless recriminations.
The irony that defines the essence of the Buhari phenomenon is perhaps best captured in beer parlor and barbershop banter all over the country. The joke on every street corner is that it is a curious blessing that the Buhari was returned to power. If he failed to return to power as an elected president after so many desperate attempts , , his ardent devotees would have tormented Nigerians by insisting that Nigeria is a ‘paradise lost’ because messiah Buhari was somehow excluded from presidential power by unkind forces. Some devotees may even have invaded the social media with posts lamenting about ‘the best president Nigeria never had’!
Yet, Mr. Buhari cannot be denied certain scores. Whatever his end legacy ultimately turns out to be, Buhari achieved a feat in Nigerian history. As a military officer, he had enough professional presence to convince his colleagues to place him at the helm of a military administration for two years. He was also able to convince the political elite to make him electable in 2015 and to sustain him in power for two full presidential terms up to 2022. To that extent, he deserves the benefit of the doubts that accrue to every leader in a democracy.
By its very nature, the challenge of leadership in a democracy includes the ability to walk the distance between good intentions and the limitations in execution forced by resource gaps and human factors. This is not to deny the force of public opinion in its responsibility to keep leaders on their toes. Leaders are elected to lead and deliver results that enhance the lives of the people, not to offer endless excuses. That is the imperative of public opinion in every democracy.
In his newfound role as his own valedictorian, however, the president has just over reached himself. He says his rowdy ruling party, the All Progressives Congress(APC), has fulfilled ALL its campaign promises made to Nigerians in 2014-15! The president was perhaps obviously courting a needless controversy as his own contribution to the lifeless campaign of his troubled party. It could also be a deliberate distortion informed by his own habitual aloofness from reality. The chances are that an otherwise well meaning president may have been so alienated from the realities of the society that he is mistaking illusion for reality. In that case, it is quite possible that the APC may have been overcome by a viral amnesia. But the rest of us are still wide awake.
Even then, not every Nigerian has the generosity of spirit to let Buhari go home in self delusion. Ever the gadfly of the public conscience, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, has unfailingly reminded Buhari that he has led Nigeria into “the valley of the shadows of death” and the depths of darkness.
Most Nigerian adults recall vividly that in the run up to the 2015 elections, the APC with Mr. Buhari as its electoral mascot promised to end insecurity and terrorism, restore the economy by enhancing the Naira exchange rate then at N185 to US$1, fight corruption to a standstill, and ensure food security. We can only assess the outgoing Buhari administration by the extent of its success in these areas. These are targets and objectives it freely set for itself without any compulsion whatsoever. They are the articles of faith on the basis of which it sought and secured the mandate of the people. Even on this limited shopping list, the scorecard after eight years is too abysmally embarrassing to warrant any chest beating either by the party or its now lame duck flag bearer.
It is good that Buhari returned and has ruled Nigeria for eight years as an elected president. In the course of this period, he has earned a right to be judged like every other elected sovereign. It is of course hard to deny any leader their right to self -assessment at the end of their tenure. No one can fairly deny this president some direct credits.
A few roads and bridges have been built. Of particular note is the Second Niger Bridge at Onitsha, the first major federal infrastructure undertaking in the Southeast 53 years after the end of the civil war! Railway projects begun by previous administrations have been completed even if insecurity has made most of the rail corridors unusable. Passengers who boarded trains to familiar places have ended up in the den of bandits and kidnappers. A long delayed implementation of a petroleum industries bill has seen the national oil company restructured and prepped for full commercialization.
Yet the menace of terrorism and universal insecurity remains pervasive. In spite of some feverish military operations in recent weeks, Boko Haram and its various franchises remain in active business in a number of states like Borno, Yobe, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and the president’s home state of Katsina. Elsewhere in the country, kidnapping, banditry, rampaging gunmen of various iterations remain on the loose and are causing death and mayhem on a scale hitherto unknown. Fears have recently risen that rampant insecurity in many parts of the country especially the southeast and northeast could frighten off many voters from the elections in February. At best there may be low voter turnout in the worst affected areas. At worst it could lead to ballot suppression in a few places thereby undermining the credibility and universal acceptability of the elections and their results. Bad political consequences might follow.
The president and his team need not continue digging for legacies. They already have a surfeit of them. Mr. Buhari is leaving behind quite a few memorable firsts in the history of Nigerian governance. Insecurity in the last seven years has claimed more lives than at any other equivalent time frame in peace time Nigeria. In addition, the administration is leaving behind over 130 million Nigerians certified in the world’s largest poverty republic in the world. Over 40% of the total population of over 200 million is unemployed. For the first time since the creation of the 775 local governments, 550 of them are enveloped by insecurity, hit by terrorism, banditry, kidnapping or separatist insurgent violence. Of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), active combat military formations are engaged in internal security operations in 33 states. According to The Economist, over 3,000 Nigerians were kidnapped last year alone, another unprecedented legacy in the kitty of the administration.
On the economic front, Mr. Buhari is also leaving quite some legacy. For the first time in Nigerian history, a serving Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria aspired and prepped to run for a presidential election as a partisan politician and still retained his office. The same individual has been sued to court by the apex internal security outfit, the Department of State Security (DSS), for alleged heinous offences including terrorism financing while still in office and nothing has been heard from the Presidency. For the first time in national history, over 100% of annual revenue is going into debt servicing. The 2023 federal budget contains the highest deficit figure (over 12 trillion Naira) in our national history with no clear indication of how the deficit will be financed. The Debt Management Office of the government has revealed that the Buhari government is leaving a debt of 77 trillion Naira for the incoming administration. For the first time also, the open market exchange rate of the Naira to the benchmark US dollar is now N750 to $1!
At the level of governance, Mr. Buhari has set his own records. He has clocked up easily the highest number of travel air miles than his predecessors. He has been absent from the country for over 230 days, mostly on medical leave in the United Kingdom. He has been in attendance at nearly every forum where Nigeria was expected to be present. These range from highly technical conferences whose subjects he knew little or nothing about to routine United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS assemblies of heads of state. And to think that this elaborate travel history has been undertaken by a government that never made articulated foreign policy in eight years! The president played the role of foreign minister in spite of the fixture in that portfolio. This is in addition to the portfolio of petroleum minister which Buhari held for the entire eight years of his two terms.
It is a curious tribute to Mr. Buhari’s unique contribution to Nigerian governance that he maintained a system in which key ministers and heads of strategic institutions were running their own shows in an uncoordinated administration in which the government spoke with several voices on nearly every important subject of national interest.
While the government is crowing about its positive achievements at home, a record number of Nigerian youth, including qualified professionals in medicine, information technology, basic sciences, engineering and nursing are trooping out of the country in an unprecedented deluge of emigration hitherto unknown in Nigerian history. Our skilled youth are trooping to Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Australia.
This catalogue of unenviable legacies ought to compel a more penitent attitude on the part of the outgoing president and his party. They ought to be items in a rhetoric of regret and even apologies to most Nigerians who now feel largely betrayed by a government and party they gave an overwhelming mandate to make their lives better but instead turned the country into a hell hole.
Perhaps President Buhari’s most enduring legacy is to be located in the subversive essence of the nation he is leaving behind. Because of the Buhari misfortune, Nigerians are now poised to make democracy produce leaders who will ensure that the country is no longer unsafe, that the economy will never again be left in disarray and that our nation is rescued from disintegration. It is the determination never again to see a repeat of the Buhari model of leadership that has become the driving force behind the enthusiasm about next month’s general elections. As Nigerians unanimously look forward to positive anti-Buhari change on May 29th, the attitude to President Buhari and his long good bye is simply: Just Go! Enough is Enough!!