May 22, 2016

Sense, nonsense, and commonsense (1)

Sense, nonsense, and commonsense (1)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (C) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 12, 2016. Muhammadu Buhari is on a visit to China from April 11 to 15. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / KENZABURO FUKUHARA

By Douglas Anele

A sizeable percentage of Buharimaniacs who swallowed lock, stock and barrel the dizzying propaganda of change from the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the 2015 elections, especially the presidential contest, now regret that they voted for President Muhammadu Buhari.

Their hyperbolic expectation that once Buhari takes over their existential condition will improve has been blown to smithereens because the APC has cunningly repudiated virtually all the populist promises it made to Nigerians during the electioneering campaigns, which implies that the party just wanted power and never really intended to fulfil those promises. Some of us that tried to remind Nigerians of the Janus-faced antecedents of candidate Buhari and key leaders of the APC were excoriated and subjected to vicious obloquy by supporters of the party who had a worshipful admiration of the retired military head of state. For fanatic Buharimaniacs, former President Goodluck Jonathan is the very embodiment of corruption, ineptitude and mediocrity, whereas Buhari personifies integrity, discipline and incorruptibility. If you argue that it is wrong to believe that every member of Jonathan’s government accused of corruption must be guilty without first waiting for judicial verdict on the issue or at least hearing from the person in question, you will be tagged with all sorts of derogatory labels as if you committed an abomination for insisting on fair hearing. But no matter how convenient or self-validating media trial and sentencing might be, the principle of justice embedded in the idea of fair hearing must guide our attitude to the largely one-sided war against corruption by this administration because today’s accuser could be tomorrow’s accused.

Now, a dispassionate appraisal of the performance of the APC administration thus far after one year in office in comparison with the tantalising promises of the party chieftains would confirm a very disturbing trend in our higgledy-piggledy democratic experience. The trend I have in mind is the increasing tendency of politicians, irrespective of party affiliations, to take Nigerians for granted by treating them as mere means for actualising their vain political ambitions. Put differently, our politicians in general are only interested in public office to satisfy their bulimic appetite for primitive accumulation and manipulate gullible Nigerians to protect the current unjust status quo that actually alienates and pauperises them. Remember, “Change” was the key word, the organising principle on which APC mounted its vuvuzela campaign against the shambolic Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In otherwords, Buhari and other kingpins of the APC promised to bring about positive change in the country; they exploited the disenchantment of Nigerians to dislodge the former ruling party. In fact, APC’s call for change resonated with people nationwide. During the campaigns, the party promised, inter alia, to combat corruption, revamp the economy and improve electricity supply within the shortest possible time, pay five thousand naira stipend to unemployed Nigerians, provide at least one meal a day for primary school children, bring naira to parity with the dollar, increase Nigeria’s share in the international oil market, rescue the missing Chibok girls and defeat Boko Haram. Because Nigerians were disenchanted with the lacklustre performance of the PDP and desired change desperately, their critical acumen went on holiday as APC, through skilful manipulation of misinformation, projected Jonathan’s administration as the worst since Nigeria became independent in 1960 and warning them of the dire consequences of returning PDP to power. Meanwhile, ardent APC supporters failed to notice that the very people promising them change also contributed in various ways in different capacities to the gradual but steady depredation of the country. Recently, I criticised an APC chieftain by pointing out the increasing hardships ordinary Nigerians are facing since President Buhari came into office. He reminded me that APC promised change and that change can be positive or negative. Of course, his response was insincere but instructive: it brought home to me the fact that without clear conception of the type of change people want and well articulated relevant parameters for ascertaining and measuring both the direction and quantum of change over a given period, ‘change’ can be used as a political weapon to deceive the citizens into thinking that the promise of change is equivalent to actual meaningful progression from a bad situation to something better.

It is about one year that Muhammadu Buhari became our President. Whereas some people claim that it is too early to judge his performance, others see nothing wrong in voicing their opinion about how well or badly he has performed. Ironically, government officials such as Lai Mohammed and Garba Shehu and ardent Buharimaniacs are fond of praising the President for doing “excellently well,” and insist that it was too early to criticise him whenever someone points out areas where things have gone from bad to worse since May 29, 2015. Buhari himself occasionally pleads with Nigerians to be patient and endure escalating hardships as a patriotic duty and the price they have to pay for repairing the country. Lai Mohammed and other ministers who praised the President’s “body language” for the brief improvement in electricity supply few months after his inauguration later turned round to blame Jonathan when supply declined below the level it was when the latter left office. In my opinion, the argument that it is too early to criticise the President’s performance is dishonest: it implies that it is right to praise Buhari at any time and wrong to criticise him unless at “the right time” as determined by his spokespersons. It is ludicrous that APC chieftains and Buharimaniacs eagerly credit President Buhari with improvement no matter how marginal in any aspect of our national life, and then claim that it is too early to judge him whenever someone presents evidence that the existential condition of the masses has worsened since he assumed office. Never mind the exculpatory arguments of officialdom: it is never too early to judge the performance of government. The validity of such evaluation depends on the issue under consideration, the promises the new leadership made to the people while canvassing for votes, and the antecedent conditions under which a new government came into office. Consequently, it is possible to reach a reasonable tentative judgment about the performance of a new administration at any time, depending on the complexity of the issue under consideration and one’s knowledge and capacity for imaginative thinking. A reliable assessment of government can be carried out after a week, a month, hundred days, a year and so on. The most important requirement for doing so is objectivity and willingness to “let the facts speak for themselves” without the distorting influence of bias and preconceived notions. In that regard, since it is about one year the present administration came to power, there is enough material to serve as basis for appraising it.

For a reasoned objective assessment of President Buhari’s government, it is important to say a few things about the state of the country before May 29, 2015. To be candid, although I preferred Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari as President for reasons I articulated in this column before the elections last year, the former President did not perform so well in some key areas such as security, fight against corruption, prudent management of the economy, and job creation.


To be continued