By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Nigerians: WHEN the discourse is on Muhammadu Buhari and the state of affairs in Nigeria under his watch, opinions are sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines.
My write-up last week on “What will be Buhari’s legacy?” expectedly elicited such strong responses.
The president is a very divisive figure. Those who claim to love him more than the rest of us are always up in arms defending him. They impute ulterior motives to any criticism of him, no matter how constructive. It is worse when your name sounds Okoroish. You are tarred with the brush of hatred which they claim is ethnically motivated.
Such stereotyping does not bother me because it is mere mischief. But a reaction on Facebook from a friend who accused me of lying caught my attention. “Editor, this piece is an opinion that looks a little distant from truth,” he wrote.
I didn’t respond, but another friend did without my prompting; challenging him to say the truth which he claimed to know. The man didn’t.
What did he accuse me of lying about? I highlighted in the article two dangerous slides in national ethos since Buhari became president on May 29, 2015. First, very high level insecurity. “Under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria has become the archetypal Hobbesian state where life is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,’ with violent non-state actors daily delegitimising the commonwealth,” I wrote.
Second, Nigeria’s democracy has gone to the dogs with elections reduced to a mere joke. And my conclusion was simple. “Everything Buhari touches when it comes to leadership goes south even as his government pettifogs.” How could that be a lie?
Former Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries and former Chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, Eze Festus Odimegwu, also concluded in a recent interview with TheNiche that Buhari “cannot lay claim to any parameters since he became president that has improved in Nigeria.”
So, what evidence do those who claim otherwise have? As Odimegwu emphatically stated, truth matters and “for every issue there is only one truth”. Therefore, there cannot be alternate truths because “truth is one.”
I find it difficult to understand why grown-ups, full-fledged educated adults elect on their own volition to live in denial by playing the ostrich.
Those who voted for Buhari in 2015, historically booting out a political party that had been in power for 16 years and an incumbent president, did so because they sincerely believed that Buhari would turn things around for the good of all Nigerians.
An empirical analysis of his success or otherwise would, therefore, look at how much he has moved the needle up north.
Evidence on the ground shows he has not.
And these are conclusions reached not only by “disgruntled Nigerians”, the so-called “wailing wailers” – even though many of them, like Odimegwu, helped built the coalition that ensured Buhari’s election after three failed attempts – but by credible international organisations.
In June 2018, Nigeria, according to a projection by the World Poverty Clock created by the World Data Lab and compiled by the Brookings Institute, overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. That was three years into the Buhari administration.
According to the projection, an estimated 87 million people, or around half of the country’s population, were living on less than $1.90 a day (N684 at the exchange rate of N360 per $1). In August 2018, former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, mocked Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa, when she sarcastically said on a visit to South Africa that: “Much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy, yet 87 million Nigerians live below $1 and 90 cents a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.”
Any other country with a creative and imaginative leadership on a renaissance mission would pull all the stops to reverse the trend. But that was not what happened. Instead, roughly six people were falling into poverty every minute, so much so that between November 2018 and February 2019, at least additional three million Nigerians slipped into extreme poverty, bringing the number to 91.16 million Nigerians as of February 13, 2019.
Only God knows what the figures are today.
As at the time the numbers in Nigeria were jumping from 87 million to 91.6 million, the numbers in India that used to be the world’s poverty capital drastically reduced from 73 million in June 2018 to 48.7 million in February 2019. India pulled out a minimum 24 million people from poverty in less than eight months. Nigeria added three million people to the poverty loop.
A survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in 2018, three years after Buhari became president, showed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, the highest in the world.
On Thursday January 23, Transparency International published its 2019 Corruption Perception Index, CPI, which shows that Nigeria had dropped two places from its 2019 position and also ranks the second most corrupt out of the 15 countries in the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. Nigeria only performed better than Guinea-Bissau. According to the report, Nigeria now ranks 146 out of the 180 countries considered, scoring 26 out of 100 points; a drop from the 27 points maintained since 2017.
Under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria is becoming a pariah in the comity of nations, with little or no global diplomatic clout. How do I mean? On Friday January 31, the United States placed humiliating travel restrictions on Nigerians because of the failure of the Buhari administration to meet U.S. security and information-sharing requirements.
The kindred spirits in the same loop with Nigeria in the U.S. immigration curbs are Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar. Citizens of these countries can only visit the U.S. as tourists as visas that can lead to their permanent residency are suspended. Sudanese and Tanzanians will no longer be allowed to apply for ‘diversity visas’ available by lottery for applicants from countries with low immigration to the U.S.
On security, even Buhari himself acknowledges that the situation is too precarious. Lawmakers are shouting. The clergy are protesting. Nobody is safe anywhere in Nigeria.
The argument by those who claim to love Buhari more than the rest of us is that he inherited a bad situation in 2015. Even if we agree, for the sake of argument, that they are correct, was it not the very reason an incumbent president was voted out and Buhari brought in? Was Buhari not elected to halt the ugly trajectory, the slide into the abyss? Or was he elected to make it worse? And if the situation is getting worse than what he inherited, wouldn’t it be a great national disservice not to call the administration out?
How then can such act of patriotism be labelled falsehood. How does living in denial nullify the fact that things are worse today – economically, socially and politically – than when Buhari assumed the mantle of leadership in 2015?
Is truth no longer one, or does it no longer matter?