By Dele Sobowale
“I have never supported Buhari. I have been against him because I felt he was not competent to handle the job and I have been proved right.” Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, PUNCH, May 21, 2020, back page.
On May 29, 1984, 1985, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and now 2020, Buhari was the Nigerian Head of State. When he leaves office on May 29, 2023, he would have led us on that date in the calendar more than any other leader except former President Obasanjo. As he clocked the eighth May 29 as the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of Nigeria Incorporated, with only three more to go, Nigerians and Buhari himself should be asking questions about the legacy he would leave for posterity. Right now, there is nothing positive to report.
“Even God cannot change the past.” Agathon, Greek playwright, c400BC.
Unlike Alhaji Yakassai, I was a strong supporter of Buhari in 2011 and again in 2019. My support was founded on research which I was commissioned to undertake by a presidential aspirant in January 2010 who wanted to know the most important issues Nigerians thought our President should tackle from 2011. Another aspect of the work was designed to find out which of the aspirants was considered best able to solve these problems. With the research findings as basis, he had planned to develop a manifesto as well as a blueprint for governance.
The two most important problems, we discovered, were: corruption and Boko Haram/insecurity in that order. In fact, about eighty per cent of those surveyed in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, thought that the Nigerian leader must be capable of handling these matters ahead of power supply (which came third), job creation (4th), infrastructure (5th), education (6th), health (7th) and economy (8th). Despite the fact that former President Jonathan had already succeeded Umaru Yar’Adua as President, close to seventy per cent of Nigerians felt that only Buhari could solve our two most important problems. It was not surprising to me that the economy was not regarded as a pressing problem in 2010 when the price of crude was hovering around $120 per barrel and Gross Domestic Product, GDP, was close to seven per cent against population growth of about 3.2 per cent. Per capita income was rising; Nigerians were getting richer on the average – even if the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. Corruption ensured that only a tiny minority benefited from the greatest economic growth since General Gowon led us in the 1970s. Our greatest deficit was security and Boko Haram was the symbol of our anxieties. Somehow, there was widespread impression that Jonathan was not managing the two matters well. I also strongly believed that we needed a change of leadership in 2011.
Always be careful when asking for something. You might get it and then discover you have committed a blunder. The courts all over the world are full of divorce cases involving those who were once “madly in love”. I went to work for Buhari in 2010. He failed in 2011 and returned in 2015. I was back in the trenches fighting. But, by May 29, 2015 when he delivered his inaugural address for the first term, I already had the impression that the President speaking was different from the Buhari I thought was the alternative to Jonathan. By then, it had become clear that only a miracle could prevent several May 29s like the two in 1984/5. Yet, Buhari is patriotic in his own way. He does not consciously go out of his way to commit atrocities like other leaders. His greatest fault is that most decisions are based on emotions — not data collated, analysed, discussed on consequences of decisions anticipated. He believes only in what those he knows and trusts tell him. He rules on faith in others. And as Elton Trueblood had told us, “Faith is not belief without proof, it is trust without reservation.” (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 55)
Buhari’s trust without doubt in his appointees has empowered the beneficiaries of the faith unlike those appointed by any other Head of State. As far as he was concerned, they can do no wrong. The results have seldom been good for Nigeria.
GENERAL BUHARI: 1984-85
“Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise…any message…report…which brings…a public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.” Decree 4, 1984 (amended).
IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA: 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM, P 12.
The coup that brought Buhari to the helm was announced on December 31, 1983 by Brigadier Sani Abacha. He became Head of State on January 1, 1984 and promised to lead a corrective regime dedicated to fighting corruption. By May he had passed Decree 4, 1984 which made criticism of any government official punishable – even if the report was the truth. It was one of worst decrees ever enacted by any government anywhere. Punishment for contravening this draconian Decree was imprisonment without option of fine. Furthermore, the sentence could not be appealed as the courts were ousted from entertaining any appeal. It was the sort of absolute power which corrupts absolutely. It did.
Two repercussions we recollect from the period were the following: One, while the junta was tough on corruption involving others, one of his Ministers, placed in charge of a lucrative ministry, allegedly went from a middle income university lecturer to become exceedingly wealthy in the twenty months Buhari was master of our fate in Nigeria. Rumours even had it that the fellow acquired a private jet.
By May 29, 1985, shops were empty of essential commodities – sugar, soap, detergents, milk, etc. Women queued for them under the rain of horse whips, hard belts and bare buckles brutality delivered by young soldiers who had no respect for age. Nigeria’s first ever economic recession was in progress. By then, Nigerians were fervently praying for deliverance. Nigeria was also on the way to its first debt default in its history without any solution in sight. When the coup of August 1985 was announced, ending the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, it was difficult to determine whether the applause was louder than that of December 1983 when the military toppled President Shagari. Certainly, there was relief.
Incidentally, some major players in the Buhari government of 1984-5 are still very much around wielding influence. Buhari loves his friends for ever irrespective of what other people say about them. Those commenting better understand that. All Buhari wants to hear or read about them are all the good things. No more.
HISTORY PARTLY REPEATS ITSELF: 2015, 2016-2019.
“A man who cherishes great ideas and has performed only small acts.” That description of an Austrian leader by Johann Schiller, 1754-1787 would have been appropriate for Buhari in the 1980s when he was only in his 40s and could be excused for youthful exuberance. One had expected that as an older presidential candidate, he would have discarded some of the personality defects which paved the way for his downfall the first time. His anti-corruption posture should have been updated to include censoring even his closest associates. He was also assumed to have developed a comprehensive plan for governance based on all available data – favourable and unfavourable. Expectations were in vain.
Corruption being so pervasive in governments from 1999 to 2015, Buhari’s campaign against Obasanjo in 2003, Yar’Adua in 2007, Jonathan in 2011 struck a responsive cord in the minds of millions of Nigerians – across all demographic sectors. Those living below the poverty line as well as those struggling to stay above, who constituted the vast majority of Nigerians, were actually ready for deliverance. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was already regarded as anti-people by the majority of voters. “It is useless pushing a drunkard; he’ll fall down by himself (Andre Shwarts-Bart, VBQ, p 43). The PDP, like the drunkard, simply fell by itself in 2014-15.
Thus, it was not until 2015, in a return match with President Jonathan, that the Buhari message procured victory. Pervasive corruption within the Federal Government, under Jonathan, had simply gone totally out of control. The corrupt practices, which started with Obasanjo and were further nurtured under Yar’Adua, had assumed monstrous dimensions under Jonathan. The former President either did not know how to tackle the problem or did not just care. The Nigerian economy, which was actually very buoyant from 2009 to 2013, was already heading for a major crash by 2014 – irrespective of who won in 2015.
Hopeful Nigerians were ready for the promised change to start on May 29, 2015 after handing Buhari and indisputable victory at the polls. On that day they expected to be told by their new/old “Sheriff” how he would deal ruthlessly with the pen bandits and gun-totting Boko Haram and restore normalcy to Abuja and the North-East. Buhari’s first twenty appointments were so lopsided in favour of the North that by May 29, 2015, many of his political foot soldiers were already convinced that a political blunder had occurred. The nepotism, tribalism and religious bigotry which characterised May 1984 and 1985 were back on full display. The inaugural address itself was an anti-climax.
Still some promises were clearly made; others could be assumed from what the new President said on that day.
Even if only a quarter of those promises had been fulfilled, Nigeria would have been in a better shape to weather the COVID-19 and economic recession storms now threatening the ship of state with shipwreck. He would have ranked as our best Head of State in two centuries. As it is now, he might spend the remaining three May 29s with no positive legacy to his credit. What can he possibly accomplish in three years?
KEY PROMISES MADE ON MAY 29, 2015
“Promises, like pie-crusts, are made to be broken.” Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745.
Like all politicians, Buhari, during the campaigns, had vowed to end corruption and Boko Haram’s reign of terror in the North-East; lift 25 million Nigerians out of poverty, create 12 million jobs in four years, and restructure the nation. He even declared the 4000MW power supply per day “unacceptable” – leaving the impression that his government would do far better than that. As another May 29 rolled bye, any objective review of promises fulfilled since 2015 must submit an abysmal report on actual achievement. In fact, none of the key promises made to Nigerians on May 29, 2015 has been redeemed and none is likely to be delivered by 2023. Let us again point them out.
Power supply remains stuck at under 4000MW per day. Boko Haram is still very active. Nobody in his right senses would argue that corruption has been fought with the vigour expected; instead many of the corrupt elements named by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, are now leaders of the ruling party led by Buhari. Others, known to have access to the cabal, have since joined them. Restructuring has been tossed into the dustbin. Instead of alleviating poverty, Nigeria has emerged the poverty capital of the world.
MAY 29, 2020 AND WHAT FOLLOWS
If Buhari addressed the nation on May 29, 2020, it would have been the eighth time he would be Head of State on that date. It would also be the third time Nigeria would be in a recession with Buhari as national leader – after 1984/5 and 2016. It is doubtful if any other President will beat that record. Unfortunately, 2020 is almost half over. The recession starting this year will most probably continue until next year. Any future projections must be one of hopelessness and total despair. How many Nigerians will wish many returns of the past May 29s?