By Olu Fasan
WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari said recently that Nigeria’s ‘elite’ were ‘harassing’ his government, I instinctively wanted to defend him. I may be his arch-critic, but I don’t want his government harassed unfairly.
But then, I asked: Is the allegation true? Is President Buhari’s government unfairly harassed? The answer is no! Why? Well, let’s examine both the allegation and the evidence.
On January 31, after revalidating his membership of his party in his constituency in Daura, Kastina State, President Buhari said the Nigerian elite had always unfairly harassed his administration. Here’s how he put it: “No, Nigeria’s elite are not interested in rating the competence, but they are interested in harassing us with all the efforts we are making.” President Buhari’s constant refrain is that he inherited a “state of decay and rot” but has “worked so hard with limited resources” to make things better.
But how true are these claims? Well, any objective assessment or fact-checking will show that while President Buhari indeed met a bad situation on the ground, he made things worse through bad policies, unwise actions and, indeed, inactions!
Of course, it would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that President’s Buhari administration has achieved nothing in its nearly six years in office. In truth, there are some positive achievements that one can attribute to his government. I would mention three.
First, as we have seen this week, history will record that it is under President Buhari’s administration that a Nigerian, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, became the first African and first woman Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. Of course, Okonjo-Iweala’s global profile and the new US President Joe Biden’s endorsement, not Nigeria’s influence, clinched the victory for her. Yet, President Buhari deserves credit for nominating her and standing by her candidacy through thick and thin. It’s a big diplomatic victory for Nigeria, and Buhari!
Second, the Buhari administration has made some progress on infrastructure, particularly railways, albeit almost entirely debt-funded, with Chinese money and firms being front and centre of it. But the government’s claim of a “rail revolution” has some truth in it; the railways, Buhari’s pet infrastructure, are, indeed, being resuscitated.
Third, President Buhari has signed into law several critical bills that had gestated and languished for so long. Notable among these are the Companies and Allied Matters Act, CAMA, 2020, which replaced the 30-year-old Companies and Allied Matters Act of 1990, and Nigeria’s first-ever Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018. These laws are not perfect but, given how long we talked about the need for them, their enactments by Buhari’s administration are significant, and to his credit.
But here’s the rub. All these achievements are easy wins. None of them requires great competence. For instance, any president can nominate a citizen for an international job, even if he lacks the international clout to secure victory for him or her. Dr Okonjo-Iweala said in one interview that while the Nigerian government provided basic assistance, she relied mainly on her own resources and global contacts to campaign for her selection, and, as we know, without the election of President Biden she wouldn’t have got the job.
Equally, any president can sign contracts with China for rail constructions, given how willing China is, in pursuit of its strategic Belt and Road Initiative, to fund and build railways overseas. Infrastructure socialism, where government solely funds infrastructure projects through borrowings, without private financing, is no real achievement. Finally, any president with parliamentary majority can secure the enactments of bills and sign them into law.
So, President Buhari has picked the low-hanging fruit. Not a bad thing, but he completely comes a cropper on his key election promises. In a democracy, elected politicians are judged by their manifesto commitments. In 2015, President Buhari ran on a platform of economic revival, national security and anti-corruption. But on each of these, he has, now nearly six years in power, failed woefully to deliver on his promise.
The economy is, today, a lot worse than what Buhari inherited in 2015. Since then, the economy has entered into a recession twice, making him a two-recession president. Under his government, Nigeria became the “poverty capital of the world”, and business failures, capital flight and unemployment have skyrocketed. And why? Because of bad policies, such as the CBN’s recent ban on cryptocurrency, that have choked private sector dynamism and killed investor confidence.
What about national security? Well, Nigeria faces greater threats to its security and internal cohesion today than it did before Buhari became president in 2015. Sadly, instead of understanding and tackling the root-causes of insecurity and ethnic and religious tensions in Nigeria, the Buhari administration is resorting to demagoguery, blackmail and threats.
Recently, the Presidency said there was a plot to launch a smear campaign against President Buhari to portray him as “pandering to ethnic and other primordial tendencies”. But where is the “smear”? Truth is, Buhari is not a unifying president. His actions and inactions are at variance with his rhetoric on unity. For instance, he is instinctively more sympathetic to the herdsmen’s cause than the farmers. This week, President Buhari said he would not “allow” ethnic and religious violence, but that sounds like as a coded threat against communities being terrorised by killer herdsmen, who have acted with impunity over the past five years, arguably emboldened by a seemingly sympathetic and protective president.
Finally, Buhari’s last election promise: anti-corruption. Despite nearly six years of a much-hyped anti-graft war, the recent verdict of Transparency International says it all: Nigeria is the second most corrupt country in West Africa! Say no more!
President Buhari said that Nigeria’s elite are not interested in rating the competence of his administration. No, they are! But their objective assessment shows that, apart from picking the low-hanging fruit, the Buhari government lacks the vision and competence to move Nigeria forward. If President Buhari sees pointing that out as “harassing” his government, well, it’s fair and well-deserved!