By Olu Fasan
A WEEK hardly goes by without some negative news about Nigeria in the British press. And hardly a week passes without some readers of this column emailing me and lamenting the appalling state of affairs in Nigeria. The recurrent message is that President Muhammadu Buhari is not in control of the deteriorating situation in the country.
In the past two weeks, the following headlines appeared in British newspapers: “Nigerian pirates rampage across West African waters” (Financial Times, March 13, 2021). “Nigeria ‘falling apart’ as kidnap gangs hold a nation to ransom” (The Times, March 8, 2021).
But it’s not just about the escalating insecurity. Readers and, indeed, relatives and friends tell me about the abject poverty and misery in Nigeria. In fact, according to a recent newspaper report, Nigeria leads, by a wide margin, the Misery Index in Africa, making Nigerians far more miserable than their fellow Africans!
Given the outrageous levels of insecurity, poverty and misery, it’s not an exaggeration to say that for many Nigerians, life under the Buhari administration is, as Thomas Hobbes said of the state of nature, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”!
Most people describe the various problems Nigeria faces as “unprecedented”, which suggests that problems have arisen or been escalated significantly under this government. The implication is that Buhari’s administration is arguably the worst civilian government, so far, in Nigeria.
President Buhari’s supporters will, of course, reject that assessment. Recently, one Buharist tweeted: “PMB (Buhari) came to save Nigeria”, adding that: “If you put the five years of PMB side by side the 16 years of PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), PMB has done far better.” Ask for the evidence, they would send you pictures of roads, rails and bridges that the Buhari administration is building or repairing.
But is government mainly about brick-and-mortar projects? Thomas Jefferson, former US president, once said: “The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government”. What, then, is the purpose of physical infrastructure when countless Nigerians are dying daily in the hands of terrorists and bandits, when millions are trapped in poverty and misery and when millions of youths can’t find a job?
Recently, unemployment hit 33 per cent, the highest rate in the history of Nigeria. Yet, 3.5 million young Nigerians come of working age annually, adding to the pool of the jobless. It’s utterly irresponsible to be trumpeting the building of roads, rails and bridges amid the appalling socio-economic and socio-political conditions in Nigeria.
But ignore the complacency or self-denial of the pathologically partisan. Truth is, things are unprecedently bad under the Buhari administration, and the question is: Why? Is it because President Buhari is unlucky, dealt with a bad hand? Or is it because he is utterly clueless, not up to the job? We must ask these questions to evaluate and learn from the flaws of governance and democratic accountability in Nigeria.
So, what’s the problem: lucklessness or cluelessness? Well, harsh as it may seem, it’s more the latter than the former. Buhari simply doesn’t have what it takes to lead a country like Nigeria. He rode the populist wave to power, then became overwhelmed by the challenges the country faces and, instead of open-mindedly seeking the right solutions, resorted to personal rule, guided only by his idiosyncrasies, predilections and old prejudices.
Of course, luck matters. Napoleon Bonaparte famously said: “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?” Well, to some extent, President Buhari hasn’t been lucky. For instance, he inherited a struggling economy, as world oil prices crashed just before he assumed office; and, while in office, there was an outbreak of a global pandemic, COVID-19!
But none of these is peculiar to Nigeria. What’s more, experience and competence can overcome bad luck. Unfortunately, President Buhari doesn’t value experience and competence. Buhari pretends to be a philosopher-ruler, with a didactic, know-all mentality, hence he surrounds himself with “yes men and women”. Yet, he may be a ruler, but he is certainly not a philosopher, not a visionary, and not a problem-solver!
In 2015, the then US vice president, Joe Biden, now president, advised the newly sworn-in President Buhari to appoint “seasoned technocrats” to head key sectors of the economy. But what did Buhari do? He populated his first-term and second-term cabinets with career politicians and party hacks.
Think of it: Why should Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and the world’s 27th, have a finance minister with no “wow factor”, hardly known outside this country? Why, when Nigeria is facing a crippling economic crisis and badly needs foreign investments, does it have a finance minister that cannot inspire the confidence of international investors? Let’s face it, Buhari’s two finance ministers, Kemi Adeosun and, currently, Zainab Ahmed are not the “seasoned technocrats” with the international reputation to run Nigeria’s economy!
Nigeria lacks credibility with the international financial and investment communities because its president can’t grasp economic fundamentals and has a weak economic team. Truth is, the right finance minister, the right economic team, would pursue the right policies and reforms that would attract significant foreign investments into this country.
Sadly, so badly managed, Nigeria’s economy is now comatose. For instance, Nigeria is so desperate for foreign exchange that it recently introduced the “Naira for Dollar Scheme”, under which the Central Bank would give additional N5 – (Apologies: I unintentionally said N1,000 in last week’s column) – for every $1 formally remitted to Nigeria. The N5 bonus and the seeming dollarisation of the economy are products of failed economic policies.
But as with the economy, so with the other problems. Truth is: Super Tucano fighter jets will not stop insecurity in Nigeria unless its root-causes are tackled; military threats will not stop ethno-religious tensions without a national dialogue. Yet, with all the problems, President Buhari either has no clue what to do or stubbornly refuses to do the right thing. That’s not lucklessness, it’s cluelessness and sheer wrongheadedness!