By Tony Eluemunor
Last Saturday, May 29, was supposed to be a major anniversary marking seven years of Gen. Mohammadu Buhari’s presidency which began in 2015. Also, the Fourth Republic incepted on May 29, 1999, that magical ending of a millennium, and the birth of a promising new.
It was as though the world was rejoicing with Nigeria as there was a feverish world-wide preparation for a giant party. Some of the readers would have been old enough to remember the monster pop music hit which ruled the waves then: “We Gonna Party Like It Is 1999” crafted by the late superstar, who was widely known as Prince.
And Nigeria did throw a party. Hope was renewed. Many of the state governors (the Donald Dukes, James Iboris, Orji Uzor Kalus, Lucky Igbinedions) were young and the smiles on their faces hinted of the goodies to come. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president, was no neophyte.
He had not only been a military Head of State (1976 -1979) he had been almost so superlative in office then, providing leadership to the African continent, standing up to the West in Africa’s fight against the accursed apartheid system in South Africa, that Nigerian university students adopted him as an uncle (uncle sege).
He had an additional qualification for that high office; he had been unjustly jailed by the despotic Head of State. Gen. Sani Abacha. So, on Abacha’s death in June 1988, Gens Ibrahim Babangida, T Y Danjuma and Aliyu Gusau schemed for him to become president, a position that could without question have gone to the late Alex-Ekwueme, who was Vice-President to President Shehu Shagari in the 1979-1993 Second Republic.
It was as though Obasanjo was doing Nigeria a favour by accepting to be president for a second time. His ego towered higher than Mount Everest even as his achievements sank deeper than any valley in the world.
Yet, we have to leave the egoistical Obasanjo alone for now and put the dashed hopes in true perspective. It was clear by the turn of the millennium that “the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third-world poverty,” as the Economist of London wrote then.
By that time, the UN had been blaring about the Millenium Development Goals for all to hear. The MDGs were aimed at cutting the number of those that lived in abject poverty—$1.90 per day or less,by half. The MDGs also had other areas of focus such as education,housing, health, water provision.
As poverty is our focus today, we should forget about the other sectors. By the turn of the millennium, nearly 1.7 billion unfortunates fell into the poorest of the poor category globally, and a clear one billion of them lived in just two Asian countries; China and India.
That was in year 2,000 when there was unbounded optimism in Nigeria. Today, general despair (as opposed to optimism) reigns in Nigeria while unbounded optimism reigns in both China and India. For instance,in 2021, China announced that it has eradicated extreme poverty. In 2018 the number of people suffering from extreme poverty in India fell to a new and favourable low, and the world applauded India for that magical achievement.
But what about our country, Nigeria? Under the President Buhari administration, Nigeria overtook India in poverty as over 99 million Nigerians fell beneath the safety net and came to live below the poverty line. And with that Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world. And this shameful fact chanced on Nigeria during the tenure of an administration which had promised to take Nigeria to “The Next Level.”
So, May 29, should have made Nigerians introspective. Yet, little introspection is taking place. There is the quiet of the grave-yard everywhere. All those super-critics of the President Yar’adua/Jonathan era have grown blind, deaf and dumb. All those clerics, lawyers, politicians, NGO, etc, personalities who took to the streets to protest against the petrol scarcity that blighted the days when Jonathan was president have gone lame, blind, dumb and deaf. All those columnists who wrote scathing columns deriding Jonathan and the PDP have seemingly stopped writing. All the pretenders to the position of super-patriots who peppered the Umaru Yar’Adu administration with endless criticisms have gone tongue-tied.
The Kaduna state Governor, Nasir el-Rufai allegedly once wrote a memo to President Buhari and it was later leaked to the public and newspaper vendors made photocopies for sale. If that memo titled the “IMMEDIATE AND MEDIUM-TERM IMPERATIVES FOR PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI -SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 mirrored el-Rufai’s own, then he could in future distance himself from those who suddenly became blind, deaf and dumb.
The version sold publicly had a caption: “YOU HAVE FAILED.” That was written in 2016 and since then, the economy has grown worse, the Naira value has plummeted further, the number of the absolute poor has increased, the level of electricity supply has reduced, the price of petrol, diesel, rice, yam, bottle of ground nut, sachet water, a loaf of bread, any measure of gari—cost of everything bought and sold in Nigeria- soared.
Not even the much-advertised rice pyramid showcased on National TV as a superlative achievement has had an impact on the price of rice, which has more than doubled since Buhari became president. And local rice production has been special to this administration.
The unbounded optimism and fierce ambition in the Nigeria of 1999 has turned into today’s dashed hopes, rotten bureaucracies, profound economic problems, unmitigated and galloping poverty, widespread hardship and the absence of safety nets – spreading despair, yes despair – as Buhari has presided over a period of a total slowdown. This failure has surpassed the failings of all the preceding administrations – including Buhari’s stint as Military Head of State. Surpassing failure? Yes, that phrase should be reserved for this administration.