By Owei Lakemfa
Today, Nigeria stands ragged and worn out on the global highway. Should it look back at the last eight years and try to make sense of the rough road it had been dragged through? Or simply pick itself up and face the future?
The misfortune of the last eight years that was the Buhari regime was foretold. No, not by a fortune teller who might have degrees of in-exactitude. But by the exactitude of lived history. A history that opened the book of remembrance reminding us that this taciturn general who was being propped up on stilts of profane propaganda, wrapped in the borrowed robes of a democrat and falsely presented as an unmatched fighter against corruption, is the same man who for 20 months from 1984 subjected the country to terrors of military misrule.
In 2014, there was Economic Commission of Africa, ECA, conference in Marrakesh, Morocco and we were some two dozen Nigerians attending from across the globe. We had a joint lunch to discuss the approaching 2015 presidential election. I argued that given his past service, Buhari was not a fit candidate. Part of my arguments were that as Military Head of State, he had no atom of respect for peoples’ rights or the rule of law. I cited his anti-media Decree 4 of 1984 in which the publication of falsehood or truth were criminal offences and two journalists were actually jailed under that decree.
There were retroactive laws under which, for instance, three young Nigerians were tied to the stakes and shot for drug trafficking, a crime that did not attract capital punishment when it was committed. I cited his indefinite closure of the country’s borders for no logical or economic reasons, his change of currency which led to much hardship and huge losses as many Nigerians could not change their old currencies due to very poor planning by government. I questioned the integrity he was flaunting; how come he was unable to account for his tenure as Chairman of Abacha regime’s Petroleum Trust Fund? After discussions, the group agreed that the country will be better without a Buhari presidency.
Indeed, how can a country like Nigeria which produced its first university graduate, Olu Atuwase, in 1611, be bogged down with whether candidate Buhari has school certificate or not?
As President, his government failed woefully on security matters. Bandits had so much free rein that it became dangerous to travel in any part of the country. He came into office wondering how a government worth its salt would allow students to be abducted in school as happened in Chibok. But under his administration, we lost count of the number of schools sacked with students abducted. In 2021 alone, students, including children, were abducted from schools in places like Kagara, Afaka, Greenfield (Kaduna) Maranban Damishi and Yauri. Some states like Benue, Plateau and Zamfara have become killing fields.
In terms of welfare, we have never had it so bad with an annual inflation average of 20 per cent. Yes, Buhari increased the National Minimum Wage from N18,000 to N30,000 but in terms of value, the pre-Buhari wage was far higher. For instance, in 2015 a bag of rice was N6,500, now it is N45,000. So while the N18,000 wage could buy about three bags of rice, the N30,000 minimum wage can only buy two thirds of a bag.
I am not saying that Buhari did nothing positive in the last eight years as President; but if a pupil scores an overall 10 per cent in examinations, he cannot declare himself a genius. Therefore, when Buhari in bidding Nigerians farewell declares that he ran a good race as President and had a “sense of fulfilment”, he is merely being delusional.
In a sense I feel sorry for him. Whatever legacy he thought he had over the decades, have been destroyed by the poor advice he accepted to run for the presidency. That was after he had wisely declared in public, following three consecutive electoral defeats, that he would never contest again.
Whatever was left of his much vaunted integrity was completely incinerated three days before leaving office when his government enacted the sickening drama of launching a bogus airline using a company that is still in gestation.
Another of his integrity deficits is that in his second term, he forgot to carry out the annual audit of the country’s accounts. Of course, we have not forgotten that in claiming that he had carried out an agriculture revolution in Nigeria, his regime constructed some wooden pyramids in Abuja, decorated them with bags of rice and falsely claimed Nigeria was now producing rice pyramids like the groundnut pyramids of the colonial era which we exported. Still on agriculture, bandits have so made the country unsafe that many farmers have abandoned the farms and become internally displaced persons.
By the way, what was the hurry in Buhari declaring open the private Dangote refinery two months before the plant is supposed to be ready for preliminary refining?
As part of his farewell speeches, Buhari praised former military ruler General Sani Abacha. This is not surprising because even when the funds Abacha looted are being returned by various Western governments, Buhari says Abacha never stole. He also praised outgoing Customs and Excise boss, retired Colonel Hamid Ali. Some of us see Ali as that military governor of Kaduna State who without following rules, procedures or engaging in discussions, arbitrarily sacked some 23,000 civil servants in the state. We see him as that officer whose name propped up in the Abacha phantom coups designed to eliminate opponents.
Nigerians could hardly wait for this May 29, 2023 date when Buhari departs, and, the mass of the people can, hopefully, begin to breathe properly again. But admittedly, this is mutual. He himself has expressed a number of times that he could hardly wait to flee the Presidency and return to Daura where he has, at the expense of other parts of the country, stacked resources and institutions. He told us in his last week as President that he is in so much hurry to return to the cows he left in Daura in order to tend to the Nigerian people.
There may be a plethora of reasons for this, but an obvious one is that cows can be used as beasts of burden and they hardly complain. Buhari also told us that if we worry him in Daura with complaints, he would relocate to neigbouring Niger Republic which he claims will defend and protect him. So much for a retired Nigerian General who stakes a claim to being a patriot. Goodbyes are usually difficult; Nigerians say goodbye to retired General Muhammadu Buhari. Parade dismissed!