By Ikechukwu Amaechi
President Muhammadu Buhari never ceases to confound. Even his most strident supporters, who are ever willing to cut him some slack, are gradually but inexorably coming to the inevitable reality: he is a study in hypocrisy.
His claim to higher standards is a ruse. Too often, he fails to follow his own expressed moral rules and principles. I will come back to this shortly.
On August 19, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd.), reported Buhari as telling his Service Chiefs that he was not ready to leave office a failure.
Two days earlier, the Nigerian army claimed that at least 1,000 Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) members had surrendered and army spokesperson, Brig-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, said the terrorists would be received, processed, and passed on to the relevant agencies of government for further assessment in line with extant provision.
Of course, the extant provision is the ‘‘Operation Safe Corridor’’ – a programme of de-radicalisation, rehabilitation, and re-integration (DRR) into the society – created by the Buhari government in 2016 for so-called repentant terrorists. But the scheme is a farce to induce complacency. Nigerians must watch it.
As Thomas Jefferson, the primary draftsman of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the country’s third president, once noted, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active” because “the condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he breaks, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.” But I digress!
Buhari was said to be beside himself with joy at the marathon closed-door meeting with the Service Chiefs.
“The President is quite happy that there has been tremendous success, especially with the advent of the new Service Chiefs and Inspector General of Police,” Monguno recounted to journalists after the meeting.
“And he has also made it very, very clear that he is not ready to exit government as a failure. He is not going to tolerate that.”
But isn’t Buhari already a failure? What difference will the remaining months make? If anything, the road to 2023 will be bumpier for Nigerians. The President gave himself the task of accomplishing three major things in office – fight against corruption, reviving the economy and bolstering security. On all scores, he has failed.
Corruption under his watch is worse. Ironically, it took his nemesis in the military, General Ibrahim Babangida, to drive home that fact. Asked if he agrees with those who said his government was very corrupt in a recent interview on ARISE TV, Babangida said: “But what is happening now is worse than when we were in power… we are saints when compared with that.”
But don’t take Babangida’s word for it. Just take a look at the yearly Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International. It might help. On the economic front, the statistics are damning.
In the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4 2020), unemployment rate had climbed to 33.28 per cent. It was 8.19 per cent in Q2 2015 when he became president. The economy has slipped into recession twice in the last six years. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in 2020 that 40 per cent or 83 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty.
The World Poverty Clock made it more graphic in November last year when it disclosed that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty, thus making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world.
To appreciate what this means, it is important to note that India’s population of 1.391 billion is almost seven times that of Nigeria estimated at 200 million. Inflation was at a single digit (9.01 per cent) before May 29, 2015. Under Buhari, it climbed to double digits and has remained there ever since. The NBS said the rate stood at 17.75 per cent in June 2021 with food inflation at 21.83 per cent.
Naira exchanged for N192 to $1 in 2015. Today, you will be lucky to buy $1 with N520. Petrol sells at N162 per litre. Yet, the Buhari government is subsiding the product. There is hardly any Nigerian who can claim, honestly, to be better off today than when Buhari assumed the reins of office six years ago.
Knowing how tenuous and untenable Buhari’s economic wizardry argument has become, the spin doctors have pivoted on what they call infrastructure revolution. They claim that Buhari has delivered on infrastructure more than any other Nigerian leader. That is a fat lie.
But assuming, without conceding, that he is delivering on infrastructure, the question is, at what cost?
The Debt Management Office (DMO) said Nigeria’s Public Debt Stock was N33.107 trillion as at March 31, 2021. According to the DMO, Nigeria’s total liability portfolio as at June 30, 2015 stood at N12.12 trillion. So, in the last six years, Buhari has recklessly ballooned the country’s debt profile.
As Prof. Anya O. Anya, Nigerian National Medal of Merit awardee and former Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), said in a recent interview with TheNiche: “Looking at this government from outside, all I see is when in trouble, borrow. And who will pay?”
That question is germane because according to BudgIT, a civic-tech non-profit organisation, of the N3.42 trillion generated as revenue in 2020, Nigeria expended N3.34 trillion, a whopping 97 per cent, on debt servicing, not repayment. So, the federal government is already in a mess with debt servicing. It spent N1.8 trillion on debt servicing from its N1.84 trillion revenues in the first five months of 2021 – January to May.
As if these statistics are not horrifying enough, it was reported last week that the federal government’s total borrowing from the Central Bank of Nigeria through Ways and Means Advances had jumped to N15.51 trillion, a 2,286 per cent increase in six years. This humungous debt is not part of Nigeria’s total N33.11 trillion public debt stock earlier mentioned.
These Ways and Means Advances have breached extant laws. Section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007, states: “The total amount of such advances outstanding shall not at any time exceed five per cent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the Federal Government.”
But as reported by The PUNCH on August 18, in the first six months of this year, the federal government borrowed N2.4 trillion from the CBN, more than half of what it got in 2020. The N2.4 trillion is also much higher than five per cent of the federal government’s retained revenue of N3.9 trillion in the previous year.
As at June 2015, a month after Buhari assumed office, the total government borrowing from the CBN stood at only N648.26 billion. So, under Buhari, Nigeria is already a fiscally failed state. But it is in security that he is an unmitigated disaster because, as Dan Agbese noted recently, “Civilisation may follow the roads, as the Romans contended, but human development follows security of lives and property …. The failure to do so delegitimises the government.”
Because of Buhari’s very narrow primordial ethno-religious and political calculations, Nigeria has slipped into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Right now, the only laws that exist in Nigeria are principles based on self-preservation.
Terrorists, without any deterrence from the Nigerian State, are on the prowl, killing and maiming innocent citizens without fear of any consequences. In the absence of the State, Katsina State Governor, Bello Masari, has urged beleaguered citizens to take up arms and defend themselves. That is anarchy writ-large.
It is, indeed, surprising that Buhari cares about his legacy because if he was conscious of that, he won’t be insisting on revalidating a non-existent 368 grazing sites and routes across 25 states as he is doing, knowing full well that it is a recipe for more crisis and bloodshed.
Back to the hypocrisy charge.
Buhari’s son, Yusuf, wedded Zahra, the daughter of the newly crowned Emir of Bichi, Nasir Ado Bayero, in Kano, last Friday. It has been dubbed Nigeria’s royal wedding of glitz and glamour, one of country’s biggest celebrity events, ever. Private jets filled up the runway of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport.
The lovebirds were said to have met at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom. That is instructive. Buhari’s children acquired the best of education in foreign universities while local universities have gone to the dogs under his watch. To be clear, there is nothing wrong in Yusuf getting married. But the mood of the country requires a more somber event.
As at the time Buhari and his friends were painting Kano red in honour of his son, well over 400 Nigerian children, some of them as young as five years, are still held by terrorists in captivity. Most of these hapless children have been in the forests for over 90 days.
The government has abandoned them. This week, it was revealed that six of the 136 kidnapped Tanko Islamiyya School pupils have died in captivity. They were abducted from their school in Niger State in May. The terrorists called the school head-teacher, Abubakar Alhassan, to tell him.
Even with the death of the six, the terrorists still demanded that ransom be paid for the release of the other children. They had earlier demanded N110 million ransom but later raised it to N200 million.
The beleaguered parents paid N30 million after selling their lands and other belongings, when the Nigerian State abdicated its responsibilities and abandoned them. In the midst of all this madness, the city of Kano was brought to a standstill because a privileged Nigerian child, who happens to be Buhari’s son, was wedding.
Imagine if any president other than Buhari had indulged in such obscene celebration under the circumstance, all hell would have been let loose. That is the definition of hypocrisy.
Other than cows that are now prancing all over the place as lords of the manor, happy with the man who elevated their status over and above human beings, Nigerians have made up their minds on Buhari. His legacy as a failure has already been sealed. History, the ultimate chronicler of the follies of men, will deliver a harsh verdict because the president is the architect of his own failure.
Buhari has set Nigeria back by eons, sadly, deliberately by acts of commission. Going by the ease with which terrorists struck at the country’s premier military institution, the Nigeria Defence Academy, on Tuesday, killing two officers and abducting one, many have come to the inevitable conclusion that the Buhari government is complicit in the ongoing mayhem around the country.
Navy Commodore Olakunle Olawunmi (rtd.), a military intelligence veteran with 35 years’ experience, pointedly accused the Buhari government of pursuing an Islamization agenda in an interview on Channels TV on Wednesday. Fears are rife that by the time Buhari goes in 2023, the Islamists must have been emboldened enough to replicate the Taliban-type blitzkrieg in Afghanistan here in Nigeria.
But even before then, the worry now is how much more damage he will cause in the remaining 19 months of his presidency. That is no legacy of success.
Amaechi, a respected journalist is the Publisher of Thenicheng.com