It may seem too early to write off the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari. He is in the second year of his four year tenure. That amounts to a reasonable mathematical chance to change the narrative and finish well. But if the law of inertia counts for anything, the remainder of Buhari’s time will prove to be the slow motion fulfillment of an ineluctable tragedy.
Granted, there is a context to the pervasive misery in Nigeria today. Buhari inherited a scorched earth. He was bequeathed a landscape of ruins. He was bound to face the challenge of building with rubble.
Jonathan had the good fortune of seeing high crude price for the greater part of his 6 years-long tenure. He grossed a steady windfall of petrodollars. But he sanctioned the merciless looting of state funds.
As a candidate, Buhari appeared to recognize that revamping the economy had to be a priority. He made it a go-to talking point. He hammered on it at the hustings, always checking it off with the promise to fight corruption and arrest insecurity.
But in his earliest days in office, the economy was the last thing on his mind. The leisure of globe trotting was first. And he started to work his planes as soon as possible.
When Nigerians, alarmed that the intoxication of power may have made Buhari frivolous, asked him to sit down and work, he plagiarized Obasanjo: My world tour is a necessary charm offensive. Nigeria is a pariah state. I am traveling to reconcile Nigeria with the world!
While he lived in the air, Buhari left Nigeria without direction and without a cabinet. He took six months purporting to look for the beautiful ones. Even in a fiction, that’s too long a period to run an amorphous government after a disruptive election that saw an opposition candidate win.
Naturally, that eternity of vacuum was filled with speculations and rumors. The market place was paralyzed. Investors and businessmen got edgy, confused and afraid.
Because they were made to hedge their bets and wait forever for the new administration enunciate its economic policy, some took their capital elsewhere. The financial system reacted. And an epidemic of job losses began.
Buhari had been advised to take drastic measures in his first days in office. Former British PM Tony Blair -whose autobiography, A Journey: My Political Life, detailed his action-packed first 100 days in office –suggested that Buhari’s first 100 days would define the shape of the rest of his tenure. Blair counseled Buhari to leverage his massive goodwill and abolish fuel subsidy and take hard decisions to spur economic recovery.
Buhari demurred. He said the argument for the removal of fuel subsidy didn’t sound rational. He would not sanction a decision that would the increase inflation and suffering.
When he eventually came around to realize the foolishness of his obstinacy, he had already unleashed the wilder version of the outcome he was trying to avoid so he could retain his popularity.
Same thing he did with the naira. Every voice of reason counseled that it would be prudent to devalue urgently. The artificial value we were purporting to maintain at the expense of our very lean foreign reserve was incongruous with reality. Buhari refused to grant approval. He cited again the welfare of the masses. He wouldn’t bear to see Nigerians suffer more.
He would later agree to the idea of ‘floating of the naira.’ But before then, market forces had so weakened the naira that his change of mind was a belated adaptation to a fait accompli. His stubbornness and delay did no good other than instigate instability and increase the inflation and suffering beyond what would have obtained if the devaluation had been done promptly.
Until last week, Buhari was adamant that he would not welcome the views of the private sector on the state of the economy. He implied that private sector players were basically selfish. Their opinions would be tainted by avarice. They can’t put profit above patriotism.
The consequence of having a prideful economic ignoramus that would not seek or entertain wise counsel until he sees the worst possible eventuality come in view is that the Nigerian economy has now gone far too bad than is easy to quickly reverse. Of course, this means that the incredible act of surviving as a Nigerian has become a lot harder. In ‘normal’ times, Nigerian life is a story of deprivation. Buhari has made it more so.
The worrisome thing is that Buhari has yet to get the memo. He lives in a bubble. And he is a captive of sycophants that are serenading him with flattery.
For instance, his spokesman, Garba Shehu, recently said Buhari should not be taken to task about the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children in IDP camps. Shehu says Boko Haram created the situation. So why should Buhari be the subject of criticism instead of Shekau?
Before this, Buhari’s other spokesman, Femi Adesina, had declaimed in a PUNCH interview that Nigerians were not suffering. He said Nigerians weren’t experiencing the mildest inconvenience. Nigerians owe his principal a lot thanks for their good life!
Taken together, the words of these spokespersons represent a sample of the despicable diet of falsehoods politicians and aides in Buhari’s orbit feed him. And the words also reflect Buhari’s own mindset.
Buhari is averse to taking responsibility for the Nigerian economy. He habitually laments the Jonathan days looting and calls it the sole cause of the present ‘technical’ recession. On the days he wants to inspire hope, he mouths the tired promise that he would ‘diversify’ the economy!
Buhari has effectively resigned. He is unwilling and unable to rouse himself to the business of accomplishing something timeless and memorable. He is secure in a numbing complacency, a feeling of arrival that compels him to relax like a minimally interested observer in his own presidency.
He has squandered his first year. In few months time, he will be two years in office and midway into his term. That halftime will be the real expiration date of his tenure. Beyond that moment, the polity devolves into a dirty fight to replace him.
There is no sign that Buhari aspires to maximize the remaining part of his time. He has no sense of urgency. The most he is doing is actively wishing that crude price rises and yields him abundance. He had not gamed out options to pursue in case of petrodollars drought. And he is not disposed to start now.
He has the preposterous notion that Nigerians will forgive him for the broken economy because he achieved the technical defeat of Boko Haram and permitted the EFCC to recover some chicken change from certain corrupt politicians on the other side of the political divide.
Not all. People in developing countries tend to judge a leader in one way. The extent to which he helped make the meeting of their basic needs easier. Going by that metric and the escalation of human suffering across Nigeria in the past one year, Buhari’s administration is a disaster!
Buhari walked into the highest office in the land without a plan. He didn’t do any homework. He had no sketch of policies as you would expect of a four time presidential candidate; a serious-minded former head of state that had three decades to study his country as a private citizen. He presumed that all things would align for good. The business of governance will take care of itself. All he needed was to win the election and take the oath of office.
Buhari thought so lowly of the position of president of Nigeria and so highly of himself that he rated himself too qualified to ready himself for it!
Buhari believes that luck is destiny. He counts himself unlucky to be the leader of Nigeria at this time. Every day, he laments the oil curse. He solicits pity for having the misfortune of coming to power now.
This is a coded confession of defeat; an acknowledgement that he has no faith in his ability to pivot his administration to positive denouement.
Buhari’s fatalism has convinced him of his own victimhood. He is persuaded that it is beyond his power to cause a meaningful shift. And this is why the hardship in the land is likely to morph into the worst case scenario.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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