Nigeria @ 56: When Change is a Torture…
What a great difference 365 days can make! We don’t need a time machine to help us remember the wind of enthusiasm and the gamut of hope that swept through the political landscape of Nigeria in 2015. Chorused in a creed that was titled ‘Change’, from the North to the South, and to an extent, the East, the expectations that greeted the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari bordered on the incredulous. He had the answer to all the nagging questions that 55 years of misrule had created. In his hands were the solutions to an epileptic health system, a broken educational terrain, the unemployment cancer, the insecurity conundrum to mention but a few. However, as days gave way to weeks, and weeks metamorphosed to months and months clocked a year, hope has slowly but surely eroded and many are left asking ‘How were we deluded?’
Not sure about delusion, but clearly, on the evidence of the man on the street of Lagos, the low income earner in Kaduna who is struggling with fees for his children, the road-side seller in Enugu hurling her wears, this was not the deal they had all bargained for when they went to the polls on March 28th 2015. Irrespective of who you give your loyalty to, the crux of the matter is that a vast majority of Nigerians are worse than they were a year ago; and it is from that premise that the debate must begin.
The reality is that President Buhari never had and will never have all the answers. Put succinctly, no leader has all the answers. In the midst of all the plethora of criticisms that have trailed the president in recent times, a bit of context is required, and it behooves on all not to trade logic and facts for sentiments and primordial interest. Whatever way you choose to describe it, President Buhari inherited a mess of a Nation, couched in years of deceits, untold corruption and evil governance. The facts will suffice here. In a masterpiece article in the backpage of ThisDay Newspaper of July 24th 2016, Simon Kolawole aptly noted ‘Indeed, President Goodluck Jonathan was unable to build robust reserves in the time of boom — and this is very significant. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the highest price oil sold for was $60, and production was less than 2mbpd for the most part. He parted with $12 billion to settle foreign debts, and still left FX reserves of $43 billion, out of which $9 billion was excess crude savings. Under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, oil went up and down, hitting $147 per barrel at some point, and sinking to $31 at its lowest. With that, Yar’Adua raised FX reserves to $62 billion by September 2008 — the highest in our history. This is where the Jonathan team loses the argument. Oil sold for between $70 and $120 during his first four years in power (2010-2014) before the downward slide to $50 in 2015, when he left office. If our reserve management was anything like what we had under Obasanjo and Yar’Adua (when, by the way, Professor Chukwuma Soludo was the CBN governor), Jonathan could have left at least $100 billion in the reserves. If Buhari had inherited such a hefty kitty, the naira would not be gasping for breath today. Clearly, our failure to build an FX war chest in the time of plenty exposed us to the infectious diseases we are battling with today.’ When you juxtapose this anomaly in addition to the syphoning of funds that was the hallmark of that regime (Dasuki’s $2.1 billion loot being the poster boy), then you realize how much they raped this nation. An attempt to begin to unearth all the inimical wrongdoings that were on rampage during the stint of the erstwhile president, will require volumes of books, and a sequel. Hence, chief of the criticisms that have been meted out to him was not that he was a ‘bad person’, rather he didn’t have the capacity to lead, the tenacity to do the right thing, the wisdom to steer a direction and the will to command respect. Under his watch, everything that could go wrong went entirely wrong. Irrespective of what his apologists say, you can’t divorce our current national travails from the shenanigans of the last political dispensation. It was always a case of an implosion waiting to happen.
Having said that, we can’t remain there forever. After all, it was on the premise of a new lease of life that the current political class was entrusted with the peoples’ mandate. The Buhari administration should have known enough to realize that they were inheriting a broken system and an economy in comatose. The integrity hiatus was screaming for a fix and he was voted in to do all of these. The reality is that the Buhari administration might yet come good, but if the evidence of one and half year is anything to go by then we should be worried. Very worried. The administration has been thrown a myriad of sticks and rightly so, for their inability to conceive a coherent economic blueprint, social policies to address the doldrums we are in and a lack of ingenious quick wins. There are simple quick wins and palliatives that could have been implemented, while the long term solutions are being pursued. These quick wins are not rocket science and it is the job of all those who parade themselves as honourable ministers, over-fed special advisers, theatrical legislators and heads of parastatals to find the answer.
However, like him or loathe him, one thing even his detractors agree to is that in this regime, it is not entirely business as usual. Corruption is being fought, albeit haphazardly. The criticism in this space has been that the Buhari administration is waging a somewhat selective and vindictive fight against corruption. They argue that the ‘yesterday men’ of Goodluck Jonathan and even our endearing ‘Mama Peace’ is being targeted. While I sympathize with this comment, it is a case dead on arrival. It was the ‘yesterday men’ that largely brought the nation to its knees, and while Buhari’s cabinet is not entirely immune of corrupt men and women, it does not exonerate the leaders of yesterday. The talk of Patience Jonathan being a target is sheer nonsense. The argument is that no former first lady has been subjected to such probe and that she might well have been enriched by goodwill gifts. Spare me the gibberish! What does the rule of law mean if we can’t ensure that no one is too big to stand trial? Yes, she might well be the first erstwhile first lady to be subjected to such probe, and so what? The real question is ‘Is there a case?’ In a sane clime, that will be the discussion, rather, we have so called activists on the streets, some of whom can barely afford two square meal pleading the case of a woman who might well have denied them of their collective wealth running into millions of dollars. There is also some mileage gained in the insecurity fight; but with the relative sanity in the northeast have come endless days of Niger-Delta militancy, crippling an already devastated economy.
The conclusion is that Nigerians are tired of rhetorics, blame games, superficial promises, fictitious solutions and imaginary fixes. It is not enough for President Buhari to mean well, he must exude that. Nigerians must see sacrifices from their leaders, unconventional answers to conventional problems and a will power to purse what will benefit a vast majority of the people.