By OWEI LAKEMFA
The Buhari administration was in retreat last week as the barrage of attacks by Nigerians over their worsening socio-economic and security situation got intense. The government also went into a retreat to self-assess its five-year stewardship. President Muhammadu Buhari told Nigerians that the retreat was for him and his government: “… to undertake an objective assessment of our stewardship…”
I am still trying to learn how a group can make an “objective” assessment of itself. It is like a person setting examinations for himself, marking and awarding marks to himself. This was the culture under military regimes. So can we be surprised about the outcome? The result according to Buhari is that: “progress has been made on all fronts…”
It was a two-day retreat in which the courageous government called the bluff of the citizenry, telling them firmly that the steep increases in fuel prices and electricity tariff were irreversible. On the first day, President Buhari was away in Niger Republic attending the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, Heads of State Summit. There, he told his colleagues they have no business extending their tenure beyond constitutional limits. That is the statement of a statesman that addresses the attempts of his Guinean and Ivorian colleagues to perpetuate themselves in office.
If I were near him as he made this historical submission, I would have whispered in his ears to also address the IBK (Ibrahim Boubacar Keita) Disease. The disease I name after the immediate past Malian President who because he still had a valid electoral term, insisted on staying in office even when the people did not want him.
I would have advised Buhari to tell his fellow Presidents that they should learn from the downfall of IBK not to remain in office by all means including repression even when the suffering populace insist they have overstayed their welcome. He should have told them the sovereignty of the people is superior to electoral mandates no matter how they had been secured. That in the face of mass protests by the populace, they should not behave like the bull in a China shop; ready wreck their countries just to hold on to power, which by the way, is ephemeral. That when they have run out of ideas and have no solution to the myriad of problems, it is better to bow out.
Buhari should have told his comrades in the ECOWAS trade union that they need the wisdom to discern illusion from reality, propaganda from the truth. That if their cult-like following turn to clamour that they leave power, they should take that as a red card. As African elders say, if a dog that wags its tail whenever he sees you, begins to bark at you, you should know something is wrong.
On the second day of the retreat, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces arrived to take charge. Clearly irritated by rising criticisms, and exasperated that most Nigerians cannot see the wondrous works he has done in five years, he told his cabinet: “I have to charge all of you to defend the government vigorously and not allow irresponsible and politically motivated activists to keep spreading patent falsehoods about this government… Go on the offensive. We are proud of our achievements and we should blow our own trumpets.” This is how a decisive President should lead especially when his achievements might be microscopic or so intangible that they cannot even be felt. More so, in a country where truth is fractured and there are a lot of disbelievers, it is necessary for a government to “go on the offensive” to ensure people believe the achievements.
On the achievements, let me just pick an item or two on each of the tripod he constructed as the main basis of his administration.
Let us take security. In the Year 2015 BC (Before Change) the general elections that swept Buhari into office were held in all 774 local governments. Today, if we were to hold such elections, they would not hold in many local governments especially in the Boko Haram-ravaged North East where a sitting governor, Babagana Umara Zulum, despite being escorted by heavily armed soldiers, policemen and secret services, could not visit a supposedly ‘liberated’ local government. In Niger State, there are continuous mass movements as bandits widen their operational base.
Former Zamfara State governor, Abduaziz Yari said as at 2019, bandits had rifled through over 500 villages, killing and maiming. There are an estimated 10,000 active bandits in the state rustling cattle, seizing farmlands, imposing taxes and even running their own judiciary making local governments like Ankah, no-go areas. Just last month, August 2020, Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari cried out that bandits had seized three of the 34 local governments in the state which is also the home state of the President. Are these achievements or calamities?
A second leg is the economy. It has been so well run that by August, 2018, Nigeria with 87 million of its citizens living below $1 and 90 cents a day, had become the ‘Poverty Capital of the World.’ This was before the Year 2020 BC (Before COVID-19) which ravaged economies. So definitely, the poverty situation has gotten worse. This certainly cannot be an ‘achievement’ nor can the increase of a litre of fuel from N86.50 in 2016 to the current N161, or the steep electricity tariff increases.
True, the National Minimum Wage has been increased from N18,000 to N30,000 under the Buhari administration, but periodic increases is a constitutional matter. For instance, the Obasanjo administration increased it in 2000 from N3,000 to N5,000 and the Jonathan administration more than tripled that in 2010 by increasing it from N5,000 to N18,000. Since Buharists, based on the exchange rate, are making the baseless claim that Nigerian fuel is perhaps the cheapest in the world, we can also look at the value of the Minimum Wage through the same lens. At the Jonathan era of N18,000 in 2010, the Minimum Wage was $112.50 (N160 -$1) at Buhari’s N30,000, it is $78.6 (N381.5-$1) Then, the ridiculous; how can paying salaries from the state purse be an achievement? As for fighting corruption, please spare me the joke.
Nigeria has been extremely generous to Buhari, taking care of his needs since he joined the army at 19. The Almighty has been quite magnanimous to him; he has been governor twice, Petroleum Minister twice and Head of State, twice. Given this trajectory of his life and advancing age, if I were President Buhari, I would not be bellowing about “achievements” which are at best, debateable, rather, I would count my blessings one by one and thank The Lord for all he has done for me.