BY PHILLIP ISAKPA, IN LONDON, UK
Buhari ends second disastrous adventure into power
Many political and economic analysts, both local and foreign, majority of the latter regarded as friends of Nigeria, told Business A.M., that across the length and breadth of Nigeria there would be deafening jubilation today when President Muhammadu Buhari steps down democratically from presiding over the affairs of the country and hands over the reign of government to President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“I would expect a huge sigh of relief from the majority of Nigerians. Even more, you can expect some positive calm from the international investor community,” one political and economic risk analyst told Business A.M. in London over the weekend.
But such a reaction would not come as a surprise if many Nigerians decide to throw parties at seeing the back of President Buhari. Nearly 38 years ago, as part of a Military Junta that overthrew the democratically elected government of the late President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, and had himself installed as military head of state, there were wild jubilations on the streets of Nigeria, from Lagos to Kano, Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, when his military government was overthrown in August 1985.
Just as in the nearly two years he ruled as military head of state about 40 years ago and in the eight years as a civilian president, the jury, then and now, are in early to declare a verdict of ‘guilty’ on Buhari’s obvious ineptitude in economic management and a total lack of broad emotional intelligence leading a diverse, plural society such as Nigeria represents.
Two political analysts told Business A.M. that in Buhari’s first attempt at governing Nigeria through the treasonable action of a coup as a maximum military ruler, he had failed on two scores.
“As a military officer in political leadership he had failed to separate his autocratic military life from the nuances of political governance, hence his highhanded approach, which also came with disdain for citizens that he was supposed to show compassion. It is this aspect too that has played out in his display of total aloofness or indifference to the ethnic cleansings and genocides that we have seen in different parts of the country in the last eight years when he had the unique opportunity for self redemption,” said one political scientist.
Buhari would go on to display this particular characteristic of his throughout the eight years he has held court as a democratically elected president of Nigeria, most times completely disrespecting the composition and diversity of the country in his appointments of key officials of government, and some say, literally turning the country into fiefdom conquered for his kith and kin.
Olu Fasan, a visiting Fellow in the International Relations Department of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a member of the LSE’s International Trade Policy Unit, offers this view about Buhari’s aloofness and his lack of capacity to lead a country like Nigeria.
“On any metric, Nigeria sunk deeper into an abyss under Buhari. Without a doubt, he’s the worst civilian leader Nigeria has, so far, had! No previous civilian president showed such aloofness, such indifference, such arrogance and such utter lack of competence and vision in governing Nigeria. None!” Fasan wrote in a recent newspaper commentary.
The two juries (the majority of Nigerian people) that have deliberated on Head of State Major General Buhari and President Buhari, respectively, hold the view that it is not just that he failed in political astuteness and governance, but he could not even use the management of the economy to redeem himself for posterity.
Indeed, many say the outgoing president was given the benefit of doubt when he contested the elections in 2015 after teaming up with the man who is taking over from him today, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He had failed in three previous attempts having been found out for his ethnic and religious chauvinism. Yet, when he began to show that he had really not changed, people were ready to overlook it if only the economy was run effectively to the benefit of all.
Buhari’s first stint as military head of state had exposed his shortcomings in economic management. This had greatly reduced his chances of ever leading a country with such a discerning group of people as Nigerians. But just like it happened some 40 years ago during his nearly two years reign, the president would go on to spend eight years surrounded by provincial thinking economic managers. He had two ministers of finance throughout the eight years, whom many analysts described as rather inexperienced and lightweights for an office previously occupied by such heavyweights as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Anthony Ani, Shamsudeen Usman, Kalu Idika Kalu, SP Chu Okongwu, and especially, for the enormity of the Nigerian challenge before them. They would go on to preside over huge borrowings and debts, leading Nigeria to be classified as the poverty capital of the world.
Buhari’s rounded failure on the economy draws the ire of several analysts, especially those who would have overlooked his penchant for ethno-religious political brinkmanship.
“For the purpose of posterity and as an input for the incoming government, it is important to unequivocally state that the Buhari administration must be seen as a failure based on the indices of general growth and development, job and wealth creation as well as political leadership needed for a country in need of an inspiring and unifying nationhood,” Anthony Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development and centre director of the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies, Lagos, Nigeria, told Business A.M.
He noted that most of the promises and expectations of eight years ago are still valid, adding, “My prayer for Nigeria is that, may we not miss Buhari. The new government must deliberately and actively consult and engage with the private sector.”
Once President Buhari took office on May 29, 2015, and made the famous speech that many now see as the ultimate deception when he said, “I belong to everybody. And I belong to nobody,” he seemed to have woken up the next day and became totally disconnected from the reality that was Nigeria. Staying six months before appointing his cabinet, he immediately showed he had gone into a trance after the swearing in at Eagle Square, Abuja, completely forgetting that it was “The Economy Stupid” and it needed urgent fixing as he had promised during the campaigns.
Olukayode Oyeleye, a public affairs analyst, in response to Business A.M. questions, captured his assessment of the Buhari years thus: “Buhari promised so much but delivered so little, wasted so much wealth but produced so little, incurred so much debt on projects, ill-defined projects that don’t yield immediate benefits to pay off the debt.
“Buhari looked away from the plight of Nigerians on insecurity, defended and retained a minister with a record of sympathy for terrorists. He superintended over what comes easily as a moronic government where everyone working under him, realising his weaknesses, did what they liked the way they liked without direction, convergence of purpose or overall national interest.
“He used a pliable rubber stamp legislature to legitimise his financial recklessness, weakened the judiciary to docility and submission and clamped down on social media to silence vocal critics. Now, as he goes, he is giving himself a pass mark for a job so terribly poorly done after squandering the enormous goodwill and public trust on which he rode to office,” Oyeleye pointed out.
However, offering a broader assessment of the President Buhari government, Uche Uwaleke, a professor of capital markets and president of the Association of Capital Market Academics of Nigeria, in a note to Business A.M. said:
“One can only objectively assess the present administration based on the three pillars of security, anti-corruption and the economy on which it anchored its policies and programmes. On security, some effort has been made in dealing with insurgent attacks. However, while Boko haram may have been weakened, other forms of insecurity have emerged including attacks on communities by bandits, kidnappings and the seemingly intractable farmers-herders clashes. Regarding corruption, there is no doubt that the Treasury Single Account which got momentum during this administration and the IPPIS scheme have gone a long way in curbing sharp practices in the public sector. I am equally aware that a number of high-profile cases are being handled by the EFCC. But a lot still needs to be done in this regard especially in the civil service at both the federal and state levels where the scale of corruption is still perceived to be high.
“In the area of the economy, any objective assessment must take into consideration the 2016 economic recession occasioned by a sharp drop in crude oil prices as well as the unprecedented negative impact of COVID’19 on the economy. Prior to the pandemic, the economy was witnessing relative macro stability especially with respect to inflation rate and exchange rate. There’s no denying the fact that the CBN under the present administration has done a lot in stabilizing the economy and even stimulating growth through its interventions especially in agriculture. The Bank’s Anchor Borrower programme which has ensured near self-sufficiency in rice production readily comes to mind. There is also noticeable improvement in roads and rail infrastructure. Overall, the non-oil sector got some traction in terms of revenue generation and dethroned the oil sector as the major economic growth driver.
“Having said that, a major area where this administration has yet to make a meaningful impact is job creation and poverty reduction. The conditional cash transfer and other social intervention schemes of this government do not seem to have made any significant impact. You are aware of the latest disturbing numbers by the National Bureau of Statistics on multi-dimensional poverty level involving over 130 million Nigerians. Unemployment and underemployment rates are quite high due in part to the challenge still posed by the power sector. Regrettably, inadequate electricity and scarcity of refined petroleum products which are key dependencies for any meaningful development have remained largely unaddressed. The inability of the government to truly diversify the export base of the economy away from oil which still accounts for a significant proportion of forex earnings equally leaves a red ink on the scorecard.”
The numbers and most indices of measurement never looked good in all the eight years Buhari presided over the country. Gross domestic product never posted exciting numbers, with Nigeria going into recession twice under the outgoing government. The Nigerian currency, the naira, appears to be travelling towards the Zimbabwe’s dollar. Inflation continued to set records in how it continuously climbed; unemployment hit record high; poverty, especially its multidimensional character, showed that the economy sunk deeper into debt; Nigeria’s reserves experienced a free fall; petroleum subsidy for which the president campaigned as being a fraud, became even more pronounced under Buhari; in eight years, he failed to get any of the four refineries working after committing millions of dollars for the purpose of resuscitating them.
Buhari is leaving the government today with a debt of N77 trillion or $42 billion, perhaps more; inflation is at 22 percent and growth is only 1.4 percent.
Under Buhari the cost of governance ballooned and he failed to do anything about it. Instead, he chose the option of borrowing, almost to the point of creating panic in citizens about the nation losing its sovereignty to creditors.
In 2015, when Buhari took over, the naira exchanged at the official window at N197.8 to $1 in June 2015, he is leaving the country with an official rate of nearly N500 to $1, while the parallel market rate is nearly N800 to $1.
The president’s total lack of an economic head kept investors second guessing Nigeria’s moves throughout the eight years of the Buhari government, with many of them choosing to look elsewhere. He made no direct intervention in any of the economic issues and there was no point at which he came forward to show he was in charge of any economic policy his government was pursuing. And he cared less about the impact of certain economic decisions on citizens because he was in a dreamworld or often at sea about most, if not all of these economic issues.
After meeting inflation at single digit in 2015, he took it to an all time high of not just double digits, but into the high doubles. Analysts point to the fact that there is no area of the economy that one can confidently say had been influenced for improvement by the outgoing president.
Buhari came into government in 2015 promising that he would deal with insecurity, tackle corruption, revive the economy and create employment. But analysts and the jury of Nigerians will today celebrate his departure for his failure on all his promises, and for sending the country and its citizens into further hardship.
Many will go to bed and wake up the next day to begin to unpack what exactly the man who is taking over means when he said he would advance the Buhari legacy upon being elected president.