Reading Time: 6 mins read
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” – (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).
For Nigeria, this is a time to take stock; a time to dispassionately critique where we are coming from and where we are headed. One had refrained from passing a definitive verdict all these days because, as in a soccer match, a last minute goal was still a possibility. Now, the match has ended and chroniclers are at liberty to start laying the building blocks of history.
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world”, wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson in his famous poem, “Morte d’Arthur”. When Muhammadu Buhari mounted the saddle in 2015, a two-term tenure of eight years looked like eternity. Now, the man who ascended the throne in a blaze of glory is crawling back to private life thoroughly demystified.
Shortly after the swearing in ceremony of 29 May, 2015, those of us who had covered Major-General Buhari’s first intrusion into governance in 1984 expected that competence, discipline and transparency would be the hallmark of his tenure as a democratically elected president.
In the first two weeks, motorists noticed that police checkpoints had been dismantled nationwide. Everyone was scared that Buhari’s broom would sweep away all crooked people from public office. But after two weeks and people saw that it was business as usual, checkpoints started rearing their heads again and the people slowly but surely returned to their riotous ways.
It turned out that Buhari was overrated, overhyped and that the expectations of the public from the new ‘messiah’ were, therefore, unrealistic. Once his health problems were sorted out by his foreign doctors, it was thought that he would swing into action and intervene in many areas of national life. But no such thing happened, as Buhari was content with reigning as a monarchical president rather than a political leader.
The underside of that monarchical posture was that Nigeria was on auto-pilot. Each minister became a lord unto himself. But for a few times when the office of the Secretary to Government intervened, there was no central coordination of policy initiatives. As far as the public could see, the president was content with appointing his ministers and leaving them to their own devices.
More than any other president before him, Buhari displayed a lack of cerebral capacity to think through various national problems and proffer solutions. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in the vexed matter of nomadic herdsmen destroying farms. While forward looking people suggested that the Federal Government should assist the herders to set up ranches, so that the primitive system of roaming the wilderness in search of pasture for grazing would become a thing of the past, Buhari was more interested in establishing grazing routes from the desert to the ocean, so that the herdsmen could roam freely.
In terms of style, Buhari’s limited exposure and narrow circle of friends made it difficult for him to understand how to deploy contemporary tools to effect the changes. Many people felt that he was arrogant, but I think what they mistake as arrogance is actually a recoil into his shell for, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
Buhari will be remembered for many infrastructural projects, especially the revamping of the railway sector and the completion of the second Niger bridge. But the jury is still out as to whether the borrowings — the highest level of borrowing since Nigeria became independent in 1960 — were judiciously expended.
Nigeria’s total public debt stock as at 2023 is N46.25 trillion. This excludes another estimated N27.55 trillion ‘Ways and Means’ loans from the Central Bank, and additional debt envisaged in the 2023 annual budgets of states and the Federal Government. There are claims that many of the projects being executed are overvalued, when placed side-by-side with similar projects in other parts of the world.
Under Buhari, corruption rained like confetti. Public officials used to pilfer millions of naira; but under Buhari, they stole billions in plain sight. One of the examples of profligacy often cited is the opaque way the Ministry of Aviation has been going about the establishment of Nigerian Air — from the ‘unveiling’ of the logo in London to the opaque partnership with Ethiopian Air (which made local airlines head to the courts). Then came the N1.7 billion consultancy fee for the design of the second runway in Abuja and the N12 billion expended on acquiring 10 fire fighting trucks without competitive bids.
The ownership structure of Nigeria Air is shrouded in secrecy. The minister had disclosed that Ethiopian Air owns 49% equity in the airline, while Nigeria owns only 5%. So, who are the other shareholders? Indeed, what is the authorised share capital of the airline? What equity did the other unnamed stakeholders contribute?
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has called for the immediate reversal of the concessioning of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. “Why borrow and spend public money to upgrade the airports only to hand them over to private concerns in the name of a concession?”, the centre asked.
“It is also disheartening to understand that the total amount of money that this airport is accruing to government is $700m for Abuja and then $97.4m for Kano”, said CISLAC. “Put together, it is about $800m and Nigeria is receiving a concession fees or upfront of less than $10m, that is only $7m for Abuja and $1.5m to be given for Kano.” Apparently, Sirika has treated the aviation sector like a family inheritance.
The incoming administration will have its hands full with many ghostly projects. Mercifully, the proposed borrowing of an additional $800 million to “cushion the effects of the proposed removal of petroleum subsidy on the poorest of the poor” has been shelved. Like the COVID palliatives and the feeding of absent school children during the COVID scourge, it would have been another phantom bazaar.
In the eight years of his reign, Buhari cut the picture of a standoffish leader who was doing us a favour. He didn’t brook criticism and seized every opportunity to congratulate himself. Only recently, he proclaimed: “I have run a good race”.
The way to assess any administration is to weigh the quantum of resources available to it. Dollar for dollar, naira for naira, we could have achieved more mileage with the resources available in the last eight years with more prudent management. For the government to give itself a pass mark, its standards must be very low indeed.
The outgoing administration made some gains on the security front but neutralised this by employing double standards in dealing with terrorists, bandits, armed herdsmen, tribal warriors , etc. The impression was given that some people could not be prosecuted no matter their crimes.
The Buhari administration must however be commended for its achievements in the war against narcotics. The NDLEA under Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (Rtd) has rediscovered its mojo. Also, the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) under Abike Dabiri-Erewa has performed creditably as a trusted link between the country and its citizens abroad.
Unfortunately for the administration, all the lofty economic goals earmarked at the onset of the regime were stultified by a combination of voodoo economics and sheer incompetence, especially with regard to how the central bank has managed the country’s monetary policy and caused untold hardship on the generality of the people through its planlessness.
The attempt to introduce new colours on naira notes in the run-up to the last elections must rank as one of the most brainless moves ever made by any government since Independence.
In all, Buhari has satiated his longing to serve as a democratically elected president of Nigeria. He shares the distinction of leading Nigeria twice — as a soldier and as a civilian — with General Olusegun Obasanjo. His military adventure had ended on a sour note when he was overthrown in 1984. His return as civilian president was supposed to be a golden opportunity to show what the country missed when he was overthrown. But alas, the verdict over eight years is anything but rosy. He has said he can’t wait to return to his farm in Daura. For once, Nigerians are in agreement with him. They, too, can’t wait for him to leave!
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Our Digital Network
Projects & Partnerships