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Deconstructing Buhari’s administration (1)

IN the last couple of weeks that I was away from this column,I met and heard from few people ask some compelling questions about our country and the leadership. It was with a profound sense of sadness that they asked the questions. It was their honest assessment of why Nigeria remains the way it is, year after year, in spite of different regimes, different administrations and leaderships, military and civilian.
The assessment a lot of people make about our leaders may seem particularly unfair, but it’s quite real. It’s a strange reality that you cannot dismiss as unnecessary. “Is Nigeria jinxed”? Was the question a young, unemployed graduate asked in cold anger at a newsstand in Owerri, the Imo State capital, recently. Another one asked, resignedly, “why can’t our leaders measure up on the global leadership scale”?
To a varying degrees, these questions won’t go away. They mirror the sense of sorrow that pervade our land today despite a new leadership for the first time in sixteen years with a promise to bring about a much desired change. Nonetheless, all the discontent and disillusionment are acknowledgments that Nigeria is going through uncertain times. A vast majority of Nigerians are today worried about virtually everything, their lives, the present and the future. The erosion of public trust has reached a frightening level.
Anyone who says these developments pose no present danger is either living in a fool’s paradise or simply living in denial of the problems we face. Unheeded warnings often result in tragedy.
And that brings us to the bigger picture: Can President Muhammadu Buhari measure up in the leadership scale and turn things around? And by the way, why is Buhari always showing up on the political scene during lean times? This is the sort of compelling question that Barrister Chris Akiri, a visiting member of The SUN Editorial Board asked in one of our meetings recently. He tried to answer his own question by saying, humorously: “it’s because Buhari is a lean man, ramrod straight”. But, jokes apart, certain things about certain leaders inexorably lead to some questions. Is it predestination or prescient luck that the first coming of Buhari, 33 years ago, wasn’t remarkably different from the challenges confronting Nigeria on his inauguration as a democratically elected President, on May 29, 2015? Or could it be that Buhari was “raised” by God to be at the helm of affairs in our nation at very challenging times, just as God indicated the reason why He raised Pharoah as a strong-willed, hard-headed man who wouldn’t allow “my people go”? Frankly, I don’t know the answer.
But, let’s revisit the past, contrast it with the present in order to meaningfully deconstruct Buhari and what he is up against. Before his first coming, a deep river of discontent was evident across the country that culminated in the overthrow of the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari on December 31,1983. In his maiden speech on January 1, 1984, he accused the Shagari government of corruption, including “inflation of contracts and over-invoicing of imports”, as well as rot in the civil service. Buhari justified the coup in his own words, in order to “save Nigeria from impending economic and political collapse”. He claimed there was crass mismanagement of resources, crisis of confidence and general insecurity reportedly caused, by the “recklessness of the second republic politicians”. He also claimed that there was ample evidence that the 1983 general elections in which Shagari was re-elected were massively rigged and that “the only political parties that could complain of rigging were those that lacked the capacity to rig”.
Now, to the prsent: Before Buhari took over from Goodluck Jonathan last year, virtually everything in Nigeria’s skyline was anything but good. Buhari inherited extremely challenging situations of a more immediate sort. These problems- the economy, insecurity, graft, unemployment etc, at least from what we have seen so far, arguably got progressively worse under the immediate past administration. Sadly, some of these problems have not been attended to. Let’s examine few of them. The economy: If truth be told, nowhere did the Jonathan administration compiled a dismal record than in its handling of the economy and insecurity. Corruption reigned supreme. The ongoing revelations on the arms purchase scam say it all. The dire financial situation now has been made even worse by the falling price of oil in the international market, reaching a 12-year low, down by 70 percent since 2014. This is largely due to supply glut. Nigeria’s foreign reserve has dropped by $396 million in two weeks under Buhari’s watch. Only last month, N1.5trn was lost in equity prices in just two weeks (January 4 -18) at the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Today, there is a crushing national debt, the naira continues its free fall, reaching N318 for a US dollar last week. Inflation is soaring almost at double digit (9.5 percent as at January), unemployment, especially among the youths has reached dizzy heights. Our balance of trade has recorded unprecedented deficit in recent months. The Gross Domestic Product has also declined appreciably. Recession has set in. Nigeria is in economic slow down. These are facts not fiction.
The result of all of this is that Nigerians are feeling the squeeze in the economy. Electricity tariff is up, resulting in nationwide protests last week. Frustration is growing across the country. Therefore, anyone getting pessimistic about the ability of President Buhari to tackle these challenges and bring about the “Change” he promised has a compelling case. But hope is eternal.
Let’s get this straight: It bears repeating that Buhari took over at exceedingly hard times and has been struggling ever since to make a change, learn from his past mistakes. The chance he has now is called the “holiness of a second chance”. The holiness of a second chance is a rare life-time opportunity to make amends from previous mistakes, and chart a better direction. Not everybody gets that chance to rebuild public trust. I am inclined to believe that President Buhari is aware of the different mindsets about his person and reputation.
The huge crowds that greeted his electioneering campaigns last year were unprecedented. They comprised of millions he possibly had not met before, didn’t know, people whose motives he had not calculated. They cheered, they screamed excitedly, “Sai Baba”. It was an expression of their love for him. No rented crowd could have produced such multitude or intensities. But Buhari did. It is because leadership often goes to those who acted through a long period of patient waiting. That could partly explain why his election last year, both the victory and sheer size, changed, to a great extent, the nature of politics in Nigeria.
But, a time comes in every administration to ask very compelling questions. Reality bites. Some of the questions now that the ‘honeymoon’ is over, include: Is Buhari’s administration leading Nigeria in the right direction? Is the man ill-prepared or overwhelmed by the challenges confronting him? Does he have what it takes – the talent and leadership – to bring about the change his party has promised? These are questions we can’t wish away. These are questions the President would have found some of the answers if he had spared part of his six-day vacation and visit few of the states in the country and engage the people in a townhall meeting. Nevertheless, we will return to these questions in details next week and perhaps put the President and his government in proper context.