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Reflections on the Buhari era

Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari (file photo)

By Valentine Obienyem

The major obstacle to Nigeria’s meaningful development remains the crisis of leadership. Writers and commentators on public affairs often quote today as if written yesterday, a passage on this as aptly captured by   the literary icon, Chinua Achebe in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria.   Between the time he published the book and the emergence of Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as the nation’s Head of State in 2015, hardly did we know that we were in leadership paradise; when compared to what Nigerians have experienced in the last eight years, which is both happily and sadly coming to an end today. Who is not sad over eight years of being in the wilderness? Who is not happy that the worst may be ending today; though the outcomes will continue to torment us until the Elections Tribunal does the right thing?

As Gen. Muhammadu Buhari takes an undignified bow today, it is about time we reviewed some of the things he did that will certainly make Nigerians regard him as the worst national affairs manager in history. Let us start with the restoration of democracy in 1999. 

From hindsight, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo rates as one of the best. By breaking the yoke of debt and borrowing, he wrote his name on the sands of time. Coming after him, President  Umaru Musa Yar’Adua will always be remembered for his forthrightness on issues about Nigeria, especially his maturity in bringing peace to the Niger Delta already battered by the activities of militia that hampered the economy of the country. President Goodluck Jonathan will also be remembered for his purposeful leadership, particularly his democratic credentials. 

How shall we remember the out-gone President, Muhammadu Buhari? Shall we not do this by recalling his birth and growing-up? Said to be born on the 17th of December 1942, he remains a case of an incompetent man whose parentage and educational qualifications are shrouded in secrecy, but by a stroke of fortune reached the peak. He first became Head of State in 1983 after leading a military coup that overthrew the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. At that time, it was commonly believed that things were so bad in Nigeria that the coup was even welcome by Nigerians as a surgical necessity to restore the glory of the country.

I personally had a direct encounter with him through his monetary policy. I did not get the information that our resumption in school in 1984 had been postponed by one week as a result of the issuing of new currency notes by Buhari that year. I returned to school to a near-empty premises, and was constrained to leave my travel bag in a teacher’s room, I forgot to remove some perishables in it. By the time we returned the perishables had perished indeed and badly stained my bag. 

In that era, Buhari created the image of a disciplinarian who wanted to put Nigeria on the right trajectory, but was prematurely removed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and his boys.  Watching him from a distance, we thought that feeling offended by what seemed to him the lies and cruelties of his follow coup plotters, that he became a pessimist recluse, shy, secretive, morose and always brooding over the opportunity he missed to turn Nigeria into an Eldorado. By osmosis of influence, that view of him as a reformer who was not allowed to fulfil his mission got stuck with some Nigerians.

I was sincerely one of those deceived by his histrionics and as such among those that secretly yearned for his return, believing that he possessed the magic wand to turn things aright. This was the spirit with which some Nigerians welcomed his second coming in 2015; not realising, like many of us,  that he is the most bigoted president yet to be witnessed. The day he entered Abuja as the president-elect, delighted Nigerians surged forward in the panoramic and delightful formation of human heads. Hardly did Nigerians realise that they had just procured their own destruction. 

Going by his travails on the route to the presidency, which he contested three times before securing victory, and judging from what I consider a profound statement that came from him, namely “I belong to nobody; I belong to everybody”, we thought he had come with genuine interest to re-position the country. We expected him to jettison who voted or did not vote for him and use maturity to unite the diversities in the country, which is the elementary task of statesmanship. Today, he is leaving Nigeria and Nigerians divided as she has not witnessed before.

As he leaves for Daura or Niger Republic, the time is ripe to place him on the crucible of evaluation. How would reasonable men evaluate his eight years on the saddle? Often, we hear his aides and a few others tell us about his successes, though we do not know the spirit with which they say so, seriously or whimsically. A full perspective of him would require seeing him through his sectoral “achievements.” 

Immediately he was sworn-in, the man who pretended he had no relatives during electioneering begun inauspiciously by indulging all his known relatives in appointments. As time went by, his far-reaching aim became clearer: to Fulanise the country without giving a hoot about whatever anybody said or however anybody felt. 

Under him the pastoralist became emboldened, carried guns and nothing happened.  Because of his unabashed aim, his government was totally negligent and was marked by corruption, administrative incompetence and squandering of revenue on favoured parasites. By degree, many things deserving of abhorrence gathered around Aso Rock – It has been a change for the worse.

While he was campaigning, he made the issue of security his campaign mantra. Bragging over his military background, he boasted how he would restore security to the country. He even talked glibly about the relocation to troubled spots until the causes of the insurrection were blighted in the bud. Today when we look at the country, all we see are terrorism and insurrection that have become many times magnified. This is so, especially against the admission of the President about four months ago of how he had spent over 1 Billion Dollars in purchase of arms and ammunition to fight insecurity.  

It is so easy to use his antecedents to prove that he has never been serious about fighting crime in the country. Has he ever behaved as if he knew about the existence of insecurity in the South-East? Which responsible and right-thinking leader, no matter how he hates a people, would allow the Monday sit-at-home to persist when he would have sacrificed whatever was inhibiting him and release Nnamd Kalu who he earlier went after with the eagerness of a hound sniffing blood? Had he devoted same energy to fight crime in Nigeria, the country would have been crime-free by now. To show how foolish his actions were and his manic-joy in inflicting pain, I can bet that whoever becomes President would of necessity start his tenure by allowing Nnamdi Kalu to go home. How can you directly punish millions of people because you want to deal with one man? As far as his actions are concerned, Buhari is not worthy to be called a leader because he is not. He is painfully self-imprisoned in his heritage of hate.

Besides insurgency and terrorism, even minor internal security lapses appeared to be beyond our General. Thinking he was genuine, we felt that it would be easy for him to stop the extortion of Nigerians by different agencies of the State on the roads in the form of road blocks. A simple directive to the heads of those agencies that their jobs were dependent on stopping the extortion would have done the magic. In this age and time, when most countries even in Africa do not mount road blocks, it is a shame that Nigeria still does so. It was the scenario under Buhari for eight years and evidently, he may not have even known that such a thing was one of the regrettable features of Nigeria.

 Have you gone to a police station recently? It is shocking to know that citizens have to pay to report crimes against them. If, for example, one loses one’s phone, one has to pay to report the case in a police station. Sometime one would not blame the police because they are not funded and would not do the work with their blokos. The unfortunate sequel is that Nigerians pray not to become victims of crimes. Most now prefer not to report crimes against them because they would end up spending more money and, in the end, achieve nothing. Under Buhari, we are talking of a country where scammers daily empty people’s account into known and existing accounts and yet nothing would come out of reporting such cases.  If a crime against one involves tracking, the only solution is hiring and paying a private tracker for the job!

As soon as Buhari was elected in 2015, medical tourism became part of his busy-for-nothing schedule. Having often visited the UK for medicals, one had expected that he would build two or three world class hospitals  prompted by the thought that not all Nigerians would afford travelling overseas for medical treatment like himself. But the irony is that Buhari cannot point at any singular thing he did for the health sector. Under him, over 12,000 Nigerian doctors and medical workers have relocated to other countries, where they ply their trade. 

He shamelessly commissioned Dangote refinery a few days ago when, in eight years, most of which he doubled as the Minister of Petroleum, he could not fix any of our refineries. Under him, the prize of diesel has caused many surviving companies to close shops. Any move he made ended up disappointing as when we thought he wanted to infuse new and fresh hands into the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) only to discover that he sacked the old, top management staff to accommodate his brothers without regard for merit and qualification. 

A few days ago, precisely on the 24th of May, I spoke with Prof. Okey Ikechukwu who was in Morocco for consultancy services. I asked him to compare the country and Nigeria. Ikechukwu replied in the form of a question: “Who would compare the living and the dead?” It was another round of discussion on the sad situation in Nigeria. Any nation that tolerated the likes of Buhari as President, especially after his disastrous first tenure is sick unto death! The irony is that the same people that did so have foisted another disaster on the country.  That yoke is on everyone’s neck: businessmen, legal practitioners, the judiciary, civil servants, drivers, Batists, Obidients and must be collectively removed for the sake of our freedom. 

Contrary to his protestations on corruption, after eight years it is now clear that Buhari is among the most corrupt Nigerians. During electioneering, he made the fight against corruption the cornerstone of his speeches. Looking back, all we can say is that Nigeria is still “fantastically” corrupt. This means that in eight years, he has achieved nothing in that regard. We witnessed a little gragra here and there, but all amounted to nothing. His greatest legacy in this regard was how he shielded his allies and political associates who were manifestly corrupt. 

One area Buhari scored first without contest is in foreign trips. If quantified, Buhari’s foreign trips, averaging 2 per month, would have cost the country nothing less than 50 billion Naira since 2015. Is there any country in the world he did not travel to, some multiple times? It is true that Obasanjo travelled a lot, especially during the efforts to secure the country’s debt forgiveness. At that time, his Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also travelled for the same issue. Ultimately, Nigerian’s debts were cancelled.

I remember how the fruits of Jonathan’s trips were gladly announced to the country, including when he agreed with his South African counterpart that Nigerians with official   passports would travel to South Africa without visa and vice versa.  Could somebody tell us one significant thing Buhari’s foreign trips earned or achieved for Nigeria? With his level of articulation and understanding as revealed from few interviews it is even right to suspect that he did not understand what went on in most of those foreign trips he undertook. It was laughable when he was said to have travelled to deliver papers on security, revamping of ailing economies and on leadership. Could somebody ever give what he does not have? He is a cattle rearer and does not understand the commercial complexities on which modern economies thrive.

Is it not an irony that a man who rendered his country economiless was travelling to teach other countries the techniques of revamping ailing economies? Under Buhari, Nigeria’s GDP growth rate which was positive in 2015 has remained negative. The nation officially underwent two recessions under him even when it is clear that Nigeria has remained becalmed in recession.  How do we describe inflation under him? Go to the market with one Million Naira today and you will come back with a polythene bag! Buhari will leave behind his miserable years, a social order that is iniquitous; that makes a small minority idly rich and corrupt with luxury at the expense of keeping millions of Nigerians in a degrading poverty. 

Did we forget any of them? What of the controversial writer of the obituary fame? He has proved himself to be the fountainhead of ignorance, intolerance, and epistolary persecution. People like him have made us not to take many so-called activists seriously again. I was shocked at the position some of them, even in my class, took during electioneering. Some shattered the age-long myth they created around themselves because of pettiness of opinions influenced by extraneous factors. How could men thus fettered by pettiness give free flight to their genius or hasten human progress? Pity!

It is disgraceful that some Nigerians talk in terms of Buhari’s achievement in infrastructure. Which achievement is significant when placed side by side with a man who, between 2015 and 2023, borrowed over 80 trillion Naira? In fact, borrowing was among his few expertise. There is no part of the world from which he did not borrow, China, Japan, France, India, Germany, among others. Some of the money he borrowed were given or spent on Niger Republic. He also built railway in Niger Republic as well as procured vehicles and security equipment for them.

Also read: Buhari’s sorrowful legacy

Honestly, there are issues in which Buhari, having failed to make any impact, show him as a sample of 21st Century failure in leadership. Talk about metering of energy consumption.  Before they will start telling us that he did this or that, would anybody point at any improvement in the energy sector in eight years? There was none, instead it retrogressed. How many cities in Nigeria have 6 hours uninterrupted light in a day? Is it rocket science to get all houses in Nigeria metered?

In the area of political appointments, he was also worse. When Obasanjo, for example,  talked about reforms, he showed his seriousness by appointing men and women with capacity, who understood what reforms mean. As for Buhari, he made so much noise about reforms, even while contributing to it the unreformable men as his Ministers. We have the case of characters like Alhaji Lai Mohammed: noisy and loquacious. It appears that to be considered a man among their tribe, you must defile your mouth with the most filthy, brutal lies. A friend described his species admiringly:  “they are, with that SAN, a species of barely human animals who carry a paunch of poison under their tongues; when they speak, their venom mingle with their words and pollute all the surrounding air.” Recently, one of them, after having served as a Minister of State and collected his payment and other emoluments,  told us, with all the careful pleonasm of legal phraseology, how that particular appointment was a constitutional aberration. 

What of the other one, the oil-mouthed, slippery, wife-beating, time-serving sycophant they hired during electioneering? He could change as faster as the chameleon dares change. Obasanjo summarised him in compact epigram suggesting what he has proved over the years: amenability to the charms of money. Conceited, boastful, insolent, self-centred; and in the exhilaration of his conscious talent he rode with thoughtlessness over the sensibilities of his time. In his write-ups, he likes creating an intellectual atmosphere electric with controversy. Whenever he speaks, as when he attacked Chimamanda Adichie, kind hearted Nigerians proposed to send him to a doctor for the cure of his madness. 

In spite his failures; Nigerians were almost at the verge of forgiving him when he showed signs of conducting a free and fair election. However, he decided to place a stamp on his failure by ending up conducting the worst election in the history of electioneering in Africa. That election was a whirlwind that is distributing ominous debris around the country. In his characteristic manner, he would steal to Daura as he did during election, and pretend he did not know what was happening. Knowing how government agencies function, the INEC Chairman would have briefed him on what was happening and he must have asked him to go on and announce the result – they actually acted a written script. Part of that script was what they did with the Naira at that time. The practical disfranchisement of Nigerians had removed the mental stimulus that comes from free political activity and a widespread sense of liberty and power. 

The history of Nigeria under Buhari is clearly the history of re-barbarisation. No matter how or by what parameters he is judged, he maintained his reputation for mediocrity from the start to the end of his tenure. Even towards the end of his tenure age did nothing to mollify this tendency to wickedness.

As we guide him out of the scene according to the provisions of the constitution, our prayer is that no country in the world shall be inflicted with such a disaster.  By all indices, his eight years is what it was: a barbarous interlude. With what he did in Nigeria, I do not think he should become a happy man thereafter. 

Finally, how do we summarise Buhari?  As I discussed the man with my friend, Barr. Robinson Alaekwe, he wished our dear country would not witness such a disaster again. I made it clear to Robinson that his position verged on wickedness. Beyond Nigeria, may no country in this world witness the like of Buhari as its president. The mistaken statesman we saw rising like some spacecraft Apollo due to concourse of factors that threw him up among the luminaries of his time has since crashed like the Challenger. What a man! He will forever remain a butt of dinner jollity whenever how not to be a President is discussed.  The sight of the man handing over power today shall teach all of us the humbling finale of all earthly powers.

,Obienyem, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Awka, Anambra State.

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