It no longer feels that this place is Nigeria. But the space is still occupied by Nigerians. It used to be thought that Nigerians were smart and did not suffer fools gladly. And that takes me to this tale in Igbo folklore that bears striking resemblance to what many Nigerians used to think about themselves. The story was woven around an animal called ebule ako. But since I am struggling to find an equivalence of that wise animal in English language, I will use the tortoise as a replacement. In folklores across Nigeria, the tortoise is reputed for cunning and trickery. I presume that these gifts of the tortoise were designed by its creator to compensate for its slow and sluggish movement in addition to its protective shield of a hard shell.
The story goes like this: A powerful animal in the animal kingdom, which some variants of the tale identified as the lion, had need for a live-in help. The lion was said to be unwell and so needed to be attended to by another animal. So, the lion approached his friend, tortoise, to allow one of his children to come live with him. The tortoise saw a trap immediately. He reasoned that immediately the lion recovered from ill health, he would make a meal out of the kid tortoise. The father tortoise, who could not refuse the lion’s request because of the potential dire consequences, proceeded to summon his three children for interrogation to determine which among them would be better placed for the dangerous and perilous assignment.
The father tortoise thought long and deep and then came up with a smart question for his kids. The tortoise asked his children the same question one after the other. He asked, how many times would someone do something to you before you are able to predict the person’s next move. The eldest child said three times. The second one said two times. The father tortoise became worried and agitated by the answers given by the first two children. He knew the assignment would spell certain death for whoever was sent. Reluctantly the father asked the last child the same question expecting a similar answer. The young tortoise told his father boldly that he would know the plan of the lion long before he hatched it and so he would take action to preserve himself. The father tortoise leapt to the full length of its short limbs at the response. He knew instantly that he had found the chap for the job. True to type, the lion ultimately attempted to make a meal out of the tortoise but the plot failed, to the chagrin of the king of the jungle.
Nigerians used to fit the bill of that smart little tortoise. They were good chess players who could predict their leaders’ move even before the thought crossed the leaders’ mind. But that was before 2015. That was before President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) political party happened on them. Before 2015, APC as an organisation did not have sufficient profile and antecedents from which to make a deduction about its capacity to govern a complex country such as Nigeria. So, Nigerians could be given a pass on the failure to properly read and situate the party that was aspiring to rule the country. Though it was obvious even at the time that the APC was a special-purpose vehicle, which was cobbled together to wrest power at the centre, Nigerians still looked the other way because of their frustration with the then ruling and arrogant Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had boasted that it would rule Nigeria for 60 unbroken years in the manner of PRI political party in Mexico, which actually ruled that North American country for a far longer period.
However, in that 2015, the man who emerged as the face of the APC and subsequently its presidential candidate and later Nigeria’s President, Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, had a profile and antecedents. And both were largely ugly and foreboding. Some odd 30 years prior, he had been an usurper who staged a military coup, sacked democratically elected President Shehu Shagari and seized the office. In spite of being a general in the Nigerian Army, Buhari was known to have a limited world view, to be provincial, to be sectarian and, above all, to be a Fulani irredentist. He it was who in 1985 in his first incarnation as a military ruler vigorously campaigned and lobbied fellow heads of state to vote for a fellow Fulani from Niger Republic to become the secretary-general of the defunct Organisation for African Unity (OAU), to the detriment of the respected Ambassador Peter Onu of Nigeria.
To be sure, some other African heads of state were shocked, having not seen such action before. Indeed, there was a report later that one of the heads of state subsequently found it difficult to relate with Buhari. Apparently, Buhari could not be persuaded that Ambassador Onu was not Igbo or that he had no ties with the heartland of the Igbo nation. Ambassador Onu was from Benue State. But Buhari hated the Igbo. He still hates them, going by his actions and utterances in the more than seven years of his presidency. Thankfully, the dislike or hatred is mutual. In all of Buhari’s quest for the presidency, Ndigbo had refused to vote for him. And, given the wreckage he has wrought on Nigeria in all sectors, the Igbo should, in spite of the price that they have had to pay, feel vindicated that they cannot in good conscience be accused of being complicit in the Nigerian carnage superintended by Buhari.
Back to now. Buhari was well known when Nigerians allowed him to become President in 2015. When he shot himself into office in 1983, he lasted only 20 months. His co-plotters who ousted him said of Buhari: ‘’The last 20 months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy. Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living, and intolerable suffering by ordinary Nigerians have [sic] risen higher, scarcity of commodities has increased…unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions.’’
Much later under the military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha, the same Buhari was appointed the executive chairman of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund. Again, he failed in ensuring even distribution of the infrastructure funded by the agency. He was an absentee chairman, leaving a consulting firm to run the show. It was widely believed that Buhari’s PTF, suspected to have been used to perpetrate fraud, escaped a probe by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo on the basis of espirit-de-corps.
Obasanjo and Buhari were retired army generals.
It is amazing how a people who long to move forward keep engaging the reverse gear. Today, Buhari’s Nigeria is littered with debris from every sector of our life. For all practical purposes, students of federal government-owned universities have lost one academic year. And there is no obvious plan by the government to deal with the matter. The latest proposal on the table is from the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo. He said that parents should go and kneel down and beg the academic staff of universities to call off their strike which started on February 14. In the economic front it’s already very bad but the prognosis is that it would get worse. Buhari’s performance has been a throw back to his rule about forty years ago. But this time it has become ten-fold worse. He has dragged the economy into recession two times in seven years with the prospects of another recession before he leaves office in May 2023.
All the economic indices are looking horrible. Inflation is galloping away heading to 20%. Under his mismanagement the exchange rate of the Naira against the United States dollar has moved from under N200/ $1 to about N700 now. Unemployment and underemployment should be in the region of 50%, and that accounts partly for high crime rate and pervasive insecurity. Public power supply is poor and unreliable. Since the price of diesel is high at almost N1000/litre, it then means that our generator-powered economy could not but nosedive. Companies are either closing down or declaring redundancies. Everybody except our economic managers has said that the country’s external debt is becoming unsustainable. But this regime cannot stop borrowing.
Fortunately, lenders including China that opened its vault to Nigeria, are beginning to shut the tap. They fear that default on the repayment of our debts is looking real if not inevitable. The anxiety of lenders and prospective lenders is not made any better by the recent revelation that we have been living far above our income. Studies have shown that the average growth of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP] has been 1.1% in the seven years plus of APC government. It is adjudged the worst by any ruling party or any leader since the return to democracy 23 years ago. Two months ago a World Bank report said; ‘’Once 2022 GDP per capita is adjusted by changes in prices and exchange rates, per capita GDP growth would be close to zero.’’
When APC assumed power in 2015 it promised to create three million jobs every year. It did not. Job losses were rampant. When it campaigned for reelection in 2019, the party and its candidate pledged to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over 10 years. So far the report is that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are daily dropping below the poverty line. With this trend, sooner than later, over 100 million Nigerians will live on less than one United States dollar/day. Nigeria’s economic decline would not be made any better by the current unfavourable external environment including Russia-Ukraine war. The average 100 dollars per barrel of crude oil in the international market has proved not to be beneficial to Nigeria because of brazen oil theft at home and the inability of Nigeria to meet its OPEC production quota.
The tragedy is that in spite of the mistake of 2015, Nigerians appear not to be chastened enough to be deliberate and intentional in electing another president in 2023. But whoever emerges the president, if elections hold, will have his or her job cut out. And that job will be daunting.