This past weekend has been one of celebrations – celebrations of a government that promised so much but found reasons to explain why it failed to provide for the basic needs of citizens, celebrations of a government that promised to transform our economy, to destroy corruption, to dismantle the Boko Haram insurgency in the North, suppress other ethnic uprisings, create a stable society by enhancing law and order across the country, and to tackle socioeconomic consequences of rising youth unemployment. By the end of the celebrations, Nigerians remain divided on whether the government of Muhammadu Buhari has significantly reduced poverty in the country or whether it has heaped more pain on ordinary citizens.
This disagreement is not surprising. Before the politicians were elected into office, there was so much hype and mystique built around Buhari, who was presented as the man who would redeem the country and emancipate everyone from 16 years of hardship created by the endemic corruption that manifested in the government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Here is propaganda number one.
At a book presentation in Abuja on Thursday, 18 February, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that Nigeria “has the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world.” It is intriguing to see that three months later, after Buhari’s statement was publicised across the world, a senior minister in Buhari’s government admitted publicly that the bad shape of the nation’s economy should not be used as justifiable ground to explain the failure to provide for the needs of the citizens. If that was the case, why did the president and his ministers and special assistants spread the propaganda that Nigeria had the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world. So far, it seems some government officials and some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) have been feeding citizens with a diet of misinformation concerning the state of the economy.
On Thursday, 26 May, 2016, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, reviewed the Federal Government’s performance in the past 12 months and admitted humbly that the current economic challenges, confronting the nation should not be used as the underlying basis to rationalise the government’s failure to implement all those promises made to people during the dizzying months leading up to national elections in 2015. Such admission was unexpected, unimaginable, and difficult to absorb. Anyone who knows Lai Mohammed would also remember the kind of propaganda messages he engineered and pumped into the public domain to polish Buhari’s image during the election campaign. He never admitted that the APC had flaws. He was always ready to deflect criticisms directed at the principal officers of the APC. For such a man to dismount from his high horse and to acknowledge the reality of the impoverished conditions that citizens are going through signifies a change in the mindset of leaders of the APC. Even as Lai Mohammed admitted to some lapses on the part of the government, he still regaled the nation with three achievements the government of Buhari had recorded in the past one year.
The three areas were insecurity, anti-corruption campaign and the economy. Let us start with insecurity. While the government’s campaign against Boko Haram might be yielding some good results, Boko Haram continues to strike with ease at any public place it chooses. While it may be true that Boko Haram no longer holds any Nigerian territorial space, while it may be true that esprit de corps and professionalism among soldiers, fighting Boko Haram may have risen to an all time high, it still remains to be seen how quickly soldiers would dislodge the remnants of the terrorist organisation. Surely, the government has made some progress in the fight against Boko Haram but that abbreviated success should not be embellished to imply that Boko Haram has been routed from their camps.
Boko Haram has changed its modus operandi and now uses teenage girls, as suicide bombers. Time will tell whether the government has overstated its success in the war against Boko Haram. Still, in some parts of the North, the fear of Boko Haram is widespread. The direct victims of the war, who were displaced from their communities cannot return to restart their lives. As long as these people continue to live like refugees in their fatherland because security remains an issue, the government cannot really claim it is winning the war against Boko Haram.
These displaced people need to be resettled as quickly as possible so they can regain their lives. Even if the government is no longer bogged down in the fight against Boko Haram, a radical group in the Niger Delta has opened another deadly front in the region. The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) announced its emergence the other day and issued threats and intimidated government officials.
It said it would not shift or bend until it has achieved its core objectives in the region. Since the emergence of the NDA, the members have followed up their threats by blowing up oil pipelines and installations. They have disrupted the flow and supply of petroleum products to marketers and, therefore, reduced by a significant margin the amount of revenue the government can earn through the sale of petroleum products. Buhari might be a renowned and dreaded soldier in his days in the military but Nigeria has changed so significantly from the Nigeria that Buhari ruled in the early part of the 1980s.
So, unlike the 1980s, anywhere Buhari turns to today, he will be confronted with pockets of militant groups that did not exist when he was military head of state. These groups have whinged and tabled all manner of grievances against the government and the Nigerian state. This is not helped by the government’s bellicose attitude to the militant groups, and the use of the language of intolerance designed to frighten the militants but which has had the opposite effect. An elected president should show his unique quality as a compassionate, understanding and listening man, who is willing to consider all requests to enable him to make informed decisions that may or may not appeal to the rebel groups.
A listening president should draw the various groups together, have a chat with them to understand the basis of their anger and what they expect the president to do to pacify them. A president cannot just ignore court orders, like the case of Nnamdi Kanu, UK-based chief campaigner for the rights of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who has been incarcerated because he expressed views that have been deemed to be at odds with the goals of a united Nigeria.
Buhari’s attitude and response to the emerging ethnic activists has been to tell them to go jump into the lagoon. That is not diplomacy. Unfortunately, Buhari likes to use military language of coercion that might have worked when he was military head of state. Today the world and indeed Nigeria have changed and will continue to change in response to global events and developments. Beyond the fight against Boko Haram, Lai Mohammed should tell the nation the government’s strategy and timeline for ending the callous massacre of innocent lives of villagers by marauding herdsmen, who invade villages in the middle of the night and slaughter people at sleep, as if they are animals.
The government’s apathy to the death and disaster caused by rampaging herdsmen has led some people to accuse the president of being biased in favour of his kith and kin. This is harmful for national cohesion. Why would a president, who said in his acceptance speech, following the presidential election outcome last year that he would govern in the interest of all Nigerians suddenly abandon a pledge he made to the nation in a public forum? On corruption, it is obvious that right from the early days of Buhari’s presidency, the government was accused of waging a selective war against members of the opposition, a war that has so far targeted officials, who served in the government of Goodluck Jonathan.
Why, for example, has Buhari not extended his anti-corruption campaign to include members of the APC? Public opinion suggests there are within the APC people, who might be involved in corrupt practices. To make the anti-corruption campaign fair to everyone, the government’s searchlight must beam on all members of our society. There should be no sacred cows or people deemed to be above the law. Equal rights of citizens is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. The government’s claims that it has steadied the economy and recorded amazing results can only be taken as another hyperbole. Clear evidence of how the economy has travelled should be seen in the fast depreciating and capricious exchange rate of the naira. The unreliable exchange rate shows how the naira has tumbled in value to other currencies. The sharp decline in the price of oil, the nation’s major foreign exchange earner, has had adverse impact on the economy.
When Buhari and the APC made all the promises about their economic management skills, little did they realise that the power did not belong to them but to the international financial system that influences the performance of local economies. A government, a president, and a political party that bragged about their magical powers to change the economy could not provide for the basic needs of citizens within one year. So, in all three areas that Lai Mohammed tried to exaggerate the achievements of the government in which he serves, there are equally issues that could be used to criticise the government. I was surprised that Lai Mohammed chose areas that a majority of citizens have identified as symbols of failure by the Buhari government.