The choice in this matter is solely President Muhammadu Buhari’s. Compared to 2015 or even 2019, there is no doubt that the man has lost much popularity mainly because of his economic policies and the devastating effects on the living standard of his core supporters, the poor in the country on whose back he rode to power in 2015. Admittedly, Buhari, on assumption of office in 2015, inherited such rot that required inevitable attention.
There ends any understanding he merits. The current mistake is Buhari’s obsession that he will solve all of Nigeria’s economic problems through a risky collaboration with International Monetary Fund, notoriously known as IMF. Nowhere in the world or history does a leader solve all the problems of a country. It wasn’t for nothing that all of Buhari’s predecessors, except Obasanjo (as military leader), shied away from IMF and World Bank because of conditions preceding any loan. When the same Obasanjo returned to office as an elected President, his priority was to repay every kobo of the foreign loan. Today, Obasanjo flaunts that distinction.
It is difficult to understand Buhari’s obsession with these international financial institutions. Time there was, for example, when both IMF and World Bank were subtle in harassing Nigeria by denying either any impending loan or running Nigeria’s economy. Today, at least IMF is so daring by running down Nigeria’s economy and dictating what conditions must be met to be granted any loan, an indisputable leverage of any potential creditor. Hence, IMF’s report lately that Buhari MUST devalue the naira by almost 20 per cent and double the value added tax.
How does any of these economically poisonous conditions enhance the living standards of the very poor in Nigeria or reduce the hardship in the country, a hardship, which before Buhari’s assumption of office was far lower than today’s? Yet, another segment of these international agencies would turn round to declare Nigeria the world capital of poverty. Does this not bother Buhari? More disturbingly, if Buhari’s recent past is anything to go by, devaluation of naira by 20 per cent and hike in value added tax are foregone conclusions. What would be the fate of small-scale industries, the mainstay of even the strongest economies around the world? How many of such industries still operate in Nigeria, compared to the number in 2015?
What has devaluation of the naira benefitted poor Nigerians in the past five years? IMF enthusiasts will always have their way with lies that the economy stands to improve. For that argument, the so-called elite are the whipping boys. If only that were true. On the contrary, the real victims of Buhari’s pandering to IMF and World Bank are the very poor about whose plight Buhari should concern himself. Devaluation of naira, higher cost of petrol and increase in value added tax, all at the same time, will create more hardship for the poor in the country.
President Buhari’s lot is unenviable. The nearer he gets to the end of his administration, the more complex political and economic problems crop up. Seven years ago, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, while announcing his return to politics, Muhammadu Buhari wept openly in sympathy with the poor, on the ground that, with the country’s wealth, no Nigerian should be poor. In embracing IMF and World Bank, Buhari can no longer claim that sympathy for the poor, in view of the hardship experienced by these wretched of the earth. That shows how much IMF and World Bank prescriptions have cost him in popularity. It is now almost impossible for poor Nigerians (even the so-called elite) to afford a tuber of yam at up to one thousand naira. Cost of onion? Tomato? A piece of okro? Vegetables? Palm oil? Fura? Forget rice. These are basic everyday food items of the poor. The elite will always fill their vehicles with petrol. But the poor will become poorer by commuting in private-public transport with fares ever going up simultaneously with any rise in fuel pump price.
This horrible picture will never be portrayed before Buhari. But he himself should aim at being selfish. By the time he quits office in 2023, would he thereafter be able to speak for the poor in the country as he did in 2014? Even if Nigerians must make sacrifices, why must the ruling class be exempt from such? Brand new cars for members of National Assembly? Outrageous allowance of N14 million every month for each member? Twenty-five billion naira for renovating National Assembly? Yet, ordinary Nigerians are regularly clobbered for higher taxes? That was not why we supported Buhari. Even till now, we look at him for fairness and justice in society.