In his nationwide broadcast to celebrate Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary on October 1, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari elaborately outlined key areas his government has excelled, notwithstanding the numerous challenges facing the administration. On the unity and indivisibility of the nation, the president said: “Today should not only serve as a reminder of the day the British handed over the reins of power to Nigerians, but also unified Nigerians from all ethnic groups, religions and regions.” He added that while genuine grievances by Nigerians will be resolved through dialogue, his administration will not be cowed or allow agitators dismember the country and its unity.
While acknowledging that the last 18 months have been the most difficult period for the country since the end of the civil war that ended 1970, Buhari emphasised: “Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation.” The destructive impact of COVID-19, he noted, derailed his administration from its focus on the economy to keeping the country safe and maintaining good public health.
He also acknowledged that the nation has witnessed violent extremism, farmer/ herder conflict, banditry, mass abductions, secessionist movements, terrorist attacks, destruction of government infrastructure, and killing of security personnel, among many others, while vowing that his government will confront the deplorable insecurity, arrest and prosecute the masterminds and return the country to the path of safety.
In this regard, he announced plans to recruit 10,000 policemen annually for the next six years and expressed profound optimism that “we are taking the fight to our enemies from all angles and we are winning.” High on his scorecard was the signing of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) on August 16. For him, “this act not only overhauls the institutional, regulatory and fiscal framework of the petroleum industry but also reduces the previous opacity associated with this sector.” He described Agriculture as the heartbeat of his government’s diversification thrust, stressing that 100 million Nigerians will be lifted out of poverty in 10 years through the strategy.
On the controversial suspension of Twitter’s operation in the country, the president reaffirmed that the micro-blogging company must meet the five conditions before its ban will be lifted.
Despite scoring his administration high, a closer scrutiny of the performance of the Buhari government shows that there is still much room for improvement. Many Nigerians believe that the government has a lot to do to curb insecurity, unemployment and mass poverty. The future of the economy is not rosy at all. Nigerians have not witnessed the much talked about democracy dividends and the standard of living of average Nigerian has nose-dived in the last six years.
Instead of indulging in self-praise, which is very common in this part of the world, the president should allow history and Nigerians to judge him. Nigeria now has an unenviable reputation as the world’s poverty capital where about 40 per cent (82 million people) are living on less than $1US per day, according to figures from National Bureau of Statistics. Electricity tariffs have gone up four times in six years with a new increment of 78 per cent announced three months ago, which is likely to take off soon.
Considering the remarkable loss of jobs and income due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the decision to remove the petrol subsidy programme is considered insensitive. The price of food items has steadily risen with rice that used to sell for N9,000 per bag now selling for N28,000 or more. The recent statistics from the Nigeria Economic Summit Group showed that rising inflation peaked at 17.01 per cent in August 2021. Nigeria is grappling with contrasting GDP, unsustainable borrowing, dwindling value of the naira, low industrial capacity utilisation and frightening unemployment figures.
Nigerians have become poorer today more than ever before. In spite of the billions of naira expended by the government to cushion the effect of the pandemic, the situation has not changed significantly. On the security front, insurgency is still raging with many fatalities. An estimated 2,539 persons were killed from 654 attacks between 2017 and 2020. In 2019, Nigeria was ranked 3rd position in the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) below Afghanistan and Iraq out of 138 countries. And today, the situation has not changed. The mismanagement of our diversity has worsened in the life of this administration.
Moving forward, we urge the president to reflect deeply on his speech vis-a-vis the Nigerian condition. Having admitted that the last 18 months have been harrowing, he should review his stance on certain national issues and make necessary amends. The expectations of Nigerians on the administration are still high. Let the president use the remaining period of his tenure to right the wrongs of the past and leave a worthy legacy. It has never been this bad in Nigeria since independence, except perhaps, during the civil war. The president can halt the drift into anarchy by dialoguing with all agitators and self-determination groups.