By Igboeli Arinze Napoleon
Given Chimamanda Adichie’s popularity in Nigeria, it will be foolhardy to underestimate the effect her article would have on the minds of the people as well as the international community. Having authored a number of bestsellers, Adichie will always capture the attention of the literary world, no matter how she puts it.
On coming across the article, I had two options. First, was to read and largely ignore the writeup, lapping its elegance and writing style. Second, was to respond and settle a number of errors that loomed large in such an ostentatious critique of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. I chose the second since elegance, writing style and ostentatiousness cannot be a surrogate for truth.
Adichie says she recognised political fear at the young age of seven. While I cannot disagree with her that it was at that age she first witnessed such, I largely disagree with her attribution to Buhari as the author and finisher of such fear and apprehension. Fear has always been part of our political culture in Africa and right from the word go at independence, Nigerians, no matter the regime, civilian or military, had a number of citizens whose rights were abused by the agencies and institutions. Was it not under President Shehu Shagari that Shugaba Abdulrahman was deported to Chad and rechristened a Chadian citizen? Or, what of the abuses suffered under the Obasanjo administration? I remember my mum would always caution me whenever I went into my tirades against Obasanjo, while my father had to hurriedly drive to Kirikiri to get a copy of a newspaper where his son was alleged to have written an article abusing the government, but not before he had given me a dressing down on the phone.
No doubting, I am amongst those who believe that Buhari’s delay in appointing his ministers was almost a hamaratia. Yet, to say that his cabinet harbours a number of recycled figures who Nigerians were disenchanted with is fictitious. Buhari’s cabinet from the look of it is star-studded, with reputable names such as the like of Kayode Fayemi, who the Economist Magazine described as a”forward thinker”, or Amina Mohammed who has always stood out at every juncture of her life in service. Can Nigerians be disenchanted with names like Babatunde Raji Fashola, Ibe Kachikwu, Okechukwu Enelamah, Ogbonnaya Onu or Chris Ngige?
Adichie rails at Buahri’s management of the economy, which she agrees is sickeningly dependent on oil, which has a number of consequences when prices plunge. How this is Buhari’s liability beats me as a number of administrations preceding Buhari largely failed to diversify the economy amidst the unwholesome acts of rent seeking that continued to sink the economy. She attacks Buhari’s defence of the country’s currency, an action he took with a mind to protect the poor from undeserved hardship. She is silent, however, on the fact that while a country like Saudi Arabia added 750 Billion Dollars to its foreign reserve in the last six years where a barrel of crude oil sold for a record high of $110, the previous administration of which she was an aficionado failed to save or channel such earnings to the benefit of the ordinary Nigerian. Lacking an understanding of basic macro-economics as I believe she has degrees in medicine and creative writing, Adichie fails to grasp the fact that had the country been able to raise its foreign reserve to a sizable amount, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now. Managing the economy of a country like Nigeria isn’t some literary exercise. It goes beyond the wishful thinking that authors convey to their characters, neither is it where one waves a magic wand and there you have it! Governance is a continuum, thus the faulty policies of a previous administration are likely, very likely, to dampen whatever corrective measures a new administration brings with it. We all witnessed the dysfunctions of the former Soviet nations following the fall of communism.
On the issue of an arbitrary list of goods deemed unworthy by government, I assume Adichie may not know that the reduction of aggregate demand for imports is a means of staving the pressure on the exchange rate. A situation where scarce foreign exchange is used to import items such as toothpicks, soap and cosmetics, palm oil, vegetable oil, meat and Indian incense in both short and long terms cannot do the exchange rate or the economy any good. That fuel importers have access to such shouldn’t boggle any serious mind, for with the below optimal production of finished products by our refineries, would Adichie prefer that they source for forex themselves, knowing that energy is the life blood of any economy? Now, should a few Nigerians choose to roundtrip, how is that Buhari’s fault? Would such round tripping not occur if all forex needs, including the one for Indian incense, was heeded to?
Adichie describes Buhari’s attempt to kickstart local production via the ban on the aforementioned 40 items as outdated! She believes that for as long as the supporting infrastructure is non-existent, local production cannot occur and such bans create a thriving shadow market. On these counts, she puts each foot wrong. China started as a manufacturing behemoth with non-supportive level of infrastructure, whereas India, another economic behemoth, has a superior textile industry because Nehru banned the importation of foreign textiles. More recently, India banned a number of imports from China stating that such imports were harmful to its own industries.
Adichie speaks of Buhari as a tone deaf president, alluding to his attitude to the killings of Shiite Muslims or pro-Biafran supporters whilst they peacefully protested the continuous detention of Nnamdi Kanu. I agree that the deaths were regrettable and deserve condemnation but to lay the blame on the Commander-in-Chief is unfair and opportunistic. It is like blaming Barack Obama for the fatalistic shootings of blacks by the police.
On the current war waged against corruption, one that is largely unprecedented in Nigeria’s history, Adichie speaks with mixed tones, describing the war as selective and one-sided, targeting those opposed to Buhari’s administration.
Adichie forgets that the so-called “selected” for prosecution were actually the tin gods who held sway only yesterday, now owing to the monopolization of resources amidst the impunity that went with it, it is obvious that a number of APC members could not have benefitted majorly from the rapaciousness of a select few. This is not to say that APC members are saints, far from it but like Chinua Achebe’s Unoka in his epic work, Things Fall Apart, did say to the creditor who he owed less than another “The sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel.” To prompt a corruption fight against APC members because a number of PDP members are being prosecuted is definitely not the way to fight the war.
Going further, she attacks the anti-graft agencies as partisan and portrays the sting operation recently carried out against judges who were alleged to be corrupt as flouting the rule of law. This has been largely disproved by the Department of State Security, which obtained warrants of arrest before it embarked on the exercise.
Napoleon writes from Abuja