LESSONS in power are intriguing, and indeed, hold some attention. There are many telling reasons why it’s so. First, to paraphrase the words of American historian/journalist Robert A. Caro, ‘no one can lead who does not first acquire power, and no leader can be great who does not know how to use power’. The truth is that, often, the combination of the two is rare. The problem here, which is troubling, is that the temperament and behaviour of the ambitious, cynical leader adept at amassing power for power sake, is always at variance with power in the hands of a visionary and imaginative leader who knows how to use power to make better things happen for his country and the citizens.
One thing many people are yet to understand is what is said of some leaders that what they do when they are trying to get power is not necessarily what they do after they have it. Doesn’t that tell you much about President Buhari and his actions? It’s power revealed. This tension, this challenge, has become very real in our country today under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. It has become his occupational disease and that of many of his aides to talk down on the people rather than talk to them. Invoking the horrifying memories of the civil war in his response to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pressure group in the South East, and threat to deal with them and indeed the Igbo, in the “language they will understand”, was most unkind and unpresidential.
As historians have said, a leader who prefers to use force when dialogue could be used in resolving conflict is afraid of reasoning. In six years of his leadership, things have changed for the worse, Nigerians have been divided down the middle, on ethnic lines. In power, wisdom requires that when you are in a hole, the first thing you do is to stop digging, because the deeper you dig, the deeper you drag down the country and the people. But not this president. That is why every part of the country is hurting and wailing, bleeding on all parts. We are today a nation demoralised, polarised and shaken by the speed at which things are going. As Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka said the other day, if urgent measures are not taken, breakup is imminent.
Overlaying all the turmoil is a palpable sense of great uncertainty. And looking at the way things are going under Buhari’s watch, he may go down in history as a Divider- in-Chief rather than a Commander in Chief. Only a sincere deceiver can carry on the way he does as Nero when Rome was burning. A sincere deceiver simply is one who, confronted with challenges of immediate sort, looks the other way, fudges facts or outright lies, or at best, plays smart and continues to live in denial, that everyone else, except him, is responsible for the misgovernance going on. That smells like a leader AWOL.
There are many telling instances that serve up as standard talking points in recent weeks to show that this administration is a sincere deceiver. Check the facts: Obviously overwhelmed by the insecurity across the country, the president passed the buck to state governors that they were not doing enough to combat insecurity in their domains. And you begin to ask: who control the security apparatchiks in the country? Who does the Armed Forces and the Police report to, the governors or the president? Living in denial and throwing one’s arms in the air in the face of challenges, is what a sincere deceiver does.
Take another example : Unable to rein in killer herdsmen, and against the decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum in its meeting at Asaba, the Delta state capital, to ban open grazing, the president in an interview with Arise Television, the president said his administration was planning to review the law allegedly in place in the 1960’s. But was there ever any such law in place? Lawyers say nothing like that exists.
Perhaps the greatest deception of them all is the lie told on poverty and the economy. In his “Democracy Day “ broadcast, the President had claimed that his administration had successfully lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty in the last two years. This is what the President said: “In the last two years, we lifted 10.5 million people out of poverty – farmers, small-scale traders, artisans, market women and the like “.
But available data show otherwise. Indeed, poverty rate, unemploymentr rate, inflation rate and general economic growth have been most unimpressive. What is indisputable is that within the period he claimed to have made impact on lifting millions out of poverty, Nigerians have grown poorer by all indices of measurement. Indeed, the latest World Bank report on Nigeria Development Update (NDU) said that inflation has pushed at least 7 million Nigerians into poverty in 2020. An individual is said to be living in extreme poverty at $1.90(N783) per day. Even government’s agency, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that 40 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. Also, the president had claimed that his administration had a National Social Register of poor and vulnerable households identified across 708 local government areas, 8,723 wards and 86,610 communities in the states and FCT. That may be true. What is not true is that most of them are yet to get the stipend they were promised, according to Daily Trust recent exclusive report.
Looking at the economic skyline, it’s painted with damn lies, covered with sincere deception. But, facts are facts. Data is like bikini, it reveals more than it hides. The economy has not surpassed 2 percent growth rate under this administration. For six straight years, Nigeria has recorded a negative Per Capita GDP growth rate, meaning Nigerians have grown poorer. In 2021-2022 Per Capita GDP is projected to be worse than pre-pandemic estimates. Unemployment is over 33 percent, with only 46 million Nigerians in employment. Exchange rate rate is now N500/$. On deep reflection, it’s as if the country had lost its soul.
There are loads of broken hearts in the land. When you ask many Nigerians today: Are you better off than you were six years ago? They will tell you their experiences today are like a pin on the lips. Very painful, very suffocating. How come a political party that promised so much has delivered too little? How come a President that looked so ready, very prepared and capable on the campaign trail, is now being accused by some to have lost focus and the rhythm and cadence that made many Nigerians to vote for him in 2015 and reelected him last year?
These are compelling questions that trouble the mind. It’s now clear that there’s a huge difference between campaigning and governing. When a governing political party fails to understand that the people are central in politics, and that politics is a human enterprise, the result is a grim, despairing situation that sticks at the heart and soul. That’s when the citizens begin to feel disillusioned, divided and cynical about the performance of their political leaders and institutions. That’s is where we are today. A few days ago, a scuffle broke out in front of a kiosk near my house in Lagos. Three men were involved. Passers-by watched in disbelief, wondering what could be the cause of the disorderly fight. It turned out the men were fighting over a loaf of bread. As they wrestled themselves to the ground, the bread was broken into pieces. None of them had a better share of it. It was like the classic case of a broken family whose members would rather destroy their father’s inheritance than share it. On enquiry, these men were labourers working at a nearby building undergoing renovation. If you are not aware, bakers increased the price of bread last week, citing hikes in prices of essential items.
The anger in the country is a reflection of the hardship and extreme poverty in the land. Prices of food items are rising beyond the reach of ordinary people. Five years ago before the Buhari administration came to power, a litre of patrol was N87, today, it’s about N160. A 50kg of rice that used to cost N8,500 is now between N23,000 and N25,000, a paint (mudu) of garri that was selling for N300 in early 2015 is now over N1,000. All of these are in spite of government’s diversification efforts and investments in agriculture and agro-processing value chain, and border closure to prevent smuggled goods boost local manufacturing. Inflation has risen to all-time high in four years, dollar is now N440/$. It was N200/$ in early 2015, while national debt is now N31trillion, a N18.89trn rise since 2015. These challenges may have been worsened by the novel Coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled economies, upended lives and livelihoods. But Nigeria’s current crisis predates the emergence of the pandemic.