Adios, Mr. President! Go in Peace.
John O. Ifediora. Editorial Commentary.
In the 2015 presidential election the editorial board of this council unanimously endorsed candidate Muhammadu Buhari in a piece entitled “It is Time!” The endorsement of his candidacy then was not so much on the belief that his credentials prepared him to run the country as on the assumption that he posed a lesser danger of damage to the country’s welfare than his incumbent opponent, Goodluck Jonathan. After more than three years in office, there are many good reasons to regret such endorsement.
Begin with his core promises to the electorate; a better economy than the one managed by the incumbent he ran against, the defeat of Boko Haram and suppression of insurgency, and a sustained war on bureaucratic corruption, a notoriously defining characteristic of Nigeria that has a seemingly limitless lifespan. For a variety of reasons ranging from incompetence and nativist favoritism to ill-health, Mr. Buhari has not only failed to deliver on any of the promises he made to Nigerians but does not seem to believe that such failure matters. His cabinet and his appointments to head various vital institutions continuously exhibit a mixture of incompetence and ignorance of a basic tenet of public service …to serve with honor, integrity and do no harm to the welfare of those whose affairs are being managed.
On his economic promise, Mr. Buhari should not be proud of his performance. Under his watch, the economy contracted continuously for more than one year, the first such sustained contraction in over 25 years. To be fair to him, the decline in the oil price, the economy’s primary source of revenue, was outside his jurisdictional competence. However, the policies he implemented thereafter worsened the situation; pegging the naira to the dollar required wasteful use of the country’s dwindling foreign reserves to defend the naira. His decision to ban a variety of imports without proper consideration of their respective value to productivity contributed more to the sustained economic contraction.
The resultant negative impact on the economy, on salaried workers, and on the perennially unemployable university graduates could have been predicted by the most disinterested observer of the economy, and uninformed pundits that deliver both solicited and uncommissioned advice to Mr. Buhari. The hardship from these miscalculations was entirely avoidable. Mr. Buhari’s leadership competence should not be defined by one mistake or two, but when such missteps exhibit a continuum conditioned by apathy, and informed by unprecedented ineptitude then the entire leadership structure deserves a pink slip from the voters. On this pivotal promise made to the voters in 2015, Mr. Buhari failed to meet the challenge, and Nigerians, unrelieved of unabating economic hardship, are left scratching their heads and each other’s head. This outcome is light years removed from the change they bargained for and expected.
Mr. Buhari’s promise to tame corruption does not fare better; but he deserves credit for implementing a single treasury account to monitor the expenditure of federal ministries, thus providing a reasonable ‘control’ of the country’s earnings. Striking off thousands of ghost workers from the federal payroll was a remarkable feat and deserves a welcome applause. In his first two years in office, Mr. Buhari managed to secure charges against the former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, for dissipating $2 billion dollars in sham contracts for military equipment, and had two former governors, Joshua Dariye, and Jolly Nyame sentenced to serve time for corrupt practices. Shortly after a former oil Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was arrested in London, the chairman of Atlantic Energy, a local oil company, was arrested on corruption charges. But these are high-profile cases, and barely constitute a drop in a vast ocean of the debilitating bureaucratic corruption that continues to plague the country. Given the current state of bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, once adjudged as impossibly corrupt, now seem in comparison like a constituent of angels; and rightfully so because that administration is long dead. Nigeria now ranks 31st from the bottom on Transparency International Index that ranks countries on levels of corruptibility.
For a former high-ranking military general, and an erstwhile dictator who ruled Nigeria with an iron fist, Mr. Buhari’s failure to cleanse the country of deadly insurgents is his most spectacular failure as a president, especially if that was the single most important reason for his election into office. Both before his ascension to the presidency and now, insurgents remain a constant reminder of how fragile the country is as a geo-political entity. In lethality, Nigeria-based insurgents have surpassed their counterparts in Syria and Iraq; the driving ideology and intent of Boko Haram and its splinter groups remain potent, and consistently serve as recruiting mantra amongst the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised youths. Lacking good education, adequate social services, and unimaginable rates of unemployment, Mr. Buhari’s war on terrorism is misguided and designed to fail for the simple reason that emphases on military or muscular intervention alone without the necessary civic and social engagement is never a good strategy.
Boko Haram has now pledged allegiance to ISIS, and changed its appellation to Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) with some 3500 fighters in its ranks and bent on building a ‘caliphate’ in villages and border towns it still controls at the peripheries of Maiduguri, the epi-center of Nigeria’s jihadism. The rise of jihadism in Nigeria, as in other parts of Africa, is rooted in bad governance, incompetence, crippling bureaucratic corruption, and predatory lending practices by outside interests that sustain capital flight from the continent. When bad political actors who govern the welfare of Nigerian citizens remain corrupt and uncaring, the promise of a good life after death, and religious piety by insurgents can be compelling to the disadvantaged, poor, and neglected. A course correction cannot come from Western outsiders, as much as they would like to see the jihadists disappear; it must, however, come from African governments, if and when they take their responsibilities seriously.
On grounds of poor health and incompetence, the duty to secure and advance the welfare of Nigerians is above the pay-grade of Mr. Buhari; in addition to the enumerated minuses, he deserves to lose this presidential election in a fair, transparent, and credible plebiscite. Mr. Atiku Abubakar deserves a chance to govern the country; he may pleasantly surprise.
**John O. Ifediora is currently a professor of economics at American University in Washington, DC, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin.