President Muhammadu Buhari will be five years in power this month. Next week, on May 29, he will complete the first year of his second term, and thus has three more years in office.
But, according to the theory of presidential election cycle, the last year of a presidential term is usually about politicking, not governing, as a president focuses on securing his re-election or on ensuring his party retains power after him. Thus, President Buhari effectively has only two years to govern. By 2022, his administration will be neck-deep in the politics of the 2023 presidential election.
But President Buhari faces a race against time to make a difference. If he really wants to leave an enduring legacy, he has a lot of catching up to do over the next two years. For the harsh truth is: if Buhari were to leave office today, he has nothing beyond mundane to claim as his legacy.
Of course, Buhari has done well for himself personally. Like a phoenix, he rose from the ashes. Ejected from power in a military coup in 1985, he returned 30 years later to become an elected president in 2015, and even made history by becoming the first candidate in Nigeria to defeat an incumbent president!
Four years later, in 2019, not even the combined forces of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar could stop his re-election. So, Buhari has made history for himself, electorally, that is!
But what history has he made for Nigeria? The Oxford Dictionary defines a history-maker as "a person who influences the course of history or does something spectacular or worthy of remembrance." Going by that definition, Buhari's five years in power have been absolutely mediocre.
Whether on economic governance or political governance or institutional development, the Buhari administration has failed utterly to be transformational. It's hard to look at the current economic, political and institutional developments in Nigeria and say, objectively, that if Buhari left office today, he would leave behind an indelible legacy.
Of course, President Buhari's staunch supporters will go to war with me for saying that. For instance, one Taiwo Ajakaye, an arch-Buharist, has not stopped abusing me on Twitter since I wrote a piece in February entitled "Buhari wanted power so badly yet has done so little with it" (Vanguard, February 28, 2020).
He asserts that "the little of Buhari is more than the whole of the past". In other words, what Buhari has achieved over the past five years is, in his view, more than the achievements of all past governments! And the evidence for that outlandish claim? Well, he says "the railways are coming up, roads are coming up"!
Indeed, that's the rhetoric of all those behind the "Buhari Legacy Project". They always tweet pictures of ongoing projects. Of course, President Buhari is reportedly spending N270 billion on maintenance, repairs and restoration of over 50 bridges across the country; he is also borrowing heavily to invest in the repairs and maintenance of other physical infrastructures, such as rail lines and roads. So, to Buhari's supporters, his legacy is infrastructure development.
But one must wonder: do the Buharists really know what a true legacy is? Do they imagine that in, say, 10 or 20 years, people would think of Buhari as a great leader who repaired roads and restored bridges? Of course, most people won't! For proof, consider any past leader.
Take General Yakubu Gowon. His regime oversaw massive infrastructure development but, today, he is hardly remembered for the physical infrastructures, most of which were neglected by his successors. Rather, he is remembered for successfully leading Nigeria through the civil war, for doing so without incurring a war debt and for genuinely working hard to secure a post-war reconciliation.
Or take President Goodluck Jonathan. He too can claim credit for some infrastructure projects during his tenure. But he will eternally be remembered not for those projects but for saving this country from disintegration, against apocalyptic predictions, by conceding defeat in the 2015 presidential election.
A true legacy is something that lifts the soul of a nation, that influences the course of its history, that fundamentally and positively transforms the way it is governed, that massively boosts its social capital and that makes people happy and proud of their country. After all, as Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government" - and the basis of any good legacy!
Of course, physical infrastructures are important, but governing is more than awarding contracts for projects, with taxpayers' or borrowed money. Any leader can do that. In civilised societies, governments don't get credit for simply building "hard" infrastructures. For instance, a British government can build a brand-new airport and still lose the next election if the education system is ramshackle, the health system is derelict, poverty and inequality are rife, and the politics or governance is broken.
Think of it. Why should any government claim credit for building physical infrastructures while neglecting the human capital and structural reforms that would make the infrastructure development sustainable?
Yet, that's what President Buhari has done over the past five years: he builds physical projects but ignores the human capital; he fixates on poverty, corruption, insecurity and social tensions but ignores their underlying structural economic, political and institutional causes.
For instance, does President Buhari seriously think that Nigeria can make progress with its current over-centralised and skewed politico-governance structure? Why is it that five years in power, he has done absolutely nothing on political reforms and restructuring?
Truth is, if President Buhari thinks that building roads would be his legacy, history tells us he's utterly mistaken. As Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University says, "great leaders build institutions". If Buhari wants an enduring legacy, his best legacy project is to build a national consensus, over the next two years, for restructuring Nigeria. Sadly, time is short!