Nigeria: Five Years of Elusive 'Change', Buhari's Self-Congratulation Grates

4 June 2020

Last week, having self-assessed his five years in power, President Muhammadu Buhari adjudged himself a success. In a 26-page self-assessment report, tagged "Buhari Administration Fifth Anniversary Factsheet", the presidency said the Buhari administration "has made salutary impact in almost all the facets of Nigerian life". Basking in the self-congratulatory mood, Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, said: "Buhari has put Nigeria on an irreversible road to sustainable development!"

But Buhari can't be judge and jury in his own case. An independent assessment must be based on two questions: Has President Buhari fulfilled the promises he and his party, All Progressives Congress, APC, made to Nigerians during the 2015 presidential election campaign? And are Nigerians and Nigeria better off today than they were five years ago?

Both questions are important. Fulfilling manifesto promises makes an electoral democracy credible and sustainable. And improving the lives of citizens is what politics and government should be about. As Aristotle put it, politics is "primarily concerned with the actualisation of human flourishing". And Thomas Jefferson said: "The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government".

So, first on election promises. In 2015, the APC campaigned on a change agenda and presented Buhari as a saviour. Indeed, Bola Tinubu, the APC leader and Svengali who finally helped Buhari fulfil his presidential ambitions, compared him to some of the world's greatest transformational leaders.

In 2015, Tinubu said: "Today, we are in a great crisis, we face a lot of challenges. When South Africa was in a great dilemma and was about to disintegrate, they called Nelson Mandela of 74 years old. He used his wisdom to save his country. When America was faced with depression and war, they called a retired General, Dwight Eisenhower, to rescue the country and the country was returned on a path of success. When France was faced with war and economic depression, they called a retired General, Charles De Gaulle, to rescue the country". Then, he ended with a rhetorical flourish. "So, what do we need now? Buhari! General Buhari, we are calling you to come and rescue us in Nigeria"!

It was sheer sophistry, of course, and some of us warned at the time. But five years on, is Buhari Nigeria's Mandela or Eisenhower or De Gaulle? Of course, he is not. Buhari is not remotely comparable in stature or in achievements to any of the great men.

Take Nelson Mandela. He came out of prison, after 27 years, to form a unity government with his political enemies, including those who jailed him, in order to create a new South Africa. But Buhari is so clannish, so divisive, to unite Nigeria. Earlier this week, retired Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, a man not known for frivolities, wrote a letter to Buhari, entitled "Mr President, Please Belong to All of Us", warning him that his nepotism and lopsided appointments could "bring ruin and destruction to this nation".

Within four years, Mandela helped create a new political and constitutional settlement that birthed a rainbow nation, united in diversity. But five years in power, Buhari doesn't see the imperative for a political settlement, and thus won't support the process of creating it!

But leaving aside President Buhari's lack of leadership and grand vision, what about the basic competence to fulfil election promises? The APC's 2015 manifesto was titled "An honest contract with Nigeria". It contained several detailed promises that I won't bore you with. But a few of them are worth highlighting.

Free primary and secondary education; turning federal-owned hospitals into "world-class standards with five years"; one million housing units per annum; at least 20,000 MW of electricity within four years; massive infrastructure projects; massive social security scheme; three million jobs a year; a "post-oil economy", with Nigeria as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, achieving 10 per cent annual GDP growth rate; zero-tolerance of corruption; ending insecurity etc, etc!

Forgive the level of detail. But highlighting those promises enable us to ask the question: have they been fulfilled? Well, most of them are unfulfilled. I mean, leaving aside the failed promise of free education, what is the state of education in Nigeria today? Depressing! Forget the failed promise of "world-class standard" hospitals, what's the state of the Nigerian health system? Well, it's among the worst in the world. And where are the one million housing units?

Where is the 20,000 MW of electricity? Nigeria is currently generating only about 3,400 MW. What about the post-oil economy, growing at about 10 per cent annually? Well, the economy went into recession under Buhari and remains comatose. And what about corruption and insecurity? Let's just say they haven't gone away. Indeed, President Buhari said recently: "I'm surprised Boko Haram still exists"!

Of course, as the fifth anniversary "factsheet" shows, President Buhari's main claim is that his government is investing heavily in agriculture, infrastructure and social security. Indeed, it is! But simply throwing money around and being a spendthrift or profligate government is not an achievement. Who is assessing whether the billions spent on various projects represent an efficient use of resources?

For instance, the huge investment in agriculture may be boosting local production, but is production the same thing as productivity? Why is Nigeria one of the world's largest producers of some food items and yet can't export them because of poor quality? As for infrastructure, does anyone care how Nigeria will repay and service the huge debt the Buhari government is accumulating to fund projects? And how can the government justify spending billions on the social investment programme when it is benefitting less than two million of the estimated 100 million extremely poor and vulnerable Nigerians?

Truth is, President Buhari's five years in power represent broken promises, underperformance and wasteful spending. And with deepening poverty, widespread insecurity and a moribund economy, Nigeria and Nigerians are worse off today than five years ago. Which is why Buhari's fifth-anniversary self-congratulation is utterly complacent and grating!

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