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As 2023 beckons – Part 1

By Dan Agbese
28 October 2022   |   3:44 am
It is unusual for our politicians to unanimously agree on anything. But here is what may surprise you. All the presidential candidates agree that our country is broken.

Composite image of Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu, and Atiku Abubakar.

It is unusual for our politicians to unanimously agree on anything. But here is what may surprise you. All the presidential candidates agree that our country is broken. They agree too that the broken country can be fixed. After all, Nigeria is not an Agila pot or Humpty Dumpty. A broken Agila pot cannot be put back together, I tell you.

Each of these presidential candidates, all of whom love our country dearly and are not scared by the mind-deadening challenges it has been turned into, are shoving their various plans of action called manifestoes, into our hands. These documents are meant to tell us how prepared each man is to remake our country from our collective hopes, aspirations and dreams and move it from its permanent place as a potentially great country to the ultimate – an indisputably great country, rich and powerful.

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of APC, for instance, will recover our national economy from the pit of hell by building an export-driven economy. Its logic is simple: we produce, we sell and the money flows into our national coffers. The Chinese did it. Crude oil take note.

However, before we get carried away by the promises in the manifestoes, we need to urgently do one thing: interrogate each of them to see if they really know the extent of the brokenness of our country. I made this argument in my last column on this page last week based on the initiative of the Arewa Joint Committee’s dialogue with the presidential candidates on what each of them plans to do for Northern Nigeria, the least secure and the poorest part of the country today.

There is a sense in knowing what they believe they know as opposed to what they ought to know in relation to what the rest of us see and know. Political promises are made for the soundbite, thus the need to go deeper than the rallies that have more or less seized our imagination in this election season.

It is not enough for the candidates to talk of a broken country; it is also important for them to know how and why it was broken and more importantly, the depth of its brokenness. Without these, the party manifestoes, each of which drips with beguiling promises of a new Nigeria on which the sun never sets, will merely blow in the wind. We should not let it happen. If well-oiled political promises blow in the wind, our country’s future too blows in the wind. We cannot afford to let it happen.

Politics, like history, repeats itself. The current struggle to succeed Buhari next year comes with the implication that in his more than seven years in the saddle, he has left undone what he should have done and done what he did not need to do and now our country appears to be gasping for breath. Each man is, therefore, seeking the mandate of the people to do a better job than Buhari. Funny but it is the way the political cookies crumble.

And that takes us all the way back to 2003. Sometime that year, my colleague, Soji Akinrinade, and I interviewed the then presidential candidate of ANPP, Muhammadu Buhari, for Newswatch magazine. He came into the race because he believed, as he verily told us, that “this country is in a mess.” He did not think President Obasanjo was doing enough to clean up the mess, seeing as heaps of it were piling up everywhere he looked.

Buhari did not bother to tell the nation where the mess actually was. He simply rubbished everyone before him. The national economy was not in a mess; it was not quite booming, but it was strong enough to keep poverty at a reduced rate. Indeed, the economy was doing pretty well for a developing country; security was good; MASSOB was born but the nation largely pulled together.

Obasanjo took on corruption. For the first time, fighting corruption moved from strident condemnations of what every Nigerian knows as the nation’s cankerworm, to the law courts with the enactment of the EFCC Act and the setting up of the commission to wage the anti-graft war. Sure, there were areas to fix, such as the rapidly deteriorating infrastructure reflected in the death traps called roads that were trapping people daily and reducing our national population. When I look back now, it appears to me that the general did not quite know the extent of the mess. He just knew that the country was in a mess, and it needed him to clean it up. Therein lies the danger of not demanding that those who seek to lead us tell us the problems they are coming to solve.

The people gave Buhari that mandate in 2015 and sent the Otuoke man back to Otuoke where he is quite unhappily contending with a rather watery challenge called flood. The people said to Buhari with their mandate, ga fili, ga doki. Those who want to succeed Buhari have him to contend with. In his self-assessment our country is better under his watch. In his October 1 independence anniversary broadcast, he told the nation that he had laid the foundation for building the nation of our dreams.

That statement must have come as no little surprise to all Nigerians. If after 62 years of our independence from British colonial rule and being ruled by 13 natives made up generals and civilians with Obasanjo and Buhari doing it twice each, the development of Nigeria is still at the foundation stage under Buhari, there is wahala. It is no small wahala, I tell you. As my Yoruba friends would put it, wahala ti poju.

The truth is that ours is a broken country. We are badly divided by our religions and tribes, the fault lines we have been running away from in attempts to build a nation where the contents of the citizen’s brains matter much more than his tribe or the deity he worships. We are progressing backwards right now. Buhari will leave the nation in a greater mess than he found it. We must help the presidential candidates to abandon the cosmetics of political soundbites and commit to some serious thoughts about what ails us as a nation and as a people and the wahala the president and the next set of rulers at the sub-national level must contend with from May 29 next year. The signs of our brokenness stick out, if you would excuse a hackneyed phrase, like a sore thumb.

The economy is broken. The Emir of Kano, Sanusi II has repeatedly expressed his sympathy for Buhari’s successor because the damage to the national economy is extensive. It is over-burdened with internal and external debts of over N41trillion. The Buhari administration has never attempted to balance the budget. Each federal budget has been funded with local and external loans. The 2023 budget of N20 trillion may look impressive on paper but it comes with a deficit of some N11 trillion. I have repeatedly pointed out in this column that world history has no record of a country that became great as a net borrower.

It is clear that the management of the economy defeated Buhari and his economic managers. They could not reflate the economy, hence at least between two and five million people sink below the radar to join the swelling population of the extremely poor each month. The World Bank puts the number of the extremely poor at 89 million out of an estimated national population of between 216 million and 220 million. You do not need a Chike Obi to work out the mathematics of our descent from wealth to poverty. No country will take the crown from us as the poverty capital of the world any time soon.

Our national security has been comprehensively compromised such that the Nigerian state quakes before bandits, kidnappers, Boko Haram, and sundry criminals. The nation is in a weaker position and the criminals are in a stronger position. Banditry, kidnapping, armed robbers, and insurgency are crimes under our laws. Bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, and insurgents break the law, and it is the duty of the state to make them answer for their crimes. This is not the case.

Criminals seem to enjoy greater honour than their victims. These crimes have been turned into lucrative enterprises and the criminals number themselves among the wealthy in our country. They are too powerful for the Nigerian state to deal with. They cannot be arrested, let alone tried. Even those of them arrested are let go. Remember that Boko Haram insurgents were once released and given N25,000 each while their victims languish in IDP camps. Molly-coddling criminals throws up a new national creed, to wit, crime pays.

When the last batch of the kidnapped victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train assault were released after more than six months in captivity, the president was so upbeat about what he regarded as an achievement that he hastened to assure the nation that he would hand over to the next president a secure country.

That too must have come as a huge surprise. I thought presidents come into office to preside over a country that is secure and at peace under their watch. This has not happened under Buhari’s watch. Now, he tells us he is working to handover such a country to his successor. Would that be to his credit or that of the next man?

Presidential aspirants take note. You may have an easier time of it than the president.

To be concluded.