Buhari’s eight years of governance disaster
With the exception of the first and last election cycles, President Buhari’s name was a regular feature on Nigeria’s presidential ballot in her current experiment with electoral democracy. Needless to add, he was a serial failure until 2015 when a convergence of forces, for all the wrong reasons, threw him up as Nigeria’s President. His desire to be President was pursued with such consuming passion that his lacrimal glands broke loose when defeat was imminent in the 2011 election. Yes, a retired Army General openly and uncontrollably wept like a peevish schoolboy. He wept for a nation that could not see the messiah in him. Had Buhari died in 2011 or had he withdrawn from further participation in politics, the most predictable popular epithet about him in death would have been ‘the best President Nigeria never had.’ Fate, however, played a cruel trick on him by giving him a chance to be President. Today, with the exception of a few, related to him by blood, who benefit from his eight years of governance disaster, the popular opinion of Buhari is inescapably ‘the worst President Nigeria ever had.’
There were two reasons why President Buhari would have had an undeserved favourable verdict of history had he not become Nigeria’s president. First, his short-lived stint as Nigeria’s Head of State in the dark days of military authoritarianism and the mantra of discipline and national rebirth that was both the symbol and touchstone of his regime left memories of a Spartan disciplinarian, whose avowed determination to restore badly needed discipline in national life was truncated. On further scrutiny, the real disciplinarian, and one committed to national rebirth was his deputy, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, whose no nonsense mien and forthrightness of character provided the convenient shadow that hid Mr Buhari’s weaknesses.
Second, the prevailing national statistics in 2011 when he wept were less than salutary. A few, among a multitude of grim statistics would help make the point. The nation’s debt profile was discomforting: Gross External Debt stood at $9.69 billion while Gross Domestic Debt was $22.8 billion, up from $13.6 billion in 2006. Public debt was 18.4 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country’s foreign reserves, which stood at $72 billion in 2007, had plummeted to $33 billion. Excess Crude Oil Account, funds set aside for rainy days, valued at $22 billion in 2007 was, by 2010 left with a paltry $4 billion. On top of these, reports of corruption in high places were rife and President Jonathan’s lacklustre response to allegations of corruption did not help matters. Importantly, a better part of Borno State in the North East was under the control of Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist group that had earlier taken hostage over 270 secondary school girls. Therefore, a disciplinarian, indeed a messiah was what was needed to save the country from further drift.
On assumption of duty as President in 2015, little had changed in the national statistics to inspire much hope. The exchange rate of the Naira averaged N199 to a U.S. dollar. Debt to GDP ratio was about 13.1 per cent and the corruption–ridden fuel subsidy was N316.70 billion ($1.62 billion). Not only that, the four state-owned refineries were either producing far below installed capacity or in outright comatose state. Significantly, Nigeria was ranked the 136th most corrupt country with a score of 26 on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
These facts gave Nigerians little comfort. They desired a change. Mr Buhari and his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) interpreted the popular mood quite appropriately and opportunistically cashed in on the change mantra in its campaign. A sampler of his plethora of campaign promises will aid my analysis. On national security, he told Nigerians he was the solution. Given his pedigree as a retired Army General, the believability quotient of his promise to end insecurity in quick time was one only a few could doubt. On the dysfunctional national refineries, he offered the badly needed hope of revitalising and putting them on the path of optimal production.
Importantly, he promised massive job creation and social welfare schemes, including feeding Nigeria’s school children in public schools with one quality meal a day. The grossly devalued Naira would not only be stabilised but would be made to be as strong as the U.S. Dollar! Further, the fight against corruption would be executed with renewed vigour and public officials would be banned from state-funded medical trips abroad. Importantly, he promised to make the electoral management body truly independent to ensure electoral integrity. Above all, Nigerians were told to expect an economic growth rate of between 10-12 per cent, making the country the fastest growing economy in the world.
Now that Mr Buhari’s tenure has run full circle, it has become most appropriate to assess his performance. In doing so, a better way to proceed is to rely on some important national statistics from when he took the oath of office and now. Let me begin with what seems like an obsession for him: anti-corruption crusade. By the end of 2022, Nigeria was ranked 150th of the most corrupt nations on earth, away from 136th ranking that he inherited. At the beginning of his first term in office, there was the semblance of a re-invigorated anti-corruption crusade. On close scrutiny, underneath this veneer of anti-graft crusade was a one-sided fight, targeted at Mr Buhari’s personal enemies and looters of the national treasury, who belong to the opposition party.
While Nigerians were beginning to suspect that the anti-corruption crusade was actuated by less noble values, every element of suspicion was laid to rest when the then national chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomole, in a public forum, openly and unashamedly called on corrupt politicians to join the APC and have their ‘sins forgiven.’ So, in one word, anti-corruption crusade was a byword for ‘political soul-winning’, of converting those who looted the national treasury under President Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party to APC. The consequence is that corruption has metastasized under Buhari’s watch.
I will mention a few, for the obvious reason that space would not allow any attempt at chronicling the unspeakable cases of malfeasance under President Buhari. First, during COVID-19, President Buhari curiously announced that the school Feeding Programme would continue in spite of the lockdown. The result was that N2.67 billion was stolen in the name of feeding children in Federal schools at a time when there was no school in the country. That apart, fuel subsidy bill, which Buhari condemned during campaign as a conduit for siphoning public money, has increased in volume. In the 2023 budget, a whopping sum of N3.36 trillion is allocated for fuel subsidy bills for the first six months of the year. Government functionaries, who have bled the public treasury in billions, pay paltry sums as plea bargain and walk free in the land. Certainly, corruption stinks in Buhari’s Nigeria.
On the economic front, the verdict is no less damning. Though he made stabilisation of the Naira a campaign issue, the exchange rate of N199 to a Dollar when Mr Buhari took over from Dr Jonathan in 2015 is one Nigerians now look back with nostalgia as the naira has grossly devalued, exchanging between N735 to N800 to a dollar. If current trends are unchecked, Nigeria may be heading the way of Zimbabwe under Mugabe where a wheelbarrow load of the Zim dollar was required to buy a loaf of bread. The inflation rate has hit the roofs at 22.04 per cent, up from 9.01 per cent when he assumed office. The Excess Crude Account is in tatters with a meagre $473,754.57. A huge national debt burden, precipitously close to N77 trillion, is serviced with more than 80 per cent of the nation’s income. At a debt to GDP ratio of 38 per cent as at the end of 2022, President Buhari has borrowed more than any former Nigerian President, living or dead. Painfully, the loans, taken in the name of revitalisation of critical national infrastructure, largely finances corruption, consumption, waste and little infrastructure. Most roads in Nigeria are hardly passable.
His management of the economy has been characterised by unpardonable missteps, resulting in unspeakable pain for citizens. Take the currency redesign for instance, an otherwise routine function of government. What was meant to be an exchange of the old notes with new ones amounted to naira ‘confiscation’ as the new notes were never available after depositing the old notes. In the circumstances, Nigerians had to buy the naira at prohibitively expensive rates. One wonders how many people may have been driven deeper into poverty for a country already rated under Buhari as the poverty capital of the world. Truly, in Buhari’s Nigeria, everything is rocket science.
Away from poor handling of the economy, President Buhari’s mismanagement of diversity is legendary. The Federal Character Principle, some sort of affirmative action policy enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that no ethnic group feels left behind, has been thrown overboard since Buhari became president. Important positions in government are filled by nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws. With nepotism and cronyism elevated to a high art under President Buhari, it would take extreme measures of large-heartedness on the part of the next president to have respect for the Federal Character Principle anymore. This does not bode well for diversity management in a country that is deeply divided on a variety of fault lines.
Significantly, national security has become an even more daunting challenge than he met it. Today, it is not just Borno State that is home to Boko Haram; terrorists and bandits run riot in many parts of the country, rendering life more precarious than ever before. At some point, one wonders if anyone is in charge here.
In the face of the gross ineptitude that typifies this administration, it would appear that Nigerians decided to toe the line of enduring him out and invested their hopes in a post-Buhari era. His promise of credible election, the reform of the Electoral Act and assurances by the electoral umpire was enough fillip for hope. Painfully, under President Buhari’s watch, this hope, too, has been betrayed, as the election is generally regarded as the worst the country has ever known. Clearly, Mr Buhari’s Aso Rock odyssey would, for long, be remembered for what it is: eight years of governance disaster.
Aaron is a Professor of Political Economy and Development Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He can be reached email@example.com