Elite criticisms and the sound of chest beating
We are not strangers to hyperbolic self-adulation by political leaders. It matters in human management because of the applause factor in political leadership. A current political administration measures its success by how negatively it portrays its predecessor. The less positively we remember the past, the more positively we appreciate the present.
I can see that President Muhammadu Buhari is irritated by the elite criticisms of his administration who are comparing his watch with the past watch. It must be an unkind cut by men who have so easily forgotten where we were and the many challenges we contended with before May 29, 2015, when he stepped on to the podium and took on the mantle as president, becoming the second man in our country to rule us in uniform and out of uniform. In case we have an attack of group amnesia, the president found it necessary to do some chest beating last week when he hosted the executive secretary of the Nigeria/Christian Pilgrims Commission, Rev Yakubu Pam.
He said: “Those criticising the administration should be fair in terms of reflecting on where we were before we came, where we are now and what resources are available to us and what we have done with the limited resources.”
A fair verdict, untainted by elite bias, should be, yes, this is an administration performing in superlative terms because whereas we did not sleep before, we do now, thanks to the vastly improved security situation that has made our insecurity history. The snag is that such a verdict would hardly square with the facts available to the elites who lob criticisms at the Buhari administration; sometimes out of mischief or ignorance or both.
I am always slow to react to the sound of chest beating, even if it grates on my ears. My take is that every political leader works with sets of facts, alternative facts not excepted, that are not open to the rest of us. They use the facts before them to judge their leadership and the leap in progress made by them. They naturally indulge the temptation to beat their chests and, with due respect to cocks, crow also.
Still, I am bothered by the fact that the president appears not to be fully briefed on where we are vis-à-vis where we were under his immediate predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. What follows here is not in defence of the elite critics but an attempt to present the facts available to the rest of us in the hope that the president would take another look at them and be not so angry with the elites who take some delight in laying the cane across his back – for some perfectly god reasons.
There are classical indices of national development, an assessment of which would give us the facts and perhaps, just perhaps, force the elite critics of the administration to padlock their lips. I will deal with just two of them, namely, the national economy and national security, two of our most critical challenges.
There is hardly a better way of judging the progress of a nation than by the health of its economy. There is no choice between a robust national economy and an anaemic one. There is no way to put this less delicately, to wit, from all indications, our national economy is suffering from kwashiorkor. Indeed, the economy has not enjoyed anything close to a robust health for many, many moons now. It is today effectively burdened by the debt burden because we sauntered into the debt trap.
I have harped on this, suggesting that the world would not applaud Nigerian governments – federal and state – by the size of their annual budgets at variance with available resources. They only raise hopes only to dash them cruelly. A sound management of our economy should begin with accepting that we are a poor, struggling third world country and commit to managing our poverty rather than oil our delusion that the fiction of our wealth is holding up.
When Buhari assumed office in May 2015, the health of the national economy was already showing the effects of accumulated burden over the years but there were indications that it was not likely to go into the intensive care unit soon. The debt stock was a relatively manageable $12 billion. But the chickens soon headed home to roost. Under Buhari’s watch, the national debt stock increased to $22.4 billion by June 2018. The National Bureau of Statistic said that in the third quarter of last year, the total foreign and domestic debt stock was N32.22 trillion.
We are trudging in the woods with China, India, the US and Europe offering us a helping hand. We chop jumbo loans now and pay through our nose tomorrow. Pity future leaders and the effect on their noses. We have become a desperate nation such that the current federal budget, as in the past, would be financed with loans of some N5.6 trillion; nearly half of the total budget.
The economy is in recession, the second time it chose to go that route under Buhari with the first time being in 2016. In 2017, Nigeria, this once proud oil rich nation, became so poor that it displaced India from its almost permanent perch as the poverty capital of the world. More than 100 million of our estimated population of 2006 million are classified as extremely poor. Inflation is ravaging the nation at 15.75 per cent. In its desperation for cash to finance the 2021 budget, the federal government is to confiscate unclaimed dividends, technically termed borrowing. It is not normal to borrow without a lender. The government also intends to sell some of its assets and plough the proceeds into prosecuting the current budget. It is, as they used to say in Lagos, broke time.
Given the sets of facts in the public domain, it would not be uncharitable to suggest that most of the negative indices in our national economy were achieved under the present administration. It would appear that the management of the national economy has not quite responded to the president’s acclaimed capacity to take on serious issues.
What goes around comes around, right? As the presidential candidate of CPC in the 2011 general elections, Buhari was very critical of the Jonathan administration as he assiduously marketed himself as the real man who could, in a manner of speaking, make water flow up hill. In a statement issued through his party spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, in July 2011, Buhari said that “we live in denial in this country…” True. I have always thought so, thanks to our leaders, past and present. He said Jonathan could not handle Boko Haram, our biggest national security challenge at the time. He went on: “I have not seen any issue where the president has shown capacity that he can address …any serious issues confronting the country.”
In his nearly six years of stewardship, what is the state of our national security today? Buhari beats his chest and tells us he has handled Boko Haram, although there are still some problems, and urged those who doubt him to ask the people of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. I have not asked them but I know that if we do not have the luxury of living in denial, we would admit that we are much less secure now than we were under Jonathan. Boko Haram still holds the nation by the jugular vein; they strike where they wish at will; they ambush our armed forces; they slaughter rice farmers on the farm, thus forcing Borno State government to recruit local hunters with amulets and dane guns to take them on; and they kidnap our young people and women at will. It could hardly get more pathetic than this for the government and the people.
Post Jonathan and present Buhari, Boko Haram is not our only serious national security challenge today. Kidnappers, absent under Jonathan, are the reigning kings of the criminal world; they roam the land, particularly in the northern parts of the country, forcing farmers to abandon their farms; armed robbers have not become history either. It bears repeating: life has become brutish for Nigerians. I thought the president’s men had not hidden this from him.
In our collective despair and desperation, various groups and responsible compatriots have repeatedly urged Buhari to rejig the security architecture and change the service chiefs in order to improve the security situation. But he has ignored everyone most probably because a) he would not let anyone question his wisdom and his capacity or b) he is less informed about the true situation or c) he is only hearing the elite criticisms that fire his umbrage. I fear that the man who cautioned us in 2011 not to live in denial appears to be promoting it as an article of political and human management.
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