Saturday, February 4, 2023

Alternative facts and the Buhari legacy, by Jibrin Ibrahim

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In his written response to questions posed to him by Bloomberg News last Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari insists that he has largely delivered on his campaign promises to Nigerians. His key message was that: “We leave Nigeria in a far better place than we found it. Corruption is less hidden, for Nigerians feel empowered to report it without fear, while money is returned; terrorists no longer hold any territory in Nigeria, and their leaders are deceased; and vast infrastructure development sets the country on course for sustainable and equitable growth. In 2015, Boko Haram held territory the size of Belgium within the borders of Nigeria. Today they are close to extinct as a military force. The leader of ISWAP was eliminated by a Nigerian Airforce airstrike in March.”

For good measure, he added that: “My administration is the only in Nigeria’s history to implement a solution to decades-long herder-farmer conflicts, exacerbated by desertification and demographic growth. The National Livestock Transformation Plan, putting ranching at its core, is the only way to deplete the competition for resources at the core of the clashes.”

It is difficult to understand his position except in the sense of “alternative facts”, a word coined by Kellyanne Conway of the Trump Presidency to justify outright lies they were rolling out as substitute for the truth. I would be shocked if there is a single Nigerian, for example, that would believe a “solution” has been found to the farmer-herder crisis. My sense is that a real distance has developed between the President and reality and the interstices in-between have been packed full by narrators of alternative facts. The sad reality might therefore be that the President believes he has been the greatest positive force in the history of Nigeria.

In its lead article this week, Stears Business points out that: “Since President Buhari came into power in 2015, Nigeria’s GDP growth has averaged 1%—compared with 6.5% in the seven years prior. With a population growth rate of 3%, GDP per capita has fallen, meaning the economy has not grown fast enough to feed the new babies being born. Inflation has averaged 15.5% since 2015, which amounts to prices almost tripling over seven years. Food prices have been even worse, and the World Bank has warned several times that tens of millions of Nigerians are being pushed into poverty.  Most of the country is skipping and reducing meals to cope. Two years ago, the bank reported that living standards in 2023 could be back to the same levels as in 1980.”

They argue convincingly that this situation cannot all be piled on the 2015 drop in oil prices, the pandemic in 2020 and the recent war in Ukraine. The fact of the matter is that we had very poor management of Nigeria’s economy due to poor economic policy, bad governance, and a lack of leadership. The long closure of borders, the operation of multiple exchange rates by the Central Bank, difficulties of doing business in Nigeria, the debt trap we have been pushed into all combined with international trends to sink our economy. When in 2015, President Buhari promised us the creation of at least three million jobs yearly, GDP growth of 10%, stabilising the naira, 40,000 MW of power, and please remember this, banning government officials from getting medical treatment abroad, he had neither the plan nor capacity to deliver. It is interesting that in his Bloomberg interview, the President invested a lot of effort to justify what he called the “successful unorthodox” and what most economists describe as the disastrous policies of the Central Bank Governor.

The most painful legacy of the Buhari Regime was allowing insecurity to take over virtually the entire country. There is no zone or part of the country that is safe today. The small gains made in agriculture are now being eroded because bandits are stopping farmers from going to their farms or taxing them so heavily to farm that the farmers are giving up on their occupation. National commerce is today seriously affected because the roads have been taken over by bandits and terrorists. Every Nigerian today lives in grave and constant fear of being kidnapped for ransom and increasingly those kidnapped have been killed even after their families have taxed themselves and often sold their properties to pay the ransom demanded. In response to the situation, Nigerians are being forced into self-help, including the purchase of weapons to defend themselves. The threat of anarchy has never been more real because Nigerians have never felt as unsafe as they feel today.

As I have argued previously, unfortunately for the President who has always seen himself and built his image as an anti-corruption crusader, his legacy might well be that of running the most corrupt regime in the history of Nigeria. At the core of the problem is the Ministry of Petroleum which he has been minister of since his return to power. Of course, one dossier President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to know very well is that of petroleum after all he was Petroleum Minister from 1976-78. He was also Head of State for 20 months from December 31, 1983. When therefore he told Nigerians as a presidential candidate in 2011 that the fuel subsidy regime is a fraud, people believed him and the élan of hope on this anti-corruption crusader finally brought him to power in 2015. We all remember when he posed the basic question: “Who is subsidizing who?” His answer was categorical, the then PDP regime was using fuel subsidies to fund corruption. The legacy President Buhari would leave was the four trillion naira he just got approved by the National Assembly to fund the fuel subsidy, which thanks to him, Nigerians now know means funding corruption within his Government. The string of government officials currently being investigated or prosecuted for stealing billions is for the President an indication that the anti-corruption fight is ongoing. For most analysts, however, the real question is why are so many officials of the regime able to steal so easily. In other words, is there a Sheriff in town?

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