The Worst Government In the History of Nigeria (2), By Femi Aribisala
George Santayana says: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Nigerians were not so forgetful, we would not now be saddled with the burdensome presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.
In his first coming as military head-of-state in 1984, Buhari took Nigeria’s economy from bad to worse. Under him, our national debt rose from $14 billion to $18 billion in less than two years, with the result that Nigeria was no longer able to meet its financial obligations to global bankers. We had to queue for essential commodities, such as bread and milk, which were hard to find. Raw materials and spare parts needed to keep factories running were scarce. Rather than create jobs, tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Inflation rose to the astronomical level of 40 percent.
When Buhari seized power, Nigeria’s GDP was $444. When he was overthrown in 1985, Nigeria’s GDP had dropped dramatically to $344. When Buhari seized power, one dollar exchanged for 0.724 naira. But by the time he was overthrown, one dollar exchanged for 0.894 naira; a 23 percent devaluation in barely two years. It was not surprising, therefore, that there was wild jubilation throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria when Buhari was overthrown.
Litany of failure
History is now repeating itself in Nigeria. Since electing Buhari as president one year ago, Nigeria’s GDP has plummeted, with the economy suffering a negative growth in the first quarter of 2016; the worst in 25 years. Prices have skyrocketed. Investors have packed their bags and left Nigeria. Job losses and lay-offs have increased geometrically. Petrol stations have surreptitiously doubled their prices. Nigeria is now on the cusp of a recession.
Buhari was handed over $30 billion in foreign reserves by the Jonathan administration. He inherited over $2.5 billion in the Sovereign Wealth Fund; $1.4 billion in the ECA; and $4.65 billion in back taxes from NLNG. But virtually all of these have been squandered in one year of gross incompetence.
The president took the illegal and ill-advised step of providing N713 billion as bailout for insolvent state governments, without the approval of the national assembly, only to discover that those monies were squandered and not even used as intended to pay salary arrears. He squandered billions of dollars defending doggedly an unrealistic official value of the naira, only to finally admit defeat after the damage had been done.
Billions of dollars were mopped up by corrupt officials and shrewd middlemen who obtained dollars at the official N200 to $1 rate, only to sell this for huge profit at the N380 to $1 black market rate.
Babatunde Fashola boasted while in opposition that: “A serious government will fix the power problem in six months.” Now in office as minister of Power for over six months, power blackouts have been unprecedented under his watch, condemning the Buhari administration by his own words as a most unserious government.
Change for worse
Goodluck Jonathan warned Nigerians about the bankruptcy of Buhari and the APC. His words have now become prophetic. He said in the heat of the 2015 election campaign: “The choice before Nigerians in the coming election is simple. It is a choice between going forward and backward, between the new ways and old ways, between freedom and repression, between a record of visible achievements and beneficial reforms and desperate power seekers with empty promises.”
After 365 days of a disastrous Buhari presidency, only diehard Buharimanics can deny that Jonathan’s warning has not come true. Propaganda has an expiration date, and it must now be abundantly clear that the expiration date for the hot air of Buhari’s government has long passed. Many of those like Dele Sobowale, Oby Ezekwesili and Wole Soyinka, who sang the praises of Buhari during the 2015 election, are already having a buyer’s remorse. Most Nigerians now realise they have been sold a fake bill of goods by Buhari and the APC.
Buhari’s maladroit approach to Nigeria’s diversity has created new fissures. Fulani herdsmen continue to kill innocent farmers while Buhari sees no evil and hears no evil. We are now saddled with a burgeoning secessionist movement that gets more incendiary by the day as the government continues to violate Nigerians’ right to self-assembly by shooting down pro-Biafra activists.
Even more devastating is the fact that Buhari’s body language of Northern domination has energised an irredentist movement in the Niger Delta dedicated to blowing up Nigeria’s economic jugular of oil pipelines and installations. As a result, Shell has had to shut down its Forcados terminal. Chevron’s Escravos operation has been breached. ENI and Exxon Mobil have declared “force majeure.” The outcome is that Nigeria’s oil production is now down from 2.2 million barrels a day to 1.4 million.
Under the circumstances, how can the government possibly celebrate its one-year anniversary except by attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians? What precisely can Buhari claim credit for in his one year of a woeful, do-nothing presidency?
Sound and fury signaling nothing
In his speech to Nigerians on his anniversary, the president claimed: “We identified forty-three thousand ghost workers through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information system.” This is a case of taking credit where it is not due because of the failure to achieve. The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information system is a legacy of the PDP administration. It was introduced by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in 2007. Therefore, it is disingenuous for Buhari to try to get credit for it.
Buhari also said: “The first steps along the path of self-sufficiency in rice, wheat and sugar, big users of our scarce foreign exchange, have been taken.” But Mr. President, the first steps were not taken by your government. If we are well on the way to self-sufficiency in food production, it is because of steps taken by the Jonathan administration, under the transformative leadership of the Akinwunmi Adesina as minister of Agriculture.
It was under Jonathan that dry-season rice farming was introduced, enabling Nigeria to reach 60 percent self-sufficiency in rice production. It was under Jonathan in 2014, and not under your administration in 2015/16, that Olam Rice Farm, the biggest rice-processing mill in Africa, with 105,000 metric tons capacity, was commissioned in Rukubi, Nasarawa State.
The president said furthermore: “We are projecting non-oil revenues to surpass proceeds from oil.” Again, this would not be as a result of any government-induced improvement in the non-oil sector of the economy but would simply be as a result of the decline in oil prices.
Buhari acolytes fanned out in the media, giving him credit for the TSA, even though it was the brainchild of the Jonathan administration. They credit him with the TSA, not realising its imprudent timing has provoked the widespread sacking of bank employees. They claim bombastically that as much as N2.2 trillion has been saved through the TSA. At the same time, Lai Mohammed and Rotimi Amaechi are sent to convince Nigerians the country is broke.
Buharimaniacs even claim the president’s outrageous 30 junkets abroad within the year of Nigeria’s economic adversity has ensured Nigeria is no longer a pariah nation. However, Nigeria was not a pariah nation before Buhari came: Nigeria has become a pariah nation since the coming of Buhari. Before Buhari, Nigeria was the number one destination-country for foreign investments in Africa. Since Buhari’s arrival, foreign investor have left in droves.
Goodbye to change
To demonstrate to Nigerians that his anti-corruption policy is achieving great success, Buhari promised to publish the names of those who had returned looted money to the government. This would confirm once and for all that the government’s anti-corruption programme is an effective tool for re-harnessing the nation’s lost resources.
But having won plaudits for this pledge, the government no longer had any need for it. It soon became another casualty of its APC (All Promises Cancelled) tendency. No sooner had the promise been made than the announcement came that the government would no longer be releasing the names. But should a president make promises without first thinking it through? Would this tendency not convince the international community that the government of Nigeria cannot be trusted?
The government’s last-minute excuse that it changed its mind because it does not want to embarrass those returning the monies is not credible. This administration routinely leaks to the press the names of those under investigation by EFCC. That means it names publicly those accused of corruption even when they have not been convicted of corruption. Now it wants us to believe it is reticent about naming those who took government money and agreed to return them.
The government’s disdain for promises made continue. On May 30th, 2016, while hosting State House correspondents in Aso Rock, the president told Nigerians the change mantra on which he fought and won the 2015 election has been thrown out of the window. He said: “We recently just found out that we are poor because we don’t have anything to fall back to. This is the condition we found ourselves and this change mantra had to go through hell up till yesterday.”
Having suddenly discovered, after one year in office, that rich Nigeria is actually poor, the president then sent Lai Mohammed to tell Nigerians the government has recovered a whopping $9 billion of loot from PDP politicians. Just how poor does that make the government?
It is more than abundantly clear that the Buhari administration simply cannot be truthful. How can the government be poor, and at the same time have $9 billion recovered from looters? How can the government have $9 billion recovered, yet it went cap-in-hand to the Chinese seeking a loan of $2 billion? If $9 billion has been recovered, then Nigeria is not broke. If $9 billion has been recovered, the government should now be able to fulfil its failed campaign promises.
This is what the president said one year earlier: “The monies we realise from anti-corruption campaign will be adequately used to improve education in the country.” “The money saved will finance jobs, health-care and the provision of social safety net for the needy, weak and vulnerable of our land.” In which case, many of our problems should soon be over if in fact the government’s anti-corruption campaign has been as effective as we are now meant to believe.
But if you believe the government has actually recovered $9 billion from treasury looters, then you have learnt nothing about this government in the past year. The truth of the matter is that whatever this government says must be taken with a very large grain of salt. Adams Oshiomhole had told Nigerians a U.S. government official revealed to him that one single Nigerian stole a massive $6 billion under the Jonathan administration. So how come the government has only managed to recover $9 billion from the entire country after one year of highfalutin media hype?
The government’s approach of revealing unverifiable figures of recovered loot without the names of those from whom they were recovered reeks of corruption for lack of transparency. If, as I have maintained elsewhere, Lai Mohammed is Nigeria’s version of Iraq’s Comical Ali, then the recovered $9 billion must be synonymous to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction which could nowhere be found.
There is no way of knowing if the figures released by the government are true or fiction, because the names of those allegedly returning the money are not mentioned alongside how much they returned. If they are named and shamed, the looters themselves can verify if the amount declared is more or less than what they returned. Covering up the names simply provides avenues for whatever loot is recovered to be re-looted by government accomplices.