…we currently run a great risk: that the urge to replace these knaves, to define a new answer to the Nigerian question has invited a diverse set of responses, whose ventilation may result in a plurality of parties which will end up balkanising the opposition vote next year… need we be reminded that anything that sees the opposition vote ending up in all manner of fringe movements is a vote for the incumbent?


One of the more difficult conclusions to reach in the country today is about how well the Buhari administration has governed the country. That the administration took office from what was arguably the most benighted government that has ever ruled this space is not in doubt. Nor is there much argument about how adverse the economy’s external environment was when the Buhari government came into office. Not just was the price for our major export earner down ― and falling. We were struggling to shift export cargoes, as improved shale oil production in the U.S. meant that we had to find new export markets. Then, there was the not so minor matter of poor global financing conditions for emerging markets and frontier economies like ours.

In office, though, the Buhari administration has proved itself unsuited for the job at hand. Whether it is in the transfer of the economy from a public sector-led model to a private sector-led one, or the transition of the public sector from a service provider to a competent regulator, the administration has fiddled its thumb. This is not “hating”. The structural reforms that the economy required to compensate for the failures of the Jonathan administration, included pruning the public sector, and boosting the private sector. Instead, the Buhari administration shelved the recommendations of the Oronsaye report, and ratcheted up the public sector’s borrowing requirement in the mistaking belief that the public sector alone should provide the infrastructure that the economy needs.

Little wonder that five consecutive quarters of the administration’s sixteen quarters saw the economy tread deep waters. And, when, finally, we emerged from the long recession, it was not on the back of changes to the structure of the domestic economy. It was instead because external conditions (especially the global market for crude oil) had improved. Indeed, in terms of the instruments through which an economy signals to domestic entities how they should allocate scarce resources, the Buhari government has favoured the arbitrariness of government fiat (the pump-gate price of petrol, and the multiple exchange rate architecture are two prominent examples) over the market.

Doubtlessly more important are the policy planks of the platform that is opposed to how we’ve been husbanded thus far, and the instruments by which the change is to be wrought. Are this but different aspects of the same coin? It was important for our democracy’s long-term health that we voted Goodluck Ebele Jonathan out in March 2015.


In this sense, despite its “change” mantra, the Buhari administration has been no different from every government that this country has had since 1960. Makes sense, therefore, that a strong consensus has built up on the need to change the administration at the next general polls.

And that is where it all ends. As befitting a people who love the argument pit, diverse viewpoints are contending for ownership of this new “change” discourse. Perhaps the more colourful is the one that’s bidding to change the country from the vantage of youth. Something about Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s “de same old politicians, wey rule Nigeria before” has this perspective exercised by the need to have only young candidates on the polling lists. Giving that there’s no question but that managing this country as it has been managed over the last 60 years is no longer a viable option, the point about our “youth” being the solution is blasé.

Doubtlessly more important are the policy planks of the platform that is opposed to how we’ve been husbanded thus far, and the instruments by which the change is to be wrought. Are this but different aspects of the same coin? It was important for our democracy’s long-term health that we voted Goodluck Ebele Jonathan out in March 2015. There was no other recompense more appropriate for the failures of his government. To have returned him to power was to have endorsed his many shortcomings. Consequently, allied against him, four years ago, was a coalition whose motto could have been “anyone but Jonathan”.

Once again, we are at that stage of our electoral cycle, when we are invited to turf out the motley crew that’s run us for the past four years: In part to let them know that we do not agree with their definition of the national problem, or their preferred solution.


By pitching the battle in terms of access to the office of president, however, we may have done much harm to the country’s long-term outlook. For in our federal structure, sub-national governments matter more than the federal one. All that talk about building functional institutions boils down to nought if the only institutions that work are federal ones. Thus, there was, and there is still a strong case for requesting that changes to this space begin from the grassroots up. Put differently, that agents of change here should first demonstrate their competences at lower levels of government, where they may, first, persuade the electorate of the propriety of their approach to governance.

The problem with this perspective, today, is that it allows the incumbent government at the centre unfettered access to office, while the opposition painstakingly builds a platform around which electoral strength can coalesce. Unfortunately, we do not have much time. We cannot twiddle our thumbs while this Rome burns. Once again, we are at that stage of our electoral cycle, when we are invited to turf out the motley crew that’s run us for the past four years: In part to let them know that we do not agree with their definition of the national problem, or their preferred solution. But largely as a signal to those who would succeed them, of the nature of our expectations.

On the matter of this succession, however, we currently run a great risk: that the urge to replace these knaves, to define a new answer to the Nigerian question has invited a diverse set of responses, whose ventilation may result in a plurality of parties which will end up balkanising the opposition vote next year. As we tackle this assignment over the next couple of months, need we be reminded that anything that sees the opposition vote ending up in all manner of fringe movements is a vote for the incumbent?

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.