… it is my message to the next president of Nigeria that the nation needs real change and that the duty is to at least make things stable. He should take clues from the mistakes of Buhari and other past leaders to make wise decisions that will transform the nation. More so, the 2023 election has threatened the nation’s unity, so he must rule with this consciousness at heart. I say “Amen” to the oft-repeated prayer: May a Buhari never happen to Nigeria again.
Leadership is pivotal to development; as such, every election is taken seriously, and the transition of power is especially given attention in Nigeria. Nigeria is coming from a place where its leadership has been in question because of the failure of past leaders to remedy several of the problems they have met. So, in every election circle, with 29th May as the handover of power, there is so much expectation, anticipation, and delight, except for the current one. But over the years, those anxieties have been met with disappointments.
Nigeria saw a new semantic twist to the word “change” from its mantra in 2015. The year was supposed to be the beginning of hope; the citizens thought Buhari, the messiah, had come, not knowing that things were just about getting messier. It has been a long eight years, and the nation has taken two steps backward in several ways, an inch forward in some ways, while the others stay in their stagnant, deteriorated states. It has been a long ride, and the score sheet is quite discouraging in the spirit of speaking truth to power.
One of the selling points of the change mantra was the readiness to fight any corrupt practice in the country. The citizens had expected that many politicians would be put in jail or get several of their properties confiscated. Well, for those not on the good side of the President and the party, those promises were kept regarding them, but the big-bellied politicians eating from the pots of corruption and sitting in influential political offices became saints stacking away copious quantities of the national treasures. There are lists of those who got their sins “forgiven,” as stated a the former chairman of the All Progressives Congress. No one hears of David Umahi’s alleged N400 million diversion of public funds, Godswill Akpabio’s alleged N100 billion diversion, Stella Oduah’s alleged N9.4 billion, and other accusations. There is Orji Uzor Kalu’s N3.2 billion graft accusation, Adebayo Alao-Akala of blessed memory’s N11.5 billion theft allegation before his death, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika’s alleged connection with Sambo Dasuki’s $2.1 billion theft, and several others, after they had moved to the ruling party, the cleansing fount that all sinners can come to. The corruption ranking of the country reached a record of 154th in 2021 and Nigeria has currently become the 150th least corrupt country in the world. One would have thought that the nation was ready to fight corruption under Buhari’s tenure, considering a report that the country could lose about 30% of its GDP by 2025. We are edging toward this problem, and Mr President and his appointees indulged the causes too much.
One needs to check whether the poverty rate has been reduced as promised by the change mantra, but the country is in a dreadful situation than it was eight years ago. The margin between the rich and poor grew, while citizens were left with no buying power. The past eight years have left one wondering if there has truly been the availability and access to the supposed public goods and services within “a united, peaceful and secure nation,” as the former president stated in his farewell speech. As expected, the supposed global recession and economic downturn, as Buhari alluded to, would never be enough excuse for the incapability of at least giving the citizens steady lives. First, Nigeria is not the only country that faced the challenge, but the propensity of its effect seems higher here than in other countries. Secondly, the administration has been in place since 2015, and laying claim to the incidents of 2020 and 2022 is outrageous.
One of the reasons former President Buhari showed more enthusiasm toward the nation’s petroleum sector was first to ensure that there are sustainable changes to its different problems and to reduce the rate of corruption in that sector. Despite all the various promises to revive the sector and the refineries and make things easier for the citizens, the petroleum sector continued to worsen. The fuel prices now are not just lacking in uniformity in practice but they have increased by almost 200% of what obtained before the administration’s commencement. The refineries have remained in their moribund state while we export crude oil and purchase petroleum products in an inconsiderate state. The subsidy on fuel has not been removed, but prices are still not favourable to the people. Buhari as minister for Petroleum and those who served as minster for state for Petroleum Resources found themselves in limbo, while millions of Nigerians queued to buy petrol at high prices, year in and year out. Fuel scarcity is no more a phenomenon; it is a festival and people are not surprised it happens.
While you preached democracy, even in your farewell speech, I am not certain all its tenets were well kept or practiced as they should have been. Maybe the president does not know that the practice and presence of democracy is not the absence of military or despotic rule, as it was during his first administration, but the recognition of the people’s sense of belonging in the leadership, the obvious practices of the system, especially in the face of antagonism. What are the tales around elections in Nigeria, what has happened to the freedom of expression, and how best can one describe the prevalence of the tenets of democracy in the country? Nigeria saw one of the worst levels of suppression of human rights under the Buhari administration in a democratic dispensation. Police brutality has increased to incite a high rate of citizen’s resistance to the police. The government’s body language has been more of beating a child and still beating him when he cries. The advent of the EndSARS protest was not just the youth showing readiness for a better Nigeria, but it was an expression of the insults of oppression of the injuries of lack of facilities and a low standard of living.
I believe those who thought the former president was a reformed and repentant democratic would be close to disclaiming such assertions by now. Government institutions became havens of witch-hunting and the hands of political strategies to intimidate those in the way of the government or anyone at all. Should one refer to the popular Twitter ban from 5th June, 2021, to 13th January, 2022? The killing of several EndSARS protesters and the darkened truth about what happened on that fateful night at Lekki Tollgate. And if elections alone are what Mr Buhari understands as democracy, I am not sure Nigeria can boast of the 2019 and 2023 elections conducted under its administration. A report stated that the DSS, the Army, and other security operatives were used to intimidate voters and several other intimidations from children of the dark worlds during the 2019 elections. The 2023 elections were worse, with different public intimidations and obvious rigging, violence, and other vices during the electoral processes.
One may need to ask where the jobs promised or seemed to have been produced are, who are employed, and who are the employers. While there is considerable progress in this instance, the conditions have not changed, as most of the steps taken are not sustainable. With an unemployment rate of about 33%, those who try to establish themselves face a toxic environment. A report shows that about 80% of small and medium enterprises failed in Nigeria in 2020. While efforts, even where they are not sustainable, are still efforts, the Buhari administration forgot to provide a more enabling society for businesses to thrive. In the name of business interventions, the momentary Christmas gifts are mostly embezzled by the officials and gotten by party members and associates; they are not enough if self-subsisting systems are not built around them to ensure they serve the purposes for which they are given out.
The argument of certain people during the pre-election change mantra before the 2015 election was that because of the military background of Buhari, the nation might have enough hold of its security problems. One of the great sins of Goodluck Jonathan was his inability to combat terrorism and the growing security challenges. Of course, a General was coming, and it was reasonable to see people with some comfort level. The Buhari agenda and propaganda were sold to the nation, and security was the weak spot of many of the citizens. The ride for the past last years has been worse; while the news about Boko Haram has become normal incidences that do not even get to make newspaper headlines in the country, other forms of insecurity have become strengthened. The anxiety of fear on an average Nigerian road is enough to give one high blood pressure. Prisons were broken into in most undignified ways, there were mass massacres and kidnapping, and several other unspeakable disgraces. Mr Buhari, Nigerians never saw you coming.
When the common and seeming colloquial saying, “What is worth doing is worth doing well,” is said, it is a big message that even Buhari should have learnt from. There are excuses that the anticipated rot was worse, as almost all government says when resuming after an opposition predecessor. And where it seems that the water of the Nigerian problem is fast becoming more than the garri of your power, it would have been an honourable thing to step down for others to try; well, the phrase, although never reflected, “politics is not a do or dies affair,” does not extend to those in office. But Yoruba would say, Akukuu joye, o san ju enu mi o kalu lo.
While Nigeria has been on fire, it seemed the president had more enthusiasm for tourism than the nation’s state. From 2015 to December 2022, our Ajala president spent no less than 225 days on medical trips, aside from attending other summits and official trips. This is against the promises of ensuring the president and other politicians explore local medical options. But most importantly, if a president could spend such several days on unofficial journeys at different intervals, there is little to say about how settled and ready he has been for the job.
However, it is my message to the next president of Nigeria that the nation needs real change and that the duty is to at least make things stable. He should take clues from the mistakes of Buhari and other past leaders to make wise decisions that will transform the nation. More so, the 2023 election has threatened the nation’s unity, so he must rule with this consciousness at heart. I say “Amen” to the oft-repeated prayer: May a Buhari never happen to Nigeria again.
Toyin Falola, a professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at The University of Texas at Austin, is the Bobapitan of Ibadanland.
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