Buhari and the tragedy in Nigeria, by Fred Edoreh
He was unable to lift a limb to reverse the fuel scarcity that visited pain on Nigerians during the Yuletide but he needed, as customary, to speak to the nation on New Year day. So, on that January 1, he simply summoned up to tell us that the fuel scarcity was a result of blackmail by oil marketers.
The speech revealed at same breath that he hadn’t even checked on the situation. He “will get to the root of the matter”, he said after speaking on the matter. Yet, he is the minister of petroleum.
On January 2, his government called a meeting of stakeholders in the sector, presided over by his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, at the Villa, to examine the problem. His deputy minister of petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, declared after the meeting that there was no evidence of hoarding and no wrong doing by the marketers.
The National Assembly also opened a hearing, albeit with the Chief of Staff accusing the assembly of not approving request of money for subsidy payment and the assembly denying it ever received such a request.
The explanation from the interaction with stakeholders was that after the Hurricane Katrina in the US, the price of crude and therefore refined products shot up and it became difficult for the petroleum marketers to import and sell at N145 per litre. The situation was so for almost January to December, and while the nation enjoyed that rise in the price of crude, the marketers struggled with the hike in product price. They usually accounted for about 60% of the imports while the NNPC provided for about 40%. But, the market situation became such that by October, the marketers stopped importing. The challenge now fell on the NNPC which was not very prepared to cover for all the volumes required.
Why did the Buhari government, all this while, not recognize the signals of imminent fuel scarcity and interact reasonably with the stakeholders to avert the situation?
The matter is simple. If you peg petroleum price, then you must be ready to pay subsidy for the shortfall. If you are not ready to pay subsidy, then you must allow free market mechanism to determine price as the only way to sustain investors. Better still, fix your refineries, set up or support the set up of private modular refineries to restore domestic refining and free the nation from the vagaries of importation of refined products and the attendant stress of high and scarce foreign exchange.
Why did the President have to make false accusations before getting his men to find out the truth of the matter? Is it that Mr President does not understand the economics of the matter or that he just felt so free to ride on and dish propaganda and blackmail to assumedly gullible citizenry?
Flashback on Minister Rotimi Amaechi vs Ibe Kachikwu as the NNPC GMD, when they disagreed in public on the fate of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, or the more recent incident of the appointment of dead men into the board of parastatals which the chairman of the APC, Odigie Oyegun, came to the public to make a disclaimer on behalf of the party? Did it need telling that if the list was submitted before the president went for medicals for as long, it would have needed simple crosschecking and revalidation before release?
We are left to wonder if there is a central command, a meeting point for the harmonization of ideas, policies and actions of this government. But, who is surprised? It seems typical of Buhari and therein lies the tragedy of today’s Nigeria – a phenomenon of leadership loving power but lacking in knowledge, intellect, morality and technical capacity to govern, only sustaining itself with blackmail and propaganda.
In exploring the root of the character and psychology of this government, I come to the conclusion that we are lost in time and mind.
History bears witness that Buhari had enjoyed power and privileges as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and state governor in the 70s while the military ruled and, like many other officers of that generation, he had developed a sense of entitlement to power.
It was for that reason he toppled the second republic in his ouster of the government of Shehu Shagari, feeling that after the generation of Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo as heads of state with their companies in Shehu Yaradua, Theophilus Danjuma and others had had their fill, they should leave the scene for his generation of officers to also take their fill. Thus, he jaundiced our march to democracy, bringing Nigeria back to military rule.
To sustain him, he used the usual anti-corruption propaganda which has been the instrument of the military against the civilian class. Nzeogwu and co used it against Tafawa Balewa and Ahmedu Bello. Murtala used it against Gowon and the civil service.
Buhari dramatized his, reeling outrageous accusations against the civilian governors of the 1979 to 83 class and jamming them in jail to our unreasoned applause. We know better today that it was all a charade, that Jakande, Ambrose Ali, Ajasin, Nwobodo, Solomon Lar, Rimi, Mbakwe and many of that glorious age have no wealth anywhere that we can point to. Rather, those who have inflicted the highest corruption on Nigerians are the military Generals. Abacha’s loot will remain a testament just because he is late. The other Generals have our oil blocks and wells with Danjuma selling off one for $1b and telling us he doesn’t know what to do with the money. Others have allocations and concessions on other pies, yet none of the generals have been brought to book for corruption. It is revealing that even in his latest anti-corruption war, he has avowed not to probe beyond Jonathan, to keep safe his military colleagues in whose bowels we all know the bulk of the nation’s fleeced wealth reside. Call it deception or double standard.
Obasanjo replicated the same blackmail on all the civilian governors in his third republic presidency, discrediting them all to scheme his third term agenda.
It is a testament to lack of capacity that even the verve of the Buhari regime of 1984 is ascribed more to his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, but even most remarkable was that following his lack of understanding of economics and nation building, he revised and introduced policies that did the nation in. His distortion of Shagari’s import policy, for instance, constrained free trade and private sector business, leading to huge scarcity and inflation so much so that government became in charge of providing food with families queueing up at government offices for essential commodities – bread, cooking oil, milk, rice, sugar, salt, etc.
The disruption under his regime, of the metro rail line project of Lagos by which the then capital city’s internal transportation system would have been so different from what is it today, for instance, attested to lack of vision and understanding of the direction of modern society.
Using the same charge of corruption, Buhari was overthrown by General Babangida. It is from here that the real problem of today started. The experience was so painful to him that for several years he remained angry and switched off from the world, almost becoming a recluse. Recall Miss Havisham in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations.
With the same sense of entitlement to power, General Abacha disrupted the conclusion of the June 12, 1993, elections which would have seen the return of power to the civil class through MKO Abiola.
It is instructive that while the likes of General Obasanjo and Shehu Yaradua criticized the move by Abacha, he sent them to jail which led to the death of Yaradua while Buhari jumped at the putsch and went on to serve under Abacha as Chairman of the Petroleum Task Fund, a contraption through which Abacha is suspected to have fleeced most of his legendary loot.
Interestingly, even with the huge evidences of the loot and declarations by the government of Switzerland, Buhari repeatedly insisted that Abacha was not corrupt.
Forward to 1999, the shenanigans of the military class in our national politics saw the return of Obasanjo to power as civilian president, 20 years after he had been head of state. This development jolted Buhari and incensed his envy to also want to return to power.
His first attempts ended in failure and swelled a well of anger and bitterness in his spirit to the point that in subsequent campaigns, his language and conduct became so unstatesmanlike as he began to spit fire and blood. At a point, he bursted in tears.
He aroused sectional and religious hate. He campaigned with a spear in his hand. He talked about the dog and the baboon in bloodbath. His supporters responded, visiting mayhem on ordinary citizens by which even Youth Corpers meant to unite the nation were butchered to death.
As fate would have it, President Jonathan Goodluck whom Obasanjo supported to succeed Umaru Yaradua to checkmate the emergence of Abubakar Atiku his former VP with whom there was no love lost, burnt his goodwill by reneging on his one-term pledge while he held on to the PDP structure. The intra-party rebellion that followed produced a groundswell of opposition against him, albeit with high-wired propaganda and a sophistication of both local and international gang-up that paved way for Buhari as the available Northern candidate to emerge as president.
It has been suggested that following the persistent demand that the presidency should go to the North and the mayhem that trailed Buhari’s loss in the 2011 pools, the gang felt it was in the best interest of national stability, in the absence of the PDP presenting a Northern candidate, to pull behind Buhari, to forestall another possible mayhem in the 2015 election.
Senator Ahmed Tinubu saw his chance in this setting and teamed up. The Americans ensured that there would be no easy supply of arms from them and Europe to Nigeria to give Jonathan a breather on Boko Haram. Chibok came into the plot with Michelle Obama being among the first to sign up to BBOG. Within, accusations of corruption by top personalities against Jonathan became thick. Many were true.
The gang dusted up Buhari as a sure appeal to the North and to faithfuls of his religion to gain a head start. He had robed himself with the cloak of spartan integrity, even though, we know now that inside his household is a bubble of affluence where diamond wrist watches, hot pants and multi-million Naira power bikes are play things for kids in wanton experimentation of fantasies.
The campaign powdered and masked him against public scrutiny. He had only one line to chant in the script. “I will fight corruption.” Issues about his qualification, certification and ability to manage the Nigerian economy in an increasingly challenging global competition were shot down. His utility bill will do for a certificate. There would be no debate for him. Others will do the talking, a situation which has enabled him to disclaim many of the campaign promises, leaving us confused as to who takes responsibility for the promises, Buhari or the APC? Where to draw the line?
Working from the answer, the Generals set up an electoral peace committee headed by former President Abdulsalam Abubakar with Rtd Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as vice, ostensibly to ensure fair conduct of the candidates and the process of the elections but in reality to keep Jonathan under check from taking any advantage of state apparatus on the election. All incumbents do but the generals guided against Jonathan.
As Cardinal John Onaiyekan, also a member of the peace committee described it, “the good thing with the committee is that for the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria we had a group that sat there ready, a group that was not just that of monitors and observers but one that was there and somehow acquired an amount of authority.”
The game was up for Jonathan and the election of Buhari became a fait accompli.
But his little goofs before the election showed the underbelly of a grossly absent state of mind, that our candidate was not awake and no longer part of the modern world. He didn’t know the full meaning of INEC, the umpire of the elections in which he was participating for the fourth time. He couldn’t quite remember the name of his running mate as Osinbajo became Osinbade. Even his party became All Progressive “Confidence”, not Congress.
It is in the brain of this man who came back to power 30 years after he had been head of state that the fate of Nigeria now lies.
Now in government and after attending an invitation of the G7 in Germany, he would refer to the country as West Germany, unaware that a reunification had taken place between the East and West in 1990, five years into his years of bitterness from the pains of his ouster in 1985.
Interestingly, Obasanjo would later admit at the Third International Conference On African Development Issues that he knows Buhari not to have the requisite capacity to manage a modern economy.
“I know Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. He served under me in the military. He is not a hot person when it comes to economy. He is not a very hot person when it comes to foreign affairs. But he will do well in matters of military and he will do well in fighting Boko Haram,” Obasanjo said. The question would be why did the elders, knowing him so, foist him on us?
True to the description, to form government after his inauguration became a huge difficulty for him. It took three months to appoint Secretary to the Government of the Federation and a Chief of Staff in August. It took six months to appoint ministers to form a cabinet in November.
The nation simply did not have any real government for six months. It was especially worrisome at a time when there was glut in oil price and downturn in the volume of production, suggesting economic recession.
The world waited on the government to give direction on fiscal policy. Suggestions on what to do came from highly informed quarters including the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido who was Governor of the Central Bank, but Buhari remained silent. When he spoke, he insisted that the foreign exchange should remain pegged even when the nation was not earning enough to be able to keep control. The consequence was capital flight from foreign investors, a free fall for the Naira to as low as N500 to the dollar and a bad toll on businesses.
Even at that, when he eventually formed a cabinet, the quality, antecedents, character and integrity rating of many of the ministers left yawns in the mouth. Till date, I don’t know of his economic adviser.
Matters were made worse by his policy statement that he would dish 97% favour to areas which voted for him and 5% to those who didn’t support him. Don’t mind that 97 and 5 to make 100 was wrong arithmetic. The bigger issue was, as a statesman, and having won election and now president of the whole country, without exception of any region or political persuasion, such pronouncement eroded the confidence of various segments and inflicted on the psychology of our unity.
With the threat of exclusion, restiveness in the oil bearing Niger Delta area returned to further constrain the processes of crude oil production and further aggravate the already precarious low earnings on export of crude oil.
In sharp contradiction with his charge that fuel subsidy was a lie and that fuel should not be more than N50 per litre, we were to find he had no economics about what he said and would shamelessly muster muscle to raise the price from N87 to N145. Today, there are indications that it would go further up.
The same disorganization showed itself in the matter of padding that trailed the government’s 2016 budget, where almost three versions of the document came out, as his men slotted in strange provisions, sensing that the president could sign without checking. Thank God for little mercies.
It was the same discordance that trailed the party’s management of the establishment of the the 8th National Assembly and the election of its leaders. The President was said to have given date for the conveyance while on the same set date, he was said to have convened another meeting of the party without properly shifting the date for the convening of the assembly. The rest is history.
In same manner, two of the government’s critical security outfits, the DSS and the EFCC came to the public in discord, leaving us to wonder if there was a command, for all matters, security.
Still so, a former director of the ministry of interiors, Abdurasheed Maina, earlier accused and relieved of his job for alleged self-appropriation of pension funds to the tune of hundreds of billions of Naira, was brought back to service through the back door. Then the drama of how the Head of Service, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, the Attorney General of the Federation and the office of the SGF also dragged themselves to the public in discord over who did.
While these happened, the former SGF Babachir Lawal was allegedly busy helping himself with funds meant for the IDPs in the name of bush clearing. Such insensitivity right from the presidency to embezzle monies meant for displaced persons. Has the prosecution of Lawal began?
For a man that said he would ban medical tourism for top government officials, he would spend an initial 50 days and another 106 days in a London hospital, practicing not what he preached. But even his wife had to burst out that even the Villa clinic for which much was budgeted for lacked in basic supplies. Right under his nose.
Today, and for several years now, we have been harassed with images of herdsmen slaughtering fellow citizens across the country. The minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, seems to be speaking the grudge of the president when he says the herdsmen have not enjoyed agric subsidy as other farmers enjoy through the subsidy of fertilizer, seedlings and irrigation. True indeed, but could that be a justification of the butchers?
But who is surprise at the lethargy to rein in the herdsmen? The government signposted its entrance early with the massacre of over 300 Nigerians of the Zak Zaky muslim sect by the military for constituting social nuisance, obstructing the way of the Army Chief and pelting stones at his convoy. It’s such a way to govern. Life means nothing.
It’s a litany of all contradictions, insensitivities, insincerities and goofs with all sorts in a free for all. Worst is that the president is locked in, reclining in power. He speaks through the window, not by the door.
Like a construct, those who carved and framed him in flattery images have been unable to breath reality into the idol and we just may be serving an “unliving” god.
Fred Edoreh who wrote through [email protected] was the immediate past chairman of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Lagos Chapter