Today is one year in office of President Muhammadu Buhari, and by implication, the APC government. As a matter of fact, I find it difficult to situate our President. As an undergraduate student back in 1983, Buhari conjured up in me an image of a man who is synonymous with suffering, a man who does not read the signs of the times, a man who wants to do the right thing at the wrong time.
An average man in the street today sees the president as a man who cherishes living the Spartan way, a man who wants to do good but, like St Paul, ends up doing the opposite. I was a student back then in 1983 at the University of Calabar when Buhari, like El Lute in Boney M’s eternal lyrics, sprang into our consciousness from nowhere. All I remember about him then was the suffering he inflicted on us. As students, we were on a roll, we lived as if we were on a roller coaster ride to the land of bliss until Buhari came. We were being fed sumptuously and almost free by the Federal Government. We paid no tuition fees and were pampered by the government like babies. But Buhari came and scrapped all of these and turned our lives to misery and deprivation. Since then, I have noticed that each time he dabbles into our political space, our fortunes dim, and our lives tether on the edge of unremitting and inexorable pain. Today, as we mark 17 years of democracy, all we remember about him in the past 365 days is not how we lived like lords of the Manor, or how his change mantra dropped the ripe fruits of democracy on our tables, but how, like Jeroboam, we are being chastised with scorpions every day.
As we celebrate today, I do not know what to make of his one year on the throne, or that of his APC co-travellers. All I can say about him in the past one year is that our lives have never been the same again. He came, like Mansa Musa of the old Mali Empire, wearing the toga of change. And true to type, the change came, but without rhyme or reason. Some people say we mistook chain for change! As he clocks one year, it is important that we look back and examine the errors of Mr President, and how they concatenate to make his one year in office a sad year to remember in the annals of Nigeria’s democracy.
First and foremost, Mr President’s inaction or delay in constituting his cabinet robbed us of the anticipated phenomenal sectorial development that APC promised within a year. What happened was that Buhari and his party did not actually expect to win the election, but when the victory came, they were not ready for the burden of leadership. That was why it took the President over 8 months starting from the date he was declared winner, to form his cabinet. Buhari wasted the groundswell of goodwill ricocheted by his victory, and misread the mood of the moment. He was declared winner of the presidential election on April 1, 2015 by the Independent National Electoral Commission led by Professor Atahiru Jega. Nigerians who had already grown tired of the PDP-one party system expected him to hit the ground running, but he hit the ground and sat there. He wanted saints as ministers, and wanted to luxuriate in the freedom of him alone choosing them. That delay negatively impacted his regime and branded him as “Baba Go Slow” in the eye of Nigerians and the media.
Another major minus of the Buhari administration, which is an offshoot of his slow pace, is the delay in passing the 2016 federal budget. The budget is the articulation of the policy direction of government, individual or corporate organisation over a period of time. The 2016 federal budget which should have been passed by December 2015 was just signed into law by President Buhari late last month. The delay affected all facets of the country including the economy and governance and more than anything else exposed the insensitiveness of the APC government. Businesses suffered as importers and companies waited on Buhari’s policy direction. The after effect is that many Nigerians lost their jobs as companies got tired and lost patience waiting for the master.
But if there is anything that so much negatively impacted Buhari’s one year in office, it is the downward slope of the naira. Whereas he promised us years of happy release in one hand, it appeared, on the other hand, he came speaking the language of Jeroboam: “My father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions. ”But what Nigerians are getting in the bargain today is worse than the sting of scorpions. We now wear hunger, anger, joblessness, infernal neglect, a total feeling of deprivation and many epithets of disillusionment as ornamental embellishment, a sort of Purple Heart!
Although the federal government blames the dive in the exchange rate of the naira vis-a-vis other currencies on the fall in oil price, it is the lacklustre management of the economy by the President that precipitated the slide which brought us to this pass. What the President and his economic handlers failed to understand early was that the dollar was a critical economic variable in shaping the economy of an import dependent nation like Nigeria, and so failed to take proactive economic measures to hold the dollar within a tolerable and manageable level. The Word Bank chief, Christine Lagarde came on this score, but the president said he saw no reason to tamper with the exchange rate of the naira. But on the 25th of last month, the CBN floated the naira and officially devalued the currency. Today, the masses are groaning under the bondage of uncontrollable price spiral as the dollar spike, the price of goods under the present administration has gone up in geometric progression compared to what we had under Jonathan. A bag of rice which sold at N7000 under Jonathan a year ago now sells at N25000, which sadly reminds us of the economic privation Nigerians suffered in the years of our Head of State and Commander-In-Chief Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
But beside this, Buhari’s One Year in Office was marked by unpardonable policy somersault. His party promised us constant electricity and light for all. But the first economic blunder he committed was to increase the electricity bill of Nigerians by 45 percent. The first assignment of our super minister for Works, Power and Housing Mr. Raji Fashola was to grant this request of the Distribution Companies which Jonathan tacitly avoided. But the light is not even available. Companies are closing down and individuals are getting blind as the government distributes darkness without measure.
Sometimes I ask myself, what is it that I can joyfully point at that has monumentally and positively impacted the lives of Nigerians in the past one year of Buhari’s administration? Is it the increase in the pomp price of petrol from N86.50 to N145, or the fact that the government now dispenses the same product to the masses at black market price as Vice President Osibanjo explained? I look around and find nothing. From Agatu to Nimbo, from Benue to Enugu, what I see are rivers of blood, blood of innocent Nigerians. The Fulani Herdsmen who have become our own Janjaweed and terror group are freely hawking death everywhere in the land, snuffing life out of many of us and the authorities keep mute and look the other way. It is unfortunate that after the gruesome massacre of Igbos in Enugu last month, all the authorities did was to transfer the commissioner of police instead of outright dismissal for such heinous dereliction of duty.
Today we celebrate democracy. I thank Nigerians and the military for giving this wonderful form of governance a chance. But looking back, I think we placed too much unfounded hope on one man. We wanted to make George Washington out of a man who was not prepared for such glory. One year down the lane, all we remember are the many travels our president undertook. Within one year, our president visited over 50 countries, which means that he lived in the air for close to 2000 hours, spent over 3000 on the soils of other nations and had less than 3760 hours to be with us and understand us and know what ails us.
Prior to his being chosen as presidential flag-bearer of APC, Buhari told us he was now a reformed, rebranded and full-fledged democrat. We believed him because we were looking for a hero out of every unknown face. But if you ask me this one year after, I would say that a leopard hardly changes its colour. Buhari is still the same irrepressible Buhari I knew far back in 1983 as a student, the man who always wants to have his way even after the court has ruled. What better example does one need to cite other than that of Ndubisi Kanu and Sambo Dasuki whom the courts freed but are yet to get their freedom from him.
One thing we fail to understand is that democracy is not all about going to choose one’s candidate every prescribed period. It is about building institutions, respecting those institutions no matter one’s position in society; it’s not about building big men or small men. When we build our institutions and respect them, we make our democracy strong and rooted. With court violations, can we say APC is helping democracy to thrive in our nation?
If there is anything Nigerians at home and in diaspora will remember Buhari’s one year in office for, it is that it was a year characterised by so many presidential lapses and imbecilic diplomatic blunders. For instance, Buhari went to the White House in Washington and told his American audience and the world that Nigerians are criminals. When we were still reeling in the pain and shame and about to recover from such presidential gaff, he went to London and screwed-up again. He admitted the infernal comment of British Prime Minister David Cameron that “Nigeria is fantastically corrupt.” Instead of taking umbrage at such insult on his country and ask for apology, he said he was not interested in that but in the stolen money stashed in Britain. Curiously enough, it was the president of Transparency International who came to our rescue by reminding Cameron that it takes a corrupt nation to accept an ill-gotten money from another country.
I was in the office of an APC chieftain from Ebonyi South senatorial zone last week. When our discussion vied into the state of the nation, he assured me and almost swore that the situation will drastically improve as Mr President enters his second year. I pray, and we pray too for better days ahead. I hope so. But we really need serious transfusion of liquid hope to believe him. And if Buhari continues at this bland, colourless and vapid pace and doesn’t sit down to plan and claw back the lost ground, then I would say, like John Donne, that we are swallowed up irretrievably, irrevocably, irremediably.