• Friday, July 19, 2024
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As Buhari prepares to depart, Nigeria is in need of serious reforms

As Buhari prepare to depart, Nigeria is in need of serious reforms

Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari began his presidency with tremendous goodwill. Like millions of Nigerians, I cheered when, during his inauguration in 2015, he said: “Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on.”

These turned out to be empty words.

Today, with Buhari preparing to step down at the end of this month, insecurity is worse. In 2015, Boko Haram was the major security threat, contained largely to the north-east of the country. Today, insurgency has spread to the north-west and down towards the capital, Abuja. Across the country, criminal police, extortion, banditry and communal violence make Nigerians unsafe at home, in school and while travelling. Kidnap for ransom is a booming industry.

Large parts of Nigeria are ungoverned, despite Buhari funding the military more than any other president since 1999. The military tradition of underfunding the police has continued under Buhari, despite the “EndSARS” protests against police brutality in 2020.

Corruption scandals are still common. The pardoning in 2022 of two former governors, who happened to be members of Buhari’s own party, convicted of stealing billions undermined the president’s claim to the title “mai gaskiya” (honest one).

Read also: Pro-democracy group caution LP, PDP on contesting 2023 election result

Buhari’s tenure has also been economically ruinous. He closed land borders to drive up agricultural production and manufacturing but ended by starving industries and shutting in entrepreneurs. Dollar trading became the hottest rentier gig in town as the value of the naira plummeted. And last month, the National Bureau of Statistics announced, to little surprise, that foreign direct investment had dropped to its lowest levels in nine years: from $3bn in 2015 to $468mn. Weak investor confidence has gone hand in hand with declining purchasing power, with over 13mn Nigerians predicted to fall below the poverty line between 2019 and 2025.

Theft of crude oil on an industrial scale reduced production by almost half, forcing Buhari to cut a deal with a Niger Delta militant he had previously attempted to prosecute. Fuel subsidy payments and fuel consumption have soared, yet fuel scarcity prevails.

Meanwhile, the national debt has risen sharply over the past five years. Some of it was invested in transport infrastructure. The principal benefit of financing roads is to be found in the boost it gives to the movement of people, goods and services. But insecurity, border closures and an uncertain regulatory environment have smothered that.

Genuine progress, such as the signing into law of important pieces of legislation, including the Petroleum Industry Act of 2021, has been hindered by cumbersome processes and poor implementation.

Buhari declared that his legacy would be defined by overseeing free and fair elections in 2023. He failed. No election since 1999 divided Nigerians the way the last one, held on February 25, did. The Independent National Electoral Commission failed to upload presidential results as promised, even though Nigerians had pinned their hopes on technology bringing to an end a long history of compromised elections.

As president-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu prepares to take over, perhaps it is only right that he gets to inherit the mess created by the man he helped make president in 2015. They are each other’s legacy.

The lesson of all this is that changing faces and rotating political positions is not enough. Nigeria needs systemic reforms that only its intellectuals and policymakers can drive — but that’s another story.