Deferred hope for the Nigerian messiah!

By now, even fanatical supporters of Mr Buhari have reconciled themselves to the reality that he is not the messiah they had been longing for. It is not difficult to understand why. Despite all the support and encouragement this government has enjoyed, economic conditions have continued to worsen and ordinary Nigerians are now only preoccupied with the exigencies of living (how to put food on their table) and nothing more.

We do not need an expert to tell us the Nigerian economy has virtually collapsed. Going by the figures released just yesterday by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, the GDP declined by -2.06 percent (year-on-year) in real terms in the second quarter of 2016 – the worst such performance in over 25 years. Inflation is heading for the roof – presently, at 17 percent. Unemployment and under-employment among the youth is now at 45 percent. The beleaguered Naira is in a free fall (now N425 to the dollar). The misery index is now at 47.7 – the country with the fifth worst index in the world.


As if these are not enough, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) recently released figures to show that over 272 businesses have closed shop in the country over the last year. 222 of those were SMEs while 50 were manufacturing companies. Sadly, most of the manufacturing companies that closed shop in Nigeria relocated to neighbouring countries with more friendly business policies from where they manufacture and import to Nigeria. The total job losses since Mr Buhari took over power have been officially put at 4. 58 million, according to the figures from the NBS yesterday.

Just as we were digesting the NBS figures, Aero contractors, Nigeria’s oldest operating airline, announced it was suspending operations altogether in Nigeria. They inclement operating environment and the economic malaise as reasons.

One could see the visible disappointment on the faces of the masses that voted en mass for Mr Buhari and his party. But it wasn’t just the masses alone. Even the business elite, the middle class and intelligentsia queued behind the man believing, quite erroneously like I had argued on this page before, that corruption was Nigeria’s major problem and given Buhari’s famed anti-corruption postures, the moment the scourge is tackled, the country will become an Eldorado.

But that is not the only reason why Nigerians warmed up to the old man. Nigerians, from independence, have always longed for a messiah who would solve all the country’s problems in one swoop and move the country from the third world to the first in a generation. It is not for no reason that Nigerians are so fascinated with Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. They envied the spectacular leadership of Mr Yew and how he practically transformed the country in a generation though in a very authoritarian way.  Nigerians have always yearned for a leader who could replicate Mr Yew’s works in Nigeria.

On the stumbling bloc that democracy appears to be, Nigerians don’t really care. They had always preferred a bit of an authoritarian or strongman ruler from time. That was why the country jettisoned the more collegiate British parliamentary system bequeathed to the country at independence for a more elegant, even if dictatorial American-styled presidential system. Presidentialism is democratic but must be practiced in a context of strong institutions of restraints. In the absence of these institutions, like the case with Nigeria, presidentialism is only a name for democratic dictatorship. And this effort was led by the 49 wise men that drafted the 1979 constitution. The reasons they gave for this shift were quite revealing of the push for strongman politics. On the one hand, the ‘wisemen highlighted the structural elegance and deeper democratic character of the presidential system. On the other, they also agreed with Leopold Senghor that sharing power between a President and a Prime Minister was not feasible in Africa. Presidentialism, the committee argued, was more compatible with African indigenous kingship/chieftaincy traditions. It also had the capacity to overcome the conflict of authority, personality and ethno-political interest between the ceremonial President and the Prime Minister, which citizens had witnessed in Nigeria’s First Republic. What was more, they reasoned that a developing country like Nigeria needed a strong president who could serve as a symbol of national unity and a custodian of the national interest.

I have argued previously that despite an apparent preference for participatory, democratic governance by Nigerians, there is an atavistic longing and deep yearning for a ‘strong-man’ ruler or what Guillermo ODonnell refers to as ‘delegative democracy’ in the country. Being a vocal and assertive lot, Nigerians will criticize the authoritarian tendencies of their leaders, but they expect leaders to act swiftly or even brutally and bypass laws, if necessary, in pursuance of the common good. The tendency is to equate ‘effective’ or ‘good’ governance with dictatorship or authoritarianism.

In delegative democracy, citizens vest all powers in a ruler and expect him to use those powers to better their lots. They are not prepared to govern with the ruler. They are not prepared to sweat it out with him – to provide the finance needed, to hold him accountable, to shout on him when he makes mistake, to provide voices of dissent to ensure plurality in the society. They are content with voting – and indeed believe their duties end when the vote is cast.

That is why in Nigeria we are always attracted to tyrants, authoritarians and military men. We are not prepared to do what it takes to liberate our country. We believe, quite erroneously, that by voting, we have done our duty and the leaders must then provide everything for us.

Now that the carefully prepared myth about the persona of Mr Buhari has evaporated, we’re all lamenting that we have been deceived and seduced into voting for a change we never bargained for. We’re all disappointed that our hopes have been differed. But in 2019, we will go to the polls and repeat the same mistake again. We will be on the lookout for the politician that can make the most fantastic of promises; that can seduce us into believing that he will pave our streets with gold and milk and honey will flow from our taps. Only that after the votes, we will be disappointed again and will turn to another party in search of our messiah.


Christopher Akor

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