Today, Monday, May 29, Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria since 2015, will leave office after eight disastrous years. The late Chief Bola Ige famously coined the phrase, “good riddance to bad rubbish”. That, truth be told, is the best way to describe the exit of Buhari, his presidency and his government from power.
For the past eight years of Buhari’s administration have been an unmitigated failure; a monumental waste of time, of resources, and of the hopes and aspirations of a nation and a people.
True stewardship is leaving a place better than one found it. But Buhari is leaving Nigeria far worse than he found it in 2015. On any metric, Nigeria sunk deeper into an abyss under Buhari. Without a doubt, he’s the worst civilian leader Nigeria has, so far, had! No previous civilian president showed such aloofness, such indifference, such arrogance, such self-centeredness and such utter lack of competence and vision in governing Nigeria. None!
Before he became president in 2015, Buhari had been a military head of state. But he was so calamitous that his colleagues removed him from power within 20 months.
Yet, he enjoyed the privileges of a former head of state: the highest national honour, GCFR, permanent membership of the Council of State, numerous financial and other material benefits, and the prestige of being treated as an “institution”.
So, what else did Buhari want? Granted, a former dictator is not constitutionally barred from becoming a civilian president. But why did Buhari want to inflict himself on Nigeria as president, despite his irredeemable leadership flaws and acute intellectual weakness?
Inevitably, we must compare him with General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s other military-cum-civilian leader. When General Obasanjo left office as military head of state in 1979, he threw himself into policy analysis, founded the Africa Leadership Forum, a policy think-tank, engaged in international diplomacy, read and wrote. Obasanjo didn’t plan to be president.
Serendipitously, he became president in 1999. With his experience and exposure, he hit the ground running, embarked on radical institution-building, negotiated and secured debt relief for Nigeria. Obasanjo had flaws, but inept or ineffectual government wasn’t one of them!
By contrast, after his failed military regime, Buhari’s consuming passion was to regain power as a civilian president. But he simply wanted to govern Nigeria with the same template he used as a military dictator. He did nothing to improve himself intellectually; did nothing to develop a vision of governance, a vision for Nigeria.
Indeed, according to the late Junaid Mohammed, an ally-turned-critic, Buhari “never read a book in his adult life”. Yet, such an intellectually lazy and bereft person wanted desperately to be Nigeria’s president.
So desperate, in fact, that he entered into a Faustian pact to achieve his selfish, inordinate ambition. Buhari ran for president three times and failed! After the third attempt, he wept on national television. Bola Tinubu’s immortal words: “I told him, ‘Don’t cry. You will contest and win.'” But Tinubu had his price. If he helped Buhari to become president, Buhari would, once in power, help him to become president.
Both traded the presidency of Nigeria, the destiny of the nation, between each other on the altar of personal ambitions! At face value, both were strange bedfellows. In 1984, Buhari jailed Tinubu’s ally, Bisi Akande, for 42 years for “unlawful enrichment of his party”.
If 2015 were 1984, Buhari would have jailed Tinubu for hundreds of years for far worse: state capture, unexplained and inexplicable wealth, a drug-related past, etc., etc. But, no, 2015 was not 1984. In the intervening years, Buhari had become a politician and desperately wanted to be president.
His famed no-nonsense anti-graft zeal, as a military ruler, had gone, and he was willing to make “a pact with the Devil” and sell his soul. That’s how he became president! But if someone was so desperate to be president and willing to compromise his values and fraternise with those he would have jailed for grand corruption in another dispensation, he must be pursuing power for power’s sake. And truth is, power was an end in itself for Buhari. Otherwise, why was there no fidelity between what he promised, or the impression he gave, when seeking power in 2015 and what he did after gaining power?
Take the seemingly mundane: trappings of power. Buhari had a reputation for asceticism and frugality with money, but, as president, became utterly profligate, spending like a drunken sailor, including on wasteful overseas trips. Buhari vowed to sell off some presidential jets but bought more and spent billions annually to maintain them, even using them to fly his children to private parties. Buhari said his wife won’t be called First Lady, yet created the Office of First Lady and lavishly resourced it, with personnel and budgets.
Recently, Buhari gloated: “I got all I wanted.” Of course, he did: for himself, his family, his cronies, and his party. But what about Nigeria? What about majority of Nigerians? With N77trn or $42bn debt, 22% inflation and just 1.4% GDP growth, Nigeria is economically worse off under Buhari. With 63,111 killed by terrorists and bandits since 2015, 133m multidimensionally poor and nearly 60 per cent youth unemployment, Nigerians are socio-economically worse off. Indeed, under Buhari, Nigeria became the “poverty capital of the world”, and plummeted in global rankings, such as on health, education and social capital.
Yet, despite his abysmal failure, Buhari craved praise-singing, and basked in dishonest adulation. His aides published lists of his so-called achievements. In his famous essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell said political language is designed “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” That’s how to describe statements about Buhari’s achievements.
Any “achievement” that doesn’t directly improve the lives of ordinary citizens is pure wind. In 2014, Nigeria’s GDP per capita, a measure of well-being, was $3,201. Today, after Buhari’s eight years in power, it’s $2,429. Put simply, Nigerians are a lot poorer than when Buhari came to power. But he’s not short of praise singers.
Recently, two books were launched to praise Buhari. One, by Anthony Goldman, one-time Africa Editor of Financial Times, is titled ‘State of Repair: How Muhammadu Buhari tried to change Nigeria for good’. The author couldn’t bring himself to say Buhari “changed Nigeria”, but “tried to”, which is even false.
But if Buhari hired a former Africa Editor of the FT to burnish his image, what does the newspaper’s current Africa Editor, David Pilling, think of him? In a scathing article titled “What is Nigeria’s Government for?”, Pilling pilloried Buhari “on whose somnolent watch Nigeria has sleepwalked closer to disaster.”
Not for Abu Ibrahim, a former senator, who wrote the second book, a hagiography, titled ‘The Legacy of Muhammadu Buhari’. But what “legacy”? Buhari promised to tackle insecurity, fix the economy and “give corruption a bloody nose”. He failed woefully.
His government bungled a currency redesign and conducted a sham presidential election. So,what legacy? But what about infrastructure, some ask? Well, only the economically illiterate will hail infrastructures funded entirely with debts, which would still be payable decades after the roads, rails, ports etc have become decrepit, with over 95 per cent debt service to revenue ratio. By the way, why are some of the infrastructures named after Buhari? For instance, the Second Niger Bridge, built with N336bn, is called Muhammadu Buhari Bridge.
Why? Well, not surprising. Buhari is shamelessly obsessed with being hero-worshipped, being idolised! But truth is, as Buhari exits power today, he leaves behind a far less secure, stable, united and prosperous country. That’s the legacy of his presidency, of eight wasted years.
Good riddance, indeed!