Muhammadu Buhari: An expectation reduction masterclass
A quick quiz, if you please:
Do you remember a time when an underachieving African country hit 7 percent annual economic growth and everyone agreed that this growth was narrow-based, unreflective of general reality and frankly too little anyway? Do you remember when this underachieving African country had significant security challenges in its northeast as a deadly insurgent group went on a rampage, and everyone agreed that this was an unforgivable failure of government?
Do you remember a time in said country when whatever went wrong in its governance could be traced to the person responsible, who was usually the president? Do you remember when that country went into an election cycle fully animated by a righteous zeal to hold its government accountable by passing a damning verdict through the ballot box? Do you remember the general sense of accomplishment and euphoria that followed the expulsion of that government as a new one came in filled with promises and apparent desire to change things?
2015 happened – And then…?
Of course the country in question is a certain Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the governments in question were that of Dr Goodluck Jonathan and later Rtd. Major General Muhammadu Buhari. At the end of 5 years of Dr. Jonathan, the major issue was not so much the fact of Nigeria’s underachievement – which did not start in 2011. The issue was that Nigerians – many for the first time – had learned the concept of dissatisfaction with their government and how to express it. After decades of military rule, May 29, 2015 was perceived by some as a grand coming-out party for development and democracy in Nigeria.
where it was once agreed that the state’s job was to protect citizens from violence, the state itself has now actively positioned itself as a violent enemy of the Nigerian people
Since then, however, every single parameter by which everyone agreed that the previous government had failed, has worsened considerably. Where 7 percent annual economic growth was (rightly) seen as insufficient and barely enough to stay ahead of population growth – much less reduce poverty – the current government has barely managed to deliver an anaemic 3 percent at the best of times. At the worst of times, it has delivered two different immensely avoidable economic recessions and has somehow engineered a ludicrous currency crisis and a public debt catastrophe out of absolutely nothing.
Where failure to secure citizens from Boko Haram and inability to defend territorial sovereignty was rightly judged as an unforgivable offence for a government, again these standards seem not to apply anymore. At the height of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2014, the group famously controlled three local government areas across Borno and Yobe states. Presently, entire swathes of Nigeria’s northeast, northwest and Middle Belt have been effectively ceded to different groups of terrorists active in those areas. The federal government is barely able to enforce its will a few kilometres outside of Maitama.
Most incredibly of all, where it was once agreed that the state’s job was to protect citizens from violence, the state itself has now actively positioned itself as a violent enemy of the Nigerian people and has effectively established itself as a hostile occupying regime in Abuja. Journalists, lawyers, 21-year-old student activists – everyone is a target for violent elimination by the state now. Political imprisonments and NADECO-style exile movements are a thing once again.
So what changed?
The elephant in the room is that even for a population that is statistically dominated by people who did not experience a significant part of their lives under military rule, Nigerians are still a largely inexperienced group when it comes to democracy. The Nigerian idea of engaging with a democratic government still revolves primarily around elections. A person comes in and misfires then is replaced with someone else whom the electorate hope will not misfire, and so on in that manner, like one long stint in nationwide sports betting shop.
Democracy, of course, is supposed to extend far beyond this, and the Buharis of this world are well aware of this. They know that since Nigerians are not used to constantly and consistently pressing their leaders’ feet to the coal, said leaders have the unique opportunity to lower expectations and public morale using a mixture of sleight of hand, media gymnastics, skulduggery and open violence. In so doing, over the course of just 6 years, an entire generation of Nigerians who never witnessed the horrors of Buhari Mark I, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha have been introduced to concepts like fear, apathy, hopelessness and placid acceptance.
Muhammadu Buhari has taught a new generation of Nigerians that they should not expect more from life, and if they do, they should not demand it, lest they be massacred by the state’s camouflage-wearing, AK-47-wielding bush militia. He has taught them that Nigerian citizenship is applicable on a tiered basis, contingent on ethnicity. He has especially taught them that the Nigerian state has no intention of offering them any better deal than that of a lifetime spent in back-breaking subsistence farming.
The only limiting factor on how successful this nationwide social engineering experiment is, will be determined by the answer to the following question: How hard are the heads of the generation that describes themselves as the “coconut head” generation?
We’ll just have to wait and find out.