• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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One year to go: Whisper it quietly, but have we survived Buhari?

APC presidential campaign council denies appointing Buhari campaign chair

Exactly seven years ago on May 30, 2015, I was in a deep funk. Two years earlier, I had returned to Nigeria as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 23 year-old ready to take on the future and explore this exciting new world of possibilities.

Nigeria in 2013 was my personal wonderland – a burgeoning, energetic place filled with possibility and adventure. The ensuing two years were approached as an adventure filled with travel, career moves, romance and hope.

And then March 2015 happened. I had a front row seat to the giant marketing and Public Relations event that took one of the most notorious coup plotters from Nigeria’s Christmas Past, and turned him into the winner of a credible election in the same country he had once terrorised. Saturday, May 30, 2015, was a day after General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) took his oath of office. It was not a work day but I showed up at the office anyway because I had nothing better to do.

If one’s window on Nigeria over the past three years has been this column alone, one might think that Nigeria is already being packed off into the metaphorical cosmic dustbin

I sat brooding at my workstation inside the dark office, absently thinking about the various awful scenarios that could result from a Buhari presidency. I imagined a crushing economic recession; a full-blooded assault on civil freedoms; a middle class exit rush as everyone who could, struggled to get out of Nigeria; the end of democracy as we knew it when the old soldier would tear off his babariga and show us the khaki underneath it. Weirdly enough, the possible individual consequences of a Buhari presidency to my life never crossed my mind, which I sometimes recall with a certain degree of irony. What a difference seven years makes.

There is good news – weirdly enough

This month makes it three years since I started writing this BusinessDay column. In that time, whenever I have offered commentary or analysis, it has very rarely been about good news – how much good news has there actually been under the president that some Biblically-humorous people sarcastically refer to as “Ahab”? If I’m not talking about Buhari’s poor economic policy and outcomes, I’m talking about legislative rascality or his executive overreach. If it’s not that, it’s his political shenanigans and administrative dishonesty. If it’s not that, then it’s his prolonged assault on human rights and civil freedoms.

If one’s window on Nigeria over the past three years has been this column alone, one might think that Nigeria is already being packed off into the metaphorical cosmic dustbin, moments away from being dumped into the landfill of history and forgotten about. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is not the case. The past seven years have revealed a few interesting things about the resilience and future prospects of Nigeria. Despite Buhari’s best efforts, in 365 days time, he will in fact hand over a (barely) functioning country which has a chance to start a post-Buhari healing process for the second time in 38 years.

The first ray of light that the past seven years shows us about Nigeria post-2023 is that Nigeria’s economy remains extremely resilient. This does not mean that Nigeria has a good economy of course, just that its degree of badness is not close enough to trigger total nationwide chaos. In fact, for some parts of the Nigerian economy, 2015-2022 have been bumper years. This has happened in spite of policy decisions like the nonsensical border closure, the CBN-led crusade against foreign trade, and the disastrous five-week COVID-19 lockdown. While Buhari has obtained the unwelcome distinction of leading Nigeria into a recession on at least three separate occasions, these recessions never graduated into Depressions.

L’etat C’nest Pas Buhari

There is also a crumb of good news in the fact that despite his seven-year executive crusade against institutions, press freedom, civil rights and basic human freedoms, Nigeria remains somewhat free and censorship-resistant. The institutions will outlast him, after which they will have a chance to undo his damage. The media never went away, despite his clear and open attempts to muzzle them using instruments like the NBC 6th Code Amendment, 2020. Even the Twitter ban did not last, and by the time you are reading this column, the ECOWAS court in Abuja should be delivering its final verdict on its lawfulness in a lawsuit I am part of.

Read also: Buhari: One year to go! (2)

French King Louis XIV famously made the remark “L’Etat c’est moi (I am the state).” Several guillotines and centuries later, it would appear that the world generally no longer approves of hereditary monarchies wielding total powers of state unilaterally as God surely intended. Clearly, nobody told General Buhari this, as evidenced by his cavalier disrespect for rule of law and even governance optics. Early in his tenure, judges had the gates blown off their houses with C4 explosive in the name of “anti-corruption” drives. The Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen was illegally removed and replaced with some fellow who referred to a pilot as an “aeroplane driver.”

All of this notwithstanding, all the rumours of Nigeria’s death under Buhari appear to be significantly exaggerated. It is not that the man has not tried his level best to literally regress Nigeria to 1984 – the year he last experienced any kind of meaningful growth as a person and administrator. He has done his best, but somehow even his best has not been good enough to send Nigeria over the precipice. The courts still function (just about). The institutions of state still exist. BusinessDay can still publish the column you are reading. You can tweet about it afterward without a VPN.

The situation is by no means ideal of course, and whoever is unlucky enough to succeed Buhari has an absolute whale of a job in front of him. Unprecedented debt levels need to be brought down. Public finances need to be straightened out. Civil service payrolls need to be purged. I suspect however, that when The Man In Aso Rock completes his term and hands over in a year’s time, the sheer amount of public relief and excitement will buy said successor at least a few months of grace. I wish that person the best of luck.

I wish all of us the best of luck.