Former President Muhammadu Buhari may not be a happy man in retirement contrary to what he made many Nigerians believe.
The regret of his past may be putting a burden on his conscience. His unenviable tenure marked by nepotistic appointments and failed policies constitute a significant source of remorse.
Today, some of those who worked closely with him are saying that their former boss is regretting some of his actions while he was the chief occupant of the Presidential Villa.
What is not clear is what the revelations are supposed to achieve after a disastrous eight years that nearly sunk Nigeria and wrecked the lives of many citizens.
Or is Buhari under the same emotional trauma akin to what Voltaire, a European atheist, felt, when he declared, “I am abandoned by God and man. I shall go to hell”?
Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, was last month quoted as saying that the ex-President regretted some of the decisions he took while in office and felt he could have done some things better.
“There were things he (Buhari) felt could have been done better,” Adesina had said. Although Adesina has since retracted his statement, saying he was misquoted, observers strongly believe he could not have been flippant.
A few days ago, Solomon Dalung, former minister of Sports and Youth Development, in the first term of the Buhari administration, said that the former President may be living in regret.
Dalung alleged that Buhari’s allies dragged his name in the mud and also noted that the immediate past administration failed to fulfil the promises made to Nigeria during the 2015 campaign.
“Today, I believe he is living in regret. They have dragged his name and integrity not only into the mud and they have reduced his image,” Dalung said.
One of the undoing of the Buhari administration was his penchant for nepotism (the practice of favouring family or friends in appointments) which he flaunted and cared less about the feeling of anybody or what people said. This, many Nigerians believe, marred whatever achievement the administration recorded.
Although he swore to “belong to everybody” and “belong to nobody” during his inauguration in 2015, many Nigerians agreed that the former President did not live up to his promise despite the overwhelming goodwill that his administration enjoyed, upon assumption of office.
During his eight-year rule, his appointments generated controversy across the country, and many Nigerians accused him of marginalisation and disregard for the principle of federal character.
Although Buhari had promised an inclusive earlier in the life of his administration, Ayo Opadokun, a pro-democracy activist and former secretary of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), had, in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, said: “Come to think of it, how will that happen when you have a Nigerian security council where the President who presides over is from Katsina; the director of state security is from Katsina, and you also now have the newly appointed director-general of National Intelligence Agency also from Katsina. With all these, how can other people from other parts of the country be assured that they are safe?”
One man that never believed in Buhari’s integrity posturing is Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah.
At a public event in July this year, Kukah pointed out “…but I think in the last administration, we saw the ugliest face of corruption whether in moral terms, financial terms, and other terms.”
Observers say it is a regret that should weigh heavily on Buhari’s conscience, as it has had far-reaching consequences for the country.
Under Buhari’s leadership from 2015 to 2023, Nigeria experienced a fractured nation due to his flagrant disregard for diversity and harmony.
Experts say Nigeria paid dearly for this approach, witnessing a decline in virtually all development indexes during his tenure.
Even Buhari’s relative, Hadi Sirika, a former minister of Aviation, tarnished Nigeria’s reputation with the ill-fated Nigeria Air project.
In June 2020, some Southern leaders dragged President Buhari before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court over alleged marginalisation in appointments made by his administration since 2015.
According to them, the present composition of the government of the federation, and most of its agencies especially as regards the composition of the security and quasi-security architecture did not reflect the federal character of Nigeria but rather there was a predominance of persons from a few states and sectional groups dominating the opportunities and threatening national unity and integration.
Buhari in 2015 in an interview with BBC Hausa explained the reason behind his lopsided appointments, saying he nominated people he could trust, and who had worked with him for years.
Buhari had also said that the constitution allowed him complete control over his closest officials’ choice and made it clear that the appointments also served as a reward for those who remained loyal to him for years, who refused to be lured by power or material wealth.
The former army general, who won the presidential poll after three failed attempts, defeating the then incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan, had emphasised three key promises: to tackle insecurity, stem corruption and fix economic troubles.
But after two terms, not many rate his scorecard as being better than the man he succeeded despite embarking on a vast infrastructure drive.
Under Buhari, Nigeria became the world’s poverty capital as 133 million of his compatriots now live in abject poverty. Under his eight-year rule, the country fell into recession twice.
In Buhari’s eight years in office, he appointed at least six deceased people to boards of federal agencies, without knowing they were dead.
Similar failed policies were made in managing the economy where, upon leaving office in May, the naira had lost 70 percent of its value to the dollar compared to 2015.
“Some of his appointments were not ideal, and he may have not appointed competent individuals for key roles in government. In addition to this, he may have been ill-advised in some of his own decision-making,” Ayodeji Dawodu, a director at the London-based investment group BancTrust & Co, said.
According to data from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO), debt was at a record high, forcing Africa’s largest economy to use 96 percent of its revenue to service these ballooning obligations.
For many Nigerians, especially those in the South, two controversial Buhari’s decisions that would not be forgotten easily, were the closure of land borders to restrict imports, end smuggling and boost local production.
A decision which instead, led to rise in inflation as food costs soared, while relations with neighbouring and dependent economies like Benin, Ghana and Niger were strained.
Also, the controversial decision to redesign the 200-, 500- and 1,000-naira notes, to mop up excess cash in circulation last October by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), backed by Buhari, led to shortage of cash across the country few months to the general election, causing great pain to the people, and led to many untimely deaths.
Perhaps, the most traumatic experience of the Buhari administration was the high spate of insecurity the country witnessed across the country, especially in Northern Nigeria.
Daily clashes between farmers and herders especially in the Middle Belt states of Benue, Plateau, and other states in the north east, such as Adamawa and Taraba, led to loss of thousands of lives.
Bandits had a field day under his watch. Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and some other states came under constant attack of bandits. Several schools were invaded and students abducted. While a number of the students lost their lives, many were brought back after hefty ransom was paid.
According to Transparency International, more than 1,300 people were killed between January and May 2018.
According to data from Nigerian Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States of America, about 53,418 Nigerians lost their lives to non-state actors between May 29, 2015 and October 15, 2022.
Experts blamed the situation on poor government response to distress calls and failure to punish past perpetrators.
Former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), described Buhari’s administration as the “most incompetent government we’ve ever seen in the country, run by the most incompetent President that this country has ever had and will never have again.”
Adoke said the root of this incompetence can be traced back to the appointment of individuals based on their proximity to the President rather than their merit.
Tope Musowo, public affairs analyst and scholar, said If Buhari is regretting his decisions now as said by his appointees; it could be because he has suddenly realised that power is transient, and to his greatest surprise, the new administration did not waste time in reversing and undoing all his nepotistic appointments despite being from the same party.
According to him, “He has now realised that the political system we operate is “turn by turn Nigeria Limited”, if you skew the system to favour your people instead of being fair to all regions, you won’t be there forever, when it is turn of another region you will surely reap what you sowed in bountiful fold.
“It is public knowledge that the immediate past president, Buhari, took nepotism in government’s appointment to a new level. He did that with flagrant disregard to the principle of federal character and plurality of the nation.”
Tolu Otuwa, political analyst, said part of the reasons the Buhari administration failed was because those appointed were not supervised.
“Of course, his nepotism was glaring and affected the country badly, but I think Buhari’s greatest undoing was not holding ministers and other appointees accountable.
“A lot of them were not supervised, that is why they were arrogant and lost focus, and ultimately policies were not implemented to the letter.”
Buhari may be living in regret, but many Nigerians are wondering whether President Bola Tinubu is following the same divisive path.