By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
In the course of the 2015 general elections, I travelled through the peril of bad roads to Ekpoma to cast my vote in the presidential election. Truly, I voted for Buhari. Despite the irregularities of the process, he won through with an implicit Carter clause, which is that though there were obvious irregularities, they were not enough to warrant an annulment. Many of us who were impatient with President Jonathan and the contradictions of his administration felt a change was indeed required. One singular reason that made me vote for Buhari was the thinking that he would be anti-imperialist and exercise national autonomy in key policies.
Today, it has turned out that I made a mistake. I apologise. The very reason for voting for him was the first casualty. For him to be president he had to be sold to the Americans who bought his candidacy and who subsequently asked him to open the economy for foreign investment, a euphemism for external control. Christine Lagarde, the Empress of IMF visited and gave the administration a cocktail of slave driving tools to further impoverish Nigerians struggling to eke out a bare living. Her recipes were subsidy removal, flexible currency, increased value added tax and stamp duty among others.
Truly, the state of the nation pre-2015 was saddening and Nigerians truly deserved a lease from the overwhelming national problems. Jonathan Administration inherited a paralysed state structure even though he was the vice president to President Yar’adua. The business of state took backstage as a result of the illness of the president and its politicization. Jonathan did not understand the historical forces that shaped events in the country. He felt obligated to the cabal of retired military generals whom he credited with ushering in democracy. Overwhelmed by the problem of governance, he ran his government through committees read as being a product of cluelessness than an act of inclusivity. He was unable to tame the oil cabal and oil subsidy became a national scandal warranting a major inquisition by the National Assembly. Petroleum products were short in supply and its prices were jerked up from N65 to N141 thereby deepening the misery of the people, notwithstanding the subsequent reversals. Boko Haram intensified their activities and much of the north-east was under sect’s occupation. While his government was engaged with the insurgents and with mercenaries to boot, the war itself spawned an armament profiteers who reportedly bought second rate weapons for the soldiers in ways that the war became an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). Money ostensibly meant for purchase of arms was seized in far away South Africa. The president was seen by the impatient public as slow and weak. He did not help matters when he said he was not a general thereby eliciting the question of who he was— a Goliath or David? Nonetheless, his administration rebased the national economy upping the country to the status of the biggest economy in the continent. Although, he privatised the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, he did not resolve the electricity problem and the country remained world importer of power generating set. Corruption was widespread with varied free riders dotting his administration. His government embarked on various infrastructure rehabilitation projects including airports and railway. To his credit, he fulfilled aspect of the electoral reform and brought credibility to the electoral umpire. He secured the lid on the Niger–Delta militants and ensured steady export of crude. He, however, squandered a historical opportunity of restructuring the country after organizing a National Conference in 2014 by neglecting to action aspects of the report to unbundle the over-centralised state. He did the unimaginable in a continent in which incumbents do not organise elections to lose (apologies to Pascal Lissouba of Congo Brazzaville). He handed over power to a successor and accepting the results of the presidential election before the final tally.
Under the watch of President Buhari, economic misfortune is continuing under the slavish economic policies of neoliberalism—those economic principles that privilege the market and its integral privatisation programme through divestment of the public sector. There are no economic laws that say that the private sector is superior to public sector. This is not borne by historical records. Its current version being pursued by the Nigerian government is Medium Term Economic Framework (MTEF). It is being implemented outside the rule book because the minders of the Nigerian state don’t understand it and naturally it can’t work in a country that is badly divided without a common national creed. It is least surprising that the policies therefrom are hardly being contested despite their deleterious effect on the national wellbeing. Indeed, they have become normalised. Besides, economic mismanagement has led to a rapidly increasing debt burden. The country is already thrown back to the pre-2006 era of debt overhang with external debt hovering around $22 billion. As though nothing is amiss, the state actors are still comforting themselves with an elusive debt-to GDP ratio of 21 per cent and a credit threshold of about 51 per cent. They forgot that the country does not have a patriotic and discipline elite that can utilise credit facilities for the purpose they are meant for. The naira, its currency, weighted against that of many developing countries is worthless.
Add up. The consequence of a disarticulated economy is the acceleration of social vices, namely, kidnapping, ritually killings, 419, armed robbery, killings by security forces, bribe–taking, misappropriation of resources, subsidy scam, vending of fake products, prostitution and illegal migration across the Sahara desert to Libya en route to Europe. These combined with structural violence such as the hike in prices of petroleum products, multiple taxes and attacks on the rule of of law have aggravated the misery of the Nigerian people.
Blood-letting has become the order of the day. The entire Middle-belt has become the open killing field of land-grabbing Fulani herdsmen whose murderous activities are countenanced by current wielders of state power. We are all living witnesses to the spectacle of mass burial in Benue state and plateau. Historians say it is a repetition of the massacres of the Tivs in the riots of the early 1960s. The statistics are chilling and simultaneously infuriating. Figures from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) put the number of persons killed by Fulani militias in the Middle Belt in the first quarter of 2018 at 1,061. In its survey, Amnesty International put the number of deaths across 17 states since the beginning of 2018 at 1, 8143. In a summing up covering June 2015- to date, US Council on Foreign Relations earlier put the figure of those killed at 19, 890. About 54,595 lives were lost due to the activities of the insurgents between 2011 and 2018. These figures don’t tell the whole story. Add the gory tales of Fulani herdsmen activities in your respective states; you have a sense of scale. These killings earned the country a non-enviable third-place ranking in the 2018 Global Index on Terrorism (GIT). Anyone not disgusted by the shedding of innocent blood cross the country most probably has lost his or her humanity. These days, the perception outside the country which is the truth is that Nigeria is a war zone.
In about 2000, at the turn of the century, the economist of London observed that Nigeria was badly divided as a country. It noted further that the football team, the only entity that momentarily unites the people, despite the talent of the individual player; do not play as a team. If that was the perception in 2000, now the unity does not exist, as the incumbent administration has completely eroded it mainstreaming the domination of a tiny migrant community over the rest component parts of the country. Happy with its temporal hegemony, it is impervious to the logic of restructuring the country. Indeed, we are at the crossroads reached by the makers of July 1966 counter-coup with the conclusion that there is no basis for unity.
Under the current administration whose leadership the insurgents were ready to choose as a mediator while he was yet to be elected into office is unable to handle the insurgents that have now grown into a hydra-headed monster. The daring attacks on national security formations are debilitating. Need we search for the logic of reversal? The security forces of the country are not cohesive as it is divided by ethnic appointments in which of over 75 per cent of leadership positions are occupied by a single ethnic nationality in a multinational country; deployment of men to frontline is also ethnically skewed while there is a loud absence of a coordinating national security agency where intelligence is sieved for the benefit of national wellbeing. This is as a result of unbridled incompetence and hegemonic delusion. In a rather intriguing way, the country is being encircled by insurgents. Carnage is on-going in Zamfara; Sokoto was breached by jihadists labelled by the outgone Inspector General of Police as Malian herdsmen. This is certainly not the country of our dream.
The above problems require solutions. On the contrary, President Buhari and his team have reinforced them weaving into the complex benumbing hopelessness. The litany is endless and saddening: 87 million living in extreme poverty (Brookings institution, 2018) and 13.2 million out of school, highest globally.
Clearly, the resolution of these sundry crises of the Nigerian state is beyond the current president. Weakened by ill-health, devoid of vision and intellectual capacity to navigate the wide field of our national problems, he cannot provide solutions. However, the president has failed to read the national mood and understand the lie of the state. Browbeating his party into nominating him as the presidential candidate instead of paving way for a brand new candidate within his party reeks of ego and spiritual poverty. I can only wish Mr President good luck. I should note that it is his right as a Nigerian citizen to vote and be voted for. But what the presidential chat has revealed is that country is drifting and the extant leadership can only endure in a banana republic which Nigeria has become. Should he force himself on Nigerians through a corrupt use of the security forces and manipulation of the electoral process, a reality already being foreshadowed by signals from these vital institutions of the state, it will be unacceptable. Indeed the leadership of the country has become a major contradiction to be resolved at least for now through the ballot. Nigerians may be slow in acting, but they can never be taken for granted. I refuse to be a bondsman in my fatherland. For me, my choice is clear: it is goodbye to illusions.
* Akhaine, an Associate Professor with the Lagos State University is a Visiting member of the Guardian Editorial Board.