Leadership Crisis in a Recession

My friends that have been tagged “wailers” – because they didn’t vote for “change” in 2015 – remind me in the social media that their membership register is full. I hereby ask for permission to explain myself first, before I ask to join the “wailers”: I’ve been disappointed like almost everyone else that voted for “change” last year. I had faith in Muhammadu Buhari because I was an adult in 1984 when the military government he led launched the successful “War Against Indiscipline” (WAI). However, I also expressed doubts about his ability to perform as a septuagenarian. At the time of the general election in March 2015, the chosen few in all arms of government had continued to bleed the public treasury with impunity. And, since the choice for president was between Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan, I had no difficulty in siding with Buhari. I could have voted for any other human being apart from Jonathan who lacked many qualities of a good leader. Although there were 12 other presidential candidates, I couldn’t have wasted my vote on an “also-ran”.

After 15 months, we former defenders of “Mr Integrity” have reached the end of the tether. The only exception must be former President Olusegun Obasanjo. At the weekend, he reportedly stated that Buhari “has not disappointed us” and “will overcome the challenges the country is currently facing”. Indeed, the president has not disappointed them – the men and women who benefited from oil blocks, overinflated contracts and direct theft of public funds; those rewarded with millions of unearned naira every month as retirement benefits after plundering the country as military rulers. They have gathered enough to take care of their progeny for several lifetimes and could always take the next available flight to other continents at the first sign of trouble in Nigeria.

Not so for us ordinary Nigerians. Buhari did not hit the ground running and thus compounded the nation’s economic problems. A third of its tenure gone, the administration has shown no sign of governance in nearly all sectors. There is no economic policy – no map and no direction. We didn’t bargain for a president who is hardly seen or heard. Who did this to Nigeria?

When we referred to Jonathan as “clueless”, we didn’t understand the true meaning of the word. The epithet fits Buhari perfectly. It fits many of his ministers who are still in electioneering mood: laying the blame on previous administrations and preaching “diversification” of the nation’s economy without taking any step forward. Four farming seasons have come and gone; neither Audu Ogbeh nor Buhari has cleared an inch of land for farming. Except for illegal miners of solid minerals in Zamfara, Kaduna and other states, no-one is extracting other riches buried under the Nigerian soil. All eyes are still on oil.

Nigeria badly needs a leader like Franklin D. Roosevelt at this time. In the midst of gloom, people want to know the direction they should take. They desire a leader who could talk them out of hunger and hardship. Pontificating about morality and appealing for patience, as the president has been doing, cannot be acceptable to citizens of a nation where fuel is not affordable, where a bag of rice is sold N19, 000 (while the minimum wage is N18, 000), where electricity is lacking, where companies are folding up or relocating, where jobs are not available for 80 per cent of young people, and where many who had jobs have lost them.

Buhari’s stubbornness is legendary, yet his world view appears limited. He cannot step into Roosevelt’s shoes. Therefore, he needs to employ a credible mass mobiliser immediately. I’m told that even his ministers are afraid of confronting him with the truth for fear of losing their job. Some have become dumb! Lai Mohammed must be facing the hardest part of his job, because there is nothing to defend or explain away.

The anti-corruption “war” seems unending – and I wonder when victory will be declared – but we know this regime is only scratching the surface. TSA or no TSA, these are the best of times for many thieves in government establishments. Besides, Buhari has embraced another form of corruption: nepotism. He has yet to refute Junaid Mohammed’s statement detailing how he has given appointments to his family members and friends. Also, thousands of the children and cronies of influential people have been employed in four or more government agencies without advertisements. Again, Buhari has not uttered a word.

At the end of June, Nigeria officially entered into a recession. No word from the president to his compatriots.  Finance minister Kemi Adeosun promised it would be over by December without explaining what would make that possible. She simply told a lie. Even well-managed economies don’t climb out of a recession hole in one or two years. In Nigeria’s case, I don’t think recession is the right word to use: the economy is dead! A recession may be signalled by two consecutive quarters of negative growth, but hard times have been with us since 1981 or earlier. Many are beginning to doubt if we have had an economy in the first place – it has been an economy sustained by oil alone.

President Buhari told visiting United Nations Population Fund’s executive director Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin recently that Nigeria had suddenly become poor because of oil price fall. Untrue. Oil wealth has not really disappeared. At $50 times by 1.5million barrels per day, it is still the saving grace. Nigeria has the potential to be rich, not poor. It only needs a leader who could see the abundant wealth hidden in the country’s human resources and transform it to things of benefit to its citizens.

A Roosevelt as Nigerian leader would be talking to compatriots now dying in the streets as a result of starvation or running mad behind prison walls without trial.  He would have comforting words for “thieves” of pots of soup and cups of garri. The nation would be receiving briefings from Aso Rock, on a daily basis, on matters like rice farms in Gboko, new sources of electric energy in Enugu, and the number of jobs created weekly in Kano.

Our main problem, then, is not just economic recession but leadership recession. As 2016 gradually draws to a close, I have yet to see a source of optimism in Nigeria’s future. I see gloom and doom for at least the next three years. Likely, the economy will move from recession to depression and then to collapse. Buhari and his party should take the blame; after all, if the economy had improved, they would have accepted the credit. When power supply improved between June and August last year, for instance, the presidency attributed it to the presence of “a new Sheriff” in town whose body language was working.  What has happened to that body language? All promises cancelled!



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