3 Years of Famine, Disillusionment and Despair


As a schoolboy, I loved to compete in the 400-metre race. You had to run full circle on the field, unlike the 100m or 200m race where athletes with stamina weren’t given the chance to prove their prowess. In those days – some 40 years ago –my admiration usually went to long-distance runners whom we called “milers” or “marathoners”. They usually competed only in the 1.5km and 5km races; but, during inter-house sport competitions, some also participated in the 400m race if their house didn’t have good candidates.

I still appreciate marathoners – those who work slowly but steadily, who suffer alone silently but finish their work in style. When, 10 years ago, I heard that President Umaru Yar’Adua was a good finisher, I had no difficulty in bearing with him. Sickness never gave him a chance to finish that race, sadly.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s style is strange: moving slowly backwards. And his stubbornness – almost always without intelligent cause – is legendary. It has now brought Nigeria to the precipice once again.

Full disclosure: the only time I voted for the PDP was in 1999. I voted and campaigned for APGA candidates in 2003; and for Buhari in the 2007, 2011 and 2015 polls. Those who watch this column know this. I have yet to seek a voter card for reasons I made clear penultimate week. Meanwhile, I have since apologised to my readers for misleading them in the run-up to the 2015 polls when I earnestly asked for Buhari.

The picture of Nigeria under Buhari has been horrifying: famine, disillusionment and despair everywhere you go. Why should a government refuse to spend money during a recession? Former US President Obama said it’s the worst thing a government would do.  Elementary economics teaches that government is the biggest spender in every economy; and, in Nigeria’s case, there is no private sector – the private sector that exists thrives on government patronage.  There have been a few contract awards [including in agencies like the NNPC where $25billion was allegedly cornered in a questionable deal], meagre salaries that are not even paid promptly, high prices of goods and services, failing businesses, growing joblessness. The TSA was invented by a previous administration, which opted for gradual implementation to avoid hurting the poor, but the Buhari government has thought otherwise: it has chosen to kill Peter to save Paul.

The kinsmen he has surrounded himself with have no intention to tell him the truth.  Take calls for restructuring, for instance: how can Nigeria make progress without redressing the imbalances in its faulty federalism? The ruling APC, which promised restructuring in its manifesto and even campaigned on it, has suddenly denied it understands the meaning of the word.

Judging by the timeline, Buhari’s tenure is entering its last lap or the last 100m in my favourite race. I have witnessed marathoners who overtook their competitors during the last lap, but they did so from not far behind. On the strength of its performance, this regime has not even covered the first 100m. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that it has lost the race. And perhaps 14.9m out of the 15m who voted for Buhari in 2015 have a similar opinion; never mind what his handlers tell him or what paid e-rats post on media platforms.

Only last week, the president’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, stated that only the blind couldn’t see the administration’s achievements.  And those achievements, in the imagination of another spokesman Garba Shehu, lie in the administration’s ability to recover looted funds.  The comptroller-general of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, added that only lazy Nigerians were hungry. Perhaps 180million Nigerians are blind. And perhaps all Nigerians except those sustained by public funds like Ali are lazy. They are dying in large numbers.

Does Buhari want to hear the truth?

The truth is that his popularity is at its lowest ebb – from the south to the north and from the west to the east.  A majority of us now feel his government has little to offer, and its penchant for looking at the rear mirror after three years of a four-year tenure is enough evidence. Nobody is interested in dogo turenchi anymore – a government’s performance is judged by how well the people eat and live. I don’t need to counter some false statistics dished out by “hailers” recently; some “wailers” have been responding to them appropriately.

Someone should tell him that a majority of Nigerians are hungry – very hungry. Many have starved to death, and many may not make it to 2019. The American dollar exchanges for N375 [except for the favoured few who buy at N300 or less – an act of corruption], and petrol sells for N145—N220 per litre. There is no security except for ranking government officials; in fact, Boko Haram and “cattle herders” have gained strength and have been carrying out massacres unchallenged.

We leave politics and politicians and go into the field; what do we find? A country very high on the misery index. Ordinary people from the north and south are agreed on one thing:  Buhari’s government has brought famine, the type not seen since independence in 1960. My friends with whom I shouted “Sai Baba” pre-2015 no longer reply on hearing the chant. It’s from them I learned the meaning of Hausa word akuya (goat) – they often called someone that!

This country has never been so divided. Since independence we’ve not seen nepotism of this type. By putting the country’s security architecture under the control of a section of the country and shutting out another section in his appointments, Buhari has fuelled a long-held suspicion that there was an “Islamization” agenda or a quest to “dip the Koran in the Atlantic ocean”. Combine that with the security threat and non-performance and you have a failed state.

I wonder where Buhari’s support will come from in 2019. Is it from “lazy youth”? Is it from the middle belt where “herdsmen” and bandits commit sacrilege every day? My friend from Benue said he won’t get one vote there! And will anyone feeling hungry at the polling booth be voting for those who caused their hunger?

And what will the ruling party campaign on? It should never mention corruption fight because that is “full of sound and fury/signifying nothing”. The few selected from the opposition that are facing trial will eventually go free, just as many did after Buhari’s ouster in 1985. And I hope the president won’t keep praising himself for jailing people illegally or lamenting that a subsequent regime freed them. Corruption is not being fought. Only members of the opposition party are being hounded; once you join APC you become free.

I was an adult during the Buhari—Idiagbon reign. I yearned for Buhari’s return because I wanted to see action, not media war or showmanship. I thought by now many corrupt people would have been shot or sent to jail, their properties seized and returned to the state. By now, I thought, the bones of dead looters would have been exhumed and hanged, leaving their survivors in shame.  I thought Nigeria would have got ready to become a true federation with lots of opportunities for its teeming population.

In any case, his victory in 2015 was a good thing. If he had lost, we would have continued to miss a phantom Eldorado.  I have no regrets for not supporting President Jonathan then; he scored low marks as a leader too. Even though Buhari don fall our hand, we don’t miss GEJ much.

As early as 2016, I stated that we’d seen the best of Buhari. As he moves into the final year of his tenure this Tuesday, what should Nigerians expect? Next week, this column will make forecasts about events that will shape Nigeria in the next one year. Before then, I will consult my eponym on Facebook [the ORACLE] who lives in a grotto somewhere on the outskirts of Abuja.

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