Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Who voted for Muhammadu Buhari? – By Ikechukwu Amaechi


Voting on March 28, 2015 for the then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, was almost a badge of honour.

At polling booths, voters proudly flaunted their thump-printed ballot papers to prove that they were worthy ambassadors of the “change movement”.

Today, perhaps, the real measure of how much things have changed is that many people no longer readily own up to being part of the historic movement that led to the sacking of a sitting Nigerian president.

Nobody admits voting for change any more. In fact, to accuse anyone of voting for Buhari has become an offence that people don’t take kindly. How could I have voted for Buhari, God forbid, is the most popular refrain in town today. And you wonder who did.

Well, I did. I am one of those who voted for the Daura-born General last year. I have said so here, severally.

I thought that former President Goodluck Jonathan had no capacity to continue to rule this country. He was not in control of his government and another four years with him in the saddle was, for me, unimaginable. And I still believe so.

I also thought Buhari would make a better president not necessarily because he possessed the intellectual capacity to govern. No.

But I reasoned that unlike Jonathan, he had the requisite character and integrity to be in charge of his government and if he was, what he only needed to do was to gather people with the capacity to drive a 21st century economy in dire need of a shot in the arm.

Sadly, knowing what I know now and having observed happenings in the polity in the last one year, I no longer believe so.

If the election was to be conducted today with Jonathan and Buhari as the frontline presidential candidates as was the situation last year, I would rather not go near any polling booth because, for me, the difference between the two is the same between six and half a dozen.

Jonathan as president was clueless as charged. Buhari is not proving to be any different.

Today, May 29, 2016, is exactly one year since he was sworn in as president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Expectations were quite high when he took his oath of office, vowing to give Nigerians a new lease of life. But, 365 days down the road, Nigerians are aghast.

I doubt if there is any Nigerian (the common man I mean, not those cocooned in presidential, legislative and governorship palaces across the country) that will say his condition is far better today than it was before May 29, 2015.

But the government believes that those who think that way are being mischievous. In fact, they have been branded, disingenuously I will say, Wailing Wailers.

While meeting with members of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) on Thursday, May 26, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerians to be more persevering, reminding the wailers that “change is no instant coffee, it is a process.”

Claiming that the administration is now “laying a solid foundation for our country,”he admonished the naysayers that “the road will be rough, but as the saying goes, the darker the night, the brighter the morning. Our long suffering people will surely smile again.”

But Buhari’s media aide, Femi Adesina, was less charitable. In his recent interview with The Punch he was quoted as rebuking those who think Nigerians have not had it this bad.

“It is mendacious to say that in the last one year, what Nigerians have been experiencing is suffering. It is not true,” Adesina thundered magisterially.

Of course, just like those of us on this side of the socio-economic and political divide, he has the right to his views no matter how deceitful they may be.

But the question to ask is this: Has Buhari lived up to his campaign promises? Nobody can honestly answer this question without weighing the answer against the deluge of promises he and his party made while on the campaign trail last year.

Even though oil prices were tumbling, Buhari promised to pay N5,000 a month to unemployed youths, make the country more secure, fix the perennial power crisis, exorcise the demon of corruption, strengthen the naira against the dollar, and reduce the pump price of fuel, among many others.

Broadly speaking, he promised that his government would focus on security for the people, fight against corruption and revamp the economy.

His spin doctors claim that on security, he has finished all the work in under one year, citing the successes recorded against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.

While it is true that Boko Haram has been significantly diminished and degraded, can it be said that Nigerians are today more secure than the pre-Buhari era with heavily armed Fulani herdsmen raping, kidnapping, maiming and killing hapless citizens? The answer, to my mind, is no.

Today, Nigeria is more fractious than at any other time in its history with the South East and South South becoming highly volatile.

The jury is still out on whether the Buhari government is winning the war against corruption even with the record number of high profile corruption cases in the courts. But not a few Nigerians will admit that he has exhibited more courage and singularity of purpose in the fight against graft.

If Nigeriawere to ever tame the monster, Buhari may well be the leader to lead the charge.

But even if we admit without conceding that Buhari has defeated terrorism in Nigeria as claimed, and permanently exorcised the spectre of graft, he is still perceived to be underperforming because, ultimately, “it is the economy, stupid,” to borrow a pun from former United States President, Bill Clinton.

The economy is in a tailspin not necessarily because previous administrations, particularly the immediate past administration of Jonathan, wrecked it but because Buhari has shown a surprising lack of capacity to manage it.

In the last 365 days of the Buhari presidency, all economic indices are headed south. Recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that the economy contracted to about 0.36 per cent in the first quarter of the year, the first time in over a decade.

Experts say the economy might shrink again in the second quarter which ends in June, a development that will effectively usher in recession in the economy. A country is said to be in recession when its economy shrinks in two consecutive quarters.

Rather than bringing the naira at par with the dollar as promised during the campaign, today one dollar exchanges for at least N350 and still counting.

Rather than reducing the pump price of petrol to N40 from N87 per litre as promised last year, since Buhari himself claimed then that there was no longer any subsidy, his administration has imposed a 67 per cent tax on petrol, thereby jacking up the price to an unprecedented N145 per litre.

Today, Nigerians pay more with increased tariff but are served more darkness.

We have lost single digit inflation, which has now climbed to almost 14 per cent, the highest in many years.

On September 9 last year, Nigeria’s stocks fell after JP Morgan said it would eject the country’s economy from its influential emerging markets bond index due to tough controls imposed to prevent a currency collapse, and in October it carried out its threat by removing the bond listings, forcing fund managers to sell Nigerian bonds, which automatically raised the country’s borrowing costs.

Companies are finding it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to produce because they are unable to access foreign exchange. Unemployment is soaring rather than abating.

All these are happening not because of the slump in the global price of crude oil but because of the president’s“archaic”and “opaque” economic policies according to former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili.

Speaking recently in Abuja, she said Buhari’s economic principles are not only encouraging massive corruption and abuse of power, but also hurting the poor they were intended to help.

“During the first coming of this our new president, a command and control economic system was adopted. During that era, inflation spiraled. During that era, jobs were lost. During that era, the economic growth level dipped,” Ezekwesili said.

“That era wasn’t the best of eras in economic progress. What did not work in 1984 cannot possibly be a solution in a global economy that’s much more integrated.”

Is one year enough for the president to solve the plethora of problems bedeviling the country? No, not at all! But is one year enough for the government to show the direction it is headed? It is more than enough.

Buhari’s actions and inactions in office have left Nigerians worse off. Only one year into a four-year tenure, there is an embarrassing lethargy at the highest reaches of the government.

Nigerians have never had it this bad. There is unbearable poverty, hunger and suffering in the land.

Buhari may well have good intentions. But that alone is not enough. Jonathan didn’t have bad intentions, either. But that did not translate into much at the end of the day.

Rather than massaging Buhari’s ego by telling him he is the best thing that has happened to this country, those who claim to love him more than the rest of us will do well by telling him that many Nigerians, the wretched of the earth, and not the corrupt elite, are beginning to curse the day they voted him president.

*Ikechukwu Amaechi writes from Lagos (ikechukwuamaechi@yahoo.com)

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