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Five years into Buhari’s presidency, public trust in the Nigerian government appears to be in decline alongside a growing perception of lacking political inclusion. This is hardened by negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic and a sense of undelivered political promises which the the Nigerian government is well known for.
In September 2020, during a ministerial retreat to assess his stewardship, Nigeria’s President, the despotic Muhammadu Buhari declared his nepotistic administration’s progress in all fronts to improve his citizens’ quality of life and set them on the path to prosperity. Speaking further, he commended his clueless administration for innovatively addressing insecurity and insurgency by rehabilitating and re-integrating repentant terrorists into society. Seemingly triumphant, he affirmed that his maladministration is on the right course and highlighted their efforts in building strong institutional capacities to fight corruption, while urging his appointees to defend his government by going on the offensive to better present information. In his election manifesto there were promises to ensure the equitable distribution of the country’s wealth and close the gap between different classes and ethnicities. He had committed to lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next ten years, but he did not explain, however, how he intends to achieve this. Many Nigerians did not believe their President, and currently many more rather feel the opposite about his positive self-assessment that things have actually gone from bad to worse under Buhari’s watch and this is the blatant truth.
These sentiments were expressed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said he was embarrassed about how President Buhari is running the country in a very unprofessional, lackadasical manner while insisting that Africa’s most populous Black country is moving towards becoming a failed State. The former President then openly accused the current administration of mismanaging diversity by allowing disappearing old ethnic and religious fault lines to reopen in greater fissures with drums of bitterness, separation and disintegration. Obasanjo is apparently not alone. Wole Soyinka, poet, essayist and first African Nobel prize winner, concurred with the former President’s assessment, describing the country as a crumbling edifice on the edge of collapse. According to another elder statesman, the former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, referring to attacks across the country by bandits and criminal herdsmen, the failure is because ‘no serious and patriotic government will allow this level of killings of its citizens by terrorists and be watching aimlessly’. A prominent Islamic scholar, Sheik Murtala Sokoto, described those still praising Buhari as liars and hypocrites. Even within the President Buhari’s own party, many people who worked for his victory now complain openly that the mission that brought them to power might have been willfully abandoned.
Frustration and discontent are fast spreading among the Nigerian populace who have already been negatively impacted by the adverse economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the spiralling violence by non-state actors carrying out attacks across the country, the Nigerian economy has been on a downward slope, forcing millions of citizens out of jobs and depriving them of livelihoods. Increasing security challenges have destabilised the country in the face of an emboldened Boko Haram, ISWAP and an insurgent group locally referred to as bandits and herdsmen who are behind a majority of kidnappings in the northwestern region in exchange for ransom) as well as growing insurrections in the south-east and south-west. In the first half of 2021, Boko Haram escalated its mass kidnapping campaign in the northeast of the country, where since December more than 800 students were taken.
In mid-June, the conditions in the region took a new turn for the worse as a conflict line opened among various Islamist groups. The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, was killed by forces acting on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’ (IS), which has been active in the area for the past decade. Turning an already violent stage into a considerably more dangerous one, in May of this year the Council on Foreign Relations reported that IS is now the dominant force in what until now has been Boko Haram’s turf — meaning that IS has effectively established a West African foothold in Nigeria under Buhari’s watch. A very dangerous situation with an unimaginable cost in blood for the local population of northeastern Nigeria has now become a geostrategic time bomb, opening a military black hole at the gates of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The escalation has exposed the way in which the limits to the efficacy of the government in Abuja also represents a major regional strategic vulnerability.
After aiding coups and eyeing the presidency during three election campaigns, Buhari was finally elected to lead the world’s most populous black country six years ago. But things have grown from bad to worse under his watch, with no signs of any improvement in sight.
Since Buhari was elected in 2015:
- The unemployment rate has grown from 8.19% to 33.28%
- Food inflation shot up to 22.7% from 9.78%
- The country’s public debt profile rose from ₦12.6trn ($30.8bn) to ₦32.9trn ($80.4bn)
- GDP growth rate has slowed down to -1.92% compared to its previous level of 2.35%
There is little help that has come from the president’s economic handlers and key institutions such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, which have increasingly become dependent on the government since President Buhari came to power. Beyond the economic and security fronts, agitations for secession in Nigeria have continued to grow — including, for the first time in a long while, from the southwest — amid increasing cries of marginalisation and neglect, not just from the southerners but even from the northern part of the country where Buhari is from.
Although the president has favoured the north more in terms of political appointments, northerners feel neglected by the former ‘quota system’, and charlatanic army general who had promised to protect them, especially from Boko Haram insurgents and other bandits who are now present in other states, beyond the north-east where they had been restricted for a decade. In the north-west and north-central, armed gangs have continued to prey on schoolchildren, kidnapping more than 700 of them since December 2020, while the agitation for Biafra in the southeast has morphed into what some have described as an insurgency: police stations and government facilities including offices of the national electoral commission are now being razed on almost a daily basis.
In the southeastern region of Biafra, the secessionist push that detonated the Nigerian civil war and famine between 1967 and 1970, killing about 3 million people after the then General Yakubu Gowon in his bid to please his Fulani and British Colonial masters violated the Geneva Convention and displacing close to 4 million, has come back to haunt the Buhari government. Long-simmering tensions and widespread dissatisfaction with neglect and lack of development in the Igbo-dominated region have resulted in a spate of violent attacks on government figures and military personnel. In May, the government launched Operation Restore Peace, which critics have described as a repressive strategy designed to destroy the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network. Buhari announced earlier this month that his forces had been granted permission to be ruthless.
‘We have given the police and the military the power to be ruthless with people stealing another person’s belongings and destroying others’ property,’ he said.
Pressed on the meaning of Buhari’s statement and whether it was a carte blanche for mass extrajudicial killings, some critics even explained that the president’s words meant no more than upholding the sovereign right of Nigeria to claim ‘monopoly of violence so that non-state actors will not unravel such countries and unleash mayhem and death and murder and massacre.’ Meanwhile, reports of violations of civil rights in Igbo regions have shown the stirrings of a conflict that could spark anew into a full conflagration. The apparent collaboration of Igbo separatists with Cameroonian independentists makes for a second volatile situation with strong geopolitical echoes and the recent abduction of Nnamdi Kanu the group’s leader in Kenya have even made things worse as the atmosphere in the southeast is completely tense with news of his retrial.
What’s more, Nigeria continues to grapple with a slow vaccination process: nearly 1% of the population has been vaccinated against Covid-19 while attempts to resolve the pastoral conflict has pitched governors of the southern states against the presidency.
Challenges aside, President Buhari’s style of governance has been punctuated with long bouts of absences from the country, such as his most recent trip to Ghana to help seek an end to the Mali crisis as well as his 170-day medical trip to the United Kingdom since he became president. When he is not out of the country, he is accused of abandoning leadership to his aides, who resort to television interviews and statements to relay the president’s actions and views, with him never being seen or heard. Not even the death of the Chief of Army Staff Ibrahim Attahiru and ten other officers of the Nigerian Army in a jet crash, nor the spread of Boko Haram to other states beyond the north-east, could get the president to get past the statements.
A group of powerful individuals commonly referred to as the APC cabal, has dominated Buhari’s government amid accusations – even by Aisha, the president’s wife – that they have built a wall around the president to keep him aloof from happenings while they dictate all that plays out at Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power. The late Chief of Staff Abba Kyari was a key player in that group, likewise Mamman Daura, a journalist and the president’s nephew. Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, former secretary to the Government of the Federation; and the late Isa Funtua, Buhari’s in-law, also belonged to the league. With only Daura and Kingibe still alive in the famous group, insiders said the arrival of Ibrahim Gambari as Kyari’s successor would change the dynamics and decentralise power to a number of the president’s aides, including top ministers such as Rotimi Amaechi (transportation), Babatunde Fashola (works and housing), Sadiya Farouq (humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development) and Isa Pantami (communications and digital economy).
For the country, bearing the legacies of civil war, communal violence and military dictatorship that could be calamitous. In the absence of a viable political alternative, the violent division in Nigeria could spill over into disaster, with damaging consequences for both the region and the African continent. Mr. Buhari, for his part, clearly has no answers to the problems that engulf the country. He has shifted responsibility away from his irresponsible and unresponsive administration, instead vaguely blaming governors and past administrations. It’s a bad moment to play the tyrant and this is what President Muhammadu Buhari is doing right now. Nigeria is currently on her path to utter destruction if Buhari’s maladministration keeps handling the country this way.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK