“The rate of change in our time is so swift that an individual of ordinary length of life will be called on to face novel situations which have no parallel in the past. The fixed person for the fixed duties, who in the old society, was such a god-send, will in the future be a public danger.”
Lord Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947.
We have such a leader in Nigeria today in President Buhari. Some who voted and canvassed for votes for him were aware of the fact that the man was last in Government in 1985. That was thirty years before he remounted the saddle in 2015. Again some were aware that Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister had warned that “A week in politics is a long time”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 271). We were confronted with a novel situation in Nigeria – a sitting President, Jonathan, who, instead of apprehending looters dismissed “corruption as ordinary stealing” – as if stealing was totally permissible under his watch. We also noticed that despite unprecedented high price of crude oil, far above the budget benchmark each year, except 2015, our external reserves were dwindling and the Excess Crude Account, ECA, was also being rapidly depleted – with very little to show for it at state and federal levels. Most of the states were controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. We were convinced that the way forward was to go backwards to resuscitate a leader who seemed to have vigorously fought corruption during his tenure of office. Buhari was the beneficiary of “Kill Corruption or Corruption will kill Nigeria”. It was for that reason alone that he appeared like the logical choice.
We were aware of his deficiencies including: education, economic illiteracy, rigidity, ethnic discrimination and to some extent religious bias. But, he became military Head of State in 1984, not by canvassing for our votes, but because the military enslaved us and took away our right to choose our leader. We assumed, both rightly and wrongly, that as an elected President he would uphold his oath of office as “an officer and a gentleman”. The constitution we strongly believed will be his guide. With his new allies in the All Progressives Congress, APC, the former Action Congress, AC, members, we thought he would have at his beck and call the brightest and best educated people in Nigeria – economists, educators, legal luminaries, etc. There would be no policy, planning or implementation deficit in the government he was going to lead. We were right and wrong again. The capable people are still there in abundance, but, they are hardly consulted on important matters. The kitchen and bedroom cabinets of President Buhari in 2017 are not different in composition from those of 1984-5.
Incidentally, it was the “Katsinarisation” of government and the increasing number of in-laws in high places which led to the palace coup of 1985. Those who risked their lives to stage the coup of December 31, 1983, found themselves increasingly side-lined and they would have none of it. Today, many of those who fought, even in places where they risked everything, for Buhari’s election in 2015, were shocked right down to their boots when the names of the first twenty four appointees were announced. Buhari gave scant regard to the principle of Federal Character; neither was he mindful of the North-South balance which other leaders, military and civilian had tried to maintain. All the heads of all security agencies were from the North. Nothing has changed as we approach the half-way mark of the four years of the administration.
Nothing has changed because we are now finding out that the Buhari of 2015 has changed little from that of 1985. Even as he was running for President in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, he remained an economic illiterate and he said so himself. He confessed that “economists confuse me”, A candid admission but one completely embarrassing in the new millennium. No candidate for office of President in any democracy will be taken seriously if he lacks a minimum grasp of economics because, except in countries at war, the most important task of a leader is economic management.
That deficiency was revealed early because his inaugural address on May 29, 2015 made no reference to any economic policy. The closest to any economic policy announced was the plan to give away N500bn every year in Social Welfare Programme, SWP. In other words Buhari’s government planned to give away money which it had no plan to earn! That sort of economic blunder immediately condemned the nation to borrowing more and more in order to squander more. It is a long term prescription for economic ruin of the nation.
We also discovered early that the President of Nigeria was/is not even aware that Time is an economic resource – very much like raw materials, labour and capital. Thus, when he resumed office without a scrap of paper on economic programme, he also soon announced that he would not appoint Ministers until October – five months after. That was understandable, in the absence of any new economic policy and programme to implement there was no need for new players. Buhari conveniently forgot that he is President of Nigeria and not World President and that the global economy waits for no President. Between May 29 and end of October 2015 when he finally appointed Ministers, the price of crude oil had moved from $55 per barrel to close to $44 per barrel. And instead of exporting 2.2m barrels per day, Nigeria was shipping around 1.4m per day. That was the sort of situation which a cabinet of Ministers is supposed to address and advise the President regarding measures to take. There was no cabinet; Buhari was talking to himself and paving the way for the economic problems which followed till today…..
To be continued.