Fellow Nigerians, there is a new narrative in town. And it is being spread by some people who are just too eager to point to the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari in office — such that they have become desperate and ready to cut down trees on highways, uproot plants, burn down bridges, and slay anyone who dares to disagree with their assessment. It is a desperation borne out of either fear of being disappointed, or that stubborn unwillingness to admit the truth, or the purveyors of the narrative simply have no respect for the truth and as such, don’t give a hoot about it. The narrative has further blurred the lines between reality and illusion, as they attribute to him astonishing feats of magical accomplishments — that somewhat elevates him beyond the realm of humanity to that of divinity. Ironically, what was seen as a “no-achievement-at-all” of the Goodluck Jonathan administration has become a celebrated “landmark” achievement under Buhari, even within a week or two of the inauguration of his government. I thought that with elections over and victory secured, the fierce urgency of work will become a more pressing preoccupation. But the campaign has continued and the sheer absurdity, immodesty and mendacity of the new narrative simply defy logic.
Although, this narrative actually started before the elections, winning the big prize has only modified it somewhat. The audacity of their sense of “credit” and “debit” is befuddling; their willingness to accept and celebrate the current state of inertia as progress from a party that campaigned on the fierce urgency of “change” is puzzling; their justification of the slow pace of action or no-action-at-all of the current government as a “deliberate and methodical” approach to cleansing the Augean stables beats one.
President Buhari had barely done two weeks in office when the propagandists revved up the engine, engaging the top gear. I thought it was a joke when the new campaign started. But I am seeing a pattern to it now — such that if the narrative is not interrogated by evidence, revisionists of the current events of our national life will teach our children nonsense, “true lies” and half-truths. Let me give you one instance: by June 12, this year, it was reported in social media that the Port Harcourt refinery was working after Buhari came in on the deal with the contractors, ordering its immediate turnaround maintenance. This was very good news. Only that no one asked how the turnaround maintenance of a refinery could be done in THIRTEEN days!
In the run-up to the presidential election, all sorts of tales were spewed about then Candidate Buhari’s righteousness and detribalised qualities. We were told that Buhari was going to spend Christmas in the South-east with his in-laws — that one of his daughters was married to an Igboman. This was trumpeted as evidence of his detribalised personality and pan-Nigerian outlook. Even when the evidence pointed to the contrary, it still spread like wildfire on social media as many Nigerians of the Facebook and Twitter generation went on overdrive, tweeting and re-tweeting the message. Alas, it was all made-up – a very deliberate falsehood sold by a very dishonest crowd and perhaps, impressionable minds. At the end of it all, Buhari neither travelled to the South-east to mark Christmas, nor was his daughter married to a south-easterner. But the lie achieved its purpose, and that was all that mattered.
No sooner had that lie bored itself out than the machination of possibly the same crowd came up with another fairy tale – that of all former presidents whose pension was N372 million per annum each, it was only Buhari who rejected his, describing it as “obscene and unacceptable”. Instead as the story went, he only accepted a minute fraction of just N3 million per annum. This has since been proved to be another “true lie” told by a mob of fanatics eager to idolise Buhari. Now, here is the breakdown of the quarterly allowance paid to former presidents and heads of state: (1) Pension – N878,676.20 (2) Upkeep – N1, 050,000.00 (3) Salaries of Personal Staff – N845,446.50 (4) Telephone -N75,000.00 (5) Postal Services – N60,000.00. Total per quarter N2,909,122.75. Buhari as a then former head of state collected his, like all former presidents. Can anybody tell me how this translated to a whopping N372 million per annum that Buhari was alleged in social media to have rejected? The truth here is that some people sold a barefaced lie to the public to promote their fantasies. Interestingly again, it caught on like wildfire. But who will blame a generation that has never seen a hero in their lives? They have been raised in a country whose heroes are yet in the cradle. Buhari comes close in their estimation to being a hero. But he too is not. He became a “hero” of sorts not because he believes so much in the Nigerian project, but as a result of backdoor deals “stitched” together in midnight caucuses and sold to the public already fed up with Jonathan, and his perceived weak style of governance. But I must state here and now, loud and clear without equivocation: Buhari stands a rare chance to become a true hero, but for now, he is not. Not with his record and utterances in the past which he has done little to atone for. I hope he seizes the moment to reinvent himself.
Another narrative which actually began barely a week into the life of this government – that Buhari has delivered stable power to our homes – has steadily gained ground as the days and weeks wear on. Surprisingly, we have well-educated, and otherwise well-informed people regurgitating this claim – a claim that is not only insane, but a pure fiction. Interestingly, when you challenge them by asking what Buhari has done in the power sector to earn the credit, they usually mutter in rambling riddles, stammering, “His presence alone has stabilised power supply and things are now working unlike in the past.” Hmm! Is it really that easy?
Even the All Progressives Congress (APC) could not resist the urge to claim some credit when it said Buhari’s integrity alone had raised electric power supply to peak level, not seen for a long time. I concede that integrity has its positive effect on productivity in any business venture. Nevertheless, it is peripheral to meticulous planning and the courage to undertake the risk of investments, especially in this case. At this juncture, I make so bold as to say that the investments Jonathan made in the power sector through privatisation are yielding results, and not Buhari’s integrity as its being peddled by revisionists.
And if we are to go by the logic of their argument, how come his presence alone has failed to stop Boko Haram that has turned into a Frankenstein monster? How come his presence alone has failed to stabilise the exchange rate and “bring the naira at par with the dollar”? Why has his presence not stabilised the oil prices? How come his presence alone has not stabilised the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) — the barometer for measuring the state of the economy? Do I need to tell these people that the NSE has hit rock bottom? The truth here is that Buhari is yet to get a grasp of the dire state of the economy, and his actions so far indicate that he gives scant thought to it. Ask any business person or trader in your neighbourhood, the person will explain the situation better.
The naira has been on a free fall partly because the government has failed to unfold its economic agenda and policy direction three months after taking office – as investors are watching and waiting for the government’s economic blueprint before determining their next move. But from the look of things, they may have sometime still to wait.
Instructively, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) just painted a gloomy picture of the country’s second quarter economic situation as reported in THISDAY last week. “The prevailing economic uncertainty in the country reduced the amount of capital importation into the economy from $2.67159 billion in the second quarter of 2014 to $2.66636 billion in the second quarter of 2015,” said the NBS.
Following this, the statistical agency predicted that capital importation into the country would likely to remain lower in subsequent quarters “as long as an uncertain economic environment remains”. The NBS added that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded by only 2.35 per cent on an annual basis, compared with 3.96 per cent a quarter earlier — the slowest growth recorded by the country in well over a decade. To compound Nigeria’s economic woes, manufacturing contracted by 3.8 per cent during the quarter, compared with a growth of 14 per cent a year ago, the NBS concluded.
Despite the evidence, people continue to hold on to the illusion simply because it is appealing to do so and the fact that it adds an air of mysticism to the Buhari “born-again phenomenon”. And this makes them feel good. This feeling was taken to a ridiculously triumphant level by a former president who declared: “In the last two and a half months, Nigerians have started to witness a Nigeria of their dreams.”
Unfortunately, those who should tell the president the truth – that the current state of inertia is doing more damage to the economy than good, are “figure skating”, celebrating his imaginary “magical” achievements.
It is now such that a mere expression of intent to take action is celebrated by many as evidence of performance. Otherwise routine government’s pronouncements are now celebrated and praised to the heavens. And where breaches and impunities are committed, many either look the other way, or look for examples in time past to justify it. The business of government and governance appear to have been reduced to a circus by mob hysteria, eager to point to results.
While Jonathan has taken a lot of flak for failing to show leadership at critical moments, and deservedly so, especially the unacceptably poor manner he handled the twin issues of corruption and Boko Haram — even though the latter was a political weapon used to undermine his administration, he must also get credit where he deserved it. Recall that for eight years, then President Olusegun Obasanjo failed to fix the Benin-Ore road. Travelling from Lagos to Benin and back became a nightmare. The road became one of the worst examples of the failure of government in the country. Hundreds of lives were lost needlessly to accidents and armed robbers who operated on the road with impunity. A journey of three and a half hours stretched beyond 16 hours. It was Jonathan that fixed it. The Lagos-Ibadan road reconstruction and expansion was started by him. And of course the network of bad roads in many parts of the country that had become deathtraps were fixed. The railways started functioning again after over two decades. What about the airports that were rehabilitated? The privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was carried out by Jonathan. The Local Content Law, which has ballooned opportunities for participation of indigenous companies in the oil and gas sector like never before, was passed under him.
Nearly 200 Almajiri schools were built across the North. The NEEDS assessment of universities — the most significant intervention in the university system in recent memory — was initiated by Jonathan. And more than anything else, it was Jonathan who opened up the political space that led to the formation of the APC. INEC became truly more independent for the first time ever. So, I think it is highly uncharitable to say he did nothing. Of course he could have done more. For the life of me, one cannot wholeheartedly say that Jonathan was a good manager of resources. Nonetheless, he did record some important achievements. And I believe the current contrived attempt to rewrite history can’t change the inconvenient truth. Let me say here that in the absence of compelling evidence devoid of propaganda at least for now, Jonathan’s legacy appears tarnished more by suggestion than hard facts.
AMCON: A Violent Assault on the Rule of Law
Our reformed ex-dictator has just taken an action which was a clear affront to the rule of law he has vowed repeatedly to uphold: he fired the Managing Director of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Mr Mustafa Chike-Obi, who was due to finish his five-year tenure in November this year. No one knows why President Buhari took the decision to fire the man – as no reasons were given by the presidency. But what is clear to all is that an egregious and a violent assault on the law have been committed by the president. The Act that established AMCON unambiguously stated the steps and processes on the appointments of the management cadre of the organisation. The president did not respect the process and his arbitrariness in dissolving the board and appointing a new managing director has significantly undermined the institutional stability and investors’ confidence in the economy.
Section 10 (1) of the AMCON Act, 2010, states: “The board shall consist of the following members to be appointed by the president subject to the confirmation of the Senate:
“(a) A part-time Chairman who shall be a nominee of the Federal Ministry of Finance in consultation with the Minister.
“(b) A Managing Director who shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the corporation nominated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“(c) Three Executive Directors, who shall be nominated by the CBN in consultation with the Minister; and
“(d) Five other non-Executive Directors, two to be nominated by the Federal Ministry of Finance, two by the CBN and one by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC).”
None of the above procedures was followed. And to rub salt into the wound, the National Assembly which must screen the new appointee was not even officially notified of the development.
Instructively, nobody is raising eyebrows over what has happened. The self-appointed activists, lawyers and social critics who parade the length and breadth of the country as the defenders of the rule of law have all kept quiet. None of them is issuing press release to condemn this egregious violation. I recall here that when the then CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was suspended by former President Jonathan, three months to the end of his tenure based on the FRCN audit report that showed gross mismanagement of the CBN, all hell broke loose. The APC and its human rights activist-lawyers, media goons and emergency analysts flooded the airwaves to criticise the decision. Today, not even a whimper by the very same activists. Why? Because they have found their kindred spirit and successfully fused into the APC.