When President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), were swept into office, following national elections in 2015, there were wild jubilations across the country. Not only did the APC throw out the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the ruling party but also many people celebrated the historic and peaceful transition of power from a defeated president to an opposition candidate, who lost in three previous elections. That was a remarkable feat by all means.
Soon after Buhari mounted the presidential throne, his supporters did not waste time to prophesy how he would govern and the legacies he would leave behind as president. All that turned out to be excessively optimistic. Nearly two years since the government was inaugurated, only a few people have expressed satisfaction with the way Buhari has performed.
Surely, the present economic difficulties are not what Nigerians expected from Buhari. People did not cast their vote for Buhari so he would subject them to long periods of economic and financial hardships. Many people talk about how hellish life has been for them since the election of Buhari. This is not a fictional account of life in Nigeria. It is based on people’s lived experiences. Rather than eat bread or cereals for breakfast, many families are starving. Many parents cannot meet their obligations to their children. Is this the much heralded change that Buhari and the APC promised the nation during the election campaigns?
Buhari is approaching his second year in office. The difficulties facing the nation show the president has been overwhelmed and is struggling to cope. Consider the following: Instability in the supply of electricity has persisted. So many deadlines have been given to mark the end of darkness across the country but none of the deadlines has been upheld. Unemployment remains the wild elephant in the lounge room, unable to be apprehended and caged. Growing unemployment has encouraged sharp increases in the number of criminal abductions across the country. Kidnapping for commercial purposes has become a source of livelihood for many unemployed and unemployable youth.
The state of roads in the South-east, South-west and South-south remains poor, dangerous and treacherous. People see the decrepit state of roads as a symbol of failure by the government. Crumbling federal roads constitute an eyesore and sources of accidents that continue to claim the lives of citizens.
Breakdown of law and order is increasing rather than abating. The economy is in a bad shape. Public hospitals are either non-existent or they are ill-equipped and lack qualified medical and paramedical staff. For this reason, political leaders and the affluent continue to go on medical pilgrimage to overseas countries, thereby constituting a drain on the country’s foreign exchange reserves. Underfunding of primary and secondary schools as well as universities and polytechnics has contributed to the pathetic quality of education at all levels.
To be fair, these problems preceded Buhari’s government. However, they have remained with us because previous governments paid little or no attention to them. Nevertheless, Buhari and the state governors must find solutions to these problems because they were elected to solve problems, not to whinge about the scale of problems. facing the nation.
An economy in coma remains Buhari’s greatest nightmare. There is the problem of rebuilding an economy destroyed over a period of 16 years of mindless government by profligate members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). There is also the task of dealing with the deteriorating value of the naira, as well as the challenge of creating jobs in a depressed economy.
When people criticise Buhari and the APC for their unremarkable performance in nearly two years of governance, they draw attention to the promises made by Buhari and the APC leadership that they would rescue Nigeria from the financial chaos into which the PDP plunged the nation. Every day that passes without significant evidence that the country has been transformed under Buhari’s government increases everyone’s anxiety about the possibility that Buhari may not be able to institute the changes he pledged months ago.
If the president is unable to fix the economy as quickly as possible, everyone will draw conclusions about the government’s capacity to govern. Right from the beginning, senior government officials had promised that the best was yet to come. Unfortunately under the current circumstances, there is no proof whatsoever to show that the suffering by a large majority of the population would end soon or that high prices of commodities would drop sharply before long or that law and order would prevail in every corner of the country. Food is the only palliative for hunger. However, when families go to the market and return home empty-handed and dejected, no amount of presidential promises will tone down their anger and hunger.
Across the country, there is a general feeling that businesses have stalled and nothing is moving. Businesses cannot buy foreign exchange at a reasonable price to enable them to import goods. Owing to the low value of the naira, prices of imported goods have skyrocketed beyond the reach of many citizens. The government is desperately looking for that elusive stimulus to kick-start the economy and to assuage people’s anger. The question remains how long it would take Buhari and his government to find solutions to the problems that have continued to impair people’s lives.
Right from the time Buhari’s government was inaugurated, there had been a consistent catchphrase used by senior officials to shift blame to the previous PDP government, and to excuse Buhari’s inability to rise to the expectations of the people. The most common refrain was that endemic corruption and economic mismanagement by previous PDP governments effectively combined to stifle Buhari’s plans to hit the ground running. After nearly two years of this chorus line, only a few citizens are still interested in listening to this nonsensical, cheap, and less edifying fault-finding by Buhari’s government officials and the APC leadership.
It might come as a surprise to many people that weeks after some APC governors admitted the party’s responsibility for the state of the nation’s economy, Buhari’s government reversed that position by claiming it would not take responsibility for the poor state of the economy.
Following a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) overseen by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Thursday, 15 December 2016, the government absolved itself from the economic hardships, ravaging the nation. Rather than take some blame for the economic problems, the government said it was on an assignment to salvage an economy that was wrecked by previous governments, even as the state governors, who attended the meeting reached a decision to reduce the number of their convoys and their travels as a way to end the recession.
Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, who spoke to journalists after the meeting, said: “We did not and are not responsible for the current economic situation we find ourselves. We are actually a rescue team, a team working to rescue Nigeria from the position we find ourselves in.”
This position of the government is gravely at odds with the view of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, chairperson of the APC, who said in a previous week that some of the actions taken by the Buhari administration in the first few weeks, following its inauguration contributed immensely to the adverse economic situation. Similarly, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, admitted a few months earlier that the APC and the Federal Government must take the blame for the miserable state of the economy.
While no one expects Buhari to work superlatively as a conqueror of all national problems, there are certain basic problems we expect the president to overcome within two years. Some of those problems have been listed earlier in this article. Here are just a few of the problems that could be tackled within two years. Electricity problems can be fixed within two years. Bad roads can be repaired within the same time frame. University education can be improved through enhanced funding. Surely, the fight against corruption will take time. However, the campaign could be given greater impetus not through empty propaganda released to the media but through exemplary and specific instances of successful prosecution of people apprehended for corrupt practices.
Ever since he lost the election, former President Goodluck Jonathan has been portrayed consistently as a failed president and, therefore, blameworthy in the way he mismanaged the economy and overlooked corruption by his officials. Despite this narrative, I do not see how all that have stopped Buhari from performing the basic functions expected of a president.
Government officials, who frequently deflect blames directed at Buhari for lack of performance or who repeatedly point at misconduct by many officials of Jonathan’s government are not doing Buhari a favour. When you have been in charge of a government for nearly two years, no excuses would be sufficient and convincing to justify a president’s undistinguished performance. An effective government takes responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. It does not engage in fault-finding or in manufacturing excuses to justify lack of action.