JUNE 12 is supposed to symbolize and celebrate Nigeria’s third political experiment with democracy. But last Saturday, the essence of that special day was roundly desecrated.
The police and other security agents were deployed in huge numbers to disrupt peaceful rallies all over the country. People were blatantly denied their fundamental right to freely assemble and express their grievances. They were tear-gassed and arrested for breaking no laws. All these happened while President Muhammadu Buhari praised himself in his Democracy Day broadcast for being a ‘democrat.’
He and his government have become paranoid about protests, particularly those fronted by young social media-savvy Nigerians. He gave vent to this paranoia in his ARISE TV interview, when he said that last year’s ENDSARS protests were organized by his adversaries to remove him from office.
He seems more obsessed with his regime’s survival than giving the slightest consideration to the multiple grievances of the protesters. Just as he’s chosen to ignore those of the groups clamoring for change to the country’s political structure. Rather than listen and engage with them, he dismisses them as irritants and threatens to deal with them.
His hostility to those he sees as gunning for him because they’re trying to hold him to account feeds the growing resentment against his intransigence.
And if he’s truly concerned about guaranteeing free and fair elections, as he claims, he wouldn’t have shut down the amended Electoral Bill several times. Before the 2019 general elections, he had refused to assent to every version of the bill passed by the National Assembly that had bent backward to accommodate all his objections to the amendment, even when they were frivolous and meant to upend the bill.
The amended bill would’ve enabled electronic transmission of results from polling units in real time, to prevent or minimize manipulation of polling figures. Since he’s no longer contesting any election, he can now walk his talk by working with the National Assembly to get the bill ready and signed into law well before the next general elections. Doing so would give him a little bounce in public esteem. Otherwise his concern about improving our electoral processes will continue to seem contrived.
And he hasn’t helped his cause by renominating his acerbic senior special assistant on social media, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC national commissioner. He knows she’s a full-fledged APC member, and the constitution prohibits any one with a political party affiliation from serving in INEC and getting involved in elections management. Yet he ignores the constitution and global best practices just to reward a loyal staff who’s been one of his uncompromising attack dogs.
Given the sickening obsequiousness of the National Assembly leaders, Onochie could end up in INEC. But that would only further confirm the president’s mendacity.
If his claim of being a democrat beggars belief, his declaration in his broadcast that Nigeria is better now than before his presidency is downright laughable. He repeated the very dodgy claim that his government has, through its various social intervention programs, lifted 10.5 million people out of poverty. He was convinced that the plan to get 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years was on course.
All these claims collide with reality and can’t stand the merest interrogation. It’s obvious that the economy remains seriously challenged and keeps struggling for stability.
Here’s one very inconvenient fact that he doesn’t want to acknowledge. According to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria displaced India in 2018 as the country with the highest number of extremely poor people. Nearly 100 million Nigerians, that’s half of the population, now live below the poverty line of subsisting on less than $2 per day.
The number is expected to keep growing exponentially, as the economic growth is way behind the annual population growth of 2.6 per cent. Even those who’re not poor are struggling to take care of their families. And many young Nigerians are desperately seeking ways to flee abroad. If Nigerians were asked if they’re better or worse off now than in 2015, their response would be unanimously negative.
While the economy continues to struggle, the country has piled on more debts in the last six years than the total of the previous 15. The debts are estimated by the Debt Management Office to be 33 trillion naira. And the government is planning to binge on more, further increasing the burden on public finances as debt servicing becomes unmanageably stressful.
Notwithstanding the danger of the huge debts to further cripple the economy, the government has decided to borrow about $2 billion to build a standard rail line from Kano to Maradi, Niger Republic, through Katsina. It’s one of the most asinine policies the government has enacted.
What’s more worrying is that, there are no indications that the project was properly thought through as the cost-benefits don’t justify it. It’s now irrefutable that it’s being undertaken solely on the president’s whim.
He had strained to justify the project during the ARISE TV interview by amplifying his ancestral connection to Niger Republic. He confirmed what had been in the realm of speculation, that he has cousins there. He also pointedly noted that the country has Hausa and Fulani people.
Niger’s 2020 estimated GDP is about $11 billion with a population of 22 million people. When these numbers are compared to Nigeria’s, the rail project becomes even more illogical and speaks graphically to the government’s haphazard approach to economic planning.
Meanwhile, the inaugural Chandler Good Governance Index published recently, ranked Nigeria 102 out of 104 countries surveyed. In other words, Nigeria is one of the worst or badly governed countries in the world.
Only Zimbabwe and Venezuela ranked lower than Nigeria. Mauritius, at 38th, emerged as Africa’s best performing country in good governance. The index was compiled by the Singapore-based Chandler Institute of Governance.
We are not only badly governed. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020 report, Nigeria is the third most-terrorized country in the world, after Iraq and Afghanistan. This is our reality that even Buhari’s most fanatical supporters can’t gloss over. Or blame on his predecessors.
Yet he’s shifted the responsibility of securing Nigerians from the incessant acts of violence in the country to the governors. He forgets that he’s the commander-in-chief and that the military, all security and law enforcement agencies are under his control as president.
The governors are only constitutionally glorified chief security officers of their states. They can’t deploy any force despite the huge financial support they give to all the security agencies. The ultimate loyalty of these forces are to their commander-in-chief in Abuja.
In respect of the premeditated herders’ attacks on farming communities, which continue to exacerbate tension all over the country, the governors have done the best they can under the prevailing circumstances. All 36 of them have called open cattle grazing outdated and said it needs to be replaced with modern methods of animal husbandry, such as ranching and development of grazing reserves where possible.
Which is quite different from the ancient Fulani cultural practice of trekking thousands of miles to find food and water for their herds. A way of life that’s no longer sustainable because it impinges on the economic rights of other people, and leads to violent attacks of which the farming communities are mostly the victims.
Despite the crises that open grazing has been generating and with the body counts mounting daily, the president has perversely doubled down on Miyetti Allah’s insistence that they be given the special privilege of roaming their herds anywhere anytime.
He told his interviewers that he had directed the attorney-general and justice minister to “dig” up some imaginary national gazette, supposedly issued in the 1960s, on grazing routes so they could be recovered for the herders.
That’s at once provocative and a direct collision with the governors on the controversial matter. His endorsement and promotion of open grazing is a repudiation of the southern governors’ ban on it.
One PDP governor had warned before the 2015 elections, that Nigerians should worry less about Buhari’s age and more about the age of his ideas. That he would still be rooting for open grazing, in spite of the problems it’s creating, including violent death of defenseless Nigerians, shows he’s completely out of touch with the vast majority of those he governs.
That explains why when we all are now consumed by anxiety about the state of the nation, with tomorrow promising nothing but more misery, the president feels good living in a bubble.