2019 And Buhari-Must-Contest Fever

By Casmir Igbokwe

Does President Muhammadu Buhari know that some Nigerians associate his name with hardship? Trending on the social media is a recommendation that the Oxford dictionary should consider adding the word ‘Buhari’ to its lexicon.

The suggested meanings are: hard, hardship, difficult, harsh, and tough. An adjectival example of the word goes thus: “How was your exam?” “It was Buharific!”

In the same token, I suspect that the 2019 general election is going to be Buharific! To die-hard Buharists, the President must go for a second term. This is because, as Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State put it, the 24 All Progressives Congress governors are ready to support his re-election.

Apparently to show the seriousness of this re-election project, Bello bellowed some inanities against the Catholic bishops for daring to tell the President that things were hard for many Nigerians. He reportedly told the bishops that those who opposed Buhari were corrupt Christian leaders who were unhappy because looters were no longer able to pay tithes to them. He has since recanted and apologised to the bishops.

Many other people and groups have also vowed to compel the President to seek re-election. In expressing its support, the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO) said the President had fulfilled most of his campaign promises, particularly in the areas of security, war against corruption and revamping of the economy.

Let’s examine these three broad areas the BCO has identified. The first is security. On this score, there are some improvements. For instance, the government claims that the nation’s major security threat, Boko Haram, has largely been decimated. To an extent, this is true.

However, the terrorist organisation still carries out pockets of raids in different parts of the North. Last Monday, for instance, they abducted scores of young schoolgirls from Government Girls Science Secondary School, Dapchi, Yobe State. The number of kidnapped girls is not certain but some reports indicate that they are over 100.

This is outside the almost daily menace of Fulani herdsmen. They have struck in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Enugu and many other parts of the country, killing and maiming. Their activities are capable of engendering a civil war, but nothing much has been done to stop them.

The rising rate of other criminal activities, some of which arose as a result of the hardship in the country, is also worrisome. Ritual killings, kidnappings and armed robberies are typical examples. On some occasions last year, luxury bus drivers had to block the Benin-Ore expressway to protest incessant robberies on that road.

The second plank upon which many people support Buhari is his assumed war against corruption. Yes, he might be upright as a person, but a lot of water has passed under his anti-corruption bridge. Today, Nigerians use snakes as a metaphor to describe the level of corruption in the country. Remember that a sales clerk in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board office in Makurdi, one Philomena Chieshe, revealed recently that a mysterious snake swallowed N36 million left in the vault of the board in Makurdi.

Many prominent government officials have also swallowed huge sums of our money and nothing serious has happened. Last year, whistleblowers discovered some N13 billion inside a flat at Ikoyi, Lagos. So far, nobody has been arrested or prosecuted for that.

More pathetic is the National Health Insurance Scheme case. Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, suspended Prof. Usman Yusuf, who happens to be the executive secretary of the NHIS, on account of alleged fraud, for which he is being investigated by the anti-graft agencies. Pronto, President Buhari reinstated him.

Even the Social Investment Programmes (SIP) of the present regime has been marred by fraud as revealed recently by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Programmes, Mrs. Maryam Uwais. Lopsided appointments are a story for another day.

To cap it all, Transparency International, in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, noted that corruption in Nigeria worsened between 2016 and 2017. The country ranked 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017. The index showed that out of 100 points, Nigeria scored only 27. In 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and ranked 136th in the ranking of countries.

On the third plank, which is economy, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, believes there are improvements. He said the Buhari-led administration has given more support to state governments than any other government since 1999. This support runs into about N1.91 trillion as at September 2017.

Prof. Osinbajo added that, despite 60 per cent less revenue, the Buhari government had made the highest capital spend in the history of the country in the sum of about N1.3 trillion. The Federal Government, for instance, is building the Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail and has signed up for the Lagos-Calabar rail project. Work on the Second Niger Bridge is said to be ongoing.
The Federal Government has also claimed to be doing close to 15 million metric tons of paddy yearly. It cut rice importation by about 80 per cent, and boasted about its Social Investment Programmes.

Part of the sing-song is that, under the immediate past administration, Nigeria generated a lot of oil revenue, but, under Buhari, the revenue declined. They would tell you how previous governments frittered away external reserves and savings, how our direct foreign investment declined and so forth.

Today, sympathisers of the government would tell you that foreign direct investments have picked up, external reserves boosted, and savings increased. Besides, there is the agricultural revolution. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) has plugged financial loopholes. And trillions of looted funds have been recovered. The President is said to have liberated the country from an impending economic doom, and he has succeeded in repositioning the economy from dependency on oil to other sources of revenue such as agriculture.

But the question is, how have all these impacted on the lives of ordinary citizens? As the director-general of the International Labour Organisation, Guy Ryder, put it, access to decent work opportunities for all is the best way to lift people out of poverty, reduce inequality and drive economic growth.

So, how many Nigerians have this access to decent work opportunities? The statistics are not salutary. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose from 14.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent in 2017. The labour population, the NBS said, increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017. In simple terms, many people have lost their jobs.

Recently, Osinbajo enthused about rising foreign investment flows. But what he failed to mention is that the bulk of the inflow is portfolio or short-term equity investments by hedge funds and other institutional global fund managers. As my friend and economist, Teslim Shitta-Bey, put it, most of this fresh investment flows represent ‘hot’ money and adds little, if any, long-term value to the economy by way of infrastructure and employment.

I may not be an economist, but I know that many Nigerians are going through excruciating times today. Personally, I receive a lot of calls from people whose children are at home because school fees have not been paid. For some, even to get food to eat is a big problem.

The NBS, in its poverty report published late 2016, said about 112 million Nigerians live below poverty level. This represents 67.1 per cent of the country’s total population of about 167 million. Poverty has actually robbed many Nigerians of their dignity. Physical and mental illnesses have become the order of the day.

Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) came out with a damning report about depression in Nigeria. Depression is a mood disorder, which causes persistent feeling of sadness.

According to WHO figures, 7,079,815 Nigerians suffer depression. That is 3.9 per cent of the population. And these are people who were once rated the happiest on earth. About 4,894,557 others suffer anxiety disorders.

This is why suicide has climbed to an alarming rate in the country. Recently, a lecturer with the Kwara State University and a 300 level student of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, committed suicide. Last October, a 54-year-old director in the Kogi State Civil Service, Mr. Edward Soje, killed himself. He was owed 11 months’ salary arrears.

According to the WHO suicide ranking, with 15.1 suicides per 100,000 population in a year, Nigeria is the 30th most suicide-prone (out of 183 nations) in the world and the 10th in Africa.

Unfortunately, this government has been playing the blame game. Nigerians knew there were problems. They elected Buhari to solve those problems, not to give excuses, not to commit further errors.

As Prof. Wole Soyinka said recently, Buhari appears to be in a trance and has committed so many unforced errors. Some other prominent Nigerians like former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida have pointed out some of these errors.

I know the President means well for Nigeria. But his age, health and poor understanding of the economy have hindered him from offering his best. In the interest of the nation, he should shame those who say his name means hardship by bowing out honourably. He should not listen to those who, largely for selfish reasons, say he must re-contest. We are in a digital age and we need a digital President.

This article was first published in Mr Igbokwe’s column in The Sun newspaper of Monday, February 26, 2018.

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