With the approach of the 2019 presidential election, the Buhari administration faces Nigerians’ verdict on its performance that determines its fate. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is already charged up with divergent assessments of its performance.
As it isn’t possible to assess every assessment, I screen out politically-motivated and ethno-religiously-motivated assessments, whether positive or negative. As I also screen out other assessments that sound particularly self-centered, whether positive or negative. Because such assessments are obviously too subjective to deserve any consideration.
Starting with the assessment of the disappointed who had been ardent Buhari loyalists before they subsequently turned indifferent or even against him having concluded that he has failed to live up to their expectations; I observe that though their disappointment is quite understandable, yet a critical look into their arguments reveals that they had actually downplayed the seriousness and complexities of the country’s challenges while exaggerating Buhari’s capabilities to tackle them. They had practically assumed that with him as president, corruption and impunity would simply be stopped in no time, and that many notorious individuals who impoverished the country over the decades would be rounded-up, prosecuted, forced to forfeit considerable amounts of their fortunes and thrown into jail. A Hausa political song titled “masu-gudu-su-gudu” that trended shortly after Buhari’s win in 2015 before he was inaugurated reflected those expectations.
Now, though President Buhari’s indecisiveness on many critical issues remains largely responsible for the frustratingly slow rate at which his administration’s economic reform policies and anti-corruption measures reflect on the living conditions of Nigerians, as it also casts doubt on his perceived strictness against impunity in view of the many instances of impunity right under his nose where some privileged individuals get away with serious offences, yet, at the risk of sounding a Buhari apologist, I never lose sight of the big picture when assessing his performance. I always take into consideration the particularly frustrating operating environment he operates in where corruption is so deep-rooted that it perhaps wouldn’t be an exaggeration to assert that one can hardly, if at all, count up to three non-corrupt government officials in any department of any government ministry, agency, or institution.
By the way, one may wonder why previous presidents weren’t given the same excuse inasmuch as they equally operated in the same environment. Well, President Buhari deserves this excuse to the exclusion of most of his predecessors, because even his overzealous opponents know for sure deep down that he never partakes in fraudulent self-enrichment deals, as it has always been the case in the presidency.
Anyway, also though living conditions in the country have further deteriorated since his assumption of office in 2015, yet without necessarily absolving him, I observe that what many Nigerians don’t seem to realize or simply ignore is that, economic decline never occurs overnight, it instead occurs following a series of failures over an appropriate period of time. In most cases, the economic challenges a new administration struggles with are largely the repercussions of the actions and inactions of the previous administration(s). This is quite applicable on the Buhari administration in relation to its predecessor i.e. the Jonathan administration, which was arguably the most corrupt in the history of the country.
Besides, the economic reform policies and anti-corruption measures currently in place remain the best possible under these circumstances. After all, apart from political rhetoric, even Buhari’s fanatical critics can’t provide any superior economic arguments to fault them, let alone propose better alternatives.
It’s also noteworthy that in Nigeria’s peculiar context, regardless of the greatness of whatever economic reform policies and anti-corruption measures in place, implementing them would inevitably trigger a serious but temporary economic hardship. This is because economic activities in the country have always been largely dependent on corruption, directly or indirectly. For instance, over the decades, stolen funds from government treasury at all levels through kickbacks, bribes and direct thefts have been the main source of liquidity in the country’s banking industry and business activities. Also, almost all the apparently successful private businesses in the country owe their prosperity to either fraudulent government privatizations or concessions, rent-seeking, illegally acquired bank loans, forex round-tripping, fraudulently granted import duty and/or tax waivers, smuggling or other practices that undermine the economy.
It isn’t surprising therefore if an attempt to plug the holes through which public resources are systematically stolen affects the economy as witnessed currently in the country. Besides, there is no alternative to the measures currently in place, in fact, it’s high time state and local governments followed suit. The associated hardship is like the pain associated with the procedure of straightening a broken bone.
Admittedly, the more I feel bad about the so-called Buhari-triggered poverty in the country, the more I feel embarrassed knowing that it was actually triggered by an attempt to tackle a deeply entrenched culture of corruption in the land.