The Whingeing President

By Shaka Momodu

“There is enough blame to go round but once you are in charge there is no time for blame or trying to find excuses. You do what you can. I was the minister of Abuja. I did not inherit a perfect Abuja. Those before me did many things that were not right. But I did not complain once about what they did. I looked at the situation I had on the ground and tried to fix what I could. I didn’t solve every problem. But I was not whining and crying, saying others created the problem so I can’t do anything about it. I solved the ones I could.” – Nasir el-Rufai, former FCT Minister and now the governor of Kaduna State, lashing out at the then President Goodluck Jonathan, on a TVC programme, Straight Talk, circa 2013.

That portion of the interview is quite instructive given the times we are in. El-Rufai argued with great insight, passion and conviction to drive home his point about Jonathan’s failings. In fact, he must have spoken three years in advance of the actual situation and personality. As those caustic comments go viral, many people erroneously thought el-Rufai was referring to President Muhammadu Buhari because of how perfectly the words described the president’s conduct since he assumed power.

I doubt if el-Rufai will not be uncomfortable with the blame game that has become the irritating hallmark of President Buhari, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and even el-Rufai himself in the last 16 months – a period when they have exhibited gross incompetence in the management of the nation’s economy. It was a remarkable departure from his sermon in 2013.

It is a lot easier to espouse leadership values and expectations when you are in the opposition. More often than not, you are a better politician; you pretend to love the people more and having the right solution to every problem. El-Rufai was in that position in 2013. He waxed all the platitudes of good governance and purposeful leadership, pointing out the failings of Jonathan with considerable passion and articulation to the extent of even insinuating that his leadership style was a joke.

Meanwhile, he was applauded by an excited mob of fans that today form the firewall of excuses for Buhari. Of course anyone who attacked Jonathan was hailed – it was an easy route to national prominence. Consequently, new opportunist activists sprang up and old career critics reinforced their credentials, burning the midnight oil to craft strongly worded press releases that made front-page headlines – against the whipping boy from Otuoke who had no shoes but dared to rise to national prominence and who had a measured, perhaps a poor understanding of power and its responsibility. I dare say and bluntly so, he was even afraid to use it even when he could and ought to. The moment his opponents saw that weakness, it was an open season on his government. They capitalised on it, openly threatening and even bullying him. Eventually, they succeeded in ousting him from power.
Today, el-Rufai’s party, the APC, is in power with Buhari as the president and we have seen the crude use of power without responsibility – the rule of law that was once their article of faith, championed with vigour by lawyers-cum-activists is now being mocked and replaced with a “licence to detain indefinitely”. We have seen the manipulation of the judiciary to achieve political ends. It’s all too familiar.

It’s a brutal irony that what el-Rufai spoke of is now coming to haunt them, as the nation is being inundated with stories by the president who has simply refused to lead but instead is blaming all the past governments for the hole Nigerians have suddenly found themselves under his watch. It is difficult not to be frightened by what the remaining two and a half years of Buhari’s presidency holds in store for the country in an atmosphere of constant whingeing and wailing. The grim statistics reeled out recently by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is telling of how far the country has regressed under this APC-led government in just 16 months.

Some blame the fall in oil price as the reason for the slide into recession. How convenient! But was that really the reason? Oil constitutes just 15per cent of the country’s GDP. Make no mistake, it might have been a contributory factor but certainly not the main reason. The president’s refusal to act decisively on assumption of power, his archaic understanding of economic issues, his contempt for expert advice as well as his failure to timeously take tough necessary decisions exacerbated a bad situation and accelerated the slide into an avoidable recession. He was afraid of losing his popularity with the uninformed masses and mob supporters. Eventually, the light dawned on him when he saw the grim economic data. So whatever action the government took became too little, too late.

The forceful implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) with military alacrity was one of the wrong-headed steps that crippled the economy in so many ways that one is surprised that the managers of the economy don’t seem to appreciate the damage they have done in their haste to trump transparency. Ironically, while Buhari consistently laments the failings of the last government, he claims credit for initiating the TSA and frequently reminds the public of what has been saved in the TSA even though the evidence clearly shows it was the last government’s initiative.

Now, feeling embarrassed at not being able to deliver on the mandate of “change”, he had been groping for the right message to the Nigerian people. His latest tactic of playing fast and loose with us by launching the Change-Begins-With-You campaign is doomed to failure. Ditto, the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) resurrected by his administration. I’m sorry, I forgot that it failed at the point of launch.

Surprisingly, most of those intellectuals and activists who were falling over themselves to endorse him, thereby providing the intellectual stimulant for a powerful campaign slogan that swept the last government out of power are uncharacteristically quiet, not showing the slightest inclination to hold the government to account to fulfil the promises it made to the Nigerian people. Others except for a handful have been aiding Buhari in the blame game by generating all sorts of silly excuses for him. In their warped and crooked explanation, the last government caused the recession, “Buhari is only trying to fix things”. It is a claim that is simply beyond the pale of plausible deniability of responsibility which appeals to emotion and not reason.

Amid all this, the country’s currency, the naira is bleeding profusely in the intensive care unit of a poorly maintained national hospital that lacks even the most rudimentary equipment of a hospital as the economy slips into an avoidable coma. But the chief executive officer whose lackadaisical attitude towards the economy led to this sorry state of things is still wailing and whingeing about how he met an empty treasury, no savings, no power, no roads and no security. Shockingly, the naira has earned the unenviable sobriquet: the worst-performing currency in Africa. It is a grim milestone for a currency that once held its own against the almighty US dollar a few years ago.

At this juncture, I make so bold as to say that the rapid depreciation of the naira is a direct vote of no confidence in Buhari’s handling of the economy. Notwithstanding that the administration has been lurching between fighting corruption and instilling discipline, foreign investors are just watching from the sidelines because they have read the inscrutable “body language” of the government, noted its lack of clear policy agenda, nay its dithering approach to the economy, underpinned by a command-and-control mindset and came to the sensible conclusion that they cannot risk their hard-earned money in an economy driven by the impulses and mood swings of one man who routinely interferes with the monetary policy that is outside his purview/expertise, while neglecting the fiscal policy directly within his formulation and execution. The country is deteriorating rapidly on all fronts.

Guinness Nigeria Plc like many other companies has declared a loss for the year ended June 2016. That the last time the company made a loss was in 1986 after Gen. Buhari had been overthrown speaks volumes about the president’s economic policy credentials. Some have argued that it was just a coincidence. But how many coincidences do we have to have before they stop being coincidences?

Now there is a growing consensus of opinion that he has totally wrecked the Nigerian economy and that contrary to official posturing, it would take a miracle to get it back on its feet anytime soon. We are not gifted in the art of clairvoyance but we can see the dysfunctional, clueless and incoherent utterances of major players of this government to draw certain conclusions. As observed by a former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, Nigeria may continue to experience the current recession cycle until 2020, if the Buhari-led federal government fails to immediately bounce the economy massively.

Agbakoba is not the only one now speaking out. One of Buhari’s chief endorsers, Prof. Pat Utomi, is also worried and speaking. This was excerpted from what he was reported to have said last week: “The economic crisis and conflict we are facing in the country were completely self-inflicted; a policy-induced recession and yet people are not raising their voices on matters and challenges of now because they don’t want to be for or against the government; and they want to watch our country die. The time is now to wake up and speak the truth to the people in power.”

But Utomi’s frustration is quite evident when he correctly captured the madness in the land in an interview recently. He said: “The problem is that Nigeria doesn’t have a public sphere. You can’t even have a civilised conversation. If you dare suggest that things could be done in a different way, you become the enemy of all those who are doing it the wrong way, including your own party members. For them, partisanship is the blind following of a failing option. You find out that people suddenly become enemies of their best friends, especially when your best friends are not cheerleading the failed options.”

Well, Utomi is not the only one to experience this, we all have but on different levels. For me personally, I have never seen a people so willing to be deceived and misled like we have today. Nigerians are now celebrating administrative decisions considered routine decisions as evidence of performance and generate excuses for inaction or clearly bad decisions with profound negative impact on the economy. People you had previously ascribed some modicum of enlightenment and knowledge, now act like they are under the influence of a spell. Try and reason with them, you will be shocked by what you hear. These people form the hardcore of Buhari’s support base. Also, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, a staunch supporter of Buhari, has spoken against the direction the government is taking the country.

Now let’s examine Buhari’s claim of no roads, no rail, and no power against the statements by his own ministers that some progress was made by the last government in critical sectors. In a rare moment of honesty, Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria’s Minister for Power, Works and Housing, while unveiling the plan of his ministry praised the achievements of the last government. Fashola during his first news conference tagged, “Setting the Agenda for Delivering Change” said that Goodluck Jonathan had constructed more roads than any president ever in Nigeria. He also acknowledged that the “transformation” in the power sector was above 50 per cent and that he would try to build on it. Also the Minister of State for Works, Adebayo Adeyeye, who spoke as a guest on a Channels Television programme, said that the Jonathan administration recorded more success in the provision of motorable roads than any other administration in the history of Nigeria. According to him, the administration in 2011 had about 4,500 kilometres of fairly motorable roads, but left about 25,000 kilometres of very good roads in 2015.

The Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, also stated that he never knew that the railway as a means of transportation still existed in Nigeria. Amaechi made this remark late last year when he toured facilities of the Nigerian Railways Corporation (NRC) in Lagos. His words: “In fact, I think we have a problem; most people don’t believe that the railway transport is functioning in Nigeria. I didn’t even know until I started this tour, I never knew that the railway was functioning; it was even from his (MD’s) speech that I learnt that there are some coaches or services that go to Kano or Port Harcourt or elsewhere.”
At least these reports were never denied by the concerned ministers. It is therefore very curious that lamentations about “16 years of rot” are still Buhari’s favourite ways of diverting attention from his own failings. Wait a minute – was the president insinuating that his administration built the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge rail line he inaugurated recently? I hope not. What about the Lagos-Kano/Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail that the government plans to raise $2 billion from its concession? He should tell the nation who built it.

While the president is obsessed about the past, he has sadly been too aloof and casual about the future. It is very hard therefore not to use both our gut feelings and our intellect to see where we are headed as the APC signature “change” surely and assuredly unravels, turning into its signature failure and the country’s nightmare. The more they shout change, the more things stay the same or get even worse.

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