Elder Statesman and Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), Dr Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, in this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU said President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians. Excerpts:
Buhari’s performance in the last two years
The performance of Buhari’s administration in the last two years has been very woeful and it has also taken the country several steps backwards. I am scarcely surprised by this woeful performance of the administration because you don’t give what you don’t have. I have always said that Buhari lacks the intellectual and physical capacity to launch Nigeria on the path of authentic development. My conclusion here is anchored on hard facts of history. Buhari is part of the military cabal that brought Nigeria to this point of inertia.
He usurped the reins of power in 1983 through a military coup d’état. His regency lasted until August 25 1985, when he was shoved away by General Ibrahim Babangida. But within the period he was in office, Buhari showed galling naivety in managing the economy and connecting with the people. 30 years on, a combination of treacherous forces imposed him on us again as an elected president under the otiose and warped assumption that he would stem the tide of terrorism and fight corruption to a standstill. Two years into his administration, Nigeria has become worse off.
Beyond the inability of the government to crush Boko Haram, despite official lies fed Nigerians about this on daily basis, corruption under his watch has become even more widespread and prevalent. For the first time since 1995, Nigeria’s GDP has shrunk on annual basis in the last two years. Today, Nigerians are struggling with increasing fuel prices and surging costs for almost everything else including foodstuff.
His administration has failed to diversify the economy, to control inflation and to promote job creation. I will say that the primitive bent of the Buhari administration is underlined by its ignorance of the forces at play in Nigeria. I was miffed by Buhari’s recent comments that his administration has worked hard in the last two years to meet the expectations of Nigerians; and here I wonder what he means by meeting the expectations of Nigerians. On the contrary, Buhari has worked hard in the last two years to reverse every gain the country had made before his emergence.
He promised Nigerians that his presidency will bring down fuel price to N45 but he increased it to N145. Do you call that meeting the expectation of Nigerians? Buhari promised Nigerians that he would pay N5000.00 to all unemployed youths in the country and create over three million jobs in the first year of his administration. He has failed miserably on both counts. Is that what he meant by meeting the expectations of Nigerians? One can go on and on to reel out the failures of this government. So my take on this is that his administration has failed massively in the last two years and I see no silver lining for the future. What we have had in the past two years have been despair and frustration; it’s been two years of policy somersaults and despondency; two years of grief and pain in the hands of an insensitive government; two years of blame game and leadership ineptitude. As a matter of fact, it has been two years of colossal failures and crass leadership. It couldn’t have been worse.
Is there no positive thing about the government in two years?
One obvious trait of great leaders is that before coming into power; they must have had prior contact with the frustrating aspects of their society and fashioned out what they intend to do with power if they acquire it. They don’t wait for power to fall upon them like apples from the sky. They are not reluctant leaders. It is a different ball game when a man emerges as a leader in a process that is beyond his imagination and with various strands of interests at play. That was actually the scenario that brought Buhari to power. You will recall that he had vowed never to contest the presidency again after he lost the 2011 presidential election. He was, however, lured out of political retirement by forces beyond his understanding. He did not own the script he was recruited to play. He was an instrument in the hands of some powerful persons and groups that were united only by their desire to acquire political power at all costs and who had been schemed out of relevance by the ruling party at that time.
The factor working in their favour was their common resentment of the ruling party; and the lethargy of the incumbent government at that time; as well as the backing of a vibrant press that had become disgusted with the government. Nigerians had had enough of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their antics; and they wanted a change. Nothing else mattered. So riding on this halo of public opprobrium against the PDP at that time, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had no concrete economic plan for the country.
Hence when you talk about positive steps and programmes by the Buhari government targeted at revamping the country, I get amused. The truth is that both the APC and Buhari had none at the point the APC took over the reins of power. If you had followed that election very well, the APC was not hoping that the PDP would concede defeat so easily. They were expecting that the PDP government would deploy its machineries to rig the election and retain itself in power. So the APC was more prepared for after election war and not necessarily for leadership. You could hear the APC drums of war beating loudly at that time. So the concession by the PDP took them unawares. That is the fact.
In the absence of an economic master plan for the country, APC hit on the expedience of blame game. PDP now became the reason for every failure of the party. But this is what I call escapist approach to leadership, a leadership that is not prepared to accept responsibility but must always manufacture reasons, sometimes bordering on the absurd, for its failures. Contrast this scenario with the emergence of erstwhile President Barak Obama in the US some eight years ago. When Obama came to power, the US economy was in shreds. His approach to driving economic recovery was monumental. He did not go about accusing the former Bush administration for the economic problems the country was facing at that time. Obama hit on the strategy of injecting targeted stimulus into the auto industry, the banks, the real estate and other sectors of the economy. Suddenly, “economic stimulus” became a global cliché which other troubled European economies would adopt. That is what I call pragmatic and result-oriented political leadership.
In our own context, the narrative has not been salutary. Buhari has no economic team as far as I am concerned. Under the erstwhile presidents, Obasanjo and Jonathan’s administrations, Nigeria had a distinguished economic team of global repute that tinkered with the economy; kept it afloat despite the massive corruption. Inflation remained on a single digit and basic commodities were affordable to the people. It was only recently, that the Buhari administration came up with what can be described as an ‘economic programme’ code named ‘Economic Recovery and Growth Plan,’ which was launched last April. The priority areas include stabilising the macroeconomic environment; achievement of agriculture and food security; expansion of energy infrastructure capacities (power and petroleum); improving transportation infrastructure and driving industrialization principally through local and small business enterprises.
And here I wish to remark that there is nothing new about this programme essentially because it is a recycling of Vision 20:20 Document under a new name. The government has done virtually nothing to relieve Nigerians of the harsh economic conditions, which its policies have unleashed on them. And you can’t be surprised about this because what you don’t have you don’t give. It is a measure of our political stupidity that persons, blinded by their political insensitivity, could still be pouring applauds on a government that has alienated itself from the people.
The ingredients of economic development are ingrained in certain core areas of the economy, which every responsible government must strive to develop. The first is to ensure the development of the iron and steel industry. In the last decades we have wasted so much money on the Ajaokuta and Aladja Steel complexes to no avail. We cannot be talking about industrialisation in the absence of a functional iron and steel industry because it is from there that the tooling industry develops.
Secondly, the government must ensure the provision of uninterrupted power supply to drive the steel and tooling industries. It is a shame that till date Nigeria cannot boast of one day without power interruption. Thirdly, is the development of the petro-chemical industry Nigeria is noted for her rich deposits of oil but we have failed to develop this sector of the economy. With a well-developed petro-chemical industry, we will develop the pharmaceutical industry, the fertilizer industry and other related industries. At present, the Buhari government has not done anything in these areas but the government should in the interim embark on policies that would bring succor to millions of Nigerians. For now the government has done nothing to better the lot of Nigerians.
Many wanted the President to resign as his unstable health is affecting economy?
Let me correct an impression here! It might amount to restricting the scope of Nigeria’s problems to suggest that the problem in the country has been compounded by the ill health of the President. I beg to differ on this. It is unfortunate that the President’s health appears to be escaping him. I don’t think any person in his or her right senses would be happy that the President is ill. While I wish him quick recovery, I want to say that Nigeria’s problems are greater than the President. For one thing, Buhari himself has been part of the Nigerian problem from 1966 and the way his mindset is wired, he can only exacerbate the challenges. His ill health has not come to me as a surprise. The signs were very evident during the presidential election but he was too sucked-in with the script that was given to him. Even as a healthy president, he does not have the requisite intellectual capacity to navigate this country.
This is a fact and you can take that to the bank.The compounding of Nigeria’s problems did not start with Buhari. The total collapse of our institutions, the spiraling level of unemployment in the country, the bourgeoning prison intake, the insecurity of lives and property, the rise in ethnic nationalism, the scorched earth policy of Boko Haram, the restiveness in the Niger-Delta, extreme poverty and the elevation of corruption as an article of faith in political governance in the country and such other problems. These are not pernicious ailments inflicted upon the Nigerian State by some mysterious forces. Together, these problems define the health of the country as critical and calamitous. As a Christian, I know that if the foundation is destroyed, the patriot can do nothing. Nigeria’s problems are foundational. These problems were there at the point the Nigerian State was created by colonial fiat and bequeathed with corrosive extractive economic and political institutions.
What the President’s ill health has done is that it has only provided excuses for failures. As to whether the President should resign or not, I think there is an obvious choice. I recall that when late President Umaru Yar’Adua was ill, it was Buhari who led the charge for his resignation. His argument was that Nigeria needed a healthy President to steer the ship of the State. I agree with this argument. If he advised Yar’Adua to resign on account of ill health, I see no reason why he would need anyone to remind him to throw in the towel. There is only one honourable way for him to go; and that is resignation. Perhaps, that would make him the outstanding statesman he would wish to be.
After two years, can we say the impact of the war against corruption has been felt?
What you describe as war against corruption, whether under the Buhari government or any other government in the past has been an elitist deceit and huge failure. There is no war against corruption in Nigeria because even today corruption has become more pervasive and prevalent. You see, for you to actually contextualize the war against corruption, you must first and foremost understand the dialectics of elitistism and the political economy of corruption.
In the first instance, you should understand that corruption belongs in the ranks of the rich and those who have access to political power especially in a neo-colonial economy like ours. Nigeria is a clientele economy with extensive extractive economic and political institutions. These extractive institutions became more pervasive when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the country. The emergent political class, instead of breaking the cycle of extractive institutions, consolidated those institutions and became enamoured with the scramble for petrodollars. The focus on this sector of the economy naturally dislocated agriculture as the main stay of the Nigerian economy; but instead of oil serving as a blessing to Nigeria and Nigerians; it has become a curse to the people. Since political independence in 1960, most Nigerian leaders have not clearly demonstrated sense of genuine national development basically because the concept of Nigerianism does not exist. No Nigerian is willing to die for this country. It has been estimated that over $380 billion of Nigeria’s collective wealth has been stolen by its post-independence leaders.
In terms of its political economy, it is the economic condition of any society that induces or curbs the incidence of corruption. In countries where you have egalitarian distribution of wealth, corruption is reduced to the barest minimum. So central is the issue of egalitarian distribution of wealth that it’s been argued that a state divided into a small number of rich and a larger number of poor will always develop a government manipulated by the rich to protect the amenities represented by their property. To maintain this pattern in the society, the rich and those desiring to be rich, pilfer government resources in order to maintain the status quo. Related to this, those who eventually get the opportunity to hold official positions would want to remain there because to return to the bottom is to suffer social humiliation.
Can implementation of 2014 Constitutional Conference resolutions curtail agitations in the land?
If your assumption that the recommendations of the 2014 National Political Reform Conference has ended up in the trashcan is correct, then I can tell you authoritatively that the end is near for this country. The outcome of that conference cannot possibly end up in the dustbin because Nigeria’s safety valve is embedded in that document; and restructuring is part of the solution. The only alternative for getting the country out of her present predicament is to restructure. We really do not have any alternative to this. For crying out loud, we cannot continue like this.