Receiving some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the recent Eid-al-Adha festival, President Muhammadu Buhari made a statement that sent out curious signals: “I wish the person who is coming after me the very best. I am eager to go. I can tell you it has been tough.” I initially read this in two ways. One, he was reiterating, yet again, that he had no plans to stay beyond May 29, 2023 — contrary to wild theories on social media. Two, he has given up on thinking he could solve Nigeria’s problems having seen many things go from bad to worse under his watch within seven years. Therefore, he can’t wait to “japa” (run away/cut loose) through the nearest exit door.
But there is a third angle: he has fully seen the difference between theory and practical, between campaign sloganeering and problem-solving, between seeking power and exercising power, and between poetry and prose. As Mario Cuomo could well have said, “we campaign in phrases and govern in paragraphs”. APC campaign videos of 2015 have resurfaced. Mr. Babatunde Fashola, then-governor of Lagos state, said insecurity and power failures were because Nigeria was led by “amateurs”. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, now Kaduna governor, labelled President Goodluck Jonathan as “incompetent”. After seven years in charge, Buhari is concluding: “I can tell you it has been tough.”
Fellow Nigerians, it has really been tough. Insecurity used to be mainly about Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, cattle rustling in parts of the north-west, banditry in Zamfara state and the perennial ethnoreligious conflicts in Kaduna state. Today, though Boko Haram has been somewhat contained and terrorist bombings in Kano, Abuja and Kaduna have disappeared, we are definitely not as safe as we were in 2015. Fears of insecurity are spreading across the country following the highly successful terrorist raid on Kuje prisons, the aborted attempt to kidnap students of the Nigerian Law School in Bwari, and an audacious attack on a presidential advance team.
Before 2015, you could travel by road, night or day, between Abuja and Kaduna. You didn’t need to have your heart in your mouth. Herders/farmers’ conflicts were not this deadly and widespread. There was no IPOB or ESN in the southeast slaughtering innocent people and burning police stations and ordering self-employed people to shut their shops and businesses on Mondays. There was kidnapping for ransom quite all right, but it was not mainstream and had only been a big thing in the pre-amnesty Niger Delta. We have spent billions upon billions on security agencies since then and purchased all kinds of fighter jets, but the truth is that the insecurity has been “very tough”.
The naira and the cost of living? Very tough. The naira that exchanged for about N222/$ in the open market in May 2015 is now going for over N700/$. For a country that depends so much on imports, the prices of goods have gone gaga and look untameable. Even locally produced goods are responding to the price environment — some because of the rising cost of transport and the impact of insecurity on economic activities. To cut a long story short, the cost of living is heading for the skies and the standard of living is falling to the ground. Nigerians now look around them, stare into the skies and drop their heads moaning that this was not the Nigeria they were promised in 2015.
As a matter of fact, we have been going through some of the worst economic mayhems in our history. We first had to endure falling oil prices, starting from 2014, and the resultant fall in forex inflow, the dollar squeeze and the inevitable fall of the naira. We now have high oil prices — the spot price for our dear Bonny Light was above $100/barrel on Friday — but, unfortunately, our production has fallen over the years as a result of so many factors: lack of fresh investments by oil companies as a result of the 12-year delay in passing the petroleum industry bill (PIB) into law; some oil fields reaching end-of-life stages with the juice underneath drying up; oil theft; and such like.
Before, we were producing 2.5 million barrels per day and building up excess crude savings and swimming in dollars — with all the associated effects of attracting the inflow of non-oil forex partly because of the confidence in the economy. Today, we are getting hurt by every rise in oil prices. Why? Our export is at their lowest since the 1970s. We are not benefiting from the boom. This is the first time in our history that oil prices are riding high but we are in severe pains. The irony: we are better off with lower prices. If nothing else, the subsidy bill will fall too. We are spending the equivalent of our oil and gas sales to subsidise petrol consumption in order to “protect the poor”!
As things stand, we are only managing to produce 1.32mbpd on average, out of which our share is about 28 per cent because of the contractual terms. That is less than 400,000bpd. That is what the NNPC gets to sell on behalf of a federation of 200 million people. NNPC then uses most of our share of crude oil production to import petrol and sell at N165 per litre. It is from our share we pay for petrol subsidy — something that will cost us at least N4 trillion this year alone. In the first half of 2022, according to NNPC, we earned N2.39 trillion from oil and gas sales while the subsidy bill was N2.6 trillion. Actually, revenue from oil sales was not enough to pay for subsidies in the first half.
Those expecting the naira to stop sliding down the bottomless pit need to adjust their expectations. Do not let anyone deceive you: we are not earning much forex. Dollar will continue to be scarce and naira will continue to fall. Those in the know told me that in 2014, NNPC brought over $98 billion in forex into the coffers of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In 2021, the total from the same NNPC was $92 million. Do the math. I don’t know if NNPC will bring in one cent in 2022, although miracles are not out of fashion yet. As we read in O’Level economics textbooks, when a product is scarce, the price will rise. We just don’t earn dollars anymore. Nigeria is no longer what it used to be. Fact.
With all these problems hanging as a noose over the country, why then should anyone want to be the next president? Look at the number of aspirants that bought APC presidential form for N100 million. Look at the number that bought PDP form for N40 million. Is it because they sincerely want to tackle these problems and believe that they have the capacity and the will to do so — or because they just want political power and the unlimited perks of office? Is it because they are genuinely worried about the future of Nigeria and are determined to give their utmost best to address the challenges — or because they love the ogbono soup and the interior decoy of the presidential jets?
The most enjoyable part of electioneering is usually on social media. That is where enthusiastic and vulnerable Nigerians make all kinds of promises on behalf of their candidates with every emotional energy at their disposal. They build castles in the air, always. My candidate will end power failure, my candidate will end ASUU strikes, my candidate will end insurgency, my candidate will do this and that and that and this. Sometimes, these candidates are not even aware of the promises their supporters have made on their behalf. People just overdose on enthusiasm and begin to create a candidate that only exists in fantasies and fictions. Nigeria’s problems will not disappear overnight.
We witnessed many utopian promises in 2015. Buhari’s supporters created a candidate that would not seek medical treatment abroad, that would declare his assets publicly, that would end insecurity and power failures with a snap of the finger — and banish corruption from our shores. Mallam Garba Shehu, his spokesman, was so livid after (not before) Buhari’s inauguration that he issued a scathing statement saying some APC members were “on the loose” during the campaign. “It was possible that things were being done without the knowledge or the usage of the proper channel of communication,” he said, while emphatically denying that Buhari ever made those promises.
In an article I wrote before the election, “Buhari and the Burden of Expectations” (THISDAY, January 25, 2015), I said: “I don’t know whether to rejoice or sympathise with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari anytime I read all the sweet comments about him on social media — especially on Twitter. I don’t know any presidential candidate who has been so idolised in recent times… On the one hand, it is good for him. He will not be complaining at all. No politician will complain about such good fortune, especially with only a few weeks to an election. On the other hand, my God!… I’ve been there before — as a reckless enthusiast. I had similar expectations about President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.”
As we approach the 2023 presidential election, I stand by my position: stop the reckless enthusiasm. Whoever is going to lead a proper change in this country must take tough decisions and Nigerians must be ready for adjustment pains. The next president has brutal decisions to take on fighting insecurity (which will certainly involve unconventional strategies and unavoidable collateral damages). He will have to take painful decisions on the exchange rate, on subsidies, on the funding of public universities, on the civil service, on sectional agitations, on debts, etc. We cannot overcome these debilitating challenges without going through a period of tough adjustments and changes.
The next president will inherit problems that have been building up for decades, worsened by poor policy choices in recent years. No matter what he does, he will be damned. If he maintains the status quo, Nigeria will continue its journey to hell on a fast track. If he decides to do the needful, he will face stiff opposition from labour unions, internet warriors and ethnoreligious war mongers, topped with a possible uprising. The status quo is not an option but a corrective surgery will be politically costly as well. Pray, why should anyone want to be in this position? Except, of course, they are real leaders and problem solvers who are determined to save Nigeria from bleeding to death. Catch-22.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Tobi Amusan has done the unprecedented in our athletics history by setting a world record on her way to winning the women’s 100m hurdles at the World Athletics Championship. She became the first Nigerian to set a world record in track and field. I celebrate with her for bringing joy to Nigerians in this season of pains. I also pay tribute to those who came before her, did us proud and put our name on the global map — greats like Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Chidi Imoh, Ezinwa twins, Innocent Egbunike, Sunday Bada and others. There are plenty Amusans all over Nigeria waiting to be discovered and nurtured. The harvest is plenty but the labourers are few. Phew!
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo gave us a rare sight recently: a top Nigerian government official receiving treatment of any kind at a local hospital. You can say whatever you like — that it was a private hospital or the ailment was a “mere” fracture — but this means a lot. Nigerian doctors being trusted on their own soil by the country’s No 2 man is just the kind of positive signal we need from government officials that, indeed, “Nigerians can do it”. When our leaders begin to look inwards, not just in words but in deeds, they will perhaps start taking the necessary steps to upgrade the quality of public medical care available in the country to world-class. It is no rocket science. Commitment.
I accept that Nigeria is a peculiar country. The Economist once described us as importing what we have and exporting what we don’t have. Which is always true. We are importing petroleum products from Europe and exporting security to Liberia. But I still cannot fully understand why there will be a scarcity of aviation fuel, leading to disruption of local flights. Aviation fuel is not subsidised, meaning you can import and sell at the market price. So how can there be scarcity of a vital product that drives an entire sector? Yes, Nigeria is a peculiar country where anything can happen and where nothing makes sense, but you still think some things should never happen at all. Unbelievable.
ATIKU VS TINUBU
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his APC counterpart, have been firing missiles at each other over the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Atiku says it is wrong and that was why he did not pick Tinubu as his running mate in 2007. Tinubu fired back, saying he was actually offered the slot by Atiku and he turned it down. People have been asking how this cross-fire will put food on the table of ordinary Nigerians. Nice one. That apart, though, I thought it is on record that Atiku wanted to be running mate to Bashorun MKO Abiola in 1993 — which would have been Muslim-Muslim — but Abiola settled for Amb Babagana Kingibe. Politics!
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