“We campaigned on three major issues – to secure the country, revive the economy and fight corruption. We have elections next year, politicians are already pre-occupied with the polls, but I am bothered more about security and the economy.”
Please take a moment to chew on these words uttered by our president, Muhammadu Buhari, to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May during his recent visit to 10 Downing Street. When you’re done masticating, drown it with some water and let it digest properly. If after doing this, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with the president’s statement, then please feel free to stop reading at this point and move on to other items on your news feed.
From an account I saw on television, the meeting lasted for about 25 minutes. Now, after 25 whole minutes of talks with one of the most powerful people in the planet, what we get is a seemingly disjointed and infantile statement about what the President campaigned on in 2014 and an obvious swipe at his fellow politicians and any other person interested enough in the future of this country to want to via for leadership position in the forthcoming presidential, governorship and legislative elections in the country.
Paraphrasing the quote published by his office, the president avers that unlike other Nigerian politicians, which in this case would include anyone seeking political in the country at state or national level, his preoccupation at this point was not on the impending polls, but on improving the economy and securing lives in the country.
First, if this is the best a presidential media team can come up with, then I can only imagine how very one-sided the conversation between the two leaders would have been, with Ms May doing most of the talking and Alhaji Buhari smiling and nodding vigorously so she’s not in doubt that he understands the words coming out of her mouth.
I don’t know how he does it, but it seems like each time our president is out of the country, or with other world leaders, he says the “darndest” things – like agreeing that Nigerians are fantastically corrupt, saying that women belong to the other room, and now insinuating that the leadership class in Nigeria, including those in his party—since he didn’t make a distinction—are only interested in power and position and do not care about the peace, progress and stability of their country.
Some would argue that the President has a point and is entitled to his opinion, but I would agree with that assertion only to the point of specificity, but let me come back to that matter later.
In the first part of the statement, the President mentions the three things he campaigned on and I wonder why. Don’t we already know that the APC touted security, corruption and the economy as the fulcrum of its campaign? Three years after being given the chance by the electoral process to introduce and implement policies that would result in noticeable improvements in these sectors, I doubt that anyone in the world wants to be reminded of campaign rhetoric. The time is long overdue to speak about accomplishments and not promises.
I’m sure the UK Prime Minister and those of us back home waiting for sound bites would have rather the statement from the presidency was about concrete steps taken to improve on the economy. Because we didn’t see that, the statement appears inconclusive. Instead of creating jobs, people lost jobs. Instead of opening new branches, businesses are shutting down because the cost of keeping them afloat has quadrupled in many cases.
Instead of the promised economic Eldorado, what Nigerians witnessed was a recession that impoverished families to the extent that it was easy to fall prey to the wiles of the progenitors of MMM and other similar Ponzi schemes. I didn’t realise how bad things had become until a complete stranger knocked on my gate one day in 2016 to beg for some garri to take home to his wife and children. I’d lived in that neighbourhood for more than five years and it was the first time I’d be witnessing anything as heartbreaking as that.
The dollar to naira exchange rate disparity has more than doubled since 2015 and that isn’t indicative of a revival in the economy. We heard the promise but are yet to see the indicators that Nigerians, individuals and businesses are better off now than they were three years ago. After a few years out of Abuja, I returned a few weeks ago to discover that my old barbers had closed shop. The factors necessary to sustain the business no longer exists.
Instead of releasing a statement from the UK, one year to the end of its tenure celebrating a promise made rather than a promise kept to secure the country, what we hear is a retelling of a campaign catchphrase. At this point, what Nigerians at home and abroad would like is a scorecard, complete with facts and figures to justify any claim that the country safer than it was three years ago.
While we await those details, a perusal of newspaper headlines from May 29, 2015 till date will tell us all we need to know about the deaths, carnage, crime and criminality carried out by terror groups, herdsmen, cultists, kidnappers and armed robbers. As if that isn’t enough to convince anyone how scary things have become, still from London, we hear from the Commander-in-Chief that all the while we were thinking herdsmen, it has actually been Libyan trained militia making mincemeat of innocent farmers and communities.
After three years in office, we are tired of hearing that the government has identified corrupt individuals from the immediate past administration instead of showcasing concrete structures and policies to curb the pillaging of public resources, happening now or in the past. The party in power was voted in to fight corruption and I’m sure countless other Nigerians like me are open to be schooled on just how the current tactics being deployed have changed anything and what procedural and legal deterrents and impediments have been put in place to discourage corrupt tendencies.
The first half of the second part of the statement issued by the President’s mouthpiece is even more intriguing. It starts with mention of the 2019 election and ends with the alarming or confusing declaration that it is not the president’s priority because his focus is on security and on the economy.
If my memory serves me right, the President had on the eve of his departure to the UK made public his intention to throw his hat in the ring. My understanding of that portion of the statement issued by Femi Adesina is that “another round of elections would soon be upon us; others have made it a priority, I have not, but I have announced my desire to serve as president for another four years so people do not get funny ideas into their heads.” You know what is even more intriguing? While still overseas touting his indifference to the politics of 2019, back home in Nigeria, a campaign team is being unveiled.
Before the president’s declaration, only three other people that I know of had signalled their intention to run for that office. No one in the main opposition party had formally announced their intention to run and so far, we don’t know if anyone else in the president’s party would be bold enough to want to go up against him in the primaries. According to pundits, the president’s move could pass for deft as far as political strategies go. It would suffocate every other interest in the APC and make him the sole candidate in his party when the time comes to choose a flag bearer. If that move isn’t the product of some preoccupation with the battle ahead, I wonder what else is.
Recall also that even on that occasion of his declaration before the leaders of his party, the reason adduced for his decision to re-contest was not predicated on the need to complete projects started. What we heard was a spurious and unsubstantiated claim that Nigerians have begged him to re-contest. By the time he’d be rounding off in 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari would be 79 years old.
Just as some have argued that it is the legitimate right of Mr President to seek a second term in office, despite a promise he made in 2011 to only seek one term if elected president; it is also the right of every Nigerian to aspire to that office as well. Seeking to demonise or make people feel that it is unpatriotic to seek to contest against him could be dangerous for the brand of democracy we profess.
So when next Mr President is in London to see the Prime Minister, we want him to be able to say to her, that he gets the job done and that the people want him in the 2019 presidential race.