Buhari delivered what sounded more like an Inaugural Speech than a Democracy Day Speech, yesterday, June 12. The 3,114 word-speech was essentially his evaluation of his government’s last four years, the successes he felt were recorded and his sense of the challenges ahead. Needless to say, he scored his government very high. As he put it:
“When therefore we came to office in 2015 after a decade of struggle, we indentified three cardinal and existential challenges our country faced and made them our campaign focus, namely security, economy and fighting corruption. None but the most partisan will dispute that in the last four years we have made solid progress in addressing these challenges”.
Let me mention that there is no government which will be in office for four years without having a few things to beat its chest about. In this sense, Buhari was definitely right that it has recorded some successes in some areas. No one however should expect his political opponents to agree with his self-assessment – just as no one will reasonably expect Buhari to score himself low marks over his performance. The truth is that the mark a government gets over its performance will largely depend on the methodology used, the metrics and markers used in the assessment and the political leanings of the people carrying out the evaluation. Take for instance the issue of insecurity. While Buhari was right in his often repeated claim that his government recovered all the territories held by Boko Haram when he came to power, it is also true that when he came to power the North-West and the North-Central were areas of relative peace. Under his watch, many parts of the North-West have literally been over-run by bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustler. In the North-Central, while there were episodic farmers’-herders’ conflicts before he came to power in 2015, under his watch the conflicts not only intensified but have spread to the Southern parts of the country. Across the country, the number of ungoverned spaces seems to have increased as kidnapers, armed robbers and cultists run amok and instill fears in the populace. This means that if one focuses only on Boko Haram, then Buhari’s claim of containing the terrorists, though often exaggerated, (because Boko Haram has merely metamorphosed from targeting soft targets to attacking such hard targets as military bases) becomes largely true. However if one chooses to have a comprehensive view of the security situation even in the North alone, the conclusion will be that while only the North East posed a serious security threat when he came to power, under his watch the entire North has become more unsafe.
Just as with security, an assessment of the Buhari government’s efforts on the economy will also depend on the metrics and methodology used. For instance if you focus on a series of the government’s intervention programmes such as its infrastructural development programme, the Anchor Borrowers’ programme or its rice production programme, the conclusion may be that the government deserves at least a pass mark. However if you change the metrics such as the value of the Naira before he came to power and now, the pump price of petrol or the basket of goods one’s wages can buy before he came to power and now, then the verdict becomes different. Even the statistics Buhari used to show that his government has done very well – the economy has witnessed 8 quarters of positive growth, the economy is expected to grow by 2.7 per cent this year, external reserves have risen to $45bn this year and the Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (which is the gauge of manufacturing activity in the country) has risen for 26 consecutive months since March 2017- are abstractions from very complex reality. This is because if you choose to focus on other statistics such as the country becoming the poverty capital of the world under his watch, the rate of unemployment, the level of the country’s indebtedness (including the fact that some 60% of the country’s revenue are used to service debts) and the decline in foreign direct investment inflow etcetera, the verdict becomes different. The truth is that reality is multifaceted and people’s perceptions of a government form their subjective or social reality, which in turn determine the way they see or relate to that government. Perhaps a more meaningful way to assess the Buhari government’s performance may be to to ask people the question: ‘is your life better now than it was four years ago?’.
There are other aspects of the speech, (which was numbered 1-74), that I disagree with. For instance, on agriculture, the President said:
“We have water, arable land, forests, oil and gas and vast quantities of solid minerals. We are blessed with equable climate. However the bulk of our real wealth lies in Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Mining. We possess all the ingredients of a major economic power on the world stage”. I beg to disagree that the country’s real wealth lies in agriculture. Since coming to power, the Buhari government has prioritized agriculture and often extolled the young and the unemployed to embrace it. The truth however is that the world has entered a post industrial phase, in which services and the knowledge economy drive the world, not agriculture. Usually, as an economy develops, the percentage of its population engaged in agriculture necessarily becomes smaller as large scale mechanized farming willy-nilly displaces peasant farming (but produces more through the use of technologies). This means that the government’s mantra about the need for everyone to embrace agriculture or that agriculture is where real wealth lies, is not only untrue, but represents forward to the past.
On the just concluded election, Buhari declared: “All interested parties are agreed that the recent elections, except for pockets of unrest, were free, fair and peaceful”. While it is the general trend in our elections history that those who were declared winners would always see the process as free and fair while those declared as losers would always see it as rigged, the truth is that the last elections fell too far short of expectations on several fronts. I am not sure though if the outcome of the elections would have been different without the sort of malpractices that marred the elections (I believe both the APC and the PDP rigged in their strongholds). For the President to declare that the process was free and fair “except for pockets of unrest”, grossly underestimates what happened and makes it difficult for him to find the moral unction, the humility and the political will to champion necessary electoral reforms that will strengthen our democracy.
Just as I believe that the President understated the challenges facing the economy or the deficiencies in the last election, he also seemed to understate the potency of the farmers-herdsmen attacks and the generalized fear the presence of ‘Fulani herdsmen’ now creates in several communities across the country. According to the President:
“Most of the instances of inter-communal and inter-religious strife and violence were and are still a result of sponsorship or incitements by ethnic, political or religious leaders hoping to benefit by exploiting our divisions and fault lines, thereby weakening our country”.
With due respect, I feel this is another understatement. The truth is that while incendiary and intemperate statements have tended to exacerbate the crisis, the general perception that the herdsmen have been treated with kid gloves because they come from the same ethnic stock as the President, is a factor fuelling generalized anger and stereotyping of the herdsmen and creating in the process an array of conspiracy theories about Islamization and Fulanization agendas. I feel there is a need for the President to show tough love when the herdsmen sack communities or plunder and rape in their host communities. True, the herdsmen are also often victims, including the rustling of their cattle. Tough love from the President will send a powerful signal that no one can be treated as a sacred cow if found to have committed a crime, which will in turn limit the tendency for some communities to resort to self-help when dealing with the herdsmen.
Finally apart from the master stroke of naming the national stadium after MKO Abiola, not much was in the speech about the country’s journey to democracy (which the ceremonies are supposed to celebrate). Again many who expected that the President would, on that occasion, at least name some members of his cabinet, were also disappointed.