President Muhammadu Buhari is not in an enviable position right now. Just a year ago, Nigerians were chanting “FeBuhari” and piling their mountains of soteriological expectations on him. In about six weeks, it would be one year since he won the presidential election and if anything, Nigeria has proved tougher than what body language, or mere force of the President’s much touted incorruptible personality, can successfully heal.
For a man who became President by surfing on the wave of democratic discontent lunged at his opponent, it was clear from the start to any perspicacious observer that his administration would be weighed down by the burden of proof: to show the crowd of fawning admirers, supporters and believers that he was in charge, that their truth in him was not misplaced, and that he was indeed winning the war against bad governance.
One way to do this was to ramp up mundane government activity and milk it of its highest propaganda value.
I have been an adult citizen for a while but I cannot recall any other government that ecstatically wallows in pornography of propaganda like this present one. Everywhere one turns in Nigeria these days, it seems there is a loud raucous noise of government officials emoting over the President’s successes in the past months, a pesky din aimed at drowning dissension, reason and well-meaning criticisms.
In the past few weeks, in a bid to share testimonies of government magic, we have been treated to exaggerated claims of government efficacy, larded with what the late Ola Rotimi would have referred to as “terminological inexactitudes.”
One example is the claim that the government has saved a whopping N2.2tn in three months, a feat owing to the Treasury Single Account initiative. Let me acknowledge that all governments in the world routinely lie to their citizens but the nature of the lie, and the depth of thought that enshrouds it, shows the level of respect they have for the citizens. I will not dismiss the N2.2tn story as an outright lie but consider the remote possibility that the truth exists somewhere but only as a thin film of truth that is being overstretched to the point of illogicality.
How does a country that can barely pay salaries save so much in such a short time and yet nothing still changes in her fortunes? Did they mean they save some existing money from being spent or that sum is the amount that could have been wasted if they had not been so diligent? How does this government begin to even convince us that it saved the nation such exorbitant amount when her 2016 budget is replete with errors, duplications and frauds so massive that reading through the items analysed by various media made one tremble in shame at the outright lack of attentiveness that was invested into its preparations? How can you be so grossly incompetent in one aspect and then claim you are opposite in another?
For a President who embodied the image of military discipline and asceticism, this budget deconstructs and demystifies him. From the way the budget was presented and withdrawn amidst lies and denials, a lot has been going wrong suggesting poor administrative capability. Buhari owes Nigerians an explanation and an apology for the inferior effort that went into this budget preparation. Rather than outsource the blame, he should take responsibility for it. In a sane society, whole heads of department would be tendering their resignation by now. One is tempted to ask how Nigeria got to this level but then, has our national existence not been characterised by such slipshoddiness?
Rather than continue to peddle propaganda and spread false cheer about the progress we have made, I think it is time we admitted that our systems are warped, unwieldy and unsustainable. Like the budget itself, Nigeria was designed to sustain the mechanisms through which corruption operates rather than advance the nation. We do not need the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, to come up with another excuse to cover sheer incompetence. The lies told by this government are not helping anybody – neither government nor citizens. What it does is to further erode our collective integrity and the will to transcend our shortcomings. Telling lies about defeating Boko Haram in order to overshadow the fact that we are fighting a resilient war with largely analogue methods has not as much as deflated reality, so why not try tell the truth for a change? Rather than the hysterical claim about some officials “sneaking” in huge sums items into the budget, we need a more introspective look at how these things happen. We need genuine answers based on sincere analysis of the problem, not more lies or excuses exonerating themselves from these glaring failures.
How is it possible for anyone – mafia or not – to sneak items into the budget? What of items that were not sneaked in -such as the huge sums allocated to running facilities in Aso Rock at the expense of poor deprived citizenry? What level of oversight went into the preparation that a number of items escaped scrutiny? This is a part I do not understand: Is the budget manually prepared? I mean, do civil servants compute the national budget through manual calculation or they take the smarter, efficient route of using modern computer software, customised for Nigeria? The scale of fraud and shoddiness in that budget suggests that there are too many human interventions in the process. How does a nation progress when it micromanages itself?
For a while, Buhari’s government has had it good with Nigerians who keep extending it a long rope of excuses. Now, the length is enough to hang everyone. Rather than throw up our hands and jump on the same old gravy train of blaming previous administrations, or mouth the same set of impotent excuses of corruption, the government should look inward and admit to itself its own lack of preparations for the huge task that Nigerians handed to it in 2015. There are many days when it seems that the All Progressives Congress was never prepared for the reality of victory until it was too late. That is why they have been floundering, weighing every day of their administration against the unpopularity of their hapless predecessor.
For people who were ushered to power mouthing some of the most outrageous promises ever, their days in office should have exposed him to the cold stinging harshness of reality. They – like many of us – would have learnt that there are no easy solutions to Nigeria’s many problems. Our problems are many, twisted, unending but not insurmountable.
One only needs to pay attention to President Buhari himself to realise that he is overwhelmed and probably privately haunted by the scale of challenges facing his government.
Lately, in a conversation with members of the Nigerian community in the United Kingdom, he stated that he had wondered to himself why fate would deal him an unruly hand – making him President at a time when the nation’s fortunes were plunging; that he prayed for Nigerians who would suffer the consequences of the circumstances. These words, when taken up by the most fanatical of his followers, will expectedly be misconstrued as a testimony of his honesty. Underlining it however is the ruminations of a man yet to understand why he was chosen to occupy office at such a time like this. Buhari has never been a philosopher-king but his private cogitations like this one, voiced out, are less than inspiring. By now he should have known that great leaders are not made in good times. Rather, they are forged in the crucible of dwindled fortunes. Coming into office at the time oil rate is falling is not the problem; not having enough imagination to confront what looms ahead is what dooms us.
This piece first appeared in Punch Newspaper