A friend and fan called and demanded my take on the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last one year. He wanted a candid view and provable data for or against his government in my piece.
However, he landed me with a caveat, that he knew that I have sympathy for the President, because I prefer his ascetic lifestyle and his unblemished integrity. So, he wanted me to divorce emotion from bare-it-all assessment. And I promised to say it the way I see it.
So, why I elected to write, the words of Oliver Cromwell, the once upon British warlord came to mind. He once commissioned an artist to paint his portrait, for there was no video or photograph then, and when the artist brought the "oil on the canvass" portrait, it was more strikingly beautiful than the real person. Not wanting to be deceived, the General roared with decree laden tone, "this is not not me, where were the pimples and watts in my face-return to the drawing board, and paint my picture in exact form".
The instructive lesson there is, most of the commentators and writers were busy assessing President Buhari from the prism of ideal situation, leaving the details to suffer. Whereas, there is devil in the details. For me as a student of philosophy and mass communication, Buhari should be assessed from two spheres. We can begin the debate from a cup with half filled water; to determine whether the cup is half filled or half empty.
Not to be swimming in the water of ambiguities, I shall lay some indices that can be used for the quantities. 1. Economy 2. Corruption 3. Security 4. National integrity 5. Institutions of state 6. National thinking 7. Life expectancy. I would have love to roll out more, but space is not friendly. Now, let's work the Maths together.
On the state of economy, some opinion moulders and critical stakeholders coupled with ordinary people on the street have handed guilty verdict to Buhari, because to them, prices of food have hit the roof, job loss is commonplace, salaries of workers were not paid and the people are suffering. As beautiful as the arguments appear, anyone with deep insight would know that they are just symptoms of the systemic failure.
There was a time in this country when we heard nothing about oil boom, the administrators of each region came up with strategic planning which defined it. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo knew that agriculture was the credible source of revenue, and he invested in agric extension services, he formed cocoa produce board to encourage cocoa cash crop farmers on a better price regime, and got people to plant trees that would be a viable alternative to cocoa money, if the market reacted negatively. Ditto for wide net taxation which brought all adult to duty of paying tax. In return, schools, libraries, roads, towers, bridges and industries were created, and life abundance was achieved.
That was the state of the Western region, before the confederation arrangement was truncated in 1966 by the ambitious military guys. Along the line, the nation was delimited into states, and centralized at the centre with terrible decrees which gave all powers and resources to the federal government, while the states became appendages. Hence, "feeding bottle federalism"arrived.
Forget about the long history, begin the assessment of this democratic experiment in 1999, and interrogate issues on how this country has been governed since then. Shortly after the democracy was restored, the price of oil rose astronomically; there was plenty money to throw at the nation's challenges. Instead of embarking on strategic planning, President Obasanjo raised jumbo pay for the political office holders; politicians painted the country in red with cheap money; corruption was on its four as civil servants began to pad payroll to steal like politicians; the new money began to manifest as the nouveau riche began to import everything including toothpaste, and the fake lifestyle of proverbial rich country began to fly.
Late President Yar Adua wanted to correct the anomaly, he reversed some of the thoughtless policies, but terminal illness reversed his effort and handed the country to President Jonathan whose ineffectual buffoonery gave a country where corruption and impunity were elevated to state policies. The country earned more money, spent lavishly and when the reelection bid approached, the central bank, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and other revenue sources were offered to individuals to make the reelection of the President happen.
Individuals were carting away billions of naira and foreign currencies from the national vault of the Central bank for prayer and mobilization for election; signature bonuses in billions of dollars from oil wells were stolen for reelection purpose, and funds were stolen under the guise of security votes. Do we think, the theft of billions would not have consequences?
Having x-rayed the gravity of the state of the economy and corruption, you will agree with me that Buhari got a thumb up in the area of security, particular on the way he dealt a deadly blow to boko haram activities in the North East. Yes, you may have your reservations, but I know that with way the boko haram menace was before Buhari took over, the national integrity of the nation was on the line, and degrading the terrorists have earned Nigeria a respect. If that is not an achievement, I wonder what it is.
Of course, the issues of Niger Delta Avenger is burning, but it is obvious that the forces that were fleecing the nation at expense of the Niger Delta environmental challenges were unhappy with Buhari who wanted to institute a clean up and possibly restore life to the area instead of dashing national wealth to few individuals who had stolen so much that they could wage a war against the nation, and the only way to checkmate the man is to launch new violence in the area. Let it be reminded that if Niger Delta Avenger is not crushed, then we do not have a nation, and I would not side with those who are calling on the president to pamper the criminals who called themselves avengers. So, Mr. President is on point on the military option. Those criminals must be degraded like boko haram before any talk can be meaningful to them.
Yes, it would bring hunger and pains, because we have no other viable source of revenue, but I would rather submit that the avengers should continue to pollute the land for their people, while contending with the superior fire power of the nation military. They are nothing but terrorists, and by the time we are done having no oil to sell, people would think, create and innovate. After all, the richest man in the world is not dealing in oil, but technology.
On the issue of national integrity, Buhari has shown to the world that we are capable of governing ourselves, and it is not a mistake that he shone on the international stage. For the state of our institutions, it is zero for now, but that is not a recent failure, it is systemic too, and the way the budget is handled suggested that corruption was the unwritten rule in our institutions. However, with Buhari on the saddle, the music appears to be changing. National assembly, civil service and agencies can bear witness to that now, and I think it is a moving train.
Oh, things are hard now, and life expectancy seems to have dropped, but the dialectics of development dictates that there would be thesis before we have antithesis. We had great country abinitio, now the country is rotten, and surely with perseverance, there is going to be a new day called synthesis. A yam tuber gets rotten before it brings out new life for another fresh and bigger tuber.
The change Buhari promised is here. The national thinking is different now. When was the last time u heard that a Permanent Secretary traveled to Dubai to celebrate marriage of his daughter? Who among the minister is boasting with private jet now? Why are the yesterday' big men are begging for their lives in detention for sharing of national wealth? Who is looking for corners to cut now, when people like Omotseye are being sentenced into prison? Who wants to be a guest of EFCC now? Why are the bankers returning loots to the government? The answers are known to us.
Of course, Buhari has his shortcomings, but he did not promise to make things happen like magician, and it will be unfair to pass the judgment on the man who has chosen to correct the ills of the past in 12 months.
Butikakuro is an intercontinental journalist.