The Buhari Years: Failed promises, dashed hopes


WITH just barely six weeks to the expiration of his tenure, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and regime officials have been claiming successes in governance over the past eight years, prompting independent assessment. At home and abroad (but mostly abroad), Buhari has been reiterating his “achievements,” insisting that Nigerians would appreciate him favourably after his exit. He is entitled to his self-appraisal; but it is the electorate, society’s watchdogs, and history that have the final word. They will remember him also for among other things, his failure to redeem his promises and deliver good governance, and the negative impact of these on the lives of the people.

While on his frequent junkets abroad, Buhari professed variously to have revamped the economy, delivered on infrastructure, tamed insecurity, and reduced corruption. Some of his ministers have also been laying claims to delivering on the regime’s promises. Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works and Housing for instance, cites over 400 roads and bridges being rehabilitated across the country. Rotimi Amaechi, the former Minister of Transportation, boasts of new rail tracks, including the Ajaokuta-Itakpe rail and rehabilitation of older tracks built mostly with Chinese loans.Hadi Sirika, the Aviation Minister, presents the new terminal building at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and IATA certification among the strides made on his watch. Other ministers also present “favourable” scorecards.

This is just one side of the story. Nigerians will remember Buhari and his regime more for their failed promises, poor leadership, and sustenance of the failed template of governance he inherited that is delivering divisions, poverty, and insecurity, and driving the country towards state failure.

Consider the four major planks of Buhari’s campaign promises as packaged by his promoters in his fourth and successful bid for the presidency: this is to terminate insecurity, fight corruption, revamp the economy, and instil discipline and rigour in governance. But everywhere one looks, failure is writ large.

Lack of trust in politicians is universal. In Nigeria, the trust deficit is a mighty chasm. It has further widened under Buhari. Globally, polls variously put distrust of politicians at over 60 percent in Britain, Australia, and the United States. There are no reliable polls on public trust in Nigeria. Studies conducted by various scholars under the aegis of the American Political Science Association found that in democracies, political parties tend to keep their promises, but said “this varies under different institutional and political circumstances.”

On Buhari’s watch, failed promises have deepened public distrust. Take security: Buhari, a former Army general, had repeatedly promised to secure the country. By mid-2015, the major security challenges were the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, proliferation of small arms, and ethnic clashes in some North-Central states; banditry was in its infancy in Zamfara State. The jihadists were mainly active in the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

Now, insecurity has metastasized. The Islamists, initially driven to the fringes of the Lake Chad, have since spread to the North-Central and North-West. Fulani herders/militants are spreading deaths, arson, and ethnic cleansing in North-Central states.

Kidnapping-for-ransom has reached an industrial scale to become arguably the country’s most thriving “industry,” just as its maritime corollary, sea piracy on the coast, has gained global notoriety. In the South-East, criminals tagged “unknown gunmen,” are painting the region in blood and fire. In the South-West, criminal gangs, cult groups and violent transport union thugs, and hooligans hired by politicians have rendered the zone unsafe. The South-South region is equally rife with cults, criminal gangs, oil pipeline vandals and thieves.

Buhari’s promise to fight corruption has also proved to be hollow; Nigeria ranked 150 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index 2022, the same spot it occupied in 2021, with no drastic improvement since Buhari took power. A report by Deutsche Welle in 2022 labelled the regime’s avowed war on corruption as “hopeless,” noting that instead, the country was “sinking deeper into the mire of corruption.”

The promise to revamp the economy has also crashed. Rather, Buhari’s tenure delivered two recessions, degraded the naira by over 800 percent, and raised debts to N44 trillion, but projected to hit N77 trillion when the N23 trillion the regime borrowed from the Central Bank of Nigeria is securitised. Unemployment has risen to 33.3 percent; energy prices have spiked, and more factories are closing.

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Governance has suffered under a man who had promised to clean up the system. Distracted, and constantly travelling and unavailable to give direction, the government, allege critics, is on autopilot. Ministers, departmental, and agency heads sometimes carry on as they please. Buhari’s directives are often ignored. An example was his order to the Inspector-General of Police to relocate to Benue State to crush the Fulani campaign of murder and mayhem that went unheeded. The head of the customs service cherry-picks which of the Executive Orders issued to facilitate trade at the ports to obey.

Promises to shift from the corruption-enhancing, waste-inducing “envelope” budgeting system that facilitates massive looting by civil servants, heads of MDAs and federal legislators to a needs-based planning, have never been fulfilled.

In January 2019, ahead of the general elections where Buhari was seeking a second term, a civil rights group, Mandate Protection Vanguard, listed 62 promises made by Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, in the run-up to and after the 2015 elections. None had been fulfilled.

He has similarly failed beyond rhetoric to take direct interest in cleaning up the electoral system, leaving the electoral umpire to struggle against entrenched, subversive interests. Respect for human rights has suffered on his watch and punctured his claim to be a convert to democracy.

This includes a commitment to restructuring the country. Instead, once in office, Buhari dismissed the clamour as incomprehensible. Others are revival of Ajaokuta Steel Company, generation of 20,000 megawatts of electricity, construction of 3,000 kilometres of superhighways, reducing maternal mortality by 70 percent, allotting 20 percent of budget to education, upgrading federal hospitals to world standard, increasing the number of doctors, and reforming the justice system.

But since then, the regime has seen through the passage of the long-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill, completed the equally delayed Ajaokuta-Itakpe rail line, and the rehabilitated Lagos-Ibadan, and Kaduna-Abuja rail lines. Buhari deserves credit for these.

Against these however are some major promises he made but failed to fulfil that would have changed Nigeria’s trajectory for the better. One is the failure to drive the restructuring of the country. This would have compelled the states to exploit their natural resources, become competitive, productive, and drivers of job creation, SMEs, exports, and innovation. The power sector quagmire is an insurmountable drawback to economic recovery.

Another is privatisation. He has practically shut down the privatisation process. Plans to concession airports and seaports, and privatise Ajaokuta have not materialised. His greatest disservice is his reneging on the promise to fold the Nigerian National Petroleum Company into two entities and privatise its four comatose and loss-making refineries. The latter misstep cost the country N4.39 trillion in subsidies alone in 2022 through importing petrol and defraying part of the cost.

He broke a pledge to reduce the Presidential Air Fleet. Instead, he and his coterie have been jetting around the world at public expense these past eight years. Furthermore, his ambition to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years has collided with the reality of 133 million Nigerians now adjudged to be multidimensionally poor, and the country’s position as the second largest host of poor persons with 91.6 million living in poverty, according to the World Poverty Clock.

To sidestep the clamour for state policing that he adamantly opposes, a promise to entrench community policing has remained an empty sound bite. Meanwhile, insecurity and criminality are ravaging every part of the country. By his many failures, aloofness, and sectionalism, Buhari has further eroded trust in government and devalued the democratic inclusion. Whatever accomplishments he and his supporters claim and celebrate pale compared to the widened trust deficit in a democratising polity. For now, the public rating of his regime is one of few positives and many failures. Above all, it represents dashed hopes of a population yearning for qualitative change.


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