Friday, July 2, 2021 12:03 am
By Chris Anyokwu
It is amazing how life imitates art at times, as it does in relation to President Mohammadu Buhari (PMB for short). In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, the novel’s heroine, a superbly-endowed lady both in body and brains, yields to the sin of infidelity by sleeping with a man of God, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and gets pregnant by him. They both accidentally become responsible for the birth of a baby girl, a love child named Pearl. As a consequence of Hester Prynne’s adulterous act, which results in the birth of an illegitimate child, the Puritan community ostracises her and the ill-begotten seed, having absolutely nothing to do with them. Hester is given a cloak to wear with the letter “A” emblazoned in front of it. In the popular mind, the “A” stands for “Adulteress.
However, as time passes by, the censorious community relents in the revulsion for Hester and allows her to render much-needed help and assistance to the needy, the sick and the dying. Gradually the scarlet letter “A” morphs into a blazing white letter “A” signifying “Angel” or “Adorable”. But in the case of PMB, it is the other way round. In his first coming, that is, as a military dictator, he ruled the country in line with military tradition of decrees and edicts. And the people complied with “immediate effect” and “automatic alacrity”. During the 1984/85 Buhari/Idiagbon regime, the country simply wilted under the scotching heat of military draconian sabre-rattling, their scotched-earthed policy of command-and-obey. Recidivists and their ilk were ruthlessly dealt with – drug pushers, armed robbers, economic saboteurs, etc, met their waterloo in drastic fashion. The War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign at the time was synonymous with the junta as it sought to instil in Nigerians the culture of discipline which they so egregiously lacked. Thus you had either shaped up or you were shipped out to the gulag, with the nation space crawling with the hooded goons of state. Crackdowns on free speech typified by the infamous Decree 4 of 1984 became the hallmark of the Buhari junta.
Student movements, journalists, civil society and so forth were gagged and muzzled; those who went out of line were jailed without trial. Nigeria then was a classic instantiation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. With Big Brother standing over the nation like Kingkong, the country felt insuperably claustrophobic. Welcome to Dante’s Inferno. However, that was then, this is now. 2015 to the present and counting, PMB’s second coming feels nothing like Christ’s awaited Second Coming which promises to be beatific.
During the 1984/85 Buhari/Idiagbon regime, the country simply wilted under the scotching heat of military draconian sabre-rattling, their scotched-earthed policy of command-and-obey. Recidivists and their ilk were ruthlessly dealt with – drug pushers, armed robbers, economic saboteurs, etc, met their waterloo in drastic fashion
Buhari’s is a rather cerceral necropolis of dreams and visions. Today’s Nigeria is a veritable abattoir of all we hold dear as peace-loving, hardworking people. Back in 2015 or shortly before the people handed PMB the reins, he and his party, the APC, had promised to, among others, fight insecurity, tackle corruption and alleviate poverty to a minimum. Has he done creditably in any of the three main promises so far? Do we have insecurity in Nigeria today? Has corruption, especially official institutionalised corruption now disappeared? How about poverty?
According to the minister of information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the PMB administration has lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty since the advent of the current regime. It has been able to do this through a string of government intervention policies and programmes such as the CBN direct intervention programmes in agriculture, trade, ICT, arts and others. Through the Humanitarian Ministry created recently for the purpose of alleviating mass poverty, government has been able to engage in conditional cash transfers to the poor, Trade and Investment Ministry through NPower programme, Trader Money, etc has also done its bit in this regard. However in contradistinction to this siren’s song by official minstrels, the World Bank has come out with its own dirge on the Nigeria situation. It disagrees with Mr. Lai’s figures, saying that Nigeria currently is undergoing what is technically termed stagflation i.e., economic stasis plus galloping inflation. To make matters worse, unemployment rate is unprecedentedly high, a rate put at 33.3%, inflation rate at 17.5%, according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The World Bank claims that due to these indices of poverty, whatever gains PMB claims to have recorded are bogus and flat-out false. To be sure, it is assumed, according to the World Bank that Nigeria is in a deeper mess, economically speaking, than it was in before PMB’s second coming. It is no longer news that Nigeria is the world’s capital of poverty. Just a case to substantiate this. In June, 2021, a thirty-something-year-old woman was reported widely on the news to have sold two of her children for Three Hundred Thousand Naira. Asked why she did this, she said she needed money to support her desperately poor family. Her case was not the first. It’s becoming increasingly common for people to barter away their offspring for cash, just to get by.
The World Bank claims that due to these indices of poverty, whatever gains PMB claims to have recorded are bogus and flat-out false.
In fact, there is hardly any Nigerian worker whose take-home pay takes them home even as the Naira value has plummeted to an all-time low. Now, it doesn’t matter how much you take to their local market to buy groceries and all, you can hardly purchase what you need for yourself and your family, however small its size. Perhaps, government is doing its level best to wrestle inflation to the ground, but it’s just not working at all. On the corruption front, it is now clear to everyone that the present regime is not winning the war. Niyi Osundare once forewarned us that we either kill corruption or corruption will kill us as a country.
Now, the chickens have come home to roost. The income inequality between our political elite – senators, House of Representatives members, ministers, government appointees and aides, governors, and commissioner, etc – and the poor masses is unacceptable. Government must downsize its MDAs, shed some of its hangers-on and freeloaders to reduce its wage bill or the cost of governance. To do otherwise will lead to aggravation. It is common knowledge that the shortest route to the Nigeria Eldorado is government appointment. Moreover, the APC under PMB has always resorted to blaming their predecessors, the PDP for all our current woes, forgetting blissfully that Nigerians voted them into power in order to right the wrongs of the past. Thus, their rallying-cry of “Change’ in 2015 and, then, of the “Next Level” in 2019 sat well at the time with the generality of Nigerians. Then, PMB had claimed that he was “a born-again democrat”, thereby acknowledging his previous track-record of high-handedness and anti-democratic predilections. His apparent asceticism, his Spartan disposition had endeared him to the electorate, making him sellable to a bruised, battered and broken people, longing for change qua change – positive, healing and transformational, if not revolutionary change.
It is common knowledge that the shortest route to the Nigeria Eldorado is government appointment. Moreover, the APC under PMB has always resorted to blaming their predecessors, the PDP for all our current woes, forgetting blissfully that Nigerians voted them into power in order to right the wrongs of the past.
But in hindsight, PMB’s change is a dud cheque issued a nation down on its luck and seeking desperate redemption. His “Next Level” is nothing but an atavistic backpedalling to a primeval iceland of deprivation, despoliation and despondency. It is simply analogous to Rehoboam’s reign of scorpions (I Kings 12: 6 – 11). What’s worse? What appears to be the business of government is its officials trying valiantly but vainly to make itself look good, regardless. For, nothing is more unforgivable than deliberately Lai-ing to the people, hard-working, tax-paying citizens, the raison d etre of government in the first place. The US and the UK that we love to ape and mimic, do their leaders – Biden and Johnson (or other spokespersons) – face their fellow citizens on TV and lie to them, like it’s the case here? What is the average Nigerian worth in the eyes of those in power?
Things have fallen apart so much so that even if, repeat, even if government and/or its agents purport to be telling the truth, nobody will believe them; no one will take them seriously. How did we get to this sorry pass? It matters little to multiply instances in which government has told the nation about its programmes but instead of getting everyone on board, just few credulous follow-follow types tend to give it the time of day. Is it RUGA or the Water Resources Bill? Is it the proposed Social Media Regulation Bill or NIN? Is it the rumoured census whose kite was flown recently or the archaeological excavation of old gazettes on Open Grazing? How about the fiasco that was the palliative programme executed as the height of the covid-19 pandemic? What did Nigerians see? Warehouses in State capitals packed full of consumables already going bad because they had passed their expiry dates, without being distributed to the hungry lot? Speaking of covid-19, why do most Nigerians still doubt its existence, preferring instead to see it as a ploy, on the part of government, to further impoverish them? How about government’s lukewarm or cavalier stance on the farmer-herder crisis threatening the very existence of the nation? How proactive are security agencies in preventing such incidences or prosecuting those found culpable?
How about the fiasco that was the palliative programme executed as the height of the covid-19 pandemic? What did Nigerians see? Warehouses in State capitals packed full of consumables already going bad because they had passed their expiry dates, without being distributed to the hungry lot?
Daily, anarchists come on TV issuing hair-raising ultimatums to their fellow citizens to leave their domains or else all hell will break loose. Why do these proselytizers of mayhem and anarchy go scot-free in spite of their incendiary hate speeches? Isn’t this official silence strengthening the hands of our detractors, the enemy? Much has already been said and written about the ThisDay/Arise PMB Interview. So the less said on that the better. But suffice it to say, the consensus is that that interview further polarises us than galvanise us.
Furthermore, in spite of the ongoing construction of roads and rails to Niger Republic, has government been able to convince Nigerians that these projects are in the national interest? Doubts! Doubts! Doubts! Perhaps, what comes across as the most disturbing manifestation of the trust deficit of the PMB administration is the fact that, a sizeable chunk of the Nigerian population still doubt the corporeality of the person of Mr. President. Is he the Real Buhari? They wonder. Social media is awash with conspiracy theories on that score, thus forcing a typically taciturn PMB on a number of occasions, especially in far-away Europe, to try to debunk the vile and wrong-headed insinuations. Perhaps, again, what seems to have put paid to that hocus-pocus is the seemingly unvarying consistency of Buhari’s characteristic cold-blooded imperviousness to our unending night of despair as a nation.
As it was, so it is – and we are wiser after the fact. One does not learn to be left-handed at old age. So, welcome to the Iceman’s igloo. But it should bother PMB, every once in a while what the people think of him. He should reflect on the verdict of history. He should, above all, ask himself: what does my name Buhari evoke in the popular breast? Love? Admiration? Reverence? Respect or the opposite of these attitudes or feelings? We know that Niccolo Machiavelli and other strategists have recommended that it is better for a leader to be feared rather than being loved. This position might hold in some cases but in our neo-colonial climate of “mere anarchy”, the cultivation and propagation of mass paranoia, of insensate fear of a country’s leader is bad policy, indeed. He lives long and never dies, the leader who inhabits the hearts of the people.
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos.