It has now become somewhat traditional for Buhari to be talking down on Nigeria and Nigerians in slurs and gaffes that have altogether become quite common. As a military leader in the 80’s, he was quoted as saying Nigerians were indisciplined and useless— a slur with which the late maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti then made a hit song. With his return as a civilian president, the culture of talking down on Nigerians has unfortunately returned. He has used every opportunity to inform and remind a global audience that Nigeria is hopelessly corrupt. In France he made reference to Nigerian ministers being noisemakers and just recently in Britain— he claimed Nigerians are criminals whose criminality has made it hard for them to be welcomed by their hosts. Urging would be Nigerian asylum seekers to stay back in Nigeria. It is patently awkward for a president to be running down a country he was elected to fix. It is like a CEO hired to make better the fortunes of a failing company and all the CEO does instead is to go around telling all who care to listen how hopelessly dysfunctional the company is, and how bad the employees and products of the company are.
The end result is obvious. By frequently running down a nation he was elected to fix, Buhari is effectively de-marketing the country and ensuring that no serious foreign investor will be interested in Nigeria. Of more import is the failure to acknowledge that Nigeria’s leaders— himself included are singularly responsible for the nation’s woes and image problem. With leaders that have for several decades only lined their pockets, violated human rights, rigged elections, disregarded the rule of law, promoted inequality/ethno-religious conflicts and deprived the citizenry, why won’t Nigerians flee to foreign lands in search of freedom and greener pastures? If Nigerian leaders had provided good governance would the citizens be fleeing their shores in droves with the attendant downsides? It is not a secret that citizens from well governed nations don’t flee their shores. As recent as the late 70’s, most Nigerians only travelled abroad to study. Thus when Garba Shehu pathetically tried to defend Buhari’s gaffe on account of some Nigerians committing crimes abroad, he conveniently forgets that failed leadership pushed those Nigerians abroad in the first place. It is also hypocritical for Buhari to ask Nigerians to stay home when his children all study and live abroad and when he himself goes abroad for everything from shopping to medical care in spite of Aso rock clinic having more money budgeted for it than all the federal teaching hospitals put together.
For a nation whose leaders ignominiously put on the list for many years as the most corrupt country in the world and which even now is among the 15 most failed states and additionally harbours the deadliest terrorist group in the world—I wonder where Buhari, Garba Shehu and co travellers expected Nigeria’s good image to come from. Besides every nation has a fair share of itinerant citizens who have committed infractions and been imprisoned abroad. By British statistics, Nigerians come nowhere near topping such a list. Yet we don’t hear the president of the countries whose citizens top the list go about castigating their citizens. It’s eminently absurd to lump the good and the few bad together in sweeping generalisations as Buhari did. A great majority of Nigerians in the Diaspora are hardworking people contributing their quota in all walks of life. In recognition of this fact, many have risen to enviable positions in the Diaspora. There are for example 5 parliamentarians of Nigerian origin in Britain alone. Financially, Diaspora Nigerians contribute massively to the nation’s economy. In 2013 Nigerians abroad remitted $23 billion according to the World Bank; an amount that is close to the national budget. Like other countries, any responsible administration should be thinking of how to harness the expertise and massive financial contributions of the Diaspora community. Essentially, a president should be promoting and talking up his country and citizens not casting aspersions on them.
And then there is the budget fiasco. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, a budget has disappeared, re-appeared, has many different versions and is being denied by ministers, while the economy and the naira is tanking by the day. It is an unprecedented mess never before seen in this shores. Not even during the civil war, or the most recent global recession did Nigeria go through such budgetary chaos and economic downturn. The budget is so laden with corruption that it exposes the hypocrisy of the so called corruption war. When many pundits criticised Buhari’s sectional appointments and senseless delay in appointing ministers—all kinds of illogical excuses were given to justify the appointments and delay while the critics were derisively labelled wailers. We were told the sectional appointments which disregarded Nigeria’s delicate diversity were done on merit and merit alone because Buhari needed such competent hands to deliver on his promises. For the ministers, we were told the delay was to afford Buhari the opportunity to select untainted “saints and angels.” 9 months later, the budget fiasco and collapsing economy have exposed the travesty of Buhari’s choices and vindicated the critics who raised dust as soon as the absurd perversions of the administration began to manifest.
For all the noise about corruption and appointments being on merit, there is no doubt that incompetence and corruption has played a role in the budget debacle and general misrule that now characterise the Buhari administration. There is also no doubt that the unnecessary delay in appointing ministers also occasioned the prevailing tragedy. Had Buhari who had 2 months before being sworn in and who had previously contested elections 3 times in the past 12 years quickly appointed ministers after his inauguration; they would have had enough time to prepare a workable budget and this embarrassment might have been avoided. Now that the whole debacle is proving to be an unmitigated disaster, Buhari needed a scapegoat to shield himself from blame and he found one ironically from amongst the same civil servants whom he had claimed do the real work while referring to ministers as noisemakers —by sacking the director general of the budget office while sparing the “noisemaking” ministers and in so doing eat his own words.
Most critically, Buhari’s response to the broader issue of economic collapse has been to characteristically ignore every advice and to gallivant around the globe in needless foreign trips at a time the nation is cash strapped. Globetrotting in the midst of deep economic malaise reminds one of Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome Burned. A leader who lacks humility and a listening ear is hardly fit to lead. It’s time for Buhari to stay back in Nigeria and confront the growing tragedies of his administration.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu