Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine

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Buhari and the Nigerian kakistocracy 18 Apr 2019

For several decades, Nigerians have experienced firsthand the pheno-menon known as kakistocracy. Put simply, kakistocracy signifies a country that is run by people who are least suitable or competent. It can also describe a country where governance is undermined by corruption. Nigerian Kakistocracy began a long time ago. But the low-performing and uninspiring administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appears to take the cake.
Nothing exemplifies kakistocracy better than partisan appointments into key positions in government. Optimal delivery of public goods tends to suffer when partisan and ethnic considerations relegate expertise. Much has been discussed elsewhere about the regional bias in the composition of Buhari's National Security Council, which comprises of security chiefs from the northern part of Nigeria.    

Even based on the key promises he made during the 2015 elections – such as fighting corruption, restoring security and restructuring the economy – the president has not lived up to those promises in almost four years he has been in office. In many respects, the country has been worse off.

Starting off with the promise upon which he rose to power in 2015: anticorruption. The latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows Nigeria moved up four places from 148th in 2017. Although it is now ranked 144th in the CPI 2018, out of 180 countries, the country is still eight places below the 136th place it was in 2016. The report also shows Nigeria retained its score of 27 out of 100, well below Sub-Saharan Africa’s regional average of 32.    

In a separate report, also released last month, the United States Department of State pulled no punches when it said Nigerian "officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity." The Department of State's 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices also stated that: “Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.”

The inability to effectively tackle corruption in government is part of the reasons for the undistinguished public service in Nigeria and weak implementation of policies under the current administration. In what is also the hallmark of a kakistocratic government, the administration has displayed an arbitrariness in its refusal to honour court rulings granting bail to accused persons. Certainly, the authoritarian use of executive powers to defy court orders is anathema in a democracy.   

But the more poignant aspect of kakistocracy is the refusal to acknowledge lack of competence, especially in the sphere of economic management. This is what is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is quite disturbing that there is little urgency in tackling the declining states of various macroeconomic indicators and dwindling investments in key sectors of the economy.

In a tepid recovery from the 2016 recession, which was not unavoidable, the economy is currently underperforming, down from GDP growth rate of 7.84% in 2010 to 1.9% last year. The administration has superintended an increase in poverty as well as unemployment rate, which steadily rose from single digit (9.9%) in the third quarter of 2015 to 23.1% in Q3 of 2018. Coupled with weak policy responses, foreign direct investment has been on the decline, falling 43% from $6.1 billion in 2010 to $3.5 billion in 2017. FDI flows to Nigeria further dropped 37% last year to $2.2 billion. In fact, Ghana overtook Nigeria in terms of FDI flows, receiving $3.3 billion in 2018.

This performance will further challenge investment in human capital and efforts to close the gaping infrastructure deficit, which the African Development Bank  estimates would require an investment of $3 trillion by 2044 or about $100 billion annually.

According to the UNDP's Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update, Nigeria is placed in the low human development category of the Human Development Index (HDI) and ranked 157, out of 189 countries. The percentage of the population above 15 years of age that can both read and write is 51.1%. Put differently, Nigeria is ranked 177th in literacy, well behind Togo, Angola, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa, which has an adult literacy rate of 94.4%.  

Apart from its poor education achievements, Nigeria's health outcomes are also dismal. With our life expectancy at birth of 48.9 years, people in South Sudan, on average, live longer than Nigerians. The Liberian government spends 15.2% of its GDP on healthcare, with better health outcomes than Nigeria, where healthcare spending is 3.6% of GDP.

The recently-released Global Report on Food Crisis 2019 shows that 5.3 million people in northern Nigeria are facing severe food insecurity. While the government has recorded significant victories in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflict has led to mass displacement and disrupted trade, agriculture and the livelihoods of millions of people.

It makes it all the more curious to think that despite these cheerless performance indices, 15.2 million Nigerians voted to reelect Muhammadu Buhari for a second term in the February 23rd presidential election, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Although he purportedly defeated his closest rival, Atiku Abubakar, by 3,928,869 votes, it was an election that was adjudged to have the lowest voter turnout since 1999. Only 35.6 percent of the 84.2 million registered voters participated in the presidential election.  

Following the sham elections, the ruling party has swiftly shifted focus to the 2023 elections. This means that for the power brokers in the country, the focus is always about winning the next election and controlling the levers of power for self-serving reasons. But the next four years will be critical for the country that is in dire need of meaningful progress across different human development indicators and also in tackling the various macroeconomic challenges.  

Politics should be for the greater good. There should be emphasis on making Nigeria a more open society and building strong institutions that are not beholden to the incumbent political officeholders. Nigeria is supposed to be a great nation. Individually, there are many Nigerians who have achieved greatness the world over. Nigerians have graduated at the top of their classes in some of the top universities in the world. Many Nigerian professors, lawyers, medical practitioners and economists are respected abroad. Even at home, Nigerians are defining their oasis of excellence and creating economic value in the private sector. But we need a competent government to harness these human resources for nation-building and national greatness.