Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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The true legacy of President Muhammadu Buhari 07 Oct 2022

President Muhammadu Buhari has been attempting to forge a positive legacy for his administration. During his working visit to Imo State last month, he declared that his administration has done “extremely well.” On that occasion, Buhari opted for a brazen self-promotion. Before then, he had been playing the victim of “unfair” public opinion that generally viewed the substance and style of his administration as below par and negative.

Either of these two dispositions of the President is peculiar. What is stranger is that he actually cares about having a positive job approval and fond memory of him after leaving office at the end of next May. But for over seven years now, out of a maximum eight-year presidential tenure, Buhari has been an uncaring, self-serving leader whose administration has ultimately worsened the problems he putatively came into office to solve.

President Buhari’s failures cut across the neglect of security of live and property, egregious undermining of the country’s democracy and the independence legally conferred on some public institutions, unprecedented economic collapse, fostering of unsustainable debt, general lack of effectiveness, and more. At different – and sometimes overlapping – periods in the last seven years, attacks by terrorists, lethally armed herdsmen, ‘unknown gunmen’, bandits and kidnappers-for-ransom, and oil thieves have flourished. To these, government’s responses have been somewhere between inaction, ineffective action, and suspected complicit disposition.

In April 2019, the administration orchestrated the resignation of the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on allegations of “misconduct”. The process reeked of prejudice, and the politically-predetermined outcome arguably benefitted the President. But sadder, it was an assault on the judiciary – an independent arm of government – through orchestrated executive actions that subjugated constitutional due process. This precedent could be used by future autocratic Nigerian leaders – as it is common in democracies these days – to overrun the authority of the two other arms of government. President Buhari himself embraces the imagery of a maximum ruler and has openly rued the constitutional limits to acting on his authoritarian impulses.

Another institution of the state that has suffered from Buhari’s disdain for the functional independence legally conferred on it is Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Here, the negative economic impacts of eroding the policy autonomy of central banks are in sharp relief. Disregarding the limits to government financing through CBN’s Ways and Means Advances, the administration has borrowed over N20 trillion from the Central Bank and dictated to it a rigid exchange rate policy. These have contributed to the devaluation of the naira (by 117% in the official market and over 180% in the parallel market since Buhari came into office in May 2015), runaway inflation that reached 20.52% in August 2022, and have discouraged foreign investment flows into the country.

Dire macroeconomic conditions have impacted the general economic outcomes. In 2018, Nigeria became the “poverty capital of the world” by having the absolute highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. The national poverty rate has grown above 40%. Unemployment rate climbed to 33.3 in Q4 2020; since then, the National Bureau of Statistics has not published any further report on the apparently loose labour market. The acute national economic distress – coupled with the associated social and environmental stress – has sparked new waves of emigration of skilled and semi-skilled labour from the country.

Two recessions since 2016 had been blamed on oil price collapses and the Covid-19 pandemic. But rising prices of crude oil – above $100 per barrel for the most of 2022 –have only heralded massive theft of up to 40% of the country’s prime export commodity production under Buhari’s watch.

But despite these legacy-defining, abject failures, the administration has made visible positive impact in infrastructural development by completing some pre-existing rail projects and starting new ones. Two marquee road projects that the Buhari administration is set to complete are the reconstruction of the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway and the construction of the Second Niger Bridge.

But these physical infrastructure projects have come at the expense of fiscal sustainability and social infrastructure development. Our outstanding public debt grew by 253.7% between June 2015 and June 2022; and debt service cost has started to outstrip revenue. The ongoing closure of federal universities has lasted more than seven months. The Academic Staff Union of Universities insists on its strike over the inadequate funding of the universities and the poor compensation of its members. President Buhari himself has been a leading user of medical tourism as he leaves the local health sector lying prostrate.

But less questionable for a positive legacy is Buhari’s avoidance of tenure elongation. This will become even more indisputable if he effectively enables the conduct of a credible general election in February 2023. But the likelihood of this is less assured, given the ineffectiveness that has characterised the administration and the alleged appointment of Buhari’s partymen as Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

President Buhari’s atrocious record will deny him the positive legacy he is frantically seeking late in the day. He has fomented deep national division. The insecurity he allowed to fester will remain a challenge for years. The economy he has run down will not suddenly strengthen. And the place of influence the country vacated in global affairs during his presidency will not easily be regained. He will be remembered for them.