The Economist has returned to that familiar turf. This time, it has written off Buhari and is tipping the opposition PDP as better suited to win
The Economist of London has returned to a familiar turf. It has predicted the fall of President Muhammadu Buhari from Olympian heights. Relying on a research carried out by its Intelligence Unit, the magazine predicts that Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will lose the 2019 presidential election to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This prediction resonates with a ring of the familiar. Some four years ago, the magazine treaded this same path. After taking a hard look at the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, it predicted that the presidency would fall to his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari. It turned out to be so. Students and watchers of history will, under this circumstance, readily tell you that history is about to repeat itself.
This time four years ago, the magazine had packaged Buhari in both flattering and unflattering terms. The magazine called him a former military dictator with blood on his hands. It described Buhari’s tenure as military head of state as nasty, brutish, and, mercifully, short. He ordered whip-wielding soldiers to ensure that Nigerians formed orderly queues. It also said Buhari as military head of state detained thousands and used secret tribunals to execute people for crimes that were not capital offences.
On the economic front, the magazine said Buhari’s economics, which it christened “Buharism”, was destructive. Instead of letting the currency depreciate in the face of trade deficit, he tried to fix prices and ban ‘unnecessary’ imports. He expelled 700,000 migrants in the hope that that would create jobs for Nigerians.
After outlining these shortcomings of Buhari, the magazine made a 360 degrees turnaround. It held Buhari up as a sandal-wearing ascetic with a record of fighting corruption. Then, it delivered a verdict, which was that Buhari as a northerner and Muslim was in a better stead to tame the menace of Boko Haram. The magazine also held that, as a retired General, Buhari would command the loyalty and respect of the rank and file of the armed forces. Consequently, the magazine submitted that Nigerians would prefer him to Jonathan in the 2015 presidential contest. The rest is now history.
But it is significant to note that The Economist has returned to that familiar turf. This time, it has written off Buhari and is tipping the opposition PDP as better positioned and suited to win the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria. Even though the magazine predicts a close call in the contest, it outlined a number of reasons why Buhari would lose. It said that Buhari is fast shedding support from within the APC with governors and lawmakers defecting en masse to the opposition. It also held that intra-party politics would be chaotic ahead of the polls and this would lead to loss of power by the incumbent. As all this goes on, the magazine held that the country’s economic outlook would be bleak.
I recall the position of The Economist on Buhari in early 2015 with mixed feelings. Some of us had then contested the magazine’s prediction. The issue for me then was not whether Buhari would win the 2015 election or not. It was about the bogus expectations of the magazine from the Buhari presidency. It was strange that a news medium that dwelt largely on the negative side of a former military dictator jumped to an illicit conclusion, to wit, that he would fit in properly as President in a democratic setting. The conclusion was fallacious. It did not derive from the facts before the magazine and the watching world. If Buhari got it so wrong in the area of the economy at that time, how would he be expected to become a new creature, especially since he did not undertake any formal training on the economy or enjoyed any exposure that would get him attuned to new realities? Buhari, at the time the magazine placed high hopes on him, was still his old, undiluted self.
In the area of insecurity, the magazine recognised Buhari as someone with a magic wand simply on the basis of the fact that he was a retired General. But we are all living witnesses to how the President has failed in reining in Boko Haram. If anything, the country has slipped into the worst form of insecurity as killing has become a daily fare in Nigeria. The fact of the matter is that insecurity, a major reason for The Economist endorsement of Buhari four years ago, has grown wings. It is the lowest point of the Buhari administration.
But we will forgive the overzealousness of The Economist at that time. Indeed, it is gratifying that the magazine is seeing a little more clearly now. That is why it has come to terms with the hard facts. The real, hard fact here is that the magazine endorsed Buhari in a hurry in 2015. It must be noted that the fact that its prediction came to pass did not mean that the magazine was necessarily correct. What happened was that Jonathan caved in under pressure. He lost the stamina and will power to confront the challenges of the time. That was why he watched morosely while Attahiru Jega manipulated the result of the election to suit him and his fellow conspirators. At that time, Jonathan had lost his presidential bite. Nigeria had become a huge nightmare to him. He felt that the only way he could regain his composure was to do the unexpected, hand over to Buhari. Buhari himself, as a matter of fact, did not expect victory. Jonathan’s concession dazed him to no end. He was not prepared to govern. That was why he had so much difficulty putting in place a cabinet. When he eventually did, it was not out of this world. It was a patchwork just like some others before his.
However, the magazine, at this time, is saying what is on the lips of many Nigerians. It is a well known fact that the APC of Buhari sought change for the sake of it. Change, its campaign slogan at that time, has gone bizarre. It has become one of the most valueless political statements in modern times. It has, in fact, become APC’s Achilles heel.
The overall story here is that Buhari and his party have failed to manage victory. Our experience in the last three years or so shows that Buhari was mocking those who made a case for him while the campaigns lasted from 2014 to 2015. He had a different mindset. People were simply falling over themselves for no good reason. The change slogan was a mere buzz. It had no substance. Yet, many believed that there was so much to it. Now that the castle erected on quicksand has crashed like a house of cards, those who were taken in by the antics of the time are beginning to shed the toga of uncritical credulity that weighed them down then.
The truth here is that we do not need to rehearse along with The Economist. Nigerians did that long before now. They have expressed disappointment in the APC government of Buhari. They have become so resentful of the brand of change that the party foisted on Nigeria. The APC itself is well aware of the folly inherent in its grandstanding. That is why it has dropped the change slogan. Its byword now is “progress.” But will that change anything? It certainly will not. The party, like a burning candle, has reached its dead end, at least under the Buhari presidency.