Here is one presidential declaration garnished with astonishing exaggerations that should make your stomach turn. It is hard to be consumed with a big spoon of salt or sugar, whichever appeals to you. President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been touring different parts of the world and making inconsistent statements all over the place, said at a book presentation in Abuja on Thursday, 18 February, that Nigeria “has the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world.” He said further: “Our dominance is not so much because of our wealth, but because of the tremendous energy and resourcefulness of our people.”
For clarity, Buhari was represented at the book presentation ceremony by Segun Oni, the former governor of Ekiti State and now deputy chairperson of the All Progressives Congress (APC). There is no question that our citizens are highly resourceful. That has always been the basis for the survival of our society, and one of the reasons people buffeted by the harsh economic situation in the country have been able to withstand the tribulations that confront them on a daily basis.
Beyond the resilience of the citizens, I doubt that Nigeria has the fastest growing economy in Africa or could be regarded as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Let us clear one misinformation. Nigeria is not even among the top 20 fastest growing economies in the world. As at 2014, Nigeria was the 26th biggest economy in the world. How Buhari arrived at his claim is mystifying. Still, one must acknowledge that Nigeria did well to be the 26th largest economy in the world. Buhari should have been cautious with his hyperbolic assertions.
Both claims are highly exaggerated. I don’t know the source of Buhari’s data but it seems to me he was relying on obsolete and unreliable statistics. One has to be careful how one makes unsubstantiated claims such as these. In an increasingly competitive world in which countries often lie with official statistics based on unproven projections of economic performance, it is easy to understand why every country likes to claim to be on top of the world. As Nigeria’s former Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala cautioned in 2014, “bigger is not always better”.
For record purposes, The Economist reported on 7 April 2014 that while Nigeria might have sped past South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy because of the recalculation of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Nigeria remained less developed and more unbalanced than other competitors in Africa. Also at the same time, The Economist reported that Nigeria moved 10 places to become the 26th largest economy in the world. We should keep in mind that these indicators were for the year 2014, two years ago. It is possible that other African countries, such as South Africa, could have reclaimed from Nigeria the top spot since that time.
Back to Buhari and his contentious statements. I must state unequivocally that it is an overstatement for Buhari to claim without sound evidence that Nigeria is the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. By what authority did he make that contentious assertion? What economic indices at national, regional, continental, and global levels did he rely on as a basis for his claims? Without facts, Buhari runs the risk of being dubbed a president, who makes groundless statements that lack solid backing.
It seems to me Buhari was mixing up human resources with economic resources available in the country. For example, he said: “… I have no doubt that the greatest blessings of Nigeria are the people of Nigeria, the wonderful people that give expression to the grandeur and majesty of our beloved country.” It is one thing to talk about the human resources available in a country but another thing to use the resources to address economic problems in useful ways.
A great nation is known not by the ability to brag about the profile of its citizens at the international level but by its ability to provide for the basic needs of the people. It does not matter how frequently Buhari sings about Nigeria’s capacity to parade high achievers, such as Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, or accomplished soccer player, Jay Jay Okocha, or incomparable and ageless musician, King Sunny Ade, or distinguished businessman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; it is how the country treats its citizens and how we prioritise the needs of the people that will make the nation noticeable in the international community. It is not enough for Buhari to express his dream wishes for the country; he must also explain his plans to map new strategies for overcoming the problems that have undermined the progress of the country.
At a time of adverse performance by all sectors of the economy, the government should pay greater attention to how the economy should be stimulated, to assist in the revival of the ailing local currency, and to promote national interest in agriculture and the solid minerals sector. Enhanced socioeconomic development is the key to every country’s advancement. An improvement in the economic conditions of the people will draw the benefits of democracy closer to the people. A democracy that deprives citizens of their basic needs, a democracy that makes people bankrupt, a democracy that contributes nothing to the welfare, wellbeing and security of the people is a poisoned prize. It is of no use to anyone. A democracy works best when it enhances the conditions of living of citizens and gives people hope for the future.
Buhari’s assertion that Nigeria is the fastest growing economy could be challenged on the following grounds. If Nigeria is truly the fastest growing economy, why is it that some states have failed to perform their basic financial obligations? Some states are unable to service their debts. And yet others are unable to provide funds to service state-owned institutions and departments. Many states are not in a position to pay regular salaries and allowances to public servants. Teachers in many states are repeatedly owed monthly salaries or paid in arrears. If funding of higher education has become an unbearable burden on some states, considering the dilapidated infrastructure that litters many of the states, a state that cannot provide for the basic needs of its citizens is certainly a swindle on the people.
I remain deeply unconvinced that we have the fastest growing economy. If Buhari’s postulations were to be credible, we shouldn’t be caught in the current currency quagmire. In many democratic societies, political leaders are assessed on the basis of their verifiable achievements. Sadly, our economy has gone into an inoperable phase. An economy in a terminal state cannot be described as being in a paramount position. Everyone is complaining about high prices of foodstuff. Is that evidence of a nation whose economy is growing faster than the rest of the world?
It is not only the economy that has gone haywire. Our healthcare system also needs urgent blood transfusion. The education sector is struggling to recover from the terrible consequences of years of federal and state neglect. Federal roads are so bad they leave you with an impression of a country without a government. What do we do with the money budgeted for national development?
Buhari has been in office for nearly one year since he was elected on 28 March 2015 and yet there isn’t much in terms of performance to back up the rhetorical campaign by presidential aides and his uncritically enthusiastic supporters, who argue the man has recorded superlative achievements. This is a familiar strategy. There must be something psychologically and emotionally upsetting about a civil society that lacks guts.
If Buhari is genuinely a servant-leader as he professes, if he is a man of impeccable character as his friends say he is, if he is well and truly a detribalised president as his assistants claim he is, Buhari should be guided in his government by an all-inclusive policy that aims to respect people from all geographical regions of the country, regardless of how they voted in last year’s presidential election.
I would argue, and anyone is free to disagree, that in the past 12 months since the last presidential election, Buhari has provided little reason for the public to perceive him as a model president who was cast by his party hierarchy as the best candidate to govern Nigeria since independence. I have been scratching for evidence. The more I look, the more elusive it gets to find supporting evidence that Buhari has a magic wand. The evidence is just not there.
No one should accept official propaganda or misinformation based on the Federal Government’s inflated achievements. Every statement must be scrutinised and interrogated. Buhari and his assistants must be subjected to questions about how the government plans to deal with the persistent neglect of public hospitals, the ragged state of infrastructure, the depressing electricity problem, the worsening unemployment situation, the pitiable state of the economy, the flagging value of the naira, as well as the worrying breakdown of law and order.