Three days ahead, Monday, May 29, the curtains would be drawn on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. That would mark the end of an eight-year tenure that has left many Nigerians with different tastes and experiences.
A postscript from this end would have read: “Here is a president, who came to power on the crest of popular acclaim and hopes of national reconciliation but ended up leaving the country more divided on ethnic and religious lines.”
I have not particularly been a fan of the President. I was a freshman on campus when he and other military adventurists toppled the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. I was thus old enough to know the goodwill that trailed his ascension to office and the despondency that accompanied the regime shortly after.
On January 1, 1984, when Buhari emerged the head of state, Nigerians had become fed up with the frivolities of the Shagari government. At some point, scornful jokes of officials partying all night and even washing their hands with Champagne and other costly drinks made the rounds.
To cap it all, the 1983 general election, which many had waited for to vote out the government, was massively rigged in favour of the administration. The mood in the land was abysmally low. For the people, therefore, anything that could sweep away Shagari and his men was readily welcome.
It was in a such desperate situation that the military guys struck and were hailed. Buhari, who was made the head of state, came into office as an angry general, expressing disappointment that the politicians had wrecked the country and put the economy in a serious predicament.
In what seemed the needed assurance for the day, Buhari advised; “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together.” The plea touched the people and became for them a mantra for patriotism and rebuilding the nation.
But a few months into the administration, it became obvious that he had no clear-cut programme and policies for fixing the country. He rather alienated himself from the people. The economy sunk deeper, inflation rose higher and basic food items became scarce. The ill-advised currency change, which seemed targeted at some people, further put pressure on the system.
On the international front, Nigeria was losing it by the day, as it was serially being abandoned by its traditional friends. At home, the human rights record of the administration was piteous, with journalists and critics of the government hurled into detention on flimsy grounds. It was certain that Buhari had lost the goodwill he initially enjoyed. Hence, when he was removed by some members of his cabinet, led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babngida (IBB), the fall was not totally unexpected.
I did not see Buhari being flexible enough to depart from that rigid path when he was gunning for the presidency. He particularly lost me in 2011, when he failed to rein in his fanatical supporters in the North who wreaked havoc on other Nigerians while protesting his loss of the presidential election to Goodluck Jonathan that year. That, to me, was the height of his parochial mindedness.
Notwithstanding, he was favoured by many Nigerians while he made his fourth attempt for the office in 2015. A particular incident on February 6, 2015, when Buhari took a trip to Maiduguri, Borno State, in the course of his campaign as presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), demonstrated the goodwill he enjoyed among the people.
Maiduguri and other towns in Borno and the entire North East were then in a near state of war on account of Boko Haram insurgency. But Buhari was not deterred. In fact, to the surprise of many, the turnout by his supporters was tumultuous.
In capturing the situation, Leadership newspaper had reported: “At a point, the apparently exasperated soldiers and policemen were forced to shoot into the air and release some canisters of tear gas in a failed attempt to keep the crowd at bay.” That was the Buhari phenomenon, a mystique of sort, at the time.
He sustained the momentum at his inauguration for his first term when he told Nigerians that he belonged to all and to nobody. But a few days into office, it was clear that his actions were contrary to his proclamations. In his appointments, policies and programmes, he clearly demonstrated that he belonged more to his Fulani Muslim kinsmen of the North, to the exclusion of other sections of the country, especially the Igbo. In his eight years of leadership, no single person from the South East was deemed necessary to head any of the arms of the military and para-military organisations in the country.
But on a general note, Nigerians had not had it this rough. The President is leaving behind over $103.11b (N46.25tn) debt, against approximately $10.32b he inherited in 2015. This is aside from the N22.7tn Ways and Means advances from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), all accounting for total debts put at about N77tn.
A controversial $800 million loan recently obtained from the World Bank, purported to be used as palliatives ahead of the now-suspended fuel subsidy removal, is also in the mix. These are encumbrances that will exert further pressure on the country in the days ahead.
Insecurity has been on the rise in many parts of the country. The health and education sectors have literally remained comatose. At some point, universities were shut for one academic session due to a face-off between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Strikes in public hospitals have been endemic. In the midst of the uncertainties, the President found comfort in visiting hospitals abroad. None of his children was in Nigeria to feel the pains of the ASUU strike. There can be no better definition of hypocrisy from a man who continuously urged Nigerians to keep faith in the system.
Nigeria under Buhari recorded some infrastructure uplift. Roads, railways, bridges were among the sectors touched by the administration. But these are the tangible sides of governance. The intangible aspects, which include good governance, respect for rule of law, deepening the democratic culture through transparent elections, were consciously ignored.
These were the areas where Buhari hit Nigerians hardest. But where history will be most unfair to him and the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, is in their mischievous management of the 2023 general election. That crass indiscretion remains a burden Buhari will carry for life. Many will not miss him.