By Usman Okai Austin
After reading the international magazine for several years, I began to regard the ‘Economist’ as a conscience of the world because of its serious and often well researched opinions on national and international issues. As an Accountant, I also have a strong pull towards its in-depth analysis of politics, economics and financial matters in the most elucidating manner.
The Economist became to me, a Potpourri of socio-political news analysis that not only inform its audience about global affairs, but most often are apocalyptic of possible outcomes of the many shenanigans of global actors. Despite my affinity with the magazine however, I did not fail to notice that the only news that merited editorial focus of the magazine from Africa; especially sub-Saharan region are those with very high negative decibles. For example, issues like coups, wars, insurgency, corruption, terrorism, famine, starvation et al, emanating from Africa are good materials for page alignments and space closures in the magazine. I don’t blame the Economist and other Western news outlets though, because Africa and her leaders are good at producing such oddities that the Economist has found fit for page alignment and closures. For good measure too, such reportage are meant to draw global attention to existential dangers with the human suffering and/or carnage that these bring to poor Africans.
So I and many Africans among Economist’s readership have often appreciated the magazine for sparing a thought for Africa; despite our craving for inclusion of Africa’s many positives despite the Continent’s recurrent negativisms. In line with this observation therefore, I was not surprised when the magazine turned its searchlight on Nigerian Government in its editorial comments that were carried in the magazine’s October 2021 edition. Frankly, such national treatise on African countries is long over due particularly because of the importance and the fading hope that Africa and indeed the international community invested in this huge West African country. Nigeria at independence held so much hope and promises for its people and the Continent such that it was fortuitously rated among emergent great nations of Asia and Africa. Many African countries looked unto Nigeria for inspiration and leadership. Given its vast human and natural resources, many thought that Nigeria will outpace many of its contemporaries like Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Pakistan in socio-political and economic development. Sadly, this hope remains a what it is till date as most of these nations have since moved on and have left Nigeria behind. India, Pakistan and Malaysia are within bumper reach of many advanced nations today. Conversely, Nigeria has not only retrogressed virtually on all fronts, but is currently tethering dangerously on the cliff of failed States.
As the Economist rightly observed, ineptitude, corruption at all levels of our national life coupled with primordial ethno-religious cleavages have undermined Nigeria’s progress towards nationhood. Currently, Nigeria is cruelly ravaged by insurgency, terrorism, banditry and a burgeoning kidnapping enterprise that has defied all measures. All these negative scourges are direct fall-outs of the crude and convoluted political games of Nigerian politician and the country’s rapacious elite. Indeed, President Muhammad Buhari and his All Progressive Congress (APC) party were voted into power in 2015 on their much touted ‘change mantra.’ But as it turned out later, all the change promises are nothing but putrid tissues of lies and deceit that only enabled the President and his party to romp into power in pursuit of a sinister northern and Islamist agenda rather than progressive governance. So far, both the APC and President Buhari have shown a callous indifference to the worsening living and human condition in Nigeria. For the APC in particular, aside from preoccupying itself with endless celebration of the humiliating defeat that it handed down to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections, it has also engaged itself with learning and perfecting means and ways of subverting Nigeria’s electoral process that will enable it perpetuate itself in power.
Either deliberately or inadvertently, APC is oblivious of the crippling ineptitude and divisive policies of its leader, President Muhammad Buhari. Instructively, the man appears to have ‘pocketed’ the hastily cobbled associations of political jobbers and greedy conmen called APC. Thus, the observations of the Economist on current political and socio-economic situations in Nigeria are not far from truth. Similarly, the economist was merely restating the obvious when it observed that there is endemic corruption in the Nigerian Army. What the magazine perhaps did not know is that corruption is rife in the entire Nigerian military and not just the Army. For example, the jostling for appointments and positions in the country’s military beginning from the time of former military dictator, Gen Ibrahim Babangida till now are meant to get the position seekers closer to the nation’s ubiquitous resource nodes in order to steal as much as possible with impunity. Similarly, assuming the position of Service Chief in Nigeria’s military or headship of other security outfits is a zero-sum game where all the resources that are allocated to the security outfits become personal properties of the helmsmen to do as they please in cahoot with greedy politicians and a kleptomanic bureaucracy. Service Chiefs and operational commanders particularly benefit from the prevailing security economy in Nigeria that was created by insurgency, terrorism, banditry and the sprawling kidnapping enterprise through huge budgetary allocations. However, the poorly equipped Nigerian military compared to insurgents and bandits is too stretched and thinly spread to be effective.
Taking advantage of their numerical and equipment superiority, insurgents and bandits are becoming more daring and often attack troops’ locations at will thereby overrunning them with relative ease. Insurgents and bandits have been reported to have carted away large cache of arsenals belonging to Nigerian military on the several occasions that troops’ locations were routed. Regrettably, the average Nigerian soldier that is constantly flung to the frontlines is merely fighting to survive as his morale and belief in the system have waned seriously. Therefore, the Economist was not saying anything that is not known of the Nigerian military. On the economic front, President Buhari’s nepotic economic team assemblage at both the Federal Ministry of Finance and Office of the Accountant General of the Federation appears bereft of knowledge of critical economic and financial engineering processes and procedures required to get Nigeria’s economy out of the quagmire and set it on an inclusively growth trajectory. From the times of former President Obasanjo through late President Yar’Adua’s period up to President Jonathan’s tenure, Nigeria saw the wisdom of hiring the services of world class economic and financial experts that helped the various governments to stir the country’s economy steadily on progressive paths. However, President Buhari would have none of that, choosing instead to fill the Finance ministry and it’s appendages with tribal and religious acolytes that can hardly differentiate between healthy and unhealthy Loans/GDP ratios. His economic team has transformed itself
into ‘borrowing experts’ that will not hesitate to recommend that Nigeria borrows more money to execute the next elections in case the federal purse remains dry up until that time. Also as observed by the Economist magazine, Nigeria’s current fiscal policies tend to deepen corruption rather than curb it. For example, the opaque Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is not helping Nigeria’s inflation position that it is supposed to manage with its unilateral and supernumerary expenditure powers.
If Nigeria’s current economic team appears to be bereft of ideas, the CBN is piteously the least discerning of the lot and lacks focus. It seems that the current Governor of the CBN equates fiscal and monetary policies of the country with patrimonial allocation of foreign exchange to politicians and people in corridors of power. The CBN’s many but oft dubious socio-economic intervention schemes especially in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic rather than reflate the economy through productive means have only succeeded in increasing consumption and corruption with telling effects on inflationary trends in the country.
Same goes for the country’s national oil corporation, the behemoth Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Despite current cosmetic restructuring efforts of President Buhari’s government, the NNPC and its activities remain shrouded in secrecy; existing as a government in itself that wallops almost all the revenue that it generates through bloated operating costs that feed the greed and corruption of its operators. From being a financially anaemic corporation groaning under cyclical corruption during military regimes, the NNPC degenerated into a cesspool of wanton corruption under President Jonathan; with his former delectable and first female oil minister literarily plundering the corporation for personal gains oiling party machinery under the pretext of attending to urgent national security imperatives. Currently, it has transformed into a honey pot for nothern politicians, traditional institutions and oligarchs: thanks to President Muhammed Buhari.
The economist therefore had not told lies about Nigeria on most of the points that it interrogated in its editorial comments with particular reference to corruption, insecurity and apparent ineptitude of President Buhari and his APC led government. However, one thing that the magazine glossed over or failed to highlight is the nauseating political volt face and carefree attitude of President Buhari and his party despite overwhelming evidence of poor or lack of good governance in Nigeria. Well, for those who know President Muhammad Buhari intimately, they are not surprised at all. Rather, they attest to his accustomed stoicism and ‘go to hell’ mannerism in the face of constructive criticism and genuine corrections.
According to them, once President Buhari is sold on a particular idea or belief, just forget it. Nothing will move him or make him to change his mind over such. They are therefore not surprised that the President is unperturbed by the hues and cries about poor governance in Nigeria under him. He reinforces the stoicism and insensitivity to peoples’ feelings with practiced taciturn and a stony mind. For now all that matter to him is to complete his tenure of office and for APC to remain in power. Therefore, Nigerians and indeed the Economist can cry all they can and write their ‘nonsense’ as they wish. At the least he succeeded in deceiving Nigerians to vote him into power once and used State machinery to consolidate his hold on power the second time. And he has succeeded largely in furthering his ethno-religious agenda and will after all, retire to his farm in Daura close to Niger Republic where he has his folks and ilks. To him, it will be mission accomplished and if Nigeria likes, let it burn into ashes after his departure. All he requires to do under such scenario is to merely lift a leg after the other with his family over the forlornly arrayed worn tires that symbolically demarcate Nigeria and Niger Republic.
That is as far as President Buhari’s current political volt face goes. What of the APC? The way this party is carrying on especially with its many inordinate succession tussles is not only shameful but also smacks of abrasive insult on the peoples’ psyche. Hastily formed from a motley crowd of political nonentities that coalesced into a contraption of strange bed fellows, Nigerians voted massively for APC despite its amorphous nature and manifesto if only to teach the once arrogant and insensitive PDP a big lesson. APC’s vaunted ‘change’ mantra duped the Nigerian electorate that was highly dissatisfied with PDP’s misgovernance and arrogance into voting it into power.
As President Buhari’s government coasts sluggishly towards the end of its second tenure in office, many Nigerians are regretting their decision to vote for APC. In fact, many Nigerians that were interviewed opined that the socio-economic order and condition under PDP’s governments are comparatively more desirous to them by far than what currently obtains under the APC. To the discerning, no statement of rejection can be more succinct and voluble that this in any political system; including that of Nigeria. not Yet, the APC rather than seek ways of reversing the negative perception of it and its policies by the Nigerian electorate is carrying on as if it has won the next election already.
The reason behind the party’s current volt face lies in a carefully orchestrated plan to use under-hand tactics and State apparatus to perpetuate itself in power. We witnessed how the APC did these in Kogi and Bayelsa States during the November 2019 gubernatorial elections in the two States and this is well documented. Again, The economist ought to have highlighted this and also noted that despite President Buhari’s posturing on ensuring free and credible elections under his watch, he is into this grand scheme with his party. To this end, APC politicians and government functionaries have began to hide stolen funds from circulation and out of the banking system preparatory to 2023 general elections.
The current and continuous bashing of Nigeria’s naira against the Dollar is majorly due to this grand scheme. We therefore urge the international community to note this and hold President Muhammad Buhari and his APC government accountable should there be any political crisis in Nigeria arising from the 2023 general elections. Himself a beneficiary of the open and transparent electoral process created by his affable and unambitious predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan is now hell bent on subverting the very system that ushered him into power. On a parting note, I beg to differ with the economist magazine on its claim of massacre of innocent protesters by Nigerian security agencies during the #EndSARS protest of October 2020. I enjoin the magazine to once again cross check its facts with the USA and European Embassies in Nigeria before drawing conclusions on the subject. And for avoidance of doubt, I am neither holding brief for the Nigerian government nor the Nigerian security agencies. But it seems that some persons that may be opposed to the government for whatever reason are exploiting the grievances of Nigerian youths that staged the protest to spread false narratives about what truly transpired on the night of 20 October, 2020 at Lekki-Lagos Toll Gate. Indeed, troops deployed to the toll gate in a show of force and were firing into the air as they approached the location of the protesters at the Toll Gate. Many of the protesters also panicked no doubt, with some jumping down from high embarkments and top of fences where they had perched to catch proper glimpses of proceedings during the peaceful protest.
Others fell into open gutters as they fled from the advancing security forces. These are the category of protesters and onlookers that sustained varying degree of injuries but not from gunshots as being claimed in many quarters. Some courageous and determined youths that knew their rights of partaking in peaceful protests under the Nigerian Constitution however stood their grounds as the troops advanced and kept firing loudly into the air, urging others not to panic and not to run away but should remain. And indeed, as many of video footages of the encounter that trended online at the time revealed, the troops Kept firing into the air while forcefully dismantling the road blocks that were erected by the protesters. This continued briefly before a senior military officer arrived at the scene to order the troops to cease firing while assuring the crowd that they were safe and nobody was there to kill anyone.
On his orders, the troops returned to their Base but suffice to state that, that singular act turned the hitherto peaceful protest into wanton violence and arson, looting, killings as well as destruction of properties. The ensuing encounters over a period of 2-3 days after the Lekki Toll Gate incident between hoodlums that hijacked the hitherto peaceful protest and security agencies led to several death of civilians and security agents. The ensuing riot quickly spread across several States of the Federation with more ferocity, arson, looting and human casualties no doubt. While agreeing with the economist that the Nigerian Government must investigate who authorized the movement of troops to the Toll Gate in the first place and sanction all those that were involved appropriately, I reject the false narrative of massacre of peaceful protester by Nigerian Government security forces at Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20 October, 2020.
I however support the call by keen observers of events in Nigeria; including the economist magazine that all the deaths that resulted consequently from troops deployment to Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20 October, 2020 across the country must be investigated and those responsible be held accountable. In addition, the families of all victims of the riots following the undemocratic deployment of troops to Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20 October, 2021 must be compensated adequately and appropriately by the Nigerian State. For now, President Muhammad Buhari’s led APC government is reluctant to do all those because all that transpired that fateful night in Lagos Lekki Toll Gate fits his regime security and ethno-religious agenda. We are awaiting eagerly to see the foreclosure of the sad and unfortunate event in Nigeria’s political evolution.
Usman Okai Austin
Writes from Abuja