11 December 2018
Abuja, Nigeria’s once-gleaming and supposedly modern capital, mainly built in the 1990s, seems to be a shadow of its former self. Yours truly spent the last weekend there and tried to gauge the national mood with the 2019 presidential (s)election less than three months away.
On the drive to Gwarimpa from the airport, my host was already complaining about how bad things are. The guy works in a bank and is relatively well off, but he said he knew many people who have moved abroad or are trying to make that move. This he put down to the mismanagement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. You wouldn’t know how bad things are from the road from the airport, with posters and billboards of Buhari and his vice president Yemi Osinbajo, asking voters for four more years. Throughout my stay, I didn’t see a single poster for any of the opposition. You would have thought Buhari was the only candidate for president. Maybe he had set up a “task force” to remove all opposition posters.
The drive got a lot more bumpy when we got into Gwarimpa. It was like “welcome to the real Nigeria” with potholes and then there was the “welcome” of “no light” when we got to the host’s home. The generator could only carry a few appliances, no air conditioning, but thankfully it was early in the morning and the heat was yet to set in. I was also pleased that I would be off to my hotel in the afternoon.
While driving around at night to places like Wuse 2, many of the street lights were out of action. This was also the case along Yakubu Gowon Way in the very highbrow area of Asokoro. Former head of state Gowon lives on that road and you would think it should be well lit at night for security reasons. My friend also lives in Asokoro and you can see the presidential complex, Aso Rock, from his place. He said they had electricity 24/7 because they were on the same “transformer” as the seat of government.
I was at a wedding the next day and the MC’s jokes were mainly about politics. He said Buhari was making things hard for comedians. When Goodluck Jonathan was in power, if you told a joke, a man in the crowd will see a “bank alert” showing 10m naira ($27,600) had just been paid into his account and he will laugh heartily at the joke. Now, you tell a joke, the man will think: “I haven’t paid my kids’ school fees, my rent is due” and he will “just frown face”. The MC said Buhari was “chopping alone”, while Jonathan “chopped and let other people chop”.
Many regular folks, who had businesses or schemes that provided them with regular incomes, now resorted to begging. Some would just want to hang out with you all day, knowing that food and drink were guaranteed for that day. I didn’t find a single person with a good word to say about the president.
As we headed to the airport on my last day, my host said that Buhari was likely to win the (s)election because the government has weaponised poverty. People were now so hungry that their votes could be bought very cheaply. He said the “Tradermoni” scheme was just a vote-buying exercise. TraderMoni is ” a loan programme of the Federal Government, created specifically for petty traders and artisans across Nigeria”. Sums like 10,000 naira are meant to be shared to the traders, but my host said money was being given to potential voters and that their voters card numbers were taken in return. He suggested that the plan was to use the numbers to “clone” the cards for rigging the (s)election.
My host also said that there was little electioneering going on in Abuja because many politicians had returned to their states – “where the action is”. He said if I thought things were bad in Abuja, I should have come the previous week and gone to Jigawa State with him. The level of poverty he saw there had to be seen to believed. He wondered why Jigawa was a state instead of a local government in Kano State.
I agreed with him that Buhari was likely to win due to electoral fraud, to which his wife responded “God forbid!”. She said the president “had to go”. I tried to argue that the main challenger Atiku Abubakar was no different, but she wasn’t having it. She just wanted to see the back of Buhari.
By this time, it was time for me to see the back of Nigeria. The Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport had a new terminal – completed around October this year, but the only pluses were the air-conditioning worked and there was less aggressive “begging” from Customs, Immigration and other officials, who in the past never passed up an opportunity to shakedown travellers. For a recently-built terminal, a few of the fixtures and fittings were already falling apart. This could be a metaphor for the Buhari administration, whose promise of “change” started falling to pieces a few months in. Incidentally, the aviation minister responsible for an already crumbling new terminal is Hadi Sirika, who is also the president’s nephew.
As I left Nigeria, I couldn’t help but wonder how a combination of nepotism and incompetence played a significant role in the failures that have made many Nigerians desperate to see Buhari depart for Daura in a few months’ time.