Although it is still early days, just one month after he swept into office on a tide of euphoria and a mantra of “change”, many of President Muhammadu Buhari’s voters already seem to be disappointed with the way things are turning out.
Rather than hit the ground running, the new regime seems to have hit the ground snoring – as one commentator on social media put it. The people that expected big things from Buhari and expected them to start happening almost immediately never paid that much attention to the man’s history.
In the early days of Buhari’s rule as a military dictator in the 1980s, there were similar complaints about inaction, a lack of direction, and the absence of a coherent economic plan to address Nigeria’s problems.
Right now, Nigerians are looking for answers to the Boko Haran insurgency, unreliable electricity supply, rising unemployment, corruption, over-dependence on oil, etc. Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to solve all these problems. But the evidence from history suggests otherwise.
In his first speech as a military dictator following their ousting of the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari, Buhari said: “The change became necessary in order to put an end to the serious economic predicament and the crisis of confidence now afflicting our nation.” Sound familiar?
By the time he was thrown out of office 20 months later in a counter-coup, inflation was spiralling out of control, with “essential commodities” scarce and beyond the reach of the majority of Nigerians, power supply got worse, unemployment, especially graduate unemployment was severe, and a representative of Nigeria’s private sector employers claimed that companies were experiencing the “worst business situation in 50 years”.
When Buhari ran for president in 2011 he took part in a TV debate with other candidates. He was asked how he would address issues such as the crisis in the Niger Delta and power supply. With the Niger Delta, he claimed if elected, he would sit down with stakeholders and come up with a plan. The moderator wondered why his plan for dealing with the situation involved coming up with a plan! He was running for president and there was no plan for dealing with the crisis afflicting the region that produced the main source of the government’s foreign exchange earnings.
On power supply, all he could provide was “inviting the private sector”. The moderator said this was what the government was doing already.
Currently, there is very little to show that the new regime is following a different course from the one it replaced.
There is little evidence from history to suggest that Buhari either had concrete plans for dealing with our problems, or succeeded in addressing them, or brought about any real change to the situation he was criticising before he took charge.
Incidentally, Buhari’s military regime had no regard for “federal character” (the principle that is enshrined in the constitution, “ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”). Some Nigerians have already started highlighting that there is a predominance of northerners in the handful of appointments made so far by the new regime.
A Wikileaks cable in February 2003 recorded this conversation with Bola Tinubu, the APC leader who helped sell Buhari as an agent of change, in which Tinubu allegedly claimed: “Moreover, Obasanjo is the only candidate who stands a chance of blocking his rival, General Muhammadu Buhari, whose ethnocentrism would jeopardize Nigeria’s national unity. Buhari and his ilk are agents of destabilization who would be far worse than Obasanjo.”
The past provides very useful lessons for the present and the future, but many Nigerians carry on like LP Hartley said: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”