Pauline Latham, a Conservative MP representing Mid Derbyshire, delivered a stern indictment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime during a debate on the UK’s Department for International Development’s work in Nigeria in Parliament last Thursday.
Latham said: “Early this year, President Buhari disappeared from the Nigerian political scene. Rumours about his health spread through Nigeria before it was officially announced that he was in London for medical treatment. After two months in the UK, he returned to Nigeria earlier this month and resumed his official duties, but rumours continue due to the length of his absence, creating a feeling of instability in the country”.
She was quite dismissive of Buhari’s posturing as an anti-corruption crusader: “On anti-corruption, there has been a wave of arrests of those who held office under President Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. The trial of former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki has begun; former Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has yet to stand trial; and several major investigations have been launched. However, critics claim that the Government’s copybook is blotted on security and anti-corruption, saying that some of the steps taken against corruption have been politically motivated, rather than taken without fear or favour. As is often the case in Nigeria, investigations are proceeding at a snail’s pace”.
The MP also had choice words on human rights abuses by the Nigerian military: “Meanwhile, the Nigerian security forces remain prone to committing human rights abuses, but continue to enjoy impunity. A more fundamental criticism is that Buhari has not yet got to grips with the interlocking root causes of violence: poverty, inequality, marginalisation and, not least, corruption, whether in the north or elsewhere. With the possible exception of in the oil-rich Niger delta, he appears uninterested in seeking negotiated settlements. The authorities have also been criticised for their performance in response to the humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Nigeria”.
She went on to speak about divisions in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress: “The biggest challenge to emerge during the second half of 2016, apart from Buhari’s possible ill health, were the cracks in the fractious coalition of interests that makes up the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. The main divisions emerging, which have never been far from the surface, are between Buhari’s faction and those loyal to former Lagos State governor and APC kingmaker Bola Tinubu, who is reportedly in cahoots with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar”.
Latham concluded saying: “Corruption remains a huge problem, despite efforts by the Buhari Administration to clamp down on it, and broader conditions for conducting business remain poor. Poor-quality infrastructure, very low education levels, security worries and high poverty levels are additional barriers to faster long-term growth. One of my major concerns when we were in Nigeria was how the Government were going to tackle corruption. They came in with great ideas, wanting a clean sweep of the country, but they have delayed and delayed, and they are not delivering. They will have problems, because the people of Nigeria will not wait forever for things to change”.
Another MP, Lisa Cameron of the Scottish National Party (SNP) representing East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, spoke of her experience from a recent visit to Nigeria: “I have to say that what struck me when I arrived there was the inequality, which is absolutely stark: many people have great wealth, but the majority of the population have very little at all”. Her comments on inequality were echoed by Imran Hussain, the Labour Party MP for Bradford East: “Nigeria has in a very short time become one of the countries with the fastest growing number of millionaires — but, unfortunately, that wealth has not been across the breadth of the country, and that needs addressing”.
Hussain also slated the privatisation of electricity supply in the country: “Electricity production and distribution is of concern. Access to a stable, secure and reliable electricity network is of great importance, if not an absolute necessity, for promoting growth and freeing households from the burden of self-generation. Despite the immense importance of the electricity sector and Nigeria’s growth rate, the country has the highest number of Africans without access to electricity. DFID clearly recognises that that is a problem. If electricity is not supplied to millions of Nigerians, DFID will struggle to fulfil its aims and objectives in the country, so it put in place the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility.
“On the face of it, allocating more than £100 million to help bring light into the homes of 96 million Nigerians seems a positive step, until we look at the details of what the money bought. It brought in Adam Smith International—an international organisation that ultimately advised the Nigerian Government to put Nigeria’s electricity production and distribution networks up for sale, with the goal of creating a commercially viable and privately owned power network. While the intentions may have been good, at best the programme proved to be ill designed; at worst, it focused not on the needs of Nigerian consumers, but on private interests. It is putting electricity even further out of reach of many Nigerians, and it is loading purchasers in the energy sector with huge amounts of debt, preventing them from making any meaningful investments in the network. Tariffs had to be raised, rather than lowered, and the situation was so bad that a prominent university, Ahmadu Bello, was forced to cut power for 12 hours a day. Privatisation of the energy sector has not helped poor Nigerians or businesses to get secure access to the electricity network. It is hard to describe the endeavour as anything other than a failure for the poorest in the country”.