Why Buharinomics Makes Me Nervous

Buhari
  • Buhari

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) eminently qualifies to be listed among the most fortunate of men.

Born in 1942, he joined the Nigerian Army in 1961. By 1975, he was already a Lieutenant Colonel and served as Military Governor of Northeastern State (later Borno State).

He subsequently served as Minister of Petroleum Resources at a time when oil was considered as “black gold.”

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When he siezed power to become Head of State in 1983, he was already an Army Major General. He survived a coup that toppled his government in 1985, emerging three decades later as democratically elected President in 2015.

For a man with no notable skills, talents or aptitudes, two words aptly describe such a life – extremely fortunate.

Very few men, however gifted, get a chance to lead their countries. Only a handful get that privilege twice.

But getting to the top is one thing; what we do with it is another thing entirely.

Buhari’s first stint as leader of government was mortally wounded by rampant contradictions, including a scandal involving 53 suitcases.

It was a time when Nigerians were being stripped to their underpants at airports to curtail trafficking in banned goods.

Then, one day, a consignment of 53 suitcases came in by air from abroad.

Curiously, it skipped customs and was reportedly ferried under heavy military escort to the palace of a traditional ruler in the North.

Reports of this in the media were unsuccessfully hushed.

Shoddy official reactions confirmed what most already feared that there were two sets of rules in operation, one for the haves and another for the have-nots.

Although it remained in office for a while longer, the Buhari military regime instantly lost legitimacy.

Legitimacy is wilful acceptance, consent or acquiescence in the hearts of the led for those who lead them.

It is the kernel of power. Once lost, power becomes merely a shadow lacking form and substance.

Today, although the All Progressives Congress regime under President Buhari may not be under threat of a military takeover (Nigerians have absolutely no appetite for such nonsense anymore,) I worry that history is repeating itself once again.

I worry that the president is toying with the hearts of the led. Since winning a second term in office via a highly disputed election in 2019, Buhari has unveiled a series of curious economic policies which surpass the 53 suitcases in their lack of emotional intelligence or social sensitivity.

First was the sudden closure of all land borders with neighbouring countries, ostensibly to halt illegal inflow of foreign goods which was hurting local industries.

One does not need to be an economics professor to know that this policy was poorly considered. It is like cutting off your head because you have a headache.

Borders are channels of both inflow and outflow of goods and services.

If inflows are not going your way, the best solution lies in tighter customs control and support of local industries to become more competitive.

To shut the borders from imports is to shut them from exports as well.

To do so while retaining the services of a highly corrupt and ineffective Customs Service (with thousands of officers on its payroll) is to officially endorse incompetence and smuggling.

It is a measure of the success of that policy that today foreign rice still floods Nigerian markets, only at an exorbitant price of nearly N30,000 per 50kg bag.

Local rice alternatives are only a few naira cheaper. In case you have forgotten, the national minimum wage is N30, 000 only.

So, a full fledged Nigerian worker who slaves for a full month under rain and sunshine is only worth approximately one bag of rice!

But it is not just military style border closure that marks Buharinomics. A slew of other policies has followed in quick succession.

They include an increase in Value Added Tax from five per cent to 7.5%; a planned return of tollgates to national highways; a revision of the Companies and Allied Matters Act to give government more powers over religious organisations; a petroleum products price rollup; and an electricity tariff increase.

Taken together, Buhari’s economic policies currently constitute an ambush on the common folk.

It is a brazen attempt to exploit, expropriate and harvest their survival in order to refill the leaking coffers of the state.

In fairness, governments are not run on empty treasuries. But some revenue generation policies are more odious than others. These ones don’t smell good at all.

Such policies are not commonly associated with popularly elected governments.

If I were Buhari, I would have insisted on leading by example by openly cutting the cost of governance.

As we speak, the jumbo salaries, allowances and entourages of Nigerian public officials remain intact.

They still travel first class or by chattered flights even though they run a “shit hole” economy.

They still sleep in the most expensive hotels and consult the most expensive physicians worldwide for every imaginable ailment – all at public expense.

The timing of these measures is totally off the mark coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic when every other government worldwide is offering palliatives to their besieged populations.

If Buhari & Co. have no palliative to offer, they should at least not pile more misery on an already beleaguered people.

With official unemployment figures at 27%, underemployed at 29% and inflation at 13%, living in Nigeria is already a Herculean task.

 

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Grace is a prolific writer, a Broadcast journalist and a voice over specialist.