THERE ONCE WAS A COUNTRY, By Nosa Igiebor – Guest Writer
“For Nigeria, this is a critical juncture. With the contraction in GDP that could happen this year, Nigeria’s per capita income could be around what it was four decades ago.”…. Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director in Nigeria.
Four decades ago was 1980. Then the per capita income was about $847.40. Which signals the severity of the current economic recession and the deepening of the pain Nigerians are suffering. And there’s no end in sight to the country’s economic malaise even in the near future. Notwithstanding the unconvincing assurance by Zainab Ahmed, finance, budget and national planning minister, that the recession would end by first quarter of next year.
The assurance is anchored on nothing but empty words. Where is the plan to combat the recession and mitigate its impact on the public? Six years of this administration has failed to produce a coherent plan to reset the economy and insulate it from the constant boom and burst of the volatile global oil industry. Maybe one will be produced soon. Which begs the question of what exactly is the remit of the Economic Advisory Committee that President Muhammadu Buhari established early this year.
The warning by Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank country director in Nigeria, speaks to the consistent decline of the country’s per capita income in the last five years. After four years of over six percent economic growth under President Goodluck Jonathan, the per capita income rose to a record high of $3,223 in 2014. But it was down to $1, 968 in 2017, two years after President Buhari took over. Although it increased to $2,230 in 2019, the global coronavirus pandemic and its devastatingly consequential impact on the world’s economy has made the scenario that Chaudhuri has warned about a real possibility. After all, our economy is fatally tied to the state of the global oil industry. Once the industry takes a serious hit, the country is in trouble, just as we’re experiencing it now.
Nigeria has not had it this bad. There once was a country where the resilience of the people could see them through tough times. And we’ve had many tough times in the past four decades, including the years of ‘essencos’ (essential commodities) when Nigerians queued endlessly in front of designated centres to buy basic commodities like rice, cooking oil, sugar, milk and soap at controlled prices. An exhausting experience that the people didn’t go through even during the 30 months of the civil war.
Consider these two grim facts. Nigeria has been the world capital of extreme poverty for four years, according to the World Poverty Index. We’ve earned the top spot, displacing India, with over 100 million Nigerians living below the poverty line. That’s on less than $2 per day. And with economic recession and the inevitable collapse of the per capita income, it’s being predicted that the number of the very poor could rise to 125 million, nearly 63 percent of the population. Aligned with that is another Nigeria’s dubious title of being the world’s third most terrorized nation, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index. A toxic cocktail of mass poverty, and pervasive insecurity, that creates fertile conditions for all sorts of extreme social pathologies, such as kidnapping and banditry, to thrive.
Yet another gory confirmation of this embarrassing status came last weekend when Boko Haram massacred 110 defenceless Nigerians who were out on the farms harvesting crops. This happened in a community about 25 kilometres from Maiduguri, capital of Borno State that has borne the brunt of Boko Haram terrorism for 11 years.
The state governor, Babagana Umara Zulum has cried his eyes dry for decisive action to rescue Borno from the terrorists’ mindless bloodletting. No help is forthcoming from Abuja. His predecessor, Senator Kashim Shettima, did the same to no avail.
The massacre validated the complaint of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, that the “north is the worst place to be in” Nigeria. He vented his frustration during the quarterly meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council last Thursday in Abuja. Said the Sultan: “Few weeks ago, over 76 persons were killed in a community in Sokoto in a day. I was there alongside the governor (Aminu Tambuwal) to commiserate with the affected community. Unfortunately you don’t hear these stories in the media because it’s in the north…. Bandits go around villages, households and markets with AK47 rifles and nobody is challenging them.”
The unsavoury reality today is that any kidnapped victim gets freedom after payment of ransom. Even kidnapped security personnel are rescued only after the criminals’ demand for ransom is met. Sometimes the victims are killed even when payments, usually in millions of naira, are made.
Illustrative of the complete disconnect of the federal government from the desperate insecurity that has enveloped the country, is the recent case of the 11 students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. They were kidnapped on the notorious Abuja-Kaduna highway, and their distraught parents had to beg and borrow millions of naira to buy their freedom. Late in the night on their way to make the payments, they encountered soldiers not far from the drop-off point of the ransom. Learning of their mission, the soldiers could only wish them good luck. And that was it. The parents and their hapless wards were on their own. Fortunately, all the students regained their freedom with no help from the security agencies.
It’s almost a cliche to say that Nigerians are in dire straights.
“Everyone is feeling the pain of the economic
malaise. But worst hit are those in the bottom
rung of the social and economic ladder.”
“The blame for this current state of debilitating
anomie must be placed squarely on Buhari’s
head. He’s proven to be incapable of doing his
job as president and commander-in-chief.”
“Those who are still making excuses for Buhari
and blaming the past governments for his
administration’s abysmal failure are no better
than the terrorists and other criminal gangs.”
Everyone is feeling the pain of the economic malaise. But worst hit are those in the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder. They are barely living, as most of them can’t afford even one miserly meal a day. Meaning that tens of millions of the poor go hungry daily. More harrowing is the fact that, a sizable number of them are children. The social intervention program initiated by the government to ameliorate the plight of the poor has failed woefully. This is because only an infinitesimal number of the desperately needy have benefited and not even on a consistent basis.
Given the prevailing dire economic challenges and the widespread insecurity that have made life in Nigeria “nasty, brutish and short”, the compelling question is whether there’s a government in place. For the primary obligation of any government is to protect the people and create economic conditions that will enable them earn a living, no matter how basic. When the government is unable to guarantee their security, how can it defend the country from external aggression?
The blame for this current state of debilitating anomie must be placed squarely on Buhari’s head. He’s proven to be incapable of doing his job as president and commander-in-chief. Worst still, he can’t free himself from his parochial instincts, a major weakness that has led to his surrounding himself with incompetent people and keeping them in their jobs even when they’re not performing well.
He can be laughed at and even forgiven his ignorance in economic matters. Like when in 2015, while campaigning for the presidential election, he promised he would make one naira equal to one US dollar. A feat for which the magic to make it possible is yet to be invented. Under his watch, the naira has taken a severe beating, losing over 75 percent of its 2015 value. As at last week, one dollar was fetching nearly N500 in the parallel market, light years from the parity he had promised.
What he can’t be forgiven is his failure to arrest the ever-deteriorating insecurity in the country. Even the latest outrage of Boko Haram, brutally killing 110 Nigerians, won’t move him to demand accountability from those he appointed to all the top military and security positions. As usual, he will accept their version of events and their assurance that they’re on top of a very bad situation. After which his spokesmen will release the over-familiar canned statement of his regrets over the killings. Thereafter, total silence from him until the next episode of innocent Nigerians killed in cold blood.
How did Nigeria get to this sorry pass? How did we end up with a government that’s the worst in the country’s history? And how did we ‘elect’ a president who’s so unfit for the job and dangerously ill-equipped for the myriad challenges of running a country as big and complex as Nigeria?
Those who are still making excuses for Buhari and blaming the past governments for his administration’s abysmal failure are no better than the terrorists and other criminal gangs that are holding the country hostage. The National Assembly is the worst culprit in this regard. The federal legislators keep fiddling and indulging in inanities while the president’s abdication of his responsibilities is literally killing the country.
So here we are, after nearly six years of ‘CHANGE’, with the country impoverished and the people trapped in a maelstrom of fear and dashed hope. They never bargained for a country where the federal government literally seizes to function and allows many criminal gangs to carve out their own little empires. This is nothing but a catastrophic failure of leadership. And Buhari is the prime symbol of it.
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