By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Spin doctors in the presidency and their cohorts outside seem to have devised a new strategy to muddle the waters.
Not content with seeing people as haters of President Muhammadu Buhari and being dismissive of opinions that disagree with their holy grail, they are now blaming citizens for the woes of Nigeria.
On March 28, a friend of mine who believes that Buhari is beyond reproach forwarded to me an article trending on social media.
Titled “The problem with Nigeria,” the author, @harrydaniyan, narrated how he “carried out a social experiment” by standing up to unruly motorists, who, in a desperate attempt to avoid traffic gridlock on an Utako, Abuja road, flouted traffic laws by driving on the sidewalk meant for pedestrians.
He stood up to the indocile drivers even when everyone else acquiesced to their unruliness.
And for his audacity, he was almost hit by an errant driver, and pedestrians on whose behalf he risked his life staging a one-man protest ganged up against him.
“The mob came for me,” he wrote. “I was pushed around, someone slapped me, I saw anger and bile in the eye of the mob. I tried to explain to them why I am actually not wrong in this incident, the driver on the pedestrian sidewalk is the offender here. They wouldn’t have any of that! They pushed me out of the way.
“The driver drove off. The people stood there jeering at me. I stood there taking it all in. I wanted them to have their fill. To them, they have just carried out justice! Silly, frustrated old man!”
For such egregious conduct, he labelled all Nigerians a “wild bunch of crude, uncouth and uncivil mob.”
“These are average Nigerian masses. They are angry at the government …They are angry at the police. They are angry at everything. They are the ‘EndSARS’ people. They are the ‘Buhari must go’ crew. They are the ‘What is Osinbajo doing’ mob. They are the ‘Naira is useless’ folks.”
His conclusion was rather predictable: “The problem with Nigeria is not the government. The problem with Nigeria is not the police. The problem with Nigeria is Nigerians.”
It was supposed to be a counterpoise to late literary icon, Chinua Achebe’s assertion in his 1984 magnum opus The Trouble with Nigeria where he asserted unequivocally that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership.
Achebe didn’t mince words when he insisted that with good leaders, Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems such as tribalism, lack of patriotism, social injustice and the cult of mediocrity, indiscipline and corruption.
The idea encapsulated in the Utako road narrative is to undercut the Achebe narrative by blaming Nigerians for the woes of the country rather than the leadership.
So, I was not surprised when Buhari’s Media and Publicity Adviser, Femi Adesina, doubled down on the narrative same day on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics where he was a guest.
Asked to comment on the latest National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures which prove most conclusively that under Buhari’s watch all indices of social development have gone south, Adesina blamed Nigerians for “focusing on the negatives.”
Let me quote him verbatim:
“I think in any nation at any given time, it is not enough to focus on the negatives. In any country in the world, if you want to focus on the negatives, there will be more than enough for you to see and talk about.
“But then, there are always silver linings in the sky from time to time. It is typical of Nigerians that when those silver linings come, we don’t talk about them.
“You talked about inflation at 17.3 per cent. When that inflation dropped to about 11 per cent a couple of years back, we didn’t hear a sound about it.
“When we went into recession the first time and came out and we went the second time, COVID-induced, and came out, not much about it.
“When you hear that our budget performance was about 97 per cent, not much about it. All that you hear, most times, from critics, from a section of the media are just the negatives.
“The truth is that in any country in the world, if you want to focus on the negatives, you will have more than enough to chew. So, let us realise that in Nigeria, there are positives in economy, security, in all spheres of life, there are positives.
“It depends on the ones we want to focus on. If we want to focus on the negatives, we will have enough to focus on but if we also want to see the silver lining and encourage ourselves and encourage our countrymen, there are also things to focus on. The choice is ours.”
As seducing as Adesina’s argument may seem, it is hollow, if not mischievous, because in trying to paint the picture of Buhari as an achiever, he only compared the best of Buhari with the worst of Buhari. That is deceitful.
Compared with the much maligned administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan that he succeeded, Buhari falls ridiculously short.
For instance, while it is true that the inflation rate which ballooned to 15.68 per cent in 2016 and 16.52 per cent in 2017 was brought down to 12.09 per cent in 2018 and 11.04 per cent in 2019 – before it climbed back to an all-time high of 17.3 in 2021 – there is no silver lining there.
Inflation was at single digit when Buhari became president on May 29, 2015. Under his watch, it climbed to double digits. Even his best performance on inflation, the 2019 rate of 11.04 per cent, is worse than what he inherited from Jonathan.
Where are the silver linings then? According to data released by the NBS last week, food inflation climbed to 20.57 per cent year-on-year in January 2021, the highest in 11 years. Could that be a silver lining?
Again, Adesina talked about entering and exiting recession and is piqued that Nigerians are not ululating over assumed Buhari’s economic wizardry. But where is the silver lining? This administration drove the economy into recession twice in less than four years, the 2016 recession being the first in a generation.
No matter how hard some administration officials try to spurn the health of the economy Buhari inherited in 2015, the fact remains that GDP grew at 2.65 per cent in 2015. But within one year, Buhari, who promised Nigerians heaven on earth, had run it into a negative territory of -1.62 per cent.
Where is the silver lining in a country where the unemployment rate is 33.3 per cent, arguably the highest in the world; poverty rate a scandalous 40.1 per cent; headline inflation 17.33 per cent, from 16.47 per cent in January; food inflation 21.79 per cent, from 20.57 per cent in January. Total debt profile N32.92 trillion and counting.
Adesina said during the interview that Buhari did not promise to make N1 equal to $1 and challenged anyone with contrary evidence to counter his take.
Maybe he is right. But Buhari is right now in Britain on a two-week medical vacation.
On February 21, 2015, General Muhammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at a public lecture at Chatham House, London, asked: “Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospitals functional?” I hope no one will disclaim this tomorrow.
Aso Rock spin doctors claim that Nigerians are paying too much attention to Buhari. Someone accused me recently of devoting my column entirely to Buhari bashing. That is not true.
But come to think of it, what else is there to write about other than the state of the nation? Wouldn’t doing otherwise be tantamount to pursuing rat when someone’s house is on fire?
Spin doctors may indulge in their delusions, but the truth remains that as a leader, Buhari has failed Nigeria spectacularly. There is no sugarcoating the reality of the moment. There is hardly anything better today than when he became president.
The truth, which cannot be denied by any honest observer, is that the best of the Buhari administration has consistently fallen far short of the worst of his predecessors. That is no silver lining.