President Muhammadu Buhari just made a seemingly strong case for re-election in 2019. To preview his recent visit to the White House, Buhari penned an article that was posted by Newsweek. Though the title suggests that it was primarily about the dividends of improved relations with the United States during his tenure, it could have as well been titled “Why I should be re-elected.”
Sure, he touched on the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries to Nigeria’s economic and security wellbeing. Yet a chunk of the speech was on what his administration has accomplished. And, on paper — that is, digital paper — it looks impressive.
Buhari restated his 2015 campaign promises thus: “My administration came to office on the back of a three-pronged agenda: to secure the country, rebuild the economy, and to determinedly fight corruption—the biggest single threat to our development and the prosperity of our people.”
Regarding security, Buhari asserted his often-repeated claim that Boko Haram has been defeated. “Before my administration assumed office, the terrorist group controlled an area the size of Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut combined,” he wrote. “Today, they are a substantially degraded force, with a capacity limited largely to cowardly attacks on soft targets.”
It is much later in the essay that Buhari alluded to the recurrent mass killings of members of multiple ethnic groups in the Middle Belt by Fulani “herdsmen.” And he did so with a remarkable deft touch. “The depletion of grazing land and water, arising from intensifying desertification, is triggering often fatal tensions between crop farming communities and nomadic cattle farmers,” the president writes.
With regard to the economy, Buhari also touted increased investment by the U.S. and other international companies. “In recent years, the Coca-Cola Company entered a strategic alliance—estimated at $400 million—with Tropical General Investments (TGI) Group to increase its footprint in Nigeria’s consumer foods sector for the long term,” Buhari writes.
“Similarly, Kellogg Company commissioned a $30 million cereal factory in Nigeria, in a joint venture with a Singaporean conglomerate, and both partners have disclosed plans to invest another $50 million on expanding the factory.”
Even more important are the prospects for future investments. “In 2017, the U.S. and Nigerian governments established the “U.S.-Nigeria Commercial and Investment Dialogue” to strengthen business and investment ties between both countries. The Dialogue, co-chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, has since agreed to focus its work on these five sectors: infrastructure; agriculture; digital economy; investment; and regulatory reform.”
Buhari seems especially enthused about his plans to rebuild Nigeria’s rail systems. “Few things, it must be said, have been more emblematic of the declining state of Nigeria’s national infrastructure than our national railway system,” he bemoans. “The network was built over 50 years ago, between 1916 and 1961. Yet, by the end of the 1990s it had completely collapsed.”
This is all about to change, he asserts, thanks to“the commitment of an international consortium initiated by General Electric (GE), Transnet, SinoHydro and APM Maersk, to giving Nigeria a modern and efficient rail network.”Buhari states that an agreement to that end was signed “a few days ago, in Washington, D.C.” and that when the project is completed it would restore “Nigeria’s 3,500-kilometre narrow-gauge rail network.”
Buhari wrote little on the even greater drag on the Nigerian economy: electrical power supply. “The U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) also continues to support various private sector–led clean energy infrastructure projects through the Power Africa and the Blackstone-sponsored 540 MW power project in Nigeria,” he wrote and moved on.
Buhari also touched just briefly on Nigeria’s progress in digital technology. “Andela, a startup backed by American venture capital and which trains young Africans as software engineers, has its biggest campus in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital,” Buhari notes.
Buhari used his comments on the breakdown of Nigeria’s railway service as a transition to stating his accomplishments on corruption. “The grand corruption of our recent past, that saw tens of billions of dollars frittered away on fraudulent oil deals and bogus military contracts, put paid to all opportunities for an infrastructure revolution,” he asserts. “Now we have seized the chance to do things better. We have cleaned up falsified civil service payrolls and commenced the prosecution of payroll impostors—saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“We set up a whistle blower policy aimed at deterring corrupt practices in government, and committed to the Open Government Partnership. In January this year, Nigeria was elected to the Partnership’s Steering Committee.”
In what is readily a direct case for re-election, Buhari writes toward the end of the essay that, “A lot of work still lies ahead, of course” and that he intends to consolidate his achievements.
Glittering as Buhari’s account of his stewardship appears to be, there are quite a few holes. To begin with, he glossed over major problems. He referred to the mass killings in the Middle Belt as “fatal tensions between crop farming communities and nomadic cattle farmers.” It is as though the bloody incidents were a mere fracas that resulted in one or two deaths. Such a conception of the coordinated operations lends credence to the widely-held view of his tacit acceptance.
Similarly, his claim that Boko Haram now only attacks “soft targets” downplays their continued potency. The reality is that they have also attacked military and police outposts. And their attacks on “soft targets” often result in considerable loss of lives. Claiming victory in the face of continued major casualties creates the impression of callousness.
The president also deftly takes credit for accomplishments of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. In bragging about Andela, the high-tech company in Lagos, Buhari creates the impression it came into existence during his tenure. But Andela was launched in 2014 months before Buhari became his party’s nominee for president.
Similarly, regarding efforts to boost electric power supply in Nigeria, Buhari writes that the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation “continues to support various private sector–led clean energy infrastructure projects … in Nigeria.” The key phrase is “continues to support,” an oblique acknowledgement that this didn’t originate with his administration.
The biggest hole in Buhari’s implicit case for re-election is that there’s virtually nothing on how his administration has improved the lives of Nigerians. In effect, the president was silent on the most tangible measure of dividends.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]
(Visited 166 times, 1 visits today)