By Olu Fasan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has a victim mentality. He takes absolutely no responsibility for anything that goes wrong under his watch. Instead, he treats legitimate and fair criticisms of his leadership failure as harassment.
More likely, he’ll see this piece on the shocking levels of multidimensional poverty in Nigeria, fostered under his government, as harassment. To mimic Shakespeare: He does protest too much, methinks! Last week, in a documentary shown at a private event to mark his 80th birthday, President Buhari was asked whether he would miss anything about the presidency.
He replied: “I wonder if I’m going to miss much. I believe I’m being harassed.” He continued: “I believe I’m trying my best, but still my best is not good enough because there are people around who think they can intimate me to get what they want.”
Well, Buhari may congratulate himself for “trying” his “best”, but his “best” is simply not good enough! In true democracies, leaders are judged by whether or not they keep the promises upon which they were elected into power. Recently, in the UK, Liz Truss resigned as prime minister, saying: “I cannot deliver the mandates on which I was elected into office.”
But President Buhari has failed monumentally to fulfill the promises by which he was elected in 2015, namely: to fix the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption. In 2019, when he was seeking re-election, Buhari repeated those promises under the acronym SEA – Security, Economy, Anti-corruption. Despite failing to fulfill the promises in his first term, he was re-elected. At the start of his second term in May 2019, President Buhari told visiting leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum: “This is my last lap.
I will try to work harder.” Well, Buhari accelerated some policies in his second term, mainly around legislation and infrastructure. But he has done nothing to move the dial forward in the three areas – economy, national security and anti-corruption – on which he was elected to office twice. With barely five months left in office, Buhari will invariably leave Nigeria far weaker and far more fragile than when he assumed power in 2015.
Read we forget. Buhari also ran on a platform of change, of transformation, including decentralizing power to achieve “true” federalism. But, seven-and-a-half-years in power, he has undertaken no major administrative, institutional and structural reforms. Buhari is an idiosyncratic leader, who defines government through his narrow prism and personal predilections.
He surrounds himself with sycophants and praises singers holed up in the Abuja echo chamber. He rejects the universal purpose of government. He accuses those urging him to expand his horizon of harassment and intimidation, saying they’re “clever by half”. Yet, Buhari is a failed leader precisely because of his arrogance and obduracy. He doesn’t engage intellectually and philosophically with the role of government and lacks the vision to drive radical change.
Yet, we must always remind politicians of the role of government, drawing insights from Aristotle who said that politics is “primarily concerned with the development and actualization of human flourishing”, and Thomas Jefferson who said: “The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government”.
Between them, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke advanced the idea of the “social contract”, built around common security and protection of lives (Hobbes) and protection of property (Locke). Which brings us to Nigeria’s 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index, MPI, survey, published in November by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.
For there can be no greater indictment of the failure to understand the primary purpose and legitimate object of politics and good government, and the social contract, than the outrageous MPI results. With over 80 million people living below $2:15 a day (international poverty line), Nigeria has the largest number of extreme poor in Africa and second largest in the world.
But the MPI looks beyond the unidimensional measure of poverty; rather, it considers poverty across several areas of potential deprivations, such as sanitation, time to healthcare, food security, living standards. And the finding is dreadful: 133m Nigerians (63 per cent of the population) are multidimensionally poor!
But why should Nigeria be in such appalling position? According to the World Bank’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Index 2022, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty fell from close to 60 per cent in 1950 to 8.4 per cent in 2019. So, why is Nigeria swimming against the global tide in poverty reduction?
Well, there’s a total failure of governance in Nigeria, an utter failure of leadership. It’s hard to imagine that the Federal Government’s response to the shameful MPI results is playing the blame game. It’s really beyond belief that President Buhari could blame state governors for spreading poverty in Nigeria when his government controls most of the tools for tackling it!
The key antidote is economic growth. As the famous economist Simon Kuznets put it: “Growth is a rising tide that lifts all boats.” But the tools of economic growth – fiscal and monetary instruments – are controlled centrally. So is national security, without which foreign investors will shun Nigeria and local businesses, including farming, won’t flourish.
And what about social safety nets? Well, the Federal Government’s multibillion naira Social Intervention Programs, SIPs, have failed to reduce poverty. Last week, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, launched a court action asking President Buhari to investigate allegations of massive corruption and mismanagement in the SIPs!
So, here’s a Federal Government that can’t generate economic growth, can’t provide security and can’t manage social safety nets. Yet, it’s blaming states for not tackling poverty. Of course, subnational entities can tackle poverty. In the First Republic, when the regions had autonomy and controlled their own resources, poverty and unemployment were never federal concerns.
But, today, states are mere appendages of the Federal Government, and most are technically bankrupt. Nigeria needs regional powerhouses; it needs radical restructuring and devolution of power. Sadly, Buhari hates those words! But Buhari can’t avoid responsibility for Nigeria’s acute multidimensional poverty. It’s a product of his government’s multidimensional failure!
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