By Olu Fasan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has a victim mentality. He takes absolutely no responsibility for anything that goes wrong under his supervision. Instead, he treats legitimate and honest criticism of his leadership failures as harassment.
He is more likely to see this piece about the shocking levels of multidimensional poverty in Nigeria nurtured under his administration as harassment. To imitate Shakespeare: he protests too much, I think! Last week, in a documentary shown at a private event marking his 80th birthday, President Buhari was asked if he would miss anything of the presidency.
He replied, “I wonder if I’m going to miss a lot. I believe I am being harassed.” He continued, “I believe I’m trying my best but still my best isn’t good enough because there are people around who think they can intimidate me to get what they want.”
Well, Buhari may congratulate himself on “trying” his “best”, but his “best” just isn’t good enough! In real democracies, leaders are judged by whether or not they keep the promises they came to power on. Recently in the UK, Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister, saying “I can’t carry out the mandate I’ve been elected to office for.”
But President Buhari has monumentally failed to deliver on the promises he was elected to in 2015, which were to restore the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption. In 2019, while seeking re-election, Buhari reiterated those promises under the abbreviation SEA – Security, Economy, Anti-corruption. Despite failing to deliver on promises made in his first term, he was re-elected. At the start of his second term in office in May 2019, President Buhari told visiting leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum: “This is my last round.
I will try to work harder.” Well, Buhari has accelerated a number of policies in his second term, mainly on legislation and infrastructure. But he has done nothing to push the button forward in the three areas – economics, national security and anti-corruption – in which he was elected twice. With barely five months to go, Buhari will invariably leave Nigeria much weaker and more vulnerable than when he came to power in 2015.
Lest we forget. Buhari also ran on a platform of change, of transformation, including decentralization of power to achieve “true” federalism. But after seven and a half years in power, he has failed to implement major administrative, institutional and structural reforms. Buhari is a headstrong leader, who defines the government by his narrow prism and personal preferences.
He surrounds himself with flatterers and praisers who entrench themselves in Abuja’s echo chamber. He rejects the universal purpose of government. He accuses those who urge him to broaden his horizons of harassment and intimidation, saying they are “half smart”. Yet Buhari is a failed leader precisely because of his arrogance and stubbornness. He is intellectually and philosophically unconcerned with the role of government and lacks the vision to bring about radical change.
Yet we should always remind politicians of the role of government, drawing insights from Aristotle who said that politics “is primarily concerned with the development and realization of human flourishing”, and Thomas Jefferson who said: “The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good governance”.
Together, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke advanced the idea of the ‘social contract’, built around communal security and protection of life (Hobbes) and protection of property (Locke). Which brings us to the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index, MPI, survey of Nigeria, published in November by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.
For there can be no greater indictment against a failure to understand the primary purpose and legitimate purpose of politics and good governance, and the social contract, than the excessive MPI results. With more than 80 million people living below $2.15 a day (international poverty line), Nigeria has the highest number of extreme poor in Africa and the second largest in the world.
But the MPI looks beyond the one-dimensional measure of poverty; rather, it takes into account poverty in various areas of potential hardship, such as sanitation, time to healthcare, food security, standard of living. And the finding is devastating: 133 million Nigerians (63 percent of the population) are multidimensionally poor!
But why should Nigeria be in such a horrible position? According to the World Bank’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Index 2022, the share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty fell from nearly 60 percent in 1950 to 8.4 percent in 2019. So why is Nigeria swimming against the global tide in poverty? reduction?
Well, there is a total failure of governance in Nigeria, an utter failure of leadership. It’s hard to imagine the federal government’s response to the embarrassing MPI results playing the blame game. It is truly unbelievable that President Buhari can blame state governors for spreading poverty in Nigeria when his government has most of the resources to deal with it!
The main antidote is economic growth. As the famous economist Simon Kuznets put it, “Growth is a rising tide that lifts all boats.” But the instruments of economic growth – fiscal and monetary instruments – are centrally controlled. So is national security, without which foreign investors will shun Nigeria and local businesses, including agriculture, will not 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 legal proceeding 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 blames states for failing to tackle poverty. Of course, sub-national 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 of them are technically bankrupt. Nigeria needs regional superpowers; it needs a radical restructuring and transfer of power. Unfortunately, Buhari hates those words! But Buhari cannot escape responsibility for Nigeria’s acute multidimensional poverty. It is a product of the multidimensional failure of his government!
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