Award-winning Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, says President Muhammadu Buhari wasted the chance to make “real reforms” in the early days of his administration.
In an article written for the New York Times, Adichie said Buhari’s obsolete economic ideology and the apparently selective corruption war had led to a “declining hope” in his government.
She noted that Buhari had, in many situations, appeared disengaged, saying his “tone and demeanor” were reminiscent of 1984 when he was a military head of state.
Adichie wrote: “for the first weeks of his presidency, it was said those civil servants who were usually absent from work suddenly appeared on a daily basis, on time, and that police officer and customs officials stopped demanding bribes. He had the chance to make real reforms early on, to boldly reshape Nigeria’s path. He wasted it.
“Perhaps the first clue was the unusually long time it took him to appoint his ministers. after an ostensible look for the very best, he presented many recycled figures with whom Nigerians were disenchanted. But the real test of his presidency came with the continued fall in oil prices, which had begun the year before his inauguration.
“Nigeria’s economy is unwholesomely dependent on oil, and while the plunge in prices was bound to be catastrophic, Mr. Buhari’s actions made it even more so.
“He adopted a policy of ‘defending’ the naira, Nigeria’s currency. The official exchange rate was kept artificially low. On the black market, the exchange rate ballooned. Prices for everything rose: rice, cooking oil, bread. Fruit sellers and automobile sellers blamed ‘the price of dollars’. Complaints of hardship cut across class. Some businesses laid-off employees; others closed.
“The government decided who would have access to the central bank’s now-reduced foreign currency reserves, and drew up an arbitrary list of unworthy and worthy goods, importers of toothpicks cannot, for instance, but importers of oil can.
“Predictably, this policy spawned corruption: The exclusive few who were able to buy dollars at official rates could sell them on the black market and earn large, riskless profits, transactions that contribute nothing to the economy.
“President Buhari has spoken of his ‘good reasons’ for ignoring the many economists who warned about the danger of his policies. He believes, rightly, that Nigeria needs to produce a lot of what it consumes, and he wants to spur local production. but local production cannot be willed into existence if the supporting infrastructure is absent, and banning goods has historically led not to local production but to a thriving shadow market.
“His intentions, good as they well might be, are rooted in an obsolete economic model and an infantile view of Nigerians. For him, it seems, loyalty is not a voluntary and flexible thing, with room for dissent, but a martial enterprise: to obey without questioning. Nationalism is not negotiated, but implemented.
“The president seems comfortable with conditions that make an economy uncomfortable, uncertainty and disillusion. But the economy is not the sole reason for Nigerians’ declining hope.
“Since Mr. Buhari came to power, villages in the middle-belt and southern regions have been raided, the inhabitants killed, their farmlands ravaged. Those attacked believe the Fulani herdsmen want to forcibly take over their lands for cattle grazing.
“It would be unfair to blame Mr. Buhari for these killings, which are partly a result of complex interactions between climate change and land use. but leadership is as much about perception as it is about action, and Mr. Buhari has appeared disengaged. It took him months and much criticism from civil society, to finally issue a statement “condemning” the killings. His aloofness feels, at worst, like an implicit enabling of murder and, at best, an absence of sensitive leadership.
“Most important, his behavior suggests he is tone-deaf to the widely held belief among southern Nigerians that he promotes a northern sunni muslim agenda. He was no less opaque when the Nigerian Army murdered hundreds of members of a shiite muslim group in December, burying them in hurriedly dug graves.
“Or when soldiers killed members of the small advocator pro-Biafran movement, who were protesting the arrest of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, a little-known figure whose continued incarceration has elevated him to a minor martyr.
“Nigerians who expected a fair and sweeping cleanup of corruption have been disappointed. Arrests have tended to be selective, targeting mostly those opposed to Mr. Buhari’s government. The anti-corruption agencies are perceived not only as partisan but as overtly flouting the rule of law: The Department of State Security recently barged into the homes of various judges at midnight, threatening and harassing them and arresting a number of them, because the judges’ lifestyles “suggested” that they were corrupt.
“There is an ad hoc air to the government that does not inspire that important ingredient for a stable economy: confidence. There is, at all levels of government, a relentless blaming of previous administrations and a refusal to acknowledge mistakes. And there are eerie signs of the past’s repeating itself, Mr. Buhari’s tone and demeanor are reminiscent of 1984, and his military-era War Against indiscipline program is being reintroduced.
“There are no simple answers to Nigeria’s malaise, but the government’s intervention could be more salutary, by prioritizing infrastructure, creating a business-friendly atmosphere and communicating to a populace mired in disappointment.” Adichie said