Two new books seek to change public perception of the former president’s stewardship, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
President Muhammadu Buhari showed up in Abuja last Tuesday. It was his first public outing in the federal capital city since he handed over power to his successor, President Bola Tinubu. The occasion was the presentation of two books written to set straight the record of Buhari’s eight years in the saddle. The first was entitled, Working with Buhari: Reflections of a Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, and was written by Femi Adesina, his media adviser. The other was, Muhammadu Buhari: The Nigerian Legacy (2015 – 2023), a series of essays edited by Udu Yakubu, an academic.
Both authors said they were out to straighten the account of the former president’s stewardship. While Adesina said he was providing the software of the Buhari years, Yakubu said he was offering the hardware through an academic scrutiny of the work done.
It was a well-attended event. In the audience was Yakubu Gowon, a former head of state; Ibrahim Haruna, a former minister of education; Aminu Bayero, Emir of Kano; and scores of serving and former ministers. Of course, Buhari and Tinubu were also there to give it the presidential touch. Expectedly, glowing tributes were paid to the subject of the event in a clear response to the negative public perception of his tour of duty.
It was Garba Shehu, his senior special assistant on Media and Publicity, that put the matter of the day in a proper perspective. “Despite all he did, some people continue to ask, what did Buhari do with his eight years in office?” he said. This is the question that the books, especially the Muhammadu Buhari: The Nigerian Legacy (2015 – 2023) seek to answer. For a hugely skeptical public, these interventions would be an interesting revelation. The snag though, is the price tag attached to them. While Adesina’s is 30k and 20k for the hard and soft copies respectively, Yakubu’s five volumes will cost a whooping 200k. In these days of economic hardship, which of the nation’s doubting Thomas will step forward to pick up the books just to clear their doubt?
In the meantime, they may make do with the snippets provided by the erudite reviewers, Shola Oshunkeye, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and multi-award-winning journalist; and Eghosa Osaghae and Kabiru Mato, both professors of Political Science. Again, the snag. They all spoke extempore. However, Bayo Onanuga, special adviser to the president on Information and Strategy, has offered some relief. Taking to his X handle and Facebook page, he has published a transcript of his boss, Tinubu, remarks which paid a glowing tribute to Buhari.
“It will be said glowingly of President Buhari that in his eight turbulent years, marked by an acute shortage of revenue, the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down the global economy for almost two years, his administration embarked on the most ambitious infrastructural renewal for the country,” the president said.
He cited the milestones, “President Buhari gave us the second Niger Bridge. He revamped the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. He gave us the Lagos-Ibadan and Warri-Itakpe rail lines. He completed the Abuja-Kaduna rail line and Lekki Seaport. He built brand new airports, among many other landmark economic projects.
“The Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway, which he started, will be completed by my administration, by the Grace of God.
Whatever unresolved challenges faced by President Buhari in his eight years, our administration will endeavour to resolve them. As I said during the campaigns, I inherited all his assets and liabilities.”
It is significant that unlike the Buhari years which were marked by bulk-passing for the massive shortcomings in governance, Tinubu has taken responsibility rather than blame others for the economic crisis that has engulfed the country. He had no choice though, because as he said at the event, not a few Nigerians contend that he brought Buhari and must accept the assets and liabilities of the last administration.
Without a doubt, until last Tuesday’s interventions by Adesina and Yakubu, the endemic public perception of Buhari’s eight years was that they were a waste. Indeed, some senior officials of the Tinubu administration, including Nuhu Ribadu, the national security adviser, had boosted this ugly view. Tinubu said Ribadu, a couple of weeks ago, inherited a bankrupt economy. This feeds into the general belief that Buhari was like the Yoruba deity, which rather than improving the lot of the people had worsened it.
Carried into office on the back of the widespread disappointment with the erstwhile Peoples Democratic Party government of President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari of the All Progressives Congress was thought to be the change agent that would pull Nigeria out of the cesspit of perceived economic downturn, rising insecurity and massive corruption.
But years after, Nigerians, many of them part of the mob that conned their fellow citizens into accepting ash as salt, were gnashing their teeth regrettably. So spectacular was the perceived failure of the Buhari administration that looking back many Nigerians justifiably think 2015 was a critical error of judgment that had produced the worst mistake ever made by them.
So bad was the situation that many Nigerians felt that Buhari should not have happened. The evidence was all over the place in the comatose national economy, the widening and worsening insecurity, and the insidious corruption of high officials of his government. Not only did Nigerians become nostalgic about the Jonathan years, but Buhari’s kitchen people even attempted to move the former president across the carpet in an awkward think to return him to power.
Signs of the perceived incompetence of the former president emerged early when he hit the ground and sat there rather than run. He had narrowed his areas of priority during his electioneering to the economy, security, and corruption. He said he would revive the economy and lead from the front in stamping out insecurity and corruption. But for six months into his administration, he could not form a government.
And so, within 11 months of taking power, the economy became acutely distressed and went into a recession, the first in 32 years of the nation’s economic history. Rather than take responsibility, Buhari heaped the blame on the Jonathan administration complaining that the previous government left it an economy that was in a dire strait. It conveniently forgot that it left the country without any direction for six months, by its failure to appoint ministers and key functionaries.
Buhari had in 2015 inherited an economy with appreciable indices. The size of the economy was $500 billion, the largest and fastest growing in Africa at seven per cent, yielding 8.09 per cent unemployment. That was largely possible because capacity utilisation was 60.5 per cent with a foreign direct investment of $3.06 billion. Inflation was a single-digit 9.01 per cent while the exchange rate was N197/$. Although the debt portfolio was N12.3 trillion, the external reserve stood at $29.13 billion. The Jonathan administration also left a $6 billion Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas Limited dividend in addition to a Sovereign Wealth Fund that yielded N26.3 billion in that year.
But under Buhari, the economy went south. A 2022 World Bank report, ‘Global Economic Report’, which examined Nigeria’s economy among other countries in the last 10 years, was emphatic that it was the worst ever. Under him, the size of the economy stagnated and eventually shrunk to $489 billion with a debilitating 42 per cent unemployment rate. With the exchange rate rising to N463/$, it became so scarce that it played at the parallel market for as much as N700/$. No wonder, therefore, capacity utilisation came down to 55.1 per cent even as the GDP hovered sluggishly around 2.4 per cent. The glaring corollary was the rise in the poverty rate from the 2015 figure of 33.5 to 46 per cent with 133 million living in multidimensional poverty.
His heavy borrowing which moved the nation’s debt portfolio to N77 trillion did not reflect substantially and positively either on the quality of life of Nigerians or the economy as inflation rose steadily and fluctuated around 13.22 per cent. He left $33.23 billion in foreign reserves. But he improved in one area. He jerked up the foreign direct investments to $86.03 billion. In moments of extreme cynicism, some Nigerians often derisively inquire how these figures by both local and foreign rating agencies impact the lives of their fellow compatriots.
These are the records that the two books will hopefully interrogate and enlighten Nigerians on. Will they dispute or confirm them? Time will tell.
Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post Newspaper, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers