Early in February 2017, I identified “The Fall of Buhari, and the APC.”
It was only one and a half years into President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term, but I had seen enough to describe his leadership as having become a farce, and his ability to do better, a hoax.
In the two and half years that followed, his administration did even worse in various areas of public policy, making a re-election contest that should have been easy a controversial one.
And then, last week, Buhari announced what can only be described as a surrender. The presidency offered a curious explanation as to why it appears to have thrown up its hands, saying that a government’s priorities are malleable, as they depend on the “true state of the treasury” and the “capacity of the supporting infrastructure,” as distinct from the manifesto upon which it received its mandate.
It said the priorities and policies implemented upon being elected are different from the “key promises” of an election campaign.
Reason? Governance is dynamic and “no government elected for two terms could possibly justify continuing only to deliver the agenda it set in the first election campaign that brought it to office some five years previously.”
In other words, Nigerians, you are out of luck: Buhari has neither the capacity nor the intention of chasing the objectives for which he requested—and was trusted with—your votes.
There are five problems here. One: within one year of Buhari taking power in 2015, Nigerians already knew how handicapped he seemed to be. Those who called attention to it were demonised by officials and agents of the government.
Two: Buhari has said different things throughout his five years, repeatedly assuring Nigerians that he would fulfill his campaign promises.
Three: in June 2019, after Nigeria had sadly become the poverty capital of the world, Buhari announced that he and the APC would liberate 100 million people within 10 years—a major declaration he made well after he learned of the so-called “true state of the treasury” and the “capacity of the supporting infrastructure”—but one to which he has not referred since then.
Four: just six days before announcing this capitulation, Buhari had announced nine areas of priority he would pursue in his remaining years in office. He told visiting diplomats he would:
Build a thriving and sustainable economy;
Enhance social inclusion and reduce poverty;
Enlarge agricultural output for food security and export;
Attain energy sufficiency in power and petroleum products;
Expand transport and other infrastructural development;
Expand business growth, entrepreneurship and industrialisation;
Expand access to quality education, affordable healthcare and productivity of Nigerians;
Build a system to fight corruption, improve governance and create social cohesion;
Improve security for all.
Five: these nine “priorities” are essentially the same as the three flags of the economy, security and combating corruption that he flew before and after taking office. On corruption, he swore to anyone who would listen how he would take care of it, including to the BBC on April 1, 2015.
Similarly, on April 15, he wrote an article in the New York Times in which he swore to stop Boko Haram, affirming: “What I can pledge, with absolute certainty, is that from the first day of my administration, Boko Haram will know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas.”
For the record, here is Vanguard newspaper’s documentation of the promises by which Buhari campaigned.
Here is another, by The Cable.
But in 2016, the Centre for Democracy and Development published an exhaustive “The Buharimeter Report” which looked at “Matching Campaign Promises, Public Expectations and Government Actions” in Buhari’s first year, and showed that he had fulfilled only one of 222 campaign promises.
On March 8, 2017, Premium Times reported that on his flagship ant-corruption promise, Buhari had fulfilled only one of 13 campaign commitments.
At the end of his first term, here is a January 2019 evaluation of those original campaign promises, as compiled by the Mandate Protection Vanguard, a civil society organisation, showing Buhari as “FAILED,” in every category.
And here is another review, by Daily Trust in May 2020, of Buhari’s performance, saying he had “yet to deliver on key promises upon which Nigerians overwhelmingly voted [for] him.”
As Buhari campaigned for a second term in 2019, both corruption and insecurity were thriving at unprecedented levels and the country was far more chaotic than when President Goodluck Jonathan conceded the 2015 election.
Sadly, that was not Buhari’s narrative. On the campaign trail, he completely turned the concept of accountability on its head, claiming he had fulfilled all of his 2015 pledges.
Driven solely by the desire to win re-election, he made a new batch of election promises, as documented by the International Press Centre: in effect a new edifice erected on the rubble of the old.
It is on that rubble that he installed his anti-poverty rhetoric on June 12, 2019, and his nine “new “priorities” of August 31, 2020.
Up until that point, Buhari’s sole plan had been couched in the future tense: build mountain after mountain of promises to keep Nigerians expectant and hopeful. That is why Nigerians got restless after the first 100 days, and then by each year that followed, and then the expiration of Buhari’s first term.
It seems that the magic of the future tense gave way to the reality of the past: that at some point, a leader must speak of returns on his promises.
This answers why the provocation of endless promises for five and a half years collapsed last week, yielding the confession that, in effect, Buhari should not be held to his campaign promises of 2015 and 2019.
This is a significant shift that ought to have been preceded by an apology, first to Jonathan and the PDP, and then to all the citizens who have been insulted by Buhari’s government in the past five years for daring to criticise its atrocious performance.
Most of all, Buhari owes the citizens of Nigeria, including the sick and the old who waited for hours in the sun to vote for him, only to be have to listen to a succession of government liars and spin masters.
Because this confirms that Buhari did not fulfill any promises. That, in effect, Buhari’s promises were fake. And it explains why the most corrupt Nigerians are thriving as they have always done. And it confirms what many Nigerians know: that there is no difference between Buhari’s APC and the PDP.
In effect, Buhari reminds Nigeria and the world of his words to the State House press corps at his first anniversary in 2016 was aimed simply at winning: “Whatever we [said] in the campaign, in fact we were saying rubbish…’
That explains why the CDD’s Buharimeter warned against attempts by APC to disown its campaign promises. What would be worse is to dismiss them so casually. Because it will be remembered that Jonathan conceded, but Buhari surrendered.