The former American Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, once summed up the follies of the Nigerian power elite, “They have squandered their oil wealth, they have allowed corruption to fester and now they are losing control of parts of their territory because they won’t make hard choices”. Despite his much-hyped incorruptibility and moral courage, President Buhari, like earlier Nigerian presidents, has failed to make hard choices.
Consequently, political power continues to be wielded as an enemy of the people by self-absorbed power elite, and a shady, spooky, self-seeking cabal continues to pull its oligarchic strings from behind the façade of democracy. Power exercised as an enemy of the people ignores the legitimate aspirations of the people and subverts equity and social justice. It steals from the people and panders to the avarice of an elite few. It promotes the unjustifiable affluence of the political class and their cronies and relegates the generality of the people to hard poverty and insufferable misery.
While Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world, Nigerian workers live on the lowest minimum wage in the world. The income per capita in America is twenty times that of Nigeria, but Nigerian senators earn nearly three times as much as American senators and more than the American president. Is this not, in essence, robbery, robbery colorfully festooned as legislative remuneration? In addition to their legitimized robbery, the legislators still splurge excessive amounts of money on other perks of office, for example, the spending of N5.6billion for the purchase of new SUV for senators. In the 2021 budget, the feeding and travel allowances for the president and vice president are N3.97billion. It rends the heart and boggles the mind when the greed and extravagance of our rulers are considered against the backdrop that Nigeria has the greatest concentration of extreme poverty in the world.
With government institutions bloated and wasteful, a preponderant percentage of the budget is spent on recurrent expenditure and debt servicing. The total expenditure for the 2021 budget is 13.58 trillion naira, with a deficit of 5.2 trillion naira. The deficit will be financed by loans from the World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and countries like Brazil, and sales and concessions of none-oil assets. Borrowing to invest in public infrastructure, health, education, and law enforcement is laudable economics, but borrowing to service debts and sustain bloated and wasteful institutions is woeful economics. In the 2021 budget, only 30.4 percent of the total budget is for capital expenditure. The percentage of the budget devoted to education, health, and the police is distressingly low. For example, Nigeria has high malaria burden and mortality rate, but only N297million was budgeted to fight malaria in 2021.
Despite Buhari’s claptrap about fighting corruption, Nigeria remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The toll of corruption on the country is terrifyingly evident. For example, it enervates the war against crimes, like kidnapping and banditry, and the war against terror. With the resources already committed to the war against terror, Boko Haram should have been defeated, or severely weakened to the point of not constituting a major military threat. Paradoxically, it remains a potent military force; striking at civilian and military targets at will, and overrunning sections of the country. This is because some powerful interests are benefiting, financially, from the endless war. An endless war necessitates endless budgeting of endless billions of dollars for the war and the endless sharing and salting them away into the private pockets of the military hierarchy, politicians, and other government officials.
The refusal to make hard choices explains the intractable problem of inadequate electric generation in Nigeria. The “spending” of significant amounts of money to increase power generation with nothing to show for it continues under the Buhari administration. Does common sense not dictate that to entrust the responsibility to revamp power generation on those that gain from lack of power is fantastic absurdity? Those that benefit from the inexplicable trillions of naira paid to oil marketers for nonexistent subsidies; importers of refined fuel that fuel private generation of power; and importers of generators cannot solve the problem of power generation. Not surprisingly, darkness holds sway over Nigeria.
The president is unable to subordinate his nepotism, tribalism, and commitment to Fulani expansionism to the peace of the country; his administration encourages the murderous binge of Fulani herdsmen across central and southern Nigeria. Under the pretext of seeking grazing area, Fulani herdsmen have been raping women; killing innocent men, women, and children; and razing, seizing, and renaming peoples’ villages. It is blindingly clear that these have nothing to do with grazing, but the advancement of Fulani irredentism. By emboldening Fulani terrorists and encouraging Fulani blood-soaked expansionism, President Buhari is nudging Nigeria towards a civil war.
“Under the pretext of seeking grazing area, Fulani herdsmen have been raping women; killing innocent men, women, and children; and razing, seizing, and renaming peoples’ villages”.
Making hard choices is challenging. It demands courage, principles, and the resolve to subordinate selfish, cliquish, oligarchic, nepotistic, and tribal interests to the collective good of the country. In addition, it demands genuineness, transparency, and accountability. The Buhari administration cannot meet these demands because Buhari is laden with all the vices of previous Nigerian rulers. As such, like previous administrations, his administration cannot make the hard choices.
*Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria