When President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) took over the reins of power on May 29, 2015, Nigeria was already, not just a broke state, but sadly a broken state in many respects. It was so bad that it appeared that the exiting PDP government of President Goodluck Jonathan could not wait for his term to officially come to an end before leaving. As a result of many other factors including bad governance and untold level of corruption, government could not live up to its financial obligations to citizens and service providers at both the federal and state levels.
Indeed one of the most official assignments that President Buhari carried out was the approval of billions of Naira in bailout funds to enable state governors pay something as basic as workers’ salaries. Granting those bailout funds was a huge boost to national security because the pressure of arrears of unpaid monthly salaries building dangerously all over the country was a ticking bomb. You know what is said about a hungry man and anger, especially when that anger is about duly-earned income but withheld as a result of the insensitivity of those in power.
Ask the naysayers and they would readily remind you of how long it took President Buhari to appoint his ministers and how that contributed to collapse of the economy as if, without ministers, governance was frozen. But buying that narrative would amount to what a famous Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie, termed “the danger of a single story”. Yet the whole story was that many of our citizens did not know how decrepit a state President Buhari inherited in 2015.
It was therefore necessary for him to take stock against the background of the fact that the departing government did not, reportedly, cooperate full well with the incoming government in terms of leaving workable handover notes. Although President Goodluck Jonathan was gracious in defeat, many of his appointees were still sulking over what they saw as their personal losses and therefore pulled all the stops to make things difficult for the Buhari government.
Even with the obvious and unpatriotic obscurantist behaviour of the PDP appointees and their supporters still in government hell bent on making things difficult for Buhari, the President moved on with his methodical repair of a broken country. The first thing he did was to identify all possible sources of income to the nation and directed that all inflows be paid into one single account in line with the policy of Single Treasury Account (TSA).
The TSA policy, interestingly, was mooted by the PDP government but its penchant for imprudence and lack of accountability denied it the courage of implementing the policy. But for Buhari, a man whose lifestyle can best be defined by asceticism and anti-corruption, the era of reckless handling of public funds was over and gone for good. What the President literally did was to gather all the nation’s money into one box and locked it up with a big padlock and watched for any thief to come close.
Who can blame the President for almost developing paranoia over the safeguard of the national treasury with revelations and reports of mind-boggling looting that took place in the sixteen years of the PDP? With such disclosures of how billions meant for fighting insurgency in the Northeast ended up in the pockets of a few individuals while our gallant soldiers fought with bare hands and on empty stomach, President Buhari was duty bound to bring sanity and accountability back in national spending.
Thus, under President Buhari, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which had remained comatose for years, was woken up to resume its duties. Apart from the trillions of Naira of looted funds and property recovered from corrupt politicians by the EFCC, President Buhari by his action has successfully brought back to the public consciousness the need to treat public funds with the highest level of transparency and accountability. In short, President Buhari has returned to public consciousness the consequences of stealing public funds, which were clearly lacking in the PDP years with all its negative implications for national economy and orientation.
After keeping treasury looters on their toes and at bay through the EFCC, particularly, President Buhari moved to curb unnecessary spending habits of the nation on what economists call articles of ostentation. Part of the disclosures of the President’s stock taking was how the country frittered away billions in foreign currency by importing goods, which can be produced at home. One of such items was rice, a major staple among Nigerians. By banning rice importation into the country, the President on one hand had saved the nation billions in foreign currency annually.
And, on the other hand, the President has boosted domestic production of rice and in the process had nudged the country into self sufficiency in food production. He also created millions of jobs for young people in the rice value chain. Today, states like Kebbi, Ebonyi and Lagos are the hub of rice production in the country, and with continuous support in terms of protectionist policies from government and citizens, may in fact become exporters of the commodity to other African countries in the nearest future.
The quiet rice revolution ongoing in the country is completely attributable to the firmness of President Buhari and the commitment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It also goes without saying that the Nigeria Customs and Immigration Services have been supportive in this mission by enforcing the border closure ordered by President Buhari to checkmate rice smugglers. Knowing the financial muscles of these trans-border smugglers and their powerful allies in government with whom they form a deadly criminal syndicate, that the President sustained the border closure for the period it lasted was a testament to Buhari’s incorruptibility and single mindedness in repairing his country.
What is most admirable about President Buhari and his government is its frugal management of scarce national resources to attain optimum goals. Recall that since President Buhari stepped in the saddle, oil revenue dropped abysmally as if to sabotage him knowing all the big promises he made to citizens during his campaigns. But with the little resources that trickle in, the President is achieving what governments that received oil windfalls could not dream of.
Today, the trains are up and running daily from Abuja to Kaduna. And from Lagos to Ibadan a brand new rail track was started and completed; citizens are already commuting daily to and fro these two major cities in the country seamlessly as they reap from the dividends of democracy. And with the way this government is going, before 2023 when the President would leave, the entire country would be linked by rail with all of its economic advantages.
And President Buhari is not only doing rails, he is also rehabilitating roads that the PDP left to fail in its sixteen years of rule after spending billions of Naira in budgetary allocations on them in what has become a big scam. For example, is it not a shame that in its entire sixteen years, the PDP government could not deliver the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway to the Nigerian people when crude oil was selling above $120 per barrel?
Let us go to the vexed matter of banditry, President Buhari is now speaking to the bandits and terrorists in the language they understand with the renewed onslaught on these wicked lot by the air force and gallant land troops. Even Boko Haram soldiers have now found surrendering the only safe option for them as the end of insurgency draws near.
Yet, it is regrettable when some opposition politicians who ought to have buried their heads in shame accuse a hard-working President of constantly whining about how past governments underdeveloped the country. Indeed, they should, for once, pretend like patriots and consider the frustrations of opportunities they threw away in the midst of plenty. The PDP particularly should be grateful to a President clearing their mess and quietly repairing the incomprehensible damage they inflicted on their own country, as if they were praetorian armies. That President Buhari is going about bringing back sanity to a bruised nation and quietly repairing Nigeria without drama puts him in the pantheon of great leaders.
▪︎ Mr Ainofenokhai Ojeifo, a social commentator, contributed this piece from Abuja.