Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award winning Nigerian writer, 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In an article written for the New York Times, Adichie said Buhari’s outdated economic ideology and the seemingly selective corruption war had led to a “declining hope” in his government.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 demeanour” were reminiscent of 1984 when he was a military head of state.
Adicihie wrote: “For the first weeks of his presidency, it was said that civil servants who were often absent from work suddenly appeared every day, on time, and that police officers and customs officials stopped demanding bribes. He had an opportunity 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 search 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, bread, cooking oil. Fruit sellers and car sellers blamed ‘the price of dollars’. Complaints of hardship cut across class. Some businesses fired employees; others folded.
“The government decided who would have access to the central bank’s now-reduced foreign currency reserves, and drew up an arbitrary list of worthy and unworthy goods — importers of toothpicks cannot, for example, 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.
“Mr. 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 more 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 outdated economic model and an infantile view of Nigerians. For him, it seems, patriotism is not a voluntary and flexible thing, with room for dissent, but a martial enterprise: to obey without questioning. Nationalism is not negotiated, but enforced.
“The president seems comfortable with conditions that make an economy uncomfortable — uncertainty and disillusion. But the economy is not the only 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 sacked. 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 in part 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 a tacit 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 hastily dug graves.
“Or when soldiers killed members of the small secessionist 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 brazenly flouting the rule of law: The Department of State Security recently barged into the homes of various judges at midnight, harassing and threatening 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 vital 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 easy answers to Nigeria’s malaise, but the government’s intervention could be more salutary — by prioritizing infrastructure, creating a business-friendly environment and communicating to a populace mired in disappointment.”