By Chido Onumah
General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) will leave office on 29 May after eight uneventful years. We hope it is the last time we hear from a man who rode to power eight years ago promising to end insecurity, strengthen the economy and fight corruption, none of which he achieved. Thankfully, he has vowed not to intervene in our national life and expressed his willingness to disappear to Niger Republic if we request accountability after almost a decade of ruinous leadership.
It is a fitting testament to the leadership calamity of the past eight years that Gen. Buhari (rtd.) was in a London hospital two weeks to the end of his eight-year tenure, this time to treat toothache. He is ending his misrule much the same way he started it. While Gen. Buhari (rtd.) has spent the last eight years taking care of himself and his health, he has left the country prostrate; more corrupt, more insecure, and more divided than he met it eight years ago. The only thing that seems to have improved since he became president on May 29, 2015, is his health and his family fortune.
Thanks to Dataphyte, a media research and data analytics organisation, we know that since 2016, General Buhari (rtd.) has budgeted a total of N7.7 billion (about $16.7 million) at the official exchange of N461 to a dollar, for the presidential clinic. A breakdown of this figure shows that N2.027 billion ($4.3 milion) was for recurrent expenditure while N5.6 billion ($12.3 million) was for capital expenditure. In 2021, General Buhari (rtd.) approved the construction and equipping of a 14-bed space presidential clinic at a cost of N21billion ($45.5 million).
Last November General Buhari (rtd.) was in London on “routine medical check-up.” Nigerians have lost count of the number of days Mr Buhari has spent in London on medical tourism since he came to power. According to Professor Farooq A. Kperogi, in a November 2022 essay titled, “Buhari Misunderstood King Charles — and Burns Nigeria on His Way Out,” Buhari’s frequent London trips “while pretending to be president of Nigeria” may have provoked the question by England’s King Charles III if Buhari had a home in London.
It is almost forty years since General Buhari (rtd.) overthrew the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari, truncating Nigeria’s Second Republic. One of the reasons Buhari and his coterie gave for their treasonable act was to tackle “the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years.”
Brigadier General Sani Abacha (later, military dictator from 1993-1998) read the coup speech — purportedly on behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces — that formally ended the government of President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983). Abacha spoke of ‘the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living’.
“Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged; we have become a debtor and beggar nation [sound familiar?]. There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuff; health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics (emphasis mine) without drugs, water and equipment,” he told a beleaguered nation.
Less than two years later, another general, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, would give the same reasons for overthrowing the regime of General Buhari.
“The last twenty months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy. Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living; and intolerable suffering by the ordinary Nigerians has risen higher, scarcity of commodities has increased, hospitals still remain mere consulting clinics (emphasis mine), while educational institutions are on the brink of decay. Unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions,” Babangida averred in his 27 August, 1985, coup speech.
Babangida ruled for eight years. In 2009, sixteen years after he “stepped aside,” he lost his wife, the delectable First Lady, Maryam Babangida, at the City Hope Hospital, California, USA, after years of battling ovarian cancer. Babangida was reported to be by her side when she died. As military president, Babangida spent time in France for surgery — one of many subsequent overseas surgeries — for treatment of radiculopathy (pinched nerve), a medical condition in which “one or more nerves are affected and do not work properly.”
When you hear or read the reasons these soldiers of fortune gave for upturning the constitution and how they ended up violating our fundamental freedoms and savaging the country, you want to weep for Nigeria.
Eight years ago, some Nigerians took a chance on General Buhari (rtd.). They were willing to replace a weak and rudderless president with one who vowed that he was a born-again-democrat, a man of integrity. He would end up dividing us into a country of 97% and 5%. It is trite to say Nigerians have been terribly disappointed; it is a great understatement to say that the cheque of tackling corruption and insecurity and building prosperity promised eight years ago has been nothing but a dud cheque.
Today, the country is broken almost beyond repair. Corruption is rife. We are a debtor nation, a deeply fractured one at that. The country is more divided today than at any other time, and I am not talking about political division. Not since the civil war have we witnessed the level of division, fear and loathing we are experiencing today. Indeed, we are facing an existential crisis.
Make no mistake, the trouble with Nigeria did not start with General Buhari (rtd.) The trouble has been there from the outset.
Part of the solution to the trouble with Nigeria is effective and selfless leadership. Unfortunately, the leadership recruitment process in Nigeria is as polluted as the gutters of the major streets of the country. Prof Chinua Achebe in his 1983 book, The Trouble with Nigeria, noted that, “I know enough history to realize that civilisation does not fall down from the sky; it has always been the result of people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.”
Of course, Nigeria can redeem itself. But a nation can only have so many chances to redeem itself. Nigeria is certainly running out of chances. Time is running out on what some people like to call the Nigerian project. Everywhere you turn to, you are confronted with poverty, decay, corruption, injustice, lawlessness, impunity, nepotism, and insecurity, occasioned by a bankrupt elite — certified scoundrels in every sense of the word — for whom enlightened self-interest means absolutely nothing, who have occupied the political space and are holding the country by the jugular. The educational system has all but collapsed; health services are in shambles. If our hospital were “consulting clinics” four decades ago when the current monstrosity truncated the Second Republic, today they are death chambers.
Unfortunately, there is no let-up in this quest for redemption. Of course, the challenge today is how to pull the country from the brink, save its beleaguered citizens, and restore the dignity of Africa and the Black race.
We must do it, by any means necessary!
Chido Onumah is the author of ‘We Are All Biafrans’, among other books. He can be reached via Twitter @conumah