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Grudges and grievances

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What is a national shame? One definition would have to be the experience of citizen Ifeanyi Ubah last week in Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State.  Mr Ubah is the senator representing Anambra South.

He was travelling in a private convoy which was ambushed in a bloody outbreak of violence.  The senator, who was conveniently in a bulletproof vehicle, survived, but 10 lives were lost.  They included his police and Department of State Services detail, as well as private security aides.

This is one of those ghastly illustrations of just how cheap life is in Nigeria today, and of how much the government lies when it spreads rumours that the country it safe.  While I congratulate Senator Ubah for surviving the attack, let us be reminded of how many families will now, because of this one incident, never be the same again.

The senator was said to have been going to Owerri, where President Muhammadu Buhari was visiting to commission some state projects.  The Nigeria leader read a professionally-written statement in which he claimed he “has done extremely well.”

“Those who are supposed to say it are not saying it now,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

He put his speech down partly to blame Boko Haram for being “fraudulent”—as if ethics was ever the issue—and returned to an old grievance: that his predecessor-governments earned a lot of foreign exchange they failed to spend on infrastructure.

“…Between 1999 and 2015 when we came in, I will like people to check the Central Bank and the NNPC, the average production was 2.1million bpd. Nigeria was earning at this time 2.1 million times…the militants were unleashed, production went down to half a million bpd. And again, being unfortunate, the cost of petroleum went down from $28 to $37 (sic).”

Buhari regales audiences with this account each time he speaks outside a prepared address, affirming that for 16 years under the PDP, Nigeria sold 2.1m barrels of oil per day at $100.00.

I call it “The Alibi.”  It is the cure-all that is intended to explain the gross betrayal of a government to whom so many gave their trust.

The story is false, as was demonstrated in 2018 by the diligent reporters at the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.  They concluded: “The average price of crude oil per barrel from 1999 to 2015 was $61, not $100 as Buhari has repeatedly claimed since he became president.”

This information is available not in the dusty files of the CBN or the NNPC, but in the digital archive of OPEC itself.   Investigate it yourself: only from 2011 to 2013 (three years) was oil ever above $100 per barrel.

Among others, the numbers show that from 1999 to 2007 (aka the Obasanjo Years), the average crude oil price was $37.18. Compare that with 2015 to 2021 (aka The Buhari Years), in which the average price was $63.31!

In other words, Buhari has made almost twice from oil in seven years than Obasanjo in eight!  Add the earnings from oil to the international windfall from COVID-19 assistance; to Buhari’s excessive, obsessive borrowing; and to the massive Abacha loot repatriations (and deduct the refusal of the Buhari government to obey court orders to account for the repatriated loot or to be held accountable at all), and it is shocking that after nearly two terms in office, Buhari’s most prominent achievement is the tale about previous governments having squandered massive earnings.

That diversionary tactic seems to be necessary because Nigerians would otherwise protest promises not fulfilled.  Not only does it take the Buhari government forever to build a simple infrastructure, but it also takes piles of spending and miles of propaganda.  For every Federal Government project completed (if you can find it), Buhari launches tens of state projects, most of which are unfinished.  The Imo State roads he launched last week, for instance, were reported to have been only half finished.

In comparison, let me recall something that happened in the United States last week.  You may have heard that at the beginning of the week, the country’s two largest freight railroad carriers faced a rail strike that would have brought the world’s biggest economy to its knees as thousands of workers protested poor working conditions and low wages.

How?  Those carriers use attendance policies under which workers were punished for taking time off from the job, even in an emergency.  And that includes weekends outside of holidays or pre-planned vacation.

The White House jumped into action led by a determined President Joe Biden himself, deploying phone calls and consultations at various levels.  On Thursday—although by the time of this story it had yet to be ratified by the 12 unions involved—he was able to announce a deal to avert the strike, describing it as “an important win for our economy and the American people.”

Compare that then with Nigeria, where the university teachers union, ASUU, went on strike seven months and four days ago.  Seven months in which our children have had to stay home as an arrogant Buhari government sits on its hands.

The difference is not an absence of money, or of funds squandered by predecessors, but of both will and goodwill.  From the very beginning, the Buhari government has proceeded not with the determination to achieve results but with a mission of grievance and blame.  Rather than commitment to serve, there has been only commitment to excuses.

This is why it was not curious on Tuesday that Buhari was blaming “those who are supposed to [be praising his government] but are not saying it now.”

He seemed to have been alluding to his spokesmen: Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina, and his Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.  If so, that would be political abuse of the worst form as these men have dissipated their own credibility for seven years to applaud Buhari through every policy incoherence and collapse.  It would mean that they have degenerated from servants to slaves.

Perhaps with the end almost here, good counsel may be persuading wise men that they and their families could be paying the price when all the symbols of temporal power have disappeared.  It is hard when you ride in as celebrity but realise you will depart in relative ignominy.

Buhari’s claim that his government is a success would be funny were it not so tragic, considering that anytime he ventures outside Aso Rock, the military and the security agencies need to throw a miles-wide security blanket around him.  Remember also that Senator Ubah, if he did arrive in Owerri last week, must have done so without 10 of the lives that had entered Anambra State with him.

These are reminders not simply that our police force cannot maintain law and order, but that we do not really have a police force.  Elsewhere, the police provide security for the community; in Nigeria, they provide it for the rich and powerful.  Even then, they are no match for criminals who are better armed and informed.

Grudges and grievances do not a government make.  That requires commitment and focus.

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