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Buhari failed. Yes, he failed!

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President Muhammadu Buhari will leave office on 29th May 29 after completing the two four-year tenures allowed by the constitution for an elected president. The date is approximately four months away. The President has his legion of admirers, as he has detractors; and there are those who care less. Those who make up the last group have no appreciable government presence in their lives because they live in rural areas.

Even the most virulent critics of President Buhari will acknowledge that his administration performed creditably well in the upgrading and construction of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, trains and other infrastructure that could make life worth living for Nigerians. The construction of the second Niger Bridge and the completion of the repair on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as well as the remarkable strides in rail infrastructure have endeared him to erstwhile die-hard opponents. A lot has also been done to raise capacity in other sectors of the economy, which must be acknowledged, even if those who should amplify them are derelict in their duty.

But this piece is not about what was achieved. It is about what the President failed to do and why this failure is of the utmost importance to the average Nigerian.  There is no arguing the reality that a sizable number among those who voted for him in 2015 and voted again in his favour in 2019 are disillusioned today. If they are asked to explain the root cause of their disillusionment, they would rather point at their diminishing economic status. But I daresay it goes deeper than that. The inability of the President to rein in the pervasive indiscipline in public life must irritate his most ardent admirer exceedingly.

Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline agenda in his first coming as Head of State in the early 80s resonated with many Nigerians. Those Nigerians became ardent followers and could be sometimes accused of fanaticism in their belief in the capacity of President Buhari to midwife the emergence of a sane and functioning society. And this is where he failed woefully. His current record lends credence to the perception that the discipline witnessed during his stint as a military Head of State was largely the handiwork of General Tunde Idiagbon, his deputy at the time. President Buhri stands accused of reaping where he did not sow – a mortal sin indeed!

His total lack of attention to the day-to-day corrupt practices of low level government officials rankles. It is criminal, at worst. His focus on big ticket corrupt government officials has little or no impact on the perception of Nigerians and the international community on his so-called fight against corruption. This failure will come to haunt whatever legacy he hopes to leave for posterity because the average Nigerian will insist that nothing changed during his time in office. The difference between an egalitarian society and a non-egalitarian one is that the egalitarian society treats all citizens equally.

If citizens believe that they do not have equal opportunities and access in society, no matter their gender, race, or religion, then the provision of infrastructure – mediocre or world class – would be meaningless to them. Although creativity thrives as a result of the elitism in Nigeria today, there is more crime, and Nigerians are generally unhappy and less healthy. This is to be expected because a sense of inequality threatens people’s long term social and economic development. It also harms poverty reduction initiatives and destroys people’s sense of fulfilment and self-worth. The President failed to pay attention to issues of citizen equality beyond gender equality.

Many Nigerians still dread encounters with government departments like Immigration, Customs, licensing offices, passport office and regulatory agencies. A routine encounter with government officials at all levels remains an ordeal. Entertaining the thought of applying for a new passport, driver’s licence or renewal of these documents is enough to raise a person’s blood pressure. The experience of driving on Nigerian roads can be a nightmare because the officials manning meaningless checkpoints on our roads have only one aim, and that is extortion. Their focus is more on entrapment than enforcement of the law.

The average Nigerian chuckles at the slogan, “Police is your friend”. It cannot be otherwise. What is even surprising is that the rank and file of the Nigeria Police failed to change their ways after the devastating EndSARS protests that rocked parts of the country in 2021. The top echelon of the Nigeria Police appears to be conscious of the implications of the violent EndSARS protest but very little has changed so far. The average Nigerian still believes that the Police officer is not a friend. The rule of law counts for very little in their operation. Extortion is the name of the game.

The jury will pass its verdict on the success or otherwise of the administration of President Buhari. I cannot dictate the direction of their ruling but one thing is clear and that is; the president furthered the Nigerian society on the path of elitism rather than that of egalitarianism. In my reckoning, that is failure. I adopt this stance because I share the idea that government must be for the greatest good of the greatest number. Sadly, the greatest number of Nigerians was neglected by the administration of President Buhari.

Okoya, former Editorial Board member of the Financial Standard newspaper, writes from Lagos

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