1984 may not be the past yet and the Buhari administration reminds us

Contrary to Buharists and the government itself, Nigeria has not experienced any significant changes in the national economy. Inflation rates have spiked, poverty is now the new normal, unemployment has reached devastating stages…”

Corruption has always been General Muhammadu Buhari’s anthem. ‘They are corrupt’ is the refrain and he has been singing this, months after his military takeover in 1984. But, in a matter of months after he took over, criminal activities filled newspapers, mothers had to sell valuable belongings to send their children to school; food became a luxury – history says, ‘there was no food’.

The Buhari regime insisted on hostile strategies that took Nigerians away from expectations. The result was increase in prices as a result of scarcity inspired by militarised price control, and inflation spiked.

Nigerian citizens became government-made refugees in their own country because the little that was left of the food was sold in rations. This was a time many Nigerians dusted their ‘jand’ passports and used it.

General Buhari’s anthem was sung in a time when one naira = one dollar and one pound = two naira. You could literally buy a Volkswagen for 400 naira and ‘exploring the world’ did not need you to save for five years first.

He got in to the seat riding on that anthem and in a matter of months, the exchange rate conversation changed. And, we know how questions cannot be asked ‘anyhow.’

The Pan-Atlantic Journal, in its article, “Nigeria in retrospect: Nigeria a year of recession and repression” wrote that Buhari, upon truncating the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari “tightened its grip on political and economic affairs during the year in a determined effort to correct problems accentuated by the wayward policies of the deposed Shagari administration.”

Indeed, when he assumed office on December 31, 1983, the economy was already in some sort of recession following dwindling proceeds from oil revenue. So, jubilation followed his entry as the country’s leader. The public also joined Buhari’s ‘they are corrupt’ anthem.

However, the goodwill withered away in a bit as the public lost confidence in the draconian methods and the questionable motives. The way the economy was managed was also questioned and enthusiasm for this government faded away like harmattan dust.

In an article published JSTOR, written by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe titled “The Nigerian Plight: Shagari to Buhari” (July, 1985), “Eighteen months after the Nigerian military overthrow of the Shehu Shagari civilian government, there is growing disillusionment, despair and opposition to the new regime’s apparent inability to tackle seriously the nation’s worsening socio-economic situation.

Over one million workers were dismissed from their jobs in the first twelve months of the regime, as a part of the austerity measures which it claims will revamp the economy and help it recover from the current recession.

Prices of staple foods and essential commodities soared by over 500% in one year and there is currently a widespread scarcity of cooking oil, soap, milk, rice, sugar, salt and meat. Tuition fees in higher institutions, which were abolished in 1972, have been reintroduced…”

Buhari’s administration employed – sample earlier mentioned – austere measures that left Nigerians singing former governor Ayo Fayose’s song of pain. General Buhari now began to experience citizen’s impatience – with government – the same he benefitted from that got him into office. The concluding part of the story is that he was thrown out twenty months later.

In Britannica’s Encyclopedia, “Buhari instituted austerity measures that caused severe hardship to the average Nigerian. In addition, political corruption continued unabated, with politicians escaping to Western countries with millions of dollars in government money.”

In other words, Buhari’s singular anthem was a farce, added to his digressive economic policies that obviously failed to solve the worsening economic crises. And, when he tried to find respite in barter trade – trading oil for commodities – the result showed why the questions were valid.

We would recall how the current Kaduna governor, Nasir El-Rufai said, as stated in a Sahara Reporters article (2010), “The Buhari government’s progress towards balancing Nigeria’s external payments came at a price of deepening austerity and recession. As industries remained desperately short of raw materials and spare parts, tens of thousands more workers lost their jobs and severe shortages pushed inflation to an annual rate of 40 percent. After three years of steep decline in gross domestic product, no relief was in sight.”

Even earlier than El-Rufai’s outburst, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, in his inaugural broadcast, justified the August 27, 1985, coup saying the country was experiencing “steady deterioration in the general standard of living; and intolerable suffering by ordinary Nigerians have risen higher…” In his defence, Buhari said he was ‘targeted’ because he was investigating indicting top military officers involved in import licence fraud.

However, singing the same anthem, Buhari was granted the opportunity in 2015 to rewrite history – prove to his ‘haters’ that he is not a stubbornly rigid economic illiterate and an ethnic champion but what happened?

As reported by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), ‘in the second quarter of 2016, the nations Gross Domestic Product declined by 2.06 percent (year-on-year) in real terms” – the worst performance in over 29 years. Inflation was 17% at the time, unemployment and underemployment among the youth grew to 45% (with 4.58 million job losses), the naira drew fifty leagues back, the misery index peaked at 47.7.

To further dampen the situation, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) announced that 272 businesses closed shop. 222 were SMEs while 50 were manufacturing companies; who mostly relocated to neighbouring countries.

According to a report published by NBS, the Nigerian economy recorded a recession in 1982, 1983 and 1984 before recording growth for 8 years. It fell back into recession in 1993, 1994, 1995 and recording growth for 19 years until 2016 when it recorded one of its greatest recession ever.

Like 1983, expectations were high in 2015, and people just wanted the inept Goodluck Jonathan administration out. But twenty months after, the economy deteriorated even further and Buhari resumed blaming the previous administration for the woes. There is a 30-year gap and Buhari still came back implanting his governance principles on the template of the first.

Nigeria was then (still) regarded as the poverty capital, unemployment became the ‘new normal’, entrepreneurship was experiencing more hardship than it has time to solve problems, underemployment was no longer news, the exchange rate spiked – unfortunately, these are  current phenomena.

Fast forward to 2020, Nigeria is again in a recession and Buharists claim that the phenomenon is global, since it is happening in some other countries too.

Many political analysts expected the re-election of Buhari in 2019 to signify stability in the country. But nearly eighteen months after, economic growth slowed to 1.94% in the second quarter of the year, because Africa’s supposed largest economy (because South Africa entered recession) is heavily dependent on oil, with crude accounting for 90% of foreign currency earnings and nearly 70% of the government’s income.

In May 2019, Nigerian Governor’s Forum president and governor of Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi, pointed to a recession by mid-2020 and many Nigerians argued why he was announcing fake news, but the reality is here.

The NBS announced Saturday, November 21, 2020, that the country’s GDP recorded a negative growth of 3.62% in the third quarter of 2020. “Cumulative GDP for the nine months of 2020 therefore stood at -2.48%,” the Statistician General, Yemi Kale said on Twitter. The country had earlier recorded a -6.10% contraction in the second quarter.

The NBS said in its report that the performance of the economy in the third quarter of 2020 reflected “residual effects of the restrictions to movement and economic activity implemented across the country in early Q2 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The NBS further stated, “furthermore, growth in Q3 2020 was slower by 5.90% points when compared to the third quarter of 2019 which recorded a real growth rate of 2.28% year on year.”

On the performance of the oil sector, the NBS said, “the average daily oil production recorded in the third quarter of 2020 stood at 1.67 million barrels per day (mbpd), or 0.37mbpd lower than the average production recorded in the same quarter of 2019 and 0.14mbpd lower than production volume recorded in the second quarter of 2020.

“Real growth for the oil sector was -13.89% (year on year) in Q3 2020, indicating a sharp contraction of -20.38% points relative to the rate recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2019.”

On the performance of the non-oil sector, the NBS stated, “the non-oil sector grew by -2.51% in real terms during the reference quarter, which is -4.36% points lower than the rate recorded in Q3 2019 but 3.54% points higher than in the second quarter of 2020.”

What should we expect from President Buhari’s star-studded economic team, even in the face of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic? Do we expect the reintroduction of 1984 policies or it’s not our business?

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