Exactly one month out of power, former Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari has appeared on Twitter. He was wearing one curious item: a pen.
I wondered why. Known neither as a reader nor a writer, he entered the presidency with a lot of important documents and items he needed to read or have read to him. He never lifted a pen to act on them. That is why it was curious that, one month into semi-irrelevance, he showed up with a pen on his chest.
According to the tweet, which was authored by former spokesman, Garba Shehu, Buhari seemed to have been in London. His threats had been that should Nigerians trouble him in his hometown of Daura, he would retreat to Niger. The photograph shows him with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to whom he handed over power on May 29.
According to Shehu, “As much as possible, the former President wishes to remain outside the spotlight so as not to distract the new administration. He chose to go home in Daura hoping to find the type of quiet he wished for himself but realising that this was not the case, visitors trooping in morning, day and night, he moved out to a more distant place.”
Perhaps more distant, but certainly not as honourable as Calabar or Maiduguri might have been, but he never could make them peaceful places. And Nigerians identify London with Buhari’s lack of dignity, as there is no hospital in that city that he could not have built in Nigeria during his tenure.
But Shehu added, “It remains his wish that he be allowed to have his needed rest, and for the Tinubu administration to have the right atmosphere to work on the realisation of the promises they made.”
This means that Buhari — how can I put this kindly — fails to understand the patch of history on which he has landed. What he desires is not rest, but peace. Rest is what people hunger for and what their bodies crave when they have exerted themselves.
In his eight years in control, Buhari developed amnesia concerning the mission he sold to the Nigerian people. He did not exert himself. “I got what I wanted…” Shehu quoted him as saying last April, in a display of vanity.
They were words Buhari had selected carefully. He had no regrets. The Nigerians who have regrets — who need rest from hunger and deprivation — are his victims, the people.
The reason that Buhari mistakes peace for rest is that he squandered his tenure chasing futile dreams. He cannot say, “I fulfilled my electoral promises,” because he did not exert himself in that direction.
Nor can he say, “I gave Nigerians what they wanted.” Nigerians did not get from him what they wanted: service. He was the one that got what he wanted: power.
It is why he hunts for peace, which he mistakes for rest, haunted by his betrayal of the electorate who sent him to Aso Rock in 2015. Rest is for the weary; peace is the reward from within for those who have fulfilled their obligations.
Buhari, sadly, did not invest in peace, instead, he exchanged restlessness for the relative peace he found in Nigeria.
Am I unkind to him? Let him prove me wrong. Let him deploy that pen in his pocket. Whether he is in Niger or London or hiding away in a different place, one thing he certainly has is time. Away from the army of enablers and liars and spin masters and propagandists on whom he reclined, rested his feet, and placed his toothpicks for eight years, he can pen his own story. He can demonstrate to the world whom he served.
Otherwise, contrary to his pre-presidency pledges, what we see is a country that is poorer, hungrier, more insecure, and far more corrupt. We see a Buhari who became the leader of that corruption, a man who made institutions and official processes worse, more chaotic, and more dysfunctional.
In his care, not only did Nigeria become the poverty capital of the world, 133 million Nigerians sank into multinational poverty, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Three days before Buhari left office, Bloomberg News reported the value of unsold goods by Nigerian companies to be approaching COVID-19 pandemic levels, as rising inflation makes them unaffordable to the population.
Similarly, a report by BudgIT also showed that during his tenure, Buhari moved Nigeria’s debt profile to N77tn, from N42tn. Using statistics from the Budget Office, it pointed out the attendant effects on debt servicing, which went from N1.06tn in 2015 to N5.24tn in 2022. The debt-service-to-revenue ratio grew from 29% to 96%.
Buhari’s vast appetite for foreign loans was often traced to infrastructure, except that in his eight years, there was no transparency in project execution, and rare indeed was the federal project that was completed. If any project contract had a completion date, it was ignored right from the signing. Most of the projects Buhari commissioned towards the end of his tenure were uncompleted.
The Economist in May 2019 described the Nigerian economy under Buhari as being stuck like a stranded truck. “Average incomes have been falling for four years;” it reported, “the IMF thinks they will not rise for at least another six. The latest figures put unemployment at 23%, after growing for 15 consecutive quarters. Inflation is 11%. Some 94 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, more than in any other country, and the number is swelling.”
More than in any other country.
Also more than in any other country, workers’ unions were on strike for a record 1,086 days in Buhari’s two terms, according to the ICIR, with university teachers alone on strike for 628 days.
On the subject of records, Nigeria’s electricity grid developed a habit of crashing during Buhari’s tenure. In 2022 alone, there were at least two of those, leading to nationwide power outages.
Reflecting on this, Nigerians would remember Buhari’s persistent bragging, after he took office, that some $16bn had been squandered by the Olusegun Obasanjo government on the electricity file and that he would get it all back.
Get it back? He did not recover one kobo of it let alone prosecute any of the thieves. Corruption was theoretically an issue for Buhari, but kleptocracy was practically not, as robustly described by Ray Ekpu in Petroleum Trust Fraud in The Guardian in 2018.
Buhari’s book could also explain the direct assault on his much-advertised integrity in 2015 when Breaking Times, an Abuja-based newspaper, reported that a sprawling mansion at #9 Udo Udoma Street in Asokoro belonged to him.
As he prepared to leave office, Transparency International reported that Nigeria’s corruption perception index ranking had deteriorated, dropping from 149th to 154th place among 180 countries. Buhari had cheered the monster on throughout his tenure.
The truth is that the presidency did not elevate or ennoble Buhari. It unmasked him as weak, hypocritical and complicit. If he truly wants others to fulfil their promises, something he was incapable of, he can provide a good place to start: a full confession.
There is an idle pen in his pocket for it.