It’s difficult to defend Buhari, whether as an ardent fan or spectator. How he quickly morphed from a celebrated disruptor in the watershed 2015 general elections to a supervillain is as sad as it is impressive. He has one of the fastest fall-from-grace of any leader in recent memory. By turning out to be astoundingly incompetent, he squandered the goodwill he enjoyed on a platter from the voting public.
It’s no secret I’m no fan of Buhari. Last year, I wrote a censorious article listing his many failures. But in this piece, I will attempt to do the opposite – take stock of Buhari’s achievements, if at all there’re any. It’s an almost impossible task, I must admit. However, my doing this is in part a fulfilment of a promise I made to my Tinubu-supporting friend Emmanuel in the heat of an animated argument we had aftermath of the 2023 general elections. We argued everything from the violence and thuggery that marred the elections, especially in APC-dominated states to the anti-Igbo rhetoric peddled by APC supporters in Lagos to why in the world he thinks Tinubu deserves to be president. Emmanuel is an incurable Nigerian and he often accuses me of being blinded by my pessimism in the Nigerian dream. My pessimism, he argued, is why I couldn’t acknowledge Tinubu’s illustrious career. We segued to Buhari and then he challenged me to see the good in Nigeria no matter how seemingly inconsequential it is. I told him, “you know what, I’ll write something on Buhari’s achievements and I’ll try to be honest.”
Writing this also serves as a litmus test to my self-avowed intellectual honesty. I’m against political tribalism and I think a huge reason politics has become more divisive than ever is the unwillingness of one side to maintain intellectual honesty when arguing with the other side. Political tribalism is dividing the United States, the United Kingdom and now Nigeria. An easy fix to this madness is having the humility to give the devil his due. Yes, I’m no fan of Buhari but if objectively there’s any good he’s done, how well can I own up to it in the spirit of intellectual honesty and in pursuit of healing a politically fractured nation? You be the judge of that.
As Buhari hands over to Tinubu, today is a good day to look back at his eight years of presidency, or if you like, neo-dictatorship (Punch Newspaper made an editorial decision in 2019 to start referring to Buhari by his last military title, Major General, to highlight his disregard for the rule of law). Our bar is so low for judging how well a president has performed. We judge success based on how many kilometres of roads were tarred. It explains why when projects are being commissioned, our leaders make a big deal out of it. They turn it into a fanfare. But you’ll find the devil’s in the detail when you subject their so-called achievements to scrutiny based on real socioeconomic indices.
Based on Nigerian standards, I can objectively give Buhari his due in certain areas he has done well. One would be the completion of unfinished projects by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. One that readily comes to mind is the completion of railway projects across the country. Jonathan in fact lauded Buhari for this. It’s almost strange that a successive government would pursue the completion of unfinished projects from previous administrations with such devotion. Usually, when you have a new president, they want to chart their own legacy and that means unfinished projects from previous governments are barely touched. They either get lost in contractual limbo or the contracts get recalled altogether. To his credit, Buhari defied that tradition.
I was unsure whether I should highlight Buhari’s war on terror as one of his few achievements. I’m not unaware of how controversial it is to say that Buhari has neutered Boko Haram to a large extent. An easy counter to that claim would be how fecund insecurity is in Nigeria today. At no time in Nigeria’s history have we had to battle so many criminal elements from militia herdsmen to bandits to kidnappers to the occasional terror of Boko Haram and its splinter group ISWAP. While I agree that insecurity is rife in the country, it is also true to say that Boko Haram isn’t as dreaded as it was under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Under Jonathan, Boko Haram captured local governments in Borno state. They rendered millions homeless. To Buhari’s credit, many of these internally displaced persons have returned to their ancestral homes. This is a pyrrhic victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Last year, Buhari waged a war against oil theft that led to the discovery of scores of illegal pipelines. The Group Chief Executive Officer of NNPC Ltd at a forum said 295 illegal pipeline connections were discovered. Many of these illegal pipelines had been siphoning our oil for years. Illegal oil vessels were also confiscated during this period. I should say all of this came on the heels of the incorporation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC Ltd), something Buhari could flex as one of his achievements.
I did write last year that “oil was supposed to be our cash cow. But it ruined us. Instead, it was used to oil (no pun intended) the machinery of corruption.” Buhari did the impossible by incorporating the NNPC as a limited liability company and also waging war on oil theft. But the novelty of all that was dwarfed by the corruption industrial complex in the oil sector. Angola overtook Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer last year. Also, Nigeria was perhaps the only oil-producing nation that did not profit from last year’s oil boom. While other nations were cashing out from the boom, illegal pipelines and oil vessels stole ours. Guess who is to blame for all that? Buhari. He doubled as minister of petroleum for eight years. It was during the twilight of his tenure he decided to do something about the agelong corruption in the oil sector. This is also a pyrrhic victory, but another victory nonetheless.
Tolu Ogunlesi, one of Buhari’s many media aides informed Nigerians in March of Buhari assenting to 16 constitutional amendment bills. The bills cover financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly and the judiciary; the bifurcation of responsibility for railway for both the federal and state governments; and autonomy for states to generate, transmit, and distribute electricity. Buhari definitely saved the best part of himself for the last. Like Ogunlesi concluded, “..This is genuine, realistic restructuring — through the constitution”.
JUST IN: President @MBuhari has signed 16 Constitution Amendment Bills into Law. By this signing, State Houses of Assembly & Judiciaries now have constitutionally-guaranteed financial independence, while Railways have moved from Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List.— tolu ogunlesi (@toluogunlesi) March 17, 2023
I argued in this video that the federal government is involved in way too many things it shouldn’t be involved with and that has led to the culture of blaming the president for everything. Ours is an impractical version of federalism where power is disproportionately skewed to the government at the centre. The consequence of that is the federal government finds itself in a situation where it proverbially chases too many rats at the same time. It’s as if state and local governments don’t exist in the consciousness of most Nigerians. By assenting these bills, Buhari may have set in motion a movement to fix the many ills with our federalism.
Buhari’s achievements do not excuse his great many failures. His achievements pale in comparison to his failures. In fact, his achievements are pyrrhic for the most part. As he hands over to Tinubu, my fear is Nigerians may end up missing Buhari because we are a nation of better yesteryear. For some reason, Nigeria outdoes itself at failing. As I wrote here, Nigeria is a country where the past is constantly romanticised. We make excuses for the failures of the past to demonise those of the present. If my predictions come true, Bola Ahmed Tinubu would end up being worse off and that would be an achievement in and of itself because it is almost impossible to imagine a more incompetent president than Buhari. Whatever the case, I will maybe write about what his achievements would be, if any, in the spirit of intellectual honesty.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.