Buhari’s economic track record: Mass suffering and scarcity

Posted by Mark Chieshe | 12 March 2015 | 4,518 times

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The recent statement by the Director of Media and Publicity, APC Presidential Campaign Organization (APCPCO), Mr Garba Shehu, which accused President Goodluck Jonathan and the economic management team of executing a ‘panicky and uncoordinated management’ of the economy is totally false and actually flies in the face of well-known facts. Perhaps, the spokesman for the Buhari campaign was mixing up the era of his principal as Head of State during which the economy collapsed and Nigerians were reduced to buying essential commodities while being flogged by soldiers with the current coordinated and result focused economic management of the Goodluck administration.

We can’t blame Garba Shehu for striving to earn his pay in his capacity as spokesperson for the presidential candidate of APC, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. But he went beyond the bounds of professionalism to plain deceit when at the tail end of a propaganda attack on the management of the economy he gleefully announced to Nigerians that “help is on the way” without providing any details of the content of this “help” package.

Shehu was silent on details because he obviously does not have much confidence in the economic track record of his principal, beyond platitudes. And who can blame him? To put it bluntly, Buhari’srecord as an economic manager during his stint as military Head of State was a disaster of monumental proportions. That is why we should not allow Shehu to get away with the subterfuge. Buhari came to power on Saturday, December 31, 1983, when he truncated the nation’s democratic process by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari in a military coup. The Buhari regime met an economy that had many challenges such as reduced revenues and unemployment and proceeded to make it much worse. By the time his government was overthrown, the economy had collapsed, leading to collosal suffering and pauperisation of Nigerians across the country. That’s the Buhari track record Garba Shehu doesn’t want to talk about.

Instead of playing word games, Mallam Shehu needs to answer these questions: When confronted with those economic challenges he met, what did his principal Buhari do to reverse the situation and assuage the pains of the people at the time? What positive and impactful economic policy can anyone attribute to the Buhari military regime? Can anyone point to any major project that Buhari initiated and completed in the 20 months he oversaw the affairs of the country? What wealth of experience is Mallam Garba talking about?

As Nigerians who were alive and old enough to remember would recall, Buhari’s “1983 Magic” – to quote his spokesman – included the following:

Crude and ineffective economic polices which brought the economy to its knees: Using soldiers to break into people’s shops, selling off their wares at a price determined by Buhari’s military junta, a price that paid no attention to the economic realities of the cost of production or other market conditions.  This crude method did indeed bring down the prices of goods but it of course did not last. Soon, the goods disappeared as the traders lacked the resources to replenish their stocks, others began to operate only at night or in secret. The consequence of this was that in no time, massive suffering ensued across the nation as businesses were ruined and such essential commodities as milk, beverages, salt and food items became luxury goods – that is if you were lucky to find them.

Cancellation of the Lagos rail line project: The Lateef Jakande administration in Lagos had initiated a rail project to ease the acute transport problems facing the state, reduce Lagos residents spend in traffic holdups, create jobs through this massive infrastructure project and convert Lagos into a modern economic hub. Alhaji Jakande had paid an advance fee for the commencement of this very important project, the paper work had been concluded and the contractors, financiers and other stakeholders were fully set to begin this multi-million dollars project which was billed to transform commerce, tourism and other economic ventures in the then capital city. In what must rank as one of the worst economic crimes in the history of the country, Buhari announced the cancellation of the project soon after he assumed office.

As a result, Nigeria was slammed with huge penalties for breaching the terms of the contract. In fact, Nigeria paid more in penalties than it would have cost to execute the project. Specifically the country lost the $50 million deposited for the $450 million dollar project and paid significant penalties for Buhari’s unilateral cancellation. Nigeria lost the deposit, paid the penalties but got nothing for the investment in time, effort and millions of naira by the farsighted Jakande administration which initiated the project.

How do we explain this? It is nothing short of wickedness that a head of state, for no good reason, aborted a project that was structured to alleviate the sufferings of the citizens. Where on earth have you heard that the leader of a country terminated a major project for which a previous government had made needed monetary commitments and chose to pay penalties instead? Has Buhari explained the reason for that cancellation to Lagosians and Nigerians who visit the city daily in pursuit of one economic need or the other? What ‘magic’ does Mallam Shehu Garba see in this?

Massive plunging of economic indices: It is also on record that under Buhari’s 1983 “magic reign,” all major economic indices took a turn for the worse. Graduate unemployment under Buhari’s regime was put at 77%, the private sector was suffocated and could only take a paltry 15% of applicants and mass discontent was the order of the day during the era of this famed “economic magician.”

While unemployment was rising, Buhari and his goons sacked a record 200,000 workers from the federal civil service. How will Shehu Garba explain this? Nigerians workers had better watch it.

Not done with the abrupt termination of the appointment of 200,000 staff of federal establishments across Nigeria, Buhari’s vengeful eyes turned to the military establishment. In the period Mallam Garba wants us to recall with ululation, 30,000 members of the armed forces were SACKED by Buhari. Do not forget, there was no compensation, no retirement benefits for any of the disengaged staff, whether in the military or the civil service. Nigerians must be made to know this. Facts are sacred. They are not amenable to PR makeovers.

After the failed attempt to control market forces, inflation began to rise astronomically. By the beginning of August 1985, just weeks before Buhari’s ouster by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, inflation in Nigeria stood at a whopping 40%. What explanation does Shehu Garba have to offer Nigerians?

Is it not all too obvious that Mallam Garba’s principal wrecked the lives of all classes of Nigerians? If you are in doubt, consider these indisputable facts:

*The market men and women were demobilised after Buhari sent soldiers to take over their shops and sell goods at artificial prices. Most of them never recovered from the shock of this failed experiment.

*The Lagos traffic gridlock continues till today because of Maj. Gen. Buhari’s petty mindedness. Billions of naira in real economic value are lost daily in Lagos traffic because residents spend so many productive hours in traffic jams rather than in offices, shops or factories. Had Buhari allowed Jakande’s rail project to go on, the productivity of the average Lagos resident would have been higher. A man bedevilled with the absence of foresight as Mallam Shehu’s principal could not have imagined the damage he was unleashing on the future of the city when he unilaterally took that callous decision. Thousands of Nigerians living in that mega city have lost their jobs on account of daily traffic difficulties. Their lives were wrecked by the “1983” magic of Maj. Gen. Buhari.

*Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari introduced tuition fees into Nigerian tertiary institutions and abolished the free meal regime thereby denying millions of Nigerian youths – their only passport to a better future. Many resorted to robbery and other forms of criminality after Buhari slammed the door on their dreams. Shall we go back there?

It is certainly in Mallam Garba’s interest to keep a number of things silent, to detract attention from the multiple shortcomings of his master and mentor but Nigerians are duty bound to keep these many acts of wickedness, incompetence and pettiness exhibited by Maj Gen. Buhari in view.

Mr. Garba should be told in no uncertain terms that Nigerians are not the fools he and his spin masters in the APC assume to be. The truth which one assumes they admit privately but are so reluctant to acknowledge in the public sphere is that Buhari’s presidential ambition is offering nothing but distorted memories of “discipline” to Nigerians. The fact however is that Buhari only flogged the Nigerian economy into stupor and unproductivity through crude policies that caused more suffering than the economic challenges that he met when he overthrew the Shagari government. To make matters worse, it is becoming increasingly clearer that he has learnt nothing during the intervening years. That is why Buhari has not been able to articulate any credible alternative to Jonathan, relying instead on hollow populist slogans to drive his campaign till date.

It is an indisputable fact of history that Buhari’s government earned infamy for treating Nigerians like animals in their own country, jailing journalists for “embarrassing” government with the truth and using retroactive laws to murder young Nigerians for offences committed before he came to power. But, properly calculated, his economic policies actually did more damage to this country than his human rights record.

On the other hand, the response of the Jonathan administration to the global fall in oil prices has been coordinated, strategic and tailored to mitigate the effects on the economy. This explains why food prices remain relatively stable, inflation is still single digit, and key infrastructural projects like the 2nd Niger Bridge and Lagos Ibadan expressway are still going on. Also, credible international agencies like the IMF have projected that in spite the challenges, the Nigerian economy is on course to grow by 4.8% in 2015. And unlike the Buhari era when investors left in droves, many globally respected investors like Indorama, General Electric, AXA, Nissan, etc, are either coming in or increasing their investments in Nigeria. This is a vote of confidence by the astute international investing community in the strength of the economy and by extension the economic team.

What Nigerians know and understand is that Nigeria is not the only country challenged by the steep fall in global oil prices. They also know that when placed against the performance of other oil dominated economies like Russia and Venezuela whose economies are contracting and experiencing negative growth, our economy is still maintaining an impressive positive growth pattern. They also know that it will be suicidal to at such a critical time like this, to hand over the reins of our economy to someone whose records clearly prove is incapable of understanding the complexities of managing a 21st century economy like Nigeria.

Chieshe is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja. Photo shows Buhari.

Source: News Express

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