Below is the basic mathematics President Muhammadu Buhari couldn’t understand, didn’t know and can’t respond to during his recent interview with Channels Television:
2015, Debt = 12 trillion,
2021= 32 trillion.
Translation: you’ve borrowed a lot of money
2015 inflation rate = 9%,
2021 = 15%
Translation: your people are paying a lot more money
2015 unemployment rate = 9.2%,
Translation: your people have much fewer jobs
2015 exchange = N197 to $1,
2021 = N400 to $1
Translation: Your currency has lost lots of value
But Buhari responded : “well, I am not sure how kwarect your calculations are, but all I know is that we have to allow people have access to the farm.We just have to go back to the land.”
First of all, it is not the journalist’s calculations but the FGN’s own statistics.
How can you as a President not know:
How much you borrowed? (Debt)
How much more your citizens are paying?
How few jobs are available? (Unemployment) and
How your currency has devalued?
If you don’t know these then what exactly is your job as president?
I guess it is attending book launches without reading books.
Secondly, not only doesn’t he know this, he tries to undermine the journalist who knows it by saying he’s “not sure if his calculations are correct”.
Let’s take forex as an example. Everybody in Nigeria knows that the official rate has more than doubled since Buhari came to power. The uneducated mallams in every major city who sell forex know that $1=560 even though the govt’s official rate as at 2022 is $1=435. So how would Buhari doubt journalist Seyi’s “calculation” that the dollar used to be N197 but is now N400? Does Buhari think it is $1:N1???
There are several problems, namely,
a) Buhari knows one dollar was N197 because he campaigned on it and promised to make it 1:1.
b) Buhari knows one dollar is now 435 because he has been allegedly “defending” the naira and CBN literally just devalued from 411 to 435 the previous week!
c) Buhari had been given the questions in advance to prepare!
Thirdly, his answer, “all I know is that we have to allow people have access to the farm” has absolutely no bearing with trillions in national Debt, inflation, double digit unemployment and triple digit currency depreciation.
Buhari answered the question with an answer that doesn’t answer the problem. Nigeria is in the throes of food insecurity and hyperinflation primarily because of national insecurity - Fulani herdsmen destroying farms and displacing farmers especially in the middlebelt agro region. Buhari’s signal failure to protect farmers from his herder kinsmen is why farmers can’t access their land and why food is consequently expensive.
Even if there were no insecurity, putting tens of millions of unemployed Nigerian graduates on farms is a non-starter in an age of data gold, IT and crypto-conomy.
Mechanized industrial farming is the only way to be globally competitive and even if we had that Nigeria has not attained the necessary commodity standardization to meet foreign export requirements on most agro produce.
Even if it had met global commodities export standards, Nigeria does not have an export-friendly regime.
As the Guardian reported, “it makes no sense spending N1,160/kg processing fee to export bananas and mangoes to Europe...
“All the airlines that come into Nigeria depart empty. Because it is cheaper for them to go out empty than carry something. If you load 100 tonnes of cargo on aircraft here, you are charged $35,000 in fees and taxes. Out of Ghana on the same trip is less than $4,000. That is why airlines would rather jet out empty.”
Even if Nigeria had an affordable export incentive structure, it simply does not have the production volume to earn adequate foreign exchange to reverse the deficit balance of trade or make a dent in debt/servicing its multibillion dollar foreign loans.
“ “So, Nigeria is just hawking, not trading in the global cargo market. There are 500,000 to 620,000 tonnes out of Kenya every night. Here, we cannot boast of 20,000 tonnes a week. That is a $250 billion agro-export market wasting away. We created it for ourselves because we allow the civil servants to lord it on us all,” Okakpu said,” The Guardian also reported.
The situation is just as bad for importation in an import-dependent country. According to Premium Times, “The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2014 disclosed that Nigeria spent an average of N800 Billion annually on the importation of rice. Unofficial import receipts through the Cotonou corridor was not captured in the CBN figure.
"But the business of importing rice, a staple in Africa’s most popular nation, is so huge and attractive that four neighbouring countries of Benin, Togo, Cameroon and even landlocked Niger Republic have technically factored transhipment or smuggling of rice and allied commodities into Nigeria in their national economic plan.
"CBN indicated that Benin Republic imports almost as much rice as China and nearly as much frozen chicken as the UK. Most of the commodities are smuggled into Nigeria.”
While other neighboring countries are strategically positing to profit from Nigeria’s port inefficiencies, Nigeria has failed capacity-utilization of its existing ports such as Onne, Port Harcourt and Calabar. It takes 25 days to a month for ships to berth in Apapa or Tin Can island Lagos thus incurring exorbitant demurrage costs that also contribute to inflation. Indeed it costs more to move a container from the port to the end-user than to ship it from China to Nigeria!
Yet Buhari is not building a rail from the Lagos ports inland but from the north to Niger republic the regional frontline of smuggling. So instead of making life easier and goods cheaper for Nigerian citizens, Buhari’s action is making life easier for Nigeriene smugglers and contraband.
For all the senselessness of Buhari’s non-reply, perhaps nothing is more shocking than the fact that he doesn’t even have power to “give access to land.”
In the ‘70s the Land Use Act vested all land in Nigerian states and their governors and the 1979 constitution and it’s successors enshrined land ownership in state and local authorities. Not Federal.
However northern-dominated Federal govts appropriated oil found under southern lands and waters into “federal” property and many northerners were enriched by allocation of oil blocs in the Niger Delta.
Currently the northern-dominated Buhari regime is trying to take over waterways across Nigeria with a bill to that effect.
Similarly, Fulani Herdsmen are grazing cattle on the crops on the land of others across Nigeria as the northern-dominated Buhari regime is trying to take over grazing routes it claims belong to the Fulani in 25 states.
Fulani herdsmen and militia have also taken over forests in the southeast and southwest while the northern-dominated Buhari regime and the Fulani Herdsmen are battling Benue and the southern states, who are seeking to lawfully protect their lands and people from death and destruction, claiming it disrupts their “way of life”.
At the end of the day, Buhari’s interview was a further unmasking of a man wholly and woefully out of his depth, a serial and congenital failure and an epitome of cluelessness.
In America, for instance, these economic indicators are faithfully reported each month. And it helps in good governance.
Any self-respecting leader would know, review and work assiduously to address these indices daily.
Even where he is dull, Proverbs say “in the multitude of counsellors a king is established.”
Buhari has operated with more attack dogs disguised as Media aides than economic advisers for an ailing economy.
He has the likes of the erudite Osinbajo who is capable of assimilating and analyzing this data as his VP but he marginalized his constitutionally established National Economic Council for one of Buhari’s own making.
Gov Peter Obi is a brilliant example of a technocrat or econocrat who knowledgeably and demonstrably applied himself to improve the academic performance indices of Anambra state by returning schools to their original owners.
Sadly despite being one of the most accomplished public and private sector operators in politics, he comes from a region that hasn’t been privileged to produce an elected executive president.
As such all Buhari’s interview has done is reaffirm Nigeria’s status as a Dullocracy – a Country of seeing men misruled by the blind – and reconfirm the urgent necessity of restructuring.
Buhari is an unmitigated and irreparable disaster and his greatest contribution to Nigeria is his departure from office. His second greatest contribution will be not to replicate someone like himself as successor. Fortunately, we can see from afar the end in sight thanks to the new year 2022.
•Emmanuel Ogebe is a Washington based international human rights lawyer and Nigeria expert.