- Presidency says “You will soon hear from us”
Nigeria’s leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday described as spot-on the article by London-based news magazine, The Economist, which described the government of President Muhammadu Buhari as inept and high-handed.
The 178-year-old magazine, in an editorial titled, ‘The Crime Scene at the Heart of Africa,’ published in its October 23, 2021 issue, added that the President had also failed to tackle corruption.
The influential magazine had a few weeks before the 2015 presidential election endorsed Buhari for the Presidency, noting that even though Nigerians were faced with two options that were not good, Buhari was a better candidate than the then incumbent, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
The magazine, in its February 7, 2015 edition, said if it were to make a choice, it would choose Buhari and that if he could save Nigeria, history might be kind to him. “We are relieved not to have a vote in this election. But were we offered one, we would – with a heavy heart – choose Mr Buhari,” it added.
But in the Saturday article, The Economist said due to Buhari’s mismanagement of the economy, food prices had soared while life had become more difficult for Nigerians.
The editorial read in part, “Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed. Mr Buhari, who was elected in 2015, turned an oil shock into a recession by propping up the naira and barring many imports in the hope this would spur domestic production.
“Instead he sent annual food inflation soaring above 20 per cent. He has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment. Many Nigerians are furious that they see so little benefit from the country’s billions of petrodollars, much of which their rulers have squandered or stolen.”
The Economist stated that even before COVID-19 last year, Nigeria was already witnessing unprecedented poverty.
The news magazine opined that this economic hardship was fuelling the current insecurity in the country.
It argued, “Two factors help explain Nigeria’s increasing instability: a sick economy and a bumbling government. Slow growth and two recessions have made Nigerians poorer, on average, each year since oil prices fell in 2015.
“Before COVID-19, 40 per cent of them were below Nigeria’s extremely low poverty line of about $1 a day. If Nigeria’s 36 states were stand-alone countries, more than one-third would be categorised by the World Bank as “low-income” (less than $1,045 a head). Poverty combined with stagnation tends to increase the risk of civil conflict,” it argued.
The Economist echoing what we’ve always known, says PDP
But the PDP said the editorial echoed what it had always known and said about the current regime, with its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, saying on Saturday that “the respected international news magazine was spot-on. It echoes what we have always known and said about this regime. Corruption under this regime is on steroids; the looting going on now has never been witnessed anywhere in modern history.
“Senior members of the regime and top members of the ruling party are having a field day looting our common patrimony, those who are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, are simply eased out – no consequence.
“Nigerians have a unique opportunity to vote out the All Progressives Congress and its corrupt elements come 2023.”
Many Nigerians have also on several occasions dismissed the claims by the regime that it was fighting corruption.
Also, some analysts have argued that the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International showed that not much had changed in the fight against corruption, even though government’s spokespersons had always dismissed the ranking, saying it was not a reflection of the regime’s efforts to curb the menace.
In 2020, Nigeria was ranked 149 out of the 180 countries and territories surveyed, scoring an abysmal 25 out of 100 points. In 2019, Nigeria was ranked 146 out of 180 countries and territories surveyed; while in 2018 it was ranked 144 out of the 180 countries and territories surveyed.
In 2017, it was ranked 148 out of 180 countries and territories surveyed. In 2016, it was ranked 136 out of 176 countries and territories surveyed; in 2015, it was ranked 136 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed, and in 2014, Nigeria was ranked 136 out of 175 countries surveyed. In 2013, it was ranked 144 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed; it scored 139 out of 176 countries and territories surveyed in 2012 and in 2011 it was ranked 143 out of 183 countries and territories surveyed.
But the President said in Owerri, Imo State, during his state visit recently that fighting corruption was extremely difficult, adding that he would keep trying. “Fighting corruption is extremely difficult. It’s so difficult, but I will keep on trying,” Buhari said.
…says Nigerian Army sells weapons to insurgents
The Economist also gave the Nigerian Army a dressing down, describing the military organisation as only “Mighty on paper.”
It alleged that the army had ghost workers on its payroll and often sold equipment to insurgents who destabilise the nation.
The news magazine said the Nigeria Police Force was poorly trained and underpaid hence they rob innocent citizens to augment their salaries.
The editorial further read, “When violence erupts, the government does nothing or cracks heads almost indiscriminately. Nigeria’s Army is mighty on paper. But many of its soldiers are ‘ghosts’ who exist only on the payroll, and much of its equipment is stolen and sold to insurgents. The army is also stretched thin, having been deployed to all of Nigeria’s states.
“The police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained. Many supplement their low pay by robbing the public they have sworn to protect.”
It called on the Department of State Services to stop disobeying court orders and release all those being detained illegally.
The Economist described as scandalous the refusal of the Nigerian government to arrest and prosecute any of the security operatives that killed #EndSARS protesters in Lagos last year. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had on several occasions denied reports that some #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate were killed by soldiers deployed in the area.
The news magazine said to stop the slide towards lawlessness, Nigeria’s government should make its own forces obey the law.
It also warned that young people who are victims of state brutality are more likely to join extremist groups, noting that it was scandalous that no one had been held accountable for the abuse by security agents during the #EndSARS protests last year.
The editorial added, “Soldiers and police who murder or torture should be prosecuted. That no one has been held accountable for the slaughter of perhaps 15 peaceful demonstrators against police abuses in Lagos last year is a scandal. The secret police should stop ignoring court orders to release people who are being held illegally. This would not just be morally right, but also practical: young men who see or experience state brutality are more likely to join extremist groups.”
Warning that things did not have to fall apart before the President acts, it said the country also needed to beef up its police.
“Niger State, for instance, has just 4,000 officers to protect 24m people. Local cops would be better at stopping kidnappings and solving crimes than the current federal force, which is often sent charging from one trouble spot to another,” it added.
On how to generate funds for the security agencies, the news magazine advised that money could come by cutting down on what it described as wasteful spending.
It said, “Money could come from cutting wasteful spending by the armed forces on jet fighters, which are not much used for guarding schools. Britain and America, which help train Nigeria’s army, could also train detectives. Better policing could help the army withdraw from areas where it is pouring fuel on secessionist fires.
“The biggest barrier to restoring insecurity is not in lack of ideas nor of resources. It is the compliancy of Nigeria’s cosseted political elite – save in their guarded compounds and well-defended capitals.
“Without urgent action, Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge.”
The news magazine noted that Nigeria was home to one of the largest film industries in the world and had the most successful start-ups in sub-Saharan Africa.
It argued that despite the great potential of the country, youths were beginning to emigrate in droves because of the sorry state of the country.
The Nigerian Army, in reacting to the damning allegations against it in the article, said it was crafted to denigrate, demonise and destabilise the Nigerian government.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, in a statement on Saturday described the article as orchestrated by a network of detractors and coven of dark forces working hard to adorn the Nigerian Army in an unfitting garb of infamy.
The Army Spokesperson said “it is one of those deliberate falsehood and noxious narratives orchestrated by a network of detractors and coven of dark forces working very hard to adorn the Nigerian Army in an unfitting garb of infamy. The vile report, which The Economist chose to offer its platform for publication, spared no effort in trying to vilify and rubbish the image, character and reputational standing of the Nigerian Army, but failed woefully.
“How The Economist magazine failed to do simple due diligence on the said fabricated report is worth interrogating by those who are interested in distinguishing between rogue journalism and professional one.
“Let it be known to The Economist magazine and those who concocted the lies they published that the gallant officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army are undeterred, undistracted and totally unfazed by the hare-brained assertions contained in that silly report.”
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, while reacting to the London Economist scathing criticisms of the President Buhari administration, said: “You will soon hear from us.”