A more acceptable name for mess is, of course, challenge. This word is the great mover of human progress and development. It oils personal ambitions like nothing else. No one seeks power to clean out the mess because the task seems limiting and infra dig, even. They prefer to take on the more elegant task of tackling challenges and solving existing problems.
All leaders are engaged in the eternal struggle to defeat challenges in a manner that leaves their countries much better than they found it. It is a task fraught with potential disappointments and disappointments. How each man meets the challenges determines his place in history. In the endless contest for power, also known as politics, the contest is between those who think they can do a better job of taking on the challenges than those tackling the challenges and whose capacity seems inadequate to level a molehill.
President Muhammadu Buhari knew this. When he challenged President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, he offered himself as a more competent man, equipped with the capacity to pull the nation out of the morass of its historical failures, end the squandering of its riches and wasted opportunities that had kept it in perpetual circular motion as a nation destined never to break out of being potentially great. He said Jonathan had no capacity for anything, hence the mess was piling up and threatening to drown the country. The majority of the electorate believed in his marketed capacity to clean up the mess. They gave him their votes.
In his first inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, Buhari put his fingers on where he believed the mess was. He said: “Insecurity, pervasive corruption, the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns. We are going to tackle them head on. Nigerians will not regret they have entrusted national responsibility to us. We must not succumb to hopelessness and defeatism. We can fix the problems.”
Sure, we could. The promise of new leadership is hinged on the belief that it offers a chance for a paradigm shift in the style, the substance and a new perspective in governance. Buhari offered a caveat we failed to notice at the time. There were obstacles, huge obstacles, that might slow his smooth sailing into the dawn of a new Nigeria. He noted that “… with depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely, Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment among young people. For longer term we have to improve the standards of our education.”
It was morning then on creation day. Now the sun of his time as president is heading down east. It should be possible for us to look around and ask how much of the mess he has cleaned up. We noted last week that the “pervasive corruption” he identified has shown it is not afraid of the president. The mess here remains disturbing because corruption has become even more pervasive and defied institutional struggles to clean it up. It has even mutated into a more tolerant phrase such as family support. Giving someone family support is an act of benevolence, not corruption.
This two-part series is not intended as a verdict on the Buhari administration. History is waiting in the wings for that. Because of space limitation, a comprehensive assessment of the state of the mess is beyond the scope of this two-part series. I, therefore, chose to look at the state of the mess by briefly examining two of major areas of the accumulated mess that the president fingered in his inaugural speech, namely, the economy and education, although to be fair, he only mentioned education as an aside.
The management of the Nigerian economy has never been friendly to our political leaders. In one way or the other, it has floored each one of them in succession and continues to intimidate us with an inhuman face sans milk of kindness. It is unlikely that Buhari would emerge at the end of the day as an exception to this hostile rule in the management of our national economy. I think the president failed to see that the mess in the economy created much of the mess in all aspects of our national development. Tackling the mess should begin with taming the rogue. Despite years of passionate lip service paid to its diversification, the economy is still almost totally dependent on crude oil export earnings. Each time buyers pay less for oil, our economy sinks or at best dances to the drum beats of our failure to plan against this repeated eventuality.
So far, Buhari has shown a disinclination to take the path less travelled to chain this rogue. He has consistently and unadvisedly even, taken the path of least resistance with his easy resort to foreign and domestic borrowings. The mess here has become much greater because these loans, totalling some N28.63 trillion last year, is a burden for the present and on the future. Last year the government paid N1.2 trillion to service the debts. The wisdom of borrowing may be impeccable but whatever necessitated them cannot make for a proper management of the economy, let alone end its years of accumulated and diffused mess.
I can see the broom but I cannot see that it has swept out the mess here.
Our educational system has been a huge mess for as long as anyone can remember. The foundation of our educational system, the primary school, has been, and remains, a total mess, firmed up as it is on mush. I thought this would rate above average on the scale of the president’s identified mess in the country. At the time he assumed office in 2015, Nigeria presented a glittering but false image in its educational development, touting the number of its public and private universities as sure evidence of what it has made of the future of its young men and women in developing their mind and intellect as future leaders of Nigeria.
Under Buhari’s watch, the number of Nigerian universities has further ballooned. I am sure he must be mightily pleased with that. As of last year, there were 43 federal universities, 48 state universities and 79 private universities for a total of 170 universities. An impressive figure that tells a false story of this vital sector of the right royal mess we continue to make of our educational development. And the president who set himself the task of cleaning the mess sees no contradiction as he strolls down the same garden path. It could only get much worse. Only last week, the Federal Executive Council approved 20 new applications for private universities. The mere piling up of these universities can at best ensure that our country remains a living paradox in modern development.
The Federal Executive Council held a special retreat on Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects, on November 3, 2017. I thought Buhari had brought cleaning the mess in this sector to the centre stage. He indicated that much in his address in which he pointed out that decades of neglect of the sector had forced the nation to contend with a high rate of illiteracy, perhaps the highest in Africa. With more than 13.2 million children out of school, and with the unrestrained ambition to produce certificated but not educated young men and women, anyone could see that Nigeria was in trouble and heading for greater trouble. Buhari noted, correctly, “education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future. We must get education right in this country. To get it right means setting our education on the right path (because the) security and stability of the country hinges on its ability to provide functional education to its citizens.”
I can see the broom but I cannot see the mess it has swept out here.
I see no evidence the president is anxious to get it right. He has gone on to set up new universities such as the army university, the air force university, transportation university and university of education that together cannot be said to be the first firm steps in getting our education right. At the retreat, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, said that from “…from 1999 to date the annual budgetary allocation to education has always been between four per cent and ten per cent.” Compare that to UNESCO recommendation that developing countries such as ours should allocate 26 per cent of their annual budgets to education. It cannot be a matter of national pride that the giant of Africa cannot find the will to invest this much in its educational development. Adamu said that the Buhari administration needed to invest N1 trillion annually in the next four years to put its education right. Again, he president cannot find the will to do so.
Is Goodluck Jonathan wearing a smirk on his face? I would not blame him.