Has Buhari bitten more than he can chew?

WHEN in September last year Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared his modest assets, he more or less implied that he expected Nigerians to live within their means, as he launched a war on corruption. But his opponents have pointed out that for a man of such modest and virtuous means his family’s extravagant travel budget seems somewhat out of place, particularly in a country on the brink of financial collapse.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whose members have suffered the brunt of Buhari’s much maligned anti-corruption campaign, has hit back by highlighting on social media the anomalous situation of the president’s daughter, Hanan, who recently flew from Nigeria to the UK, where she is a secondary school student, on a first class British Airways ticket. This is in sharp contrast to Buhari’s edict that his ministers should not travel first or business class on official assignments.

The British Airways website prices a first class return ticket to Abuja at almost £8,500 ($12,400). A quick look at data on the World Bank’s website places Nigeria’s GDP per capita at $1,091, putting the price tag on Hanan’s fare at several times the annual earnings of the average Nigerian.

Debates have since been raging online over the Buhari family’s extravagance – all for a 16-year-old. Of course there is also the little matter of high school fees and expenses not just for Hanan but also her elder sister, Zahra, who is is understood to be studying Medical Microbiology at the University of Surrey. She will be paying top fees as an international student.

While this sort of extravagance may leave Nigerians with a bad taste in their mouth, as their economy collapses and their president preaches modesty and accountability while members of his family jet set around the world first class, this is not unusual for members of Africa’s elite class who enjoy very different standards of living and levels of accountability to their less fortunate compatriots.

Buhari has had a turbulent first year in power at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation. He appears to have bitten more than he can chew, as he stands accused of launching an illegitimate attack on his political opponents. They have been arrested and detained under allegations of corruption, often without charge. Buhari is also been accused of threatening democracy as he reverts to the same way of doing things as he did when he was a military dictator in the 1980s.

Even ordinary workers who many thought would be on Buhari’s side are getting impatient with his administration. During the May Day celebration, leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria were unanimous in sending a stark message to the government: their members were beginning to lose faith in the change mantra of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government.

For the Nigerian Labour Movement, which is usually divided into factions, the unanimity expressed was telling. Trade union members from the different factions condemned as one increasing poverty, unemployment, insecurity, erratic power supply, fuel scarcity, and called on the government to urgently address the mounting hardship and frustration in the country.

Joe Ajaero, one of the faction leaders of the NLC, spoke of the anomaly of fuel shortage in a major oil-producing country: “It is a shame that we have continued to import petroleum products. It is also a shame that we have also privatised it so that the products have become inaccessible to majority of the citizens, causing serious distortions to our economic processes.

‘Fuel scarcity has persisted far longer than ever, foisting on our people the most horrendous of sufferings ever meted out to them by any ruling elite in our nation’s history.’

Buhari’s Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, reading a speech on behalf of the president recently, said: ‘I make no excuses as this government of the APC is determined to tackle, headlong, all socio–economic ills that have troubled our nation and we shall evolve solutions to emerging threats to our well-being and the realisation of sustainable development as well as growth anchored on equity and social justice.’

But ordinary Nigerians are getting impatient as the country’s economy continues to suffer.

Desmond Davies


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