Naira Swap and Buhari’s Endless Search for A Legacy

Updated: Feb 19, 2023
By Abdullahi Malumfashi
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Nigerians should vote for whoever they like from whichever party. Nobody will be allowed to mobilize resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency. That’s how I want to go down into Nigeria’s history, as a leader.

– Muhammadu Buhari, 2023.

The year was August 1993.

IBB had just successfully booted out of power. Shamefully too. After spending 8 years in power, he has run out of favour with Nigerians. Unlike the dashing young soldier who snatched power from his Head of State, promising change and doing away with unpopular policies by his predecessor, the General was now accused of the same crimes as his predecessor.

The stringent hardship experienced by a ‘locally grown’ Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) has ruined the economy. Oil price is 11 naira per litre, almost triple the price it was a year ago. One dollar is equivalent to 17 Naira. Yet, that wasn’t what even chased him out of power.

The June 12 elections did.

You see, after spending 8 years in charge (outlived by only Gowon, who coincidentally was booted out similarly), IBB had promised a return to civil rule. Except this was the longest, most complicated transition in history.

Political parties have been formed and dissolved. Second Republic politicians were allowed to participate in politics, then were banned again. Presidential primaries were conducted and then annulled. The transition date was fixed, yet postponed. Thrice.

And finally, when the elections were allowed to hold against all odds, they were cancelled.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Riots erupted in parts of the country over continued military stay and the annulment of what many believed to be the fairest election of them all.

Babangida had no choice but to leave. But not without hurriedly putting an ‘alien’ Interim National Government in power. Nigerians had no choice, and neither did Babangida.

Thirty years later, that is the single thing the Babangida administration is remembered for. Not the several thousand kilometres of roads constructed, the creation of 11 states and several MDAs, the Local Government reforms, or even the movement of the seat of power to Abuja come close.

Programs and policies like the SAP or MAMSER (Mass Mobilisation for Economic Recovery, Social Justice and Self-reliance), or the Better Life Program for the African Rural Woman midwife by his wife are remembered.

Somehow, June 12th became Babangida’s legacy, whether he wants it or not. This is what happens at the end of each administration. The President gets to be defined by one and just one legacy project.

Whether it is Balewa with his Pro-African foreign policy, Gowon and his three R’s of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation after the civil war, or Murtala/Obasanjo’s return to civil rule at a time when the whole of Africa was ruled by Military Juntas.

Shagari’s Presidency was defined by mismanagement of the economy and incessant corruption, while Buhari’s was known for its War Against Indiscipline.

While Shonekan’s rule was too short-lived to exert much influence, Abacha’s rule was synonymous with dictatorship and looting. Abdulsalami’s successful transition program was all he needed to have a legacy, which he still enjoys to date.

Obasanjo’s legacy could be debated, depending on who you ask; either the telecommunication revolution, the establishment of Anti-Corruption Agencies or the debt relief of $18 billion (I choose the latter).

Jonathan’s legacy is largely undebated. Conceding an election in which he probably might dispute the results and drag on, he chooses peace over his ambition. My ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian, he said. That earned him an enviable place in Nigeria’s history.

Which begs the question, what will Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy project be?

Is it the reclaiming of Nigerian territories captured by Boko Haram, the agricultural revolution (all thanks to the Anchor’s Borrower’s Program), the overzealous fight against corruption, the railway rejuvenation, massive infrastructural works which saw the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, the acclaimed yet unsuccessful autonomy to Local Governments or the recent Siemens power project brokered by the late Abba Kyari or even the Ajaokuta–Kaduna–Kano (AKK) pipeline?

The honest answer? None.

In a few years, people might have forgotten about all of them (except for the AAK power project and the Siemens power deal), and Buhari himself knows that.

That is why his antics and tactics have begun to change recently. As a retired General, it was ironic that Buhari was the one who recognized June, 12th and its actors and bestowed upon them their fitting garlands.

As someone who was elected based on the support of others while claiming to have no ‘Naira or dollars to give out delegates’, it was ironic that the President chose to remain neutral in a convention that produced his party’s flag bearer and successor, the first to do that in modern history.

For someone who claimed the ‘dog and the baboon’ will both be soaked in blood if he is not elected, it is ironic that he now believed Nigerians should vote for ‘Nigerians should vote for whoever they like from whichever party”

That subtle change is not lost on many, who believed Buhari intends his legacy to be that of a committed democrat.

Imagine the statement; Here lies Muhammadu Buhari, the reformed democrat who fought his party for Nigeria’s democracy.

Tempting huh? Because that’s exactly what it is for Buhari. While Jonathan was sabotaged from within his party and was ultimately defeated, here was a President who stood tall and fought his party till they were ultimately defeated in the polls.

The noninvolvement of his closest aides and appointees in the Asiwaju campaign, the nonchalant attitude of the President himself, his body language and utterances, and most of all, the cash swap policy all point towards the fact that Buhari wants his party to lose so he can reclaim his image and leave a legacy.

“We suffered in his rule…but at least he made sure that our votes count.” Something Nigerians won’t say for whoever ultimately succeeds him.

Whether this strategy will work, remains to be seen in the polls.

Time will tell. As it is surely ticking.

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