Some things never change in Nigeria. Police and military brutality, the terrible state of governance, the ubiquity of corruption, extreme poverty and inequality, unreliable power supply go in an endless cycle, like the year’s seasons.
Nigerian elections are like gambling. We blindly toss a coin into the air — with no guarantee of what we get. We vote out one corrupt leader for an even more corrupt one. Or, as we like to say, “you go from the frying pan into the fire.”
Take President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, for example. As the first opposition candidate to mount a sweeping defeat of a sitting president in Nigeria, Buhari — a former general and military head of state —rode the coattails of rife anti-government sentiments to victory in 2015. To those who voted for him, he symbolized a potent antidote to the issues plaguing the country. He promised to blindly fight corruption and cronyism. He vowed to strongarm the terrorist group Boko Haram into retreat or surrender. He also declared that he would stabilize Nigeria’s dwindling economy and fix the existing gulf of socioeconomic disparities between Nigeria’s uber-wealthy few and the majority of Nigerians who are abjectly poor. In a campaign tweet two months before his historic win, he swore a solemn vow to Nigerians. “Let me make you this promise today,” Buhari wrote. “We will protect your children. We will protect your wealth. We will make this country work again.”
Today, nearly six years after making that promise, Nigeria has become a relic of what it used to be. Many signs point to Buhari’s failures. He must go.
The streets are raging with violence. Nigerians are under an unprecedented lethal attack by Buhari’s government, which recently killed unarmed citizens protesting against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a brutal and abusive police force in Lagos. The #EndSars movement has become a global phenomenon. After days of denials, the Nigerian army admitted Tuesday that their officers were deployed to the scene of the deadly attack to ensure statewide curfew compliance. The army still denies opening fire.
But perhaps one of the starkest portraits of Buhari’s failures to date are the graphic images and videos on social media that show multitudes of presumably hungry Nigerians fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on bags of rice, flour, noodles, sugar and other food supplies recently discovered in government-owned warehouses full of hoarded covid-19 aid across the country. The food was meant for Nigerians during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but, like with most things in Nigeria, the politicians decided to reserve it for their own benefit.
In 2019, Nigeria dropped two spots lower than previous years on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index — which prompted Buhari’s administration to denounce the report as “baseless.” Additionally, a damning 2018 World Poverty Clock report said Nigeria, Africa’s wealthiest and largest economy, had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. Similarly, youth unemployment has risen in recent years, and now stands at nearly 41 percent. Nigerian public universities have been shut down for the past several months due to the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ strike action. The situation may get even worse for my country. A staggering World Bank simulation suggests that “the dual COVID-19 and oil price crisis could push around 10 million more Nigerians into poverty by 2022.”
These reports and the events of recent weeks have made it abundantly clear for all to see that Buhari has not only failed in keeping to his promises, but he has also, more dangerously, defied rehabilitation from his dictatorial past. He is proving himself the single biggest threat to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. His hands, and those of his accomplices, are covered with the blood of the young Nigerians like me whose lives, dreams and hopes he cut short for exercising their constitutional rights of assembly and protest.
In support of the recent protests against police brutality and bad governance in Nigeria, I published a manifesto on social media as a suggested framework of the ideological boundaries for the movement. There, I noted that a top-to-bottom leadership change in government and law enforcement agencies is the only path to real change in Nigeria. It seems to me, and possibly to an increasing number of Nigerians, that there cannot be any tangible or long-lasting reform within any sector in Nigeria without replacing leaders and the existing systems and processes.
And perhaps, even more, this is the time to imagine a new Nigeria, that works for all. We need a new Nigeria that protects, defends and holds space for the most vulnerable amongst us — the girl-child, disabled, economically disadvantaged, women, and, yes, the LGBTQ+ community, too. We must also imagine a new national identity, one that is grounded in progressive ideals, such as equality, diversity, unity, justice, loyalty, hard work and selflessness.
Indeed, Buhari and Nigeria’s other useless politicians need to pass the baton of leadership to my generation of Nigerians who have shown a commitment to doing the job and will put the country before themselves. It’s time for Buhari to resign.