THE long, grim faces of frustrated motorists in the ever-longer lines of cars waiting to buy gasoline provided a fitting epitaph for the year that has just ended. For a population afflicted with many ills, 2022 was a particularly miserable year marked by violence, bloodshed, poverty, food and energy shortages, endless scandals, and an increasingly degenerate political class. The fierce cleric, Mathew Kukah, in his Christmas homily, graphically pointed out the shortcomings of the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (ret.), who along with regime figures, continues to play ostrich. Kukah’s damning verdict on his health care failure, corruption and nepotism is an accurate sketch of the year. Nigerians should resolve to make 2023 different.
Kukah chastised Buhari for not following through on his election promises to improve important areas of national life, including security. To be sure, governance degenerated even more dangerously under Buhari’s watch in 2022, and Kukah’s message resonates beyond Nigeria’s shores. Charitably, he rated it well on infrastructure provision and said Buhari had made some progress in that area.
But many Nigerians are not convinced. What they see, and which has been amplified in 2022, is insecurity magnified to unprecedented levels, inflation, more unemployment, a strong beating of the naira, more energy shortages, and of gasoline, kerosene and diesel, hunger, floods and public infrastructure in ruins. In the midst of all this, the political class and public officials have become even more corrupt, irresponsible and brazen in their misrule.
Kukah’s intervention sums up the opinion of the majority of Nigerians. With only five months to go before leaving power, Kukah argued that Buhari is leaving Nigerians much more helpless than he knew them in 2015.
“It is sad that despite their noble promises, they leave us much more vulnerable than when they arrived, that the corruption that we thought would be fought has become a leviathan and, unfortunately, the consequence of a government marked by nepotism,” said the bishop. .
In 2022, the self-centered political class was living large while the people were moaning, Kukah reminded Buhari. “We know that he is healthier now than before. We can see it in the spring in your steps, the thousands of kilometers that you have continued to travel on your trip abroad. However, I also want millions of our citizens to have the chance to enjoy just a fraction of their own health through a measurable improvement in the quality of health care in our country.” Under Buhari, there may not be any of that.
Doctors and other medical professionals are fleeing abroad in search of better working conditions, while regime ministers trivialize the issue with insensitive statements.
Nigerians feel betrayed. His frequent trips abroad for his personal medical care irritate him. As in previous years, his regime was weak, lethargic and aimless in 2022.
Worse still, Buhari lives in denial. He recently repeated his bland statement that he has done all he can for Nigeria. Certainly his best has been so pitiful that, for many, life was “short, nasty, and brutal” in 2022. In a properly functioning democracy, popular pressure would have forced him out of office.
In truth, 2022 was a horrible year for many Nigerians. A study by the National Bureau of Statistics and published in November put the number of Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty at 133 million. That cements Nigeria’s status as the poverty capital of the world, a far higher number than the 86.9 million in 2018 from the multilateral organizations that launched Nigeria into infamy as the world’s center of extreme poverty.
Food insecurity clouded 2022. The Kenya-based Integrated Food Security Phase Classification found that nearly six million children aged 0-59 months suffered, and are likely to continue to suffer, acute malnutrition between May 2022 and April 2023 in the north-west and the northeast. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said around 19.4 million people faced food insecurity in Nigeria between June and August. Food inflation increased to 24.13 percent in November from 23.72 percent registered in October. That figure is likely an underestimate, as many go to bed or wake up hungry.
For the education industry, 2022 was disastrous, blighted by an eight-month strike by the Universities Academic Staff Union over pay and the revitalization of public tertiary institutions. Recklessly, despite huge funding gaps, Buhari and the callous National Assembly continue to build more institutions. The consequences of the strike will linger long after Buhari’s departure.
Undoubtedly, insecurity skyrocketed in 2022. In the eight months to August, 5,222 Nigerians were killed, the Nigerian Security Tracker said. Violent bandits mutilated, kidnapped and senselessly murdered.
The country was shocked when bandits invaded Kaduna International Airport, followed by a daring attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train in March. It took several months and over N1 billion in ransom before the hostages were released. This caused the suspension of the service. In June, terrorists bombed St Xavier’s Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, as Sunday service was ending, killing more than 40 worshippers. A month later, in July, terrorists/bandits stormed the Kuje Correctional Center in the Federal Capital Territory, followed by an ambush of elite Guards Brigade troops.
These incidents exposed the weakness of the government in the face of difficulties, insecurity and economic losses. Corruption reigned supreme. The suspended Federation Accountant General, who is on trial for allegedly looting N101 billion, has already returned N30 billion, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said.
Buhari’s chronic absent-mindedness fueled insecurity and economic bleeding. According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Nigeria lost between 400,000 and 700,000 barrels per day through oil theft. This equated to a loss of $2 billion (or 1.3 trillion naira) from January to August, an ad hoc Senate committee found. From their top position, Angola and Algeria overtook Nigeria as Africa’s biggest crude exporter at one point in the year. Consequently, Nigeria was unable to meet its OPEC quota of 1.8 million bpd.
For a country whose main source of hard currency is oil and gas sales, it spelled trouble. Consequently, the currency crisis became more pronounced in 2022. From N415 to $1 in January and N567 to $1 in the parallel market, the naira plummeted to over N447/$1 on December 28. On the parallel market, it sold for nearly N800/$1. Imports, which Nigerians depend on for survival, are therefore prohibitively expensive.
Nigeria derived little benefit from having abundant oil and gas. Inexcusably, the regime persisted in neglecting national refining. The Central Bank of Nigeria said that $1.04 billion worth of petroleum products were imported into the country in 2021; the 2022 figure is not likely to be much different. Hefty subsidies of N4 billion were incurred from January to September. The intermittent gasoline shortage worsened at the end of the year.
As of 2019, the International Energy Agency had put access to electricity in Nigeria at 61.6 percent, with 77 million people without power. The maximum generation of 5,593.40 megawatts reached in February 2021 is disappointing for a country that needs 98,000 MW, according to IEA estimates, to power homes and industries.
At 21.47 percent in November, inflation is on a higher monthly trend. Buhari and regime officials cite Russia’s war against Ukraine, the floods and the aftermath of COVID-19 to explain the adversity. They are partly right since they have impacted the whole world. However, Buhari has failed miserably in economic management. The maritime sector, which can improve the scarcity of incoming flows, is deeply chaotic and has a negative impact on exports. Therefore, the main global rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded the economic outlook for Nigeria.
The unemployment rate, at 33.5 percent, is alarming. Millions of young people graduate each year with no hope of finding a job. The ‘japa’ syndrome, in which young people flee abroad in search of a better life, is one of the telling indices of 2022.
On a positive note, Kukah praised Buhari for the infrastructure. The cleric also praised Buhari for the electoral reforms. The Second Niger Bridge and the Bodo-Bonny Highway were finally opened; Train service runs between Aladja in Delta State to Itakpe in Kogi State. However, these projects are too few to celebrate and the infrastructure deficit is colossal.
On the other hand, borrowing accelerated with little to show for it. At the end of June, the stock of the national debt stood at 42.84 trillion naira. Current and future generations are saddled with debt.
Will 2023 be better? Judging by Buhari’s record, that’s a long shot.