My friend and mentor Tope Fasua's latest write up in his Sunday Trust column is titled "Remembering Umaru". It wasn't just a kind of tribute to late president 'Yar Adua but also a not so subtle attack on president Buhari. So I decided to write a response to it. It should however be noted that me and Mr Fasua are not just on-line friends but also off-line friends and have worked on a number of projects together. This response is in no way a personal attack but my views on his political position which have recently been opposite mine. Below I list some of the issues he raised against president Buhari along with my responses to them.
1- Buhari increased the prices of petroleum products unlike 'Yar Adua who reduced them:
As an economist and a person I follow both on-line, off-line and on TV, I cannot remember any alternative suggested by Mr Fasua to avoid such an increase. I have also opposed the increase and have suggested my own alternatives alongside. But to put things in perspective, Umaru met a foreign reserve of around $45 billion, crude was at a point during his tenure $145 per barrel even though it slid down to $35 during the 2008 financial crisis. 'Yar Adua also didn't inherit a country ravaged by Boko Haram. Contrast it with Buhari who met $20 billion reserve, crude at $28 and multiple crisis in different parts of the country, especially Boko Haram. We are still daily discovering stolen foreign currency that should be in our foreign reserve but are hidden in houses of ex government officials. It is curious that my mentor chose not to put such into consideration in his criticism of president Buhari.
Late president 'Yar Adua also turned down a deal by the Chinese to build us refineries in exchange for crude oil. He was worried that they demanded crude at below the then market price. That would have saved us from our current situation given that 40% of our foreign exchange earnings are spent in importing refined petroleum. Now we have no refineries and crude oil is worth much less than what its worth then. Niger Republic is now self sufficient in refined petroleum products because they agreed to such a deal.
So how do we fund an energy subsidy regime in our current situation?
2- Buhari's call to those who cannot afford it to withdraw their children from foreign schools:
I do not see any problem with that. Anybody that chooses to study or have his ward study in foreign schools must be ready to get foreign exchange from the open market. The statement by Buhari when he said "I can afford it" is true. But we seem to care more about its political correctness than its truthfulness. With an FX reserve that will last us less than 4 months if all demands are to be met, we must make a choice whether to pay school fees or meet our energy demands. After all, there are number of private Nigerian universities that can fill that gap, especially with respect to non-science based or non-technical courses.
3- Breaking the promise of not traveling outside the country for medical treatment:
I do not think Buhari should stick to a campaign promise if his doctors advise that he goes outside the country for medical attention. I think it is contradictory to advocate for foreign education in one breath and then call against going to foreign countries for medical treatment in the next. After all Muhammadu Buhari also broke a promise of not contesting again but then turned around and contested in 2015, but my boss ignored that and campaigned for him.
4- Buhari maintains a large presidential fleet:
As far as I know a number of aircrafts have been transferred to be used by the Nigerian Air Force while others are put up for sale. I think this complaint is stale now.
5- Buhari rides around in a convoy of luxury cars and making life difficult for other road users:
The cars used by Buhari were purchased by the previous administration. Same Buhari resisted an attempt to have them changed last year. He also stopped praying Jum'ah in the national mosque so as not to cause the blockage of roads during his movements. He also often use the helicopter when going to the airport so as to avoid traffic disruptions as much as possible. This is a consideration we've not had from any of our past presidents. And that helicopter is from the presidential fleet we want to get rid of.
Buhari did this despite the difficulty involved in changing security protocols. We all saw how then President Obama was ordered by his security men to go back into the White House when he tried to walk Seinfeld out.
6- Buhari gets angry when interacting with the masses:
Now I can identify with this. Even my on-line friends complain that I don't smile a lot, but that is my demeanor. May be little like Muhammadu Buhari and Vladmir Putin. I do not think in our current situation in Nigeria, the question of our president smiling or not should be a priority. If we are looking for a smiling President we would have retained Goodluck Jonathan, gone back to Ibrahim Babangida or choose Atiku Abubakar. Let's remember Umaru doesn't smile either, that does not make him a bad person.
I have never at any time thought Buhari to be perfect, I knew exactly what I wanted from him as a president and he has generally been on course so far. In those areas I disagree with his actions, I speak about the ISSUES not attack his person. While a number of criticisms directed at him are genuine, I still believe majority of them are weak and not entirely altruistic. Also given that Mr Tope Fasua has registered a political party, his new position should not be unexpected. That is not a bad thing though, he did what I have always advocated for. Getting involved instead of complaining from the ring side.
While I may be on the opposite side of the political argument with my mentor, I nevertheless remain loyal.
Abubakar Gambo email@example.com 13th Febraury 2017.
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