By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
In 2001, after the September 7 civil mayhem and killings in Jos, Plateau State, a new greeting was born. You see, after the breakdown of order in what was once the home of peace and tourism, on a scale never before imagined, rumours of entire districts, communities and settlements being wiped out were rampant. And because it was not safe to move around at the time, some of these rumours carried, travelling from ear to ear, embellished as they went along. Unchallenged for days.
After the riots, there was a curfew that lasted several days. When this was lifted, people tentatively started venturing out of their homes to the markets, to their places of business and work. And upon seeing a person from a district that was supposed to have been wiped out, one is often overwhelmed by emotions—relief, fear, suspicion and all—because you can never tell who had led a mob, clubbed an innocent, torched a house or just hunkered down to survive. In these encounters, however, the greetings would bubble from someone’s throat, “Happy Survival, my brother!”
It became a fad, borne out of a great tragedy. It was repeated on radio, and now and then it would be thrown at you by people who are happy to see you survive the mayhem. It would peak each time there was another crisis, another mayhem, another mass killing and then sort of mellow out in the intervening period between surges of violence.
I hated the greeting then. I resented that it was necessary and represented a change in our way of living. A change we will never recover from. The riots became so frequent and soon, the novel greeting became a cliché—a-tired expression that with time sounded as grating and ridiculous as it always should.
But today, I feel like indulging it. Because it has often been said that surviving Nigeria by itself is an extreme sport, one that requires not only dexterity, perseverance and resilience, flexibility, and economic and social agility but one that is also almost entirely reliant on God’s favour and the whims of fate. Sort of like dodging a bullet, if you catch my drift.
In the last eight years, that has become even more pre-eminent. Nigerians finally met their match in terms of athleticism, energy and vibe. That match is in the economy of the country, cooked in the Buhari lab, that took on a zombie life of its own and gave Nigerians a run for their money—literarily. As industrious Nigerians ran, inflation galloped. They tried to take off, but the dead weight of the economy dragged them down. They tried to just live but death, fear and loathing plagued them.
This is the final week of the Buhari administration. Hurrah! By this time next week, there will be another el jeffe in the driver’s seat. If you have made it this far, in this Nigeria, you deserve that special greeting—Happy survival!
Your business might have survived or suffered the callous disregard of this administration, or maybe not, but if you are reading this, it means you have survived the rampant armed robbery, kidnappings and civil violence that have become the hallmark of this administration. You have survived the failed promises and survived Nigeria. There is every reason to be grateful for that. If you have endured Buhari, the first and second coming, I think you deserve a medal for courage under fire, a medal for bravery and beatitude.
Ironically, Buhari is confident that history will remember him kindly. I cannot even begin to address the delusional thinking involved here. But the irony is that perhaps history would be kind to him. Time is a funny thing, you see. After the debacle of his 1980s regime, desperate Nigerians wished away the memories of that junta, where grown men were lashed on the streets and the economy was in shambles, and they rebranded Buhari for the new age. He came after many tries and repaid the Nigerians, some of whom threw their lives away for the dream that he would make Nigeria better for their loved ones, with unkindness and brazen disregard.
The promises to rule efficiently failed at the first hurdle when the government went for months without a cabinet or a clear policy direction. The promise to fight corruption? That one was a stillborn, dead the moment budget padders escaped with Buhari deliberately looking the other way and all those corrupt officials who had returned their loot to the government realised that the anti-corruption war was a scam and there was no bite to that infamous body language. By the way, what happened to those returned loot in the early days of this government?
As we went along, corrupt officials were rewarded with extended tenures in office to perfect their thievery, while incompetent officials were kept in place to oversee more and more financial chaos massacres without response.
Perhaps Buhari’s legacy, or the lack thereof, is best defined by his last weeks in office. This week in which he commissioned the Dangote Refinery. The irony is that this was a president who came to power promising that by fire by force, he will get Nigeria’s refineries up and running again, and spoke with disdain about the failures of previous administrations to do so. It demonstrated perfectly the government’s failure to keep any of its promises to Nigerians and their lack of shame about these massive failures.
Somewhere between 2015 and 2023, the demystification of the ‘mai gaskiya legend’ was completed, not by detractors but by the man himself. That name of affection has since devolved into something unsavoury. Promises unkept. Dreams truncated. And optimism murdered like cockroaches under the sole of a troll.
That unfortunately is the capital this administration is passing on to the next. When President Bola Tinubu and his deputy Kashim Shettima are sworn in on May 29, they will inherit a country that is not only divided along ethnic fault lines but one that is massively indebted, thanks to the borrowing spree of its predecessor, and one that is also malnourished of all kinds of optimism. Nigerians’ belief in their country and their leaders have been so violently thrashed that the attitude now is ‘siddon look’.
In a way, one could argue that it is a good thing for the new administration. That the level of expectation is low so even the most minimal achievement will be taken for a good score. But it also sets the priority for the new administration. While it is the same APC succeeding itself, the first order of business for the new administration ought to be to quickly move away from the Buhari days and to rekindle Nigerians’ faith in their country. Make them believe again if they can afford it.
How can they do this? To hit the ground running. Say the right things to Nigerians. Make the right appointments and address the key issues with clear strategies that Nigerians can buy into. Right now, Nigerians just want to be left alone to mind their business without their lives being at risk. What then can the new administration do to secure our lives and property? What changes can they institute to assure us of this? We must see the security situation addressed at once. Not like insecurity will vanish overnight but we must see that there is a plan and timeline to address it. We must see a clear move to tame this wild economy we have and to control this savage inflation.
But having survived the last eight years of Buhari, the likes of which we pray never to witness again, congratulations and happy survival are in order. For the new administration, for the sake of all of us, I hope they succeed where this one so spectacularly failed. May Nigeria succeed.