The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly is set to start in New York in three weeks, with the general debate scheduled for September 20-26. This means that the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) could opt out with a report on his eight years in office.
It’s unclear how many world leaders will travel to New York; just a few days ago, the World Health Organization announced that in 2022 so far one million people worldwide have died from COVID.
Given how much more we now know about the disease, it is unlikely that Mr Buhari will be stopped from saying goodbye. He enjoyed a lot of attention in 2015, when at the 70th Assembly the world thought he had come to make a difference to Africa’s largest economy.
That was the year in which the organization’s 193 member countries agreed on the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) globally linked aspirations of peace and security, social and economic development, human rights and environmental sustainability were a great source of hope and proud.
In his speechBuhari appeared to scoff at the plan, saying it was full of “lofty ambitions”. [and]…heroic assumptions!” But he identified the core goals of fighting poverty and reducing inequalities as significant, and suggested adding an additional item to the Secretary General’s six “essential elements.”
That element was PEACE, and Buhari took up the challenge from Boko Haram, who was central to his electoral success as he boasted of his military background.
“We intend to address the inequalities resulting from mass unemployment and past government policies that favored a few people to the detriment of many,” he said. “We intend to emphasize quality technology education for development and lay the foundation for comprehensive care for the elderly, the underprivileged and the sick. But for now, terrorism is the immediate problem.”
Buhari announced Nigeria’s cooperation with its neighbors in its efforts against the militants, saying: “We have driven them from many of their strongholds, killed or captured many of their agents or commanders and freed several hundred hostages.”
That was extremely premature. With each day that passes under Buhari, it has become so insecure that towns and villages are now virtually closed and cut off from each other, and Boko Haram has become just one player in the insecurity industry. Companies flee or close. Citizens who can afford it get out. If you are not traveling by air within the country, you must mobilize and pay for police protection.
In the Buhari years, only the corruption industry seems to have been more successful. But in that 2015 speech, he had said something about his government’s “steadfast commitment to fight corruption and illicit financial flows”, urging the international community “to urgently redouble efforts to strengthen mechanisms for dismantling safe havens for the proceeds of corruption and ensuring the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin.”
Indeed, the international community has done so, and the Buhari government has been a major beneficiary, routinely receiving large tranches of recovered funds, most of which was stolen by his close friend and former leader of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha. Last week we learned that the United States would return another $23 million tranche to Nigeria from the same source.
But somehow returned funds have not appeared in Nigeria’s development statistics for the past 20 years, and Buhari himself has refused to understand that fighting corruption in an opaque way is the same as being corrupt. Domestically, he refuses to publicly disclose which assets his government has reclaimed and sold, or to whom. He has serial refused to follow court orders to account for recovered funds, and foreign governments, having learned not to trust his “anti-corruption” propaganda, are now writing agreements with Nigeria specifying which projects the funds should be used for. A BBC infographic captures the $3.65 billion recovered over the past 24 years but not accounted for.
That explains the words of Mary Beth, the American ambassador to Nigeria, last Tuesday. “This repatriation brings the total amount of funds repatriated by the US in this case to over $334.7 million.[to be]… was used to continue construction of three major infrastructure projects in strategic economic zones of the country: the 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Abuja-Kano Road.”
The problem is that despite the intervention of other governments, the World Bank and responsible civil society, soldiers’ best intentions go unpunished. For example, those three projects have consumed a lot of money for the better part of two decades, mainly because there is no transparency in their execution.
In 2020, shortly after Nigeria received $308 million from the US and Jersey, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, which handles their financing, announced that they would be completed by the second quarter of this year. In fact, projects that should have been completed are now receiving money from the future.
Last month, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works and Housing, announced that at least two of them will be completed in “the last month of this year”. We rule with hope, not with plans.
As for the Abuja-Kano Road, it seems to continue to receive gifts from Abacha for another three years. In case you forgot, it was would have been financed from the 2017 and 2018 budgetsand completed in 2020. Last year, after intrigue and manipulation, the government announced that the execution would be now in 2023. I have argued that it will not be completed at all by Buhari, citing: Lars Richterthe director of the construction company. In November 2020, he said categorically, “The new deadline is now 2025.”
Again, this is a picture of how in the Buhari era Nigeria has become a hopeless case where poverty has engulfed hope and there is no way out.
This is why Buhari, in his eighth and final appearance at the General Assembly, can bring a close entourage for one major attack on the Estacode law, explaining his two terms in office. After all, all heads of state or government would be delighted to hear how he overcame corruption and turned Nigeria into a model state in Africa.
For some reason, the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN now seems to be the laziest and emptiest of the organization – compare the website to any other mission you want – but maybe it can help him explain the national despair where seven annual speeches ago was such a big promise.
Yes, in September, other leaders will speak eloquently about how they are implementing the SDGs, but given that we run out of foreign exchange, we can celebrate the anti-corruption “success” of having a rogue general periodically pour us lavish blobs. of it from outside, right?