t was the exceptionally witty and satirical Senator Shehu Sani who first pointed out that the recolouring of the naira and the deathly, crippling scarcity that has come in its wake only a few days to the general election are akin to burning the entire forest while hunting down a rat. Many people missed the import of the senator’s metaphor.
So, let me bring it down from the stratosphere of abstract metaphors to a more placid, mundane truth. Buhari and his inner circle are not hunting down a rat; they are after a bat— or, if you like, a BAT with capital letters—that lives in a massive, glitzy mansion on Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi, Lagos. They’re in mortal dread of the BAT because of its bullion vans and what it did with the vans during past elections and what it can do with them during this year’s general election.
To cut to the chase, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) is the single most important reason Buhari has chosen to recolour the naira as a pretext to consciously make it scarce and thereby prevent Tinubu from using it to win this month’s presidential election. That’s all there is to it.
As I pointed out in my January 28, 2023, column, Buhari himself betrayed this during a November 2022 interview in which he was asked about his regime’s naira recolouring policy. Without prompting, and in a bewildering departure from the issue he was talking about, Buhari said, “Nigerians should vote for whoever they like from whichever party. Nobody will be allowed to mobilise resources and thugs to intimidate people in any constituency.”
It was a significant Freudian slip that gave away the real motive force behind the disabling naira scarcity that has gripped the nation. Although Buhari now appears in campaign events along with Tinubu and even implores supporters to vote for Tinubu, it’s all theatre. The battle line has already been drawn, and it seems, at least at this point, to be irreversible.
Buhari and his cabal did everything within their power to prevent Tinubu from winning the nomination of the APC. But they failed precisely because Tinubu used his seemingly inexhaustible wealth to buy his way to the nomination. Because they tried to stop his nomination and failed, they know he will retaliate against them if he becomes president.
Strewing deadly thorns in Tinubu’s path to the presidency is, first of all, a self-preservationist move by Buhari and his close associates before it is anything else. They have learned not to underestimate Tinubu. They now know that he is a shrewd, wily, calculating fox who has prepared for this moment years in advance and has enough money, tact, connections, and sophistication in wheeler-dealing to beat them again in the presidential election.
The only way to stop him is to starve him of cash to stop him from buying his way to the presidency. Now, poor and middle-class folks have to pay the price for this.
People who read me know that I resent Tinubu’s politics and don’t want him to be president because I find him too physically and mentally infirm to be president, but I find the Machiavellian designs against him by the Buhari regime not only unprecedentedly treacherous but also dangerous. There should be honour even among thieves.
Buhari became president because of the help he got from Tinubu and his associates. The votes of the Muslim North were never sufficient to push him to the finish line. Tinubu’s support for Buhari’s presidential aspiration was conditional on Buhari requiting the support after eight years. A promise is a promise. If you can’t keep the promise, don’t go out of your way to actively sabotage it.
I dislike Tinubu because he enabled Buhari not once but twice, but I dislike treachery more. I want Tinubu to lose the election because voters rejected him, not because Buhari and his narrow circle of influence-peddling associates sabotaged him. The idea that Tinubu can’t be stopped unless he is starved of cash to bribe voters unduly overestimates him and unfairly underestimates the intelligence of voters.
More than that, though, it’s not only futile, it’s also counter-productive. For instance, it has now emerged that Tinubu and APC governors have found a way around the naira blockade against them. They are now using their connections and “big man” privilege to mop up recoloured naira notes from several banks and are saving them for Election Day. That was probably what CBN governor Godwin Emefiele meant when he talked about “sabotage” from banks.
The increasingly biting cash scarcity in the country will ensure that monetary incentives to voters would be even more valuable than they would have been in normal times because people are desperate and writhing in unspeakable existential torment.
What’s happening in Nigeria now reminds me of my experience with another wooden-headed Buhari naira redesign policy in 1984. I was a preteen then, but the terrifying agony of the time is still one of my most traumatic childhood memories. It was the first time in my life that I’d experienced hunger and deprivation.
The only currencies in circulation at the time were coins and the 50 kobo note. No one could sell or buy anything because there was no cash in circulation. My father had started building a four-bedroom house from the money he’d saved. But like most people in my hometown, he never got the money back he’d sent in exchange for the new naira notes. I built the house for him more than two decades later.
As Saturday Tribune editor Dr Lasisi Olagunju’s Monday column brilliantly shows, several people died of hunger or committed suicide because of Buhari’s 1984 naira redesign policy in the service of depriving a few wealthy people of their so-called ill-gotten prosperity.
It’s happening again. Inflicting mass hurt on a large swath of people gives Buhari immense joy. So, naira redesign policies help Buhari to achieve two goals that are dear to his heart: seeing people suffer and depriving wealthy people of prosperity.
Unfortunately, although the masses of people are barely surviving because of the deliberately engineered scarcity of the naira, opposition to and support for the policy have become partisan political issues. APC and Tinubu supporters resent it because they think vote buying is their only path to victory, and PDP and Labor Party supporters defend it because they think it’s the only way to stop Tinubu in his tracks.
None of them cares for the real-time, heartrending humanitarian disaster that the policy engenders in the polity. Politics has robbed people of their very humanity.
In my part of Nigeria, which shares a border with northeast Benin Republic, people go to Benin Republic to get the recoloured naira notes. Even so, they are so scarce that people now transact business using CFA francs! Yet no one cares. And it’s getting worse every day.
Premium Times reported on Friday that “The Mint has run out of papers to print N500 and 1,000 notes,” and that the CBN has outsourced printing of naira notes to a German firm and De La Rue of the UK but that “they have been placed on a long waiting list so their orders cannot be met now.” So, Nigerians are in for even harder times in the coming days.
What will it profit Buhari and his cabal if they stop Tinubu from becoming president but burn the country down and kill its people in the process? Would such a pyrrhic victory be worth it?