Nigeria’s president Buhari has had a difficult week.
While struggling to steer Africa’s largest economy back into prosperity, Buhari has had to deal with criticism from his own wife, a response to which resulted in an international embarrassment over his sexist comments, the president now faces criticism from one of his country’s most famous citizens. In a scathing New York Times op-ed, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie criticized the president’s stifling economic and monetary policies as well as his poor handling of a spate of killings involving Fulani herdsmen.
Like many, the award-winning writer says she “welcomed” Buhari’s presidency upon his return to power as a democratic president after a prior stint in the 1980s as military dictator. Despite campaigning on a strong anti-corruption record and winning popular support, Adichie believes Buhari “wasted” his chance “to boldly reshape Nigeria’s path” given his sluggish start to office, notably shown by the “unusually long time” it took to appoint ministers.
For much of his presidency, Buhari has been faced with difficult economic headwinds as low oil prices robbed Nigeria of a chunk of earnings from its main export. But despite the difficult reality of Nigeria’s reduced earnings, the president has been criticized for his economic and monetary policies which exacerbated the crisis. A fixed foreign exchange rate was stubbornly upheld for months and when the policy was eventually dropped, damage had already been done. The president’s economic focus has also sought to prioritize local production, banning imports deemed unnecessary but Adichie described the approach as archaic.
“His intentions, good as they well might be, are rooted in an outdated economic model and an infantile view of Nigerians,” she wrote. “For him, it seems, patriotism is not a voluntary and flexible thing, with room for dissent, but a martial enterprise: to obey without questioning.”
Buhari’s security record also came in for criticism. While the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east has been largely crippled, another security challenge has been posed by rampaging herdsmen from the same ethnic group as the president who have reportedly killed hundreds in violent spats over land. Buhari’s response to the killings have been distinctly lacking in urgency. Adichie says “his aloofness feels, at worst, like a tacit enabling of murder and, at best, an absence of sensitive leadership.” Adichie, very much known for her advocacy on female education and feminism in general, is also known for being non-partisan. In a country where much of the political commentary has underlying partisan tones, Adichie’s words are likely to be taken a little more seriously.