If I may quickly say this, I was not really a fan of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari until I read his interview in TheNEWS magazine some time in 1994 — nine years after he was overthrown in a coup by General Ibrahim Babangida. Questioned on the things he got wrong as military head of state, Buhari replied candidly (and I paraphrase): “We made mistakes, but they were genuine mistakes… we were in a hurry to change Nigeria.” That instantly won me over. His perceived highhandedness was not for personal profit; it was in desperation to reform Nigerians. In one sentence, I saw honesty, I saw patriotism and I saw authenticity. I became his disciple from a distance.
I started dreaming of a Buhari presidency precisely in 1998. I can’t remember everything now, but I was then the Features Editor of THISDAY. Mr. Victor Ifijeh, then the Editor, drew my attention to a public lecture on leadership by Buhari and asked me to write a “Man in the News” feature on him for the Friday Review section. After going through Buhari’s speech, whose details I cannot now recollect (which means I’m finally getting old), I convinced myself that this was the kind of leader Nigeria badly needed. I started praying that one day, Buhari would lead Nigeria again. The inimitable Gen. Sani Abacha was the head of state then.
I would later get close to Buhari. I sized him up at close quarters and made my conclusions. One, he is very passionate about the progress of Nigeria. He believes that the country can be far better than this. Two, he believes the major problem obstructing our progress is leadership deficiency. In an interview I had with him in March 2001, he complained about the growing lawlessness in the land under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s leadership, concluding: “Instead of the dog wagging the tail, it is the tail that is wagging the dog.” Three, he told me in May 2009 that Nigeria had been ruled by “leaders without conscience”, and that was why we had not developed “despite all our resources”.
I saw in Buhari a leader who would not spend his days in office feathering his nest. I saw a leader who would not condone stealing of public funds. I saw in him a strong personality who would take a decision and stand by it, not being tossed by every wind of doctrine. However, unlike most of the modern-day Buhari fans, I was very much aware of his limitations. I knew he would be highly constrained by his worldview. I worried about his economic philosophy. I also worried about his likely choice of core team members. Above all, I knew his handling of the Nigerian situation as a military man was not replicable in a democracy. I was quite realistic.
In truth, I was not expecting magic in the event of him becoming president. I did not expect him to change Nigeria and Nigerians in four years, much less in 10 months. It so happened that in 2015, after three failed attempts, Buhari became the choice presidential candidate. The anti-Jonathan movement found a ready symbol of change in Buhari. They quickly created him in the image they wanted: a flawless magician, the ultimate messiah. I was very worried for Buhari at some point. For instance, on January 25, 2015 — more than two months before he won the election — I did foresee trouble in an article with the title: “Buhari and the Burden of Expectations.”
I wrote: “To be honest, I don’t know whether to rejoice or sympathise with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari anytime I read all the sweet comments about him on social media — especially on Twitter. I don’t know any presidential candidate who has been so idolised in recent times — which is an excellent accolade any politician will gladly take. On the one hand, it is good for him. He will not be complaining at all. No politician will complain about such good fortune, especially with only a few weeks to an election. On the other hand, my God! The expectations are sky-high. Incredible. From what I am reading, Buhari is expected to perform nothing short of magic in Aso Rock…”
I am, therefore, not surprised by the increasing murmurings and grumblings against Buhari in less than 10 months. A country perpetually reliant on fuel imports, littered with bad roads and sick hospitals, living in darkness, churning out illiterates as graduates — let’s face it: the turn-around maintenance of Nigeria will take longer than 10 months. I’ve always told my friends no president can transform Nigeria in four years or even eight years. The most important thing, I keep emphasising, is to have patriotic and competent leadership taking us in the right direction. That way, we would know that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory ahead.
Having said that, however, I am really getting worried about Buhari’s second coming. Yes, he has confronted Boko Haram decisively. Although the jury is still out, at least the soldiers are no longer running away to Cameroon on “tactical manoeuvre” or complaining about embezzled allowances. For once, there is sustained seriousness in the war on terror. Yes, Buhari has laid down the marker in his anti-graft war, even if it is not all-encompassing. At least, there is some activity on that front. We could use a more comprehensive strategy that includes moral suasion as well as institutional and administrative reforms, in addition to enforcement. Something is happening all the same.
But I worry about Buhari’s speed and economic philosophy. I admit that he met enormous challenges on ground. Only a magician would have killed all the cockroaches, mosquitoes and rats within 10 months. The PDP brigade, still hurting from their humiliation in the general election, are trying to force the issue, trying to brand Buhari as a failure already — yet their party had 16 whole years to address power shortage, dependence on fuel imports, infrastructural decay, comatose healthcare and stunted education. They wasted a golden opportunity. They are certainly not in a good position to describe Buhari as a failure before his first anniversary in office.
Nevertheless, I am very disturbed that Buhari does not yet have an economic direction. Neither is there an anchor. There is no clarity. What we are getting are mixed messages, bits and pieces here and there. I am hearing sweet statements and poetic promises, a lot of rhymes and alliterations, from APC leaders and ministers. There is no proper articulation so that we can have an idea of where we are headed. There are so many dots that are not connecting. I have this impression everybody is just doing their own thing without any overarching strategy to connect these dots. I can’t see coherence. I can’t see a roadmap. I can’t see what to hold on to.
Agreed, Buhari is not an economist. But you don’t have to be an economist to lead a nation to prosperity. All you need is a damn good economic team worth its onions. The team must have an anchor. We are neck-deep in an economic crisis and this requires emergency reaction. Even though Buhari is a strong character who stands by what he believes in, there must also be some flexibility. Economic crises are better tackled with a combination of antidotes. It is good that Buhari is a patriot and an honest man. It is good that Buhari means well. But meaning well does not solve these problems. He must also do well. The economy is in limbo, let’s be honest about it.
Mr. President, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to see your development blueprint. We want to understand your policies, programmes and strategies. We want to see the goals and the goalposts. Your party says one thing today, you say another tomorrow. That you met a mess on ground is the same reason the majority of voters chose you. If they wanted the mess to continue, they would have maintained the status quo. And while we cannot expect you to clear the mess in 10 months, we need a mental picture of where you are taking us. I have no doubt that you can turn out to be the best Nigerian president ever, but where is the beef?
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
BUHARI AND MTN
On Tuesday, when President Muhammadu Buhari accused MTN of “aiding” the killing of 10,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram, I shuddered a bit. The president shouldn’t be making such public statements, I told myself. MTN clearly erred by failing to register 5.1 million subscribers and many of us have condemned the telecoms giant, but such a weighty allegation coming from the president is unnecessary — in my opinion. It is good that there finally seems to be a headway in the resolution of the issue, and I hope a good lesson has been learnt by all concerned, from operators to regulators. Valuable.
Kindly give me a call if you understand what Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum resources, is up to. When he became NNPC GMD last year, he reduced the directorates to four, saying we needed a “trim” organisation. Now that he is minister, he has increased them to seven “fat” units. He calls them “independent” units, meaning they are… erm… independent. Yet he says this is not “unbundling”. Independent but not unbundled? Independent? And I understand NNPC is fast becoming family business. At this rate, Diezani Alison-Madueke, former petroleum minister, may end up as a saint in record time. Nigeria!
One lesson to be learnt from Sunday’s tragic accident that claimed the lives of James Ocholi, minister of state for labour, his wife and son, is that using seat belts is advisable no matter where you sit. Generally, only those on the front seats use belts. There is also the issue of overspeeding. Without excessive speeding, many accidents would not be fatal. Vehicles are easier to control within reasonable speeding, although our lawmakers are fighting to prevent the introduction of speed limiters by FRSC. Ocholi was such a lovely and lively man. My heartfelt condolences to his young family. Heart-rending.
Nigeria’s fault lines are easily magnified, as we saw yet again in the Mile 12 market crisis in Lagos. We were told a pregnant Yoruba woman was knocked down by a “Hausa” (probably not Hausa but a northerner or even Chadian) motorcyclist. In a normal society, the first thing is to get emergency treatment for the victim, not to ask of the culprit’s ethnicity. (It could well have been a Yoruba or Ibibio motorcyclist!) You then take the offender to the police for the law to take its course. But it ended up as Hausa vs Yoruba. Such a primitive pattern. Senseless.