Nigeria: Muhammadu Buhari and His Burden of Change

President Muhammadu Buhari (file photo)
29 May 2019

UPON his return from exile in 1982, the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was asked his reaction, looking back at the civil war.

His response was that God Almighty did not intend that human beings should look back, for if he had intended such, he would have provided another pair of eyes at the back of our heads. Therefore, in his estimation, there was really no need to begin to look back.

But a supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, would not share that view.

Not sharing that view, however, in the context of performance, would be a two-edged sword. They would insist that looking back, specifically at the 16 years of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in governing Nigeria, kleptocracy, a derisive coinage for government of kleptocrats by kleptocrats, the massive corruption that held sway as well as the tokenistic delivery of democracy dividends, is all there is to show for those years. They would also add - and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has never been tired of reminding Nigerians - that the price of crude oil, Nigeria's main source of forex, was as high as $120 per barrel during the time of PDP and, compared with what was delivered, the funds were merely wasted. They would, therefore, insist, it would be necessary to look back at those 16 years as years of waste and, so, those years created a very lousy, shaky foundation for President Buhari to build on. They may be right - not necessarily, and completely so.

But looking back still, those of the PDP hue will ask very salient questions about how President Buhari wilfully wasted his first five months in office without ministers, without clear policy initiatives for governance; they would also point to Mr. President's policy on forex and the order that banks should not accept deposits of same, as egregiously engendering a further downward spiral of the Nigerian economy, something which drove the exchange rate of the naira to a dollar to as ridiculously high as N502 to $1. They would also say that whereas the broad strategy of anti-corruption may bode well for Nigeria, the tactical approach serves as a repellant to willing investors who go away with the impression that Nigerians are corrupt and, therefore, investing in a nation of corrupt individuals may be akin to harakiri, since the President and Vice- President propagate the narrative.

So, again the question: Is it worth the trouble looking back? Of course yes! But looking back to achieve what? Every October 1 and May 29 - independence and inauguration days, respectively - have witnessed different analysts always looking back. Unfortunately, each time, the end product is a litany of woes about how bad things are and how terrible they have been and may become.

Therefore, this special publication today takes a leap of faith beyond just looking back at the state of the states; it also attempts to provide solutions for the future and how things can become better. But things can only become better if both the federal and state governments discard what has not been working while building on those things that appear to be working.

Critics of President Buhari put the blame squarely at his doorsteps and ask whether indeed, while he serially sought to be President and Commander-in-Chief in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, he had a full grasp of the enormity of the responsibilities of that office - without prejudice to his being a former military head of state. Stemming from that, they ask whether he had any blue print beyond chanting the mantra of fighting corruption and tackling insecurity as well as providing jobs? Whereas a sympathetic observer would say on these three counts that Mr. President came out in colours, a more sober assessment would say he did not come out in colours that are bright and that could fly. It is this that leads us to the pertinence of the statement by Benjamin Disraeli, one of Britain's witty statesmen, who said "the secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his time when it comes."

President Buhari's time finally came in 2015. But was he ready? Was he prepared? Did he grab the moment? Yes, he grabbed the moment and even made useful, quotable quotes like being for everybody and being for nobody. For Nigerians, their concern is the delivery. So, did President Buhari or the state governors deliver in the last four years? In answering this question, THE PETER PRINCIPLE, a book written by Laurence Peter, may help out here. In discussing incompetence, the author says "a position of incompetence is the apotheosis of a corporate career, or any profession where there is hierarchy; for each individual, the final position is from a level of competence to a level of incompetence. So, given enough time, each employee rises to and remains at his level of incompetence," for, according to the author, "there are two kinds of failure: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought." Recent developments in the country, be it on the political front, economic, security or anti-corruption, the optimism that greeted the emergence of President Buhari in 2015 has, if truth be told, waned. This may not be as a result of outright incompetence on the part of government, it may just as well be, as Laurence Peter puts it, some people may have become overwhelmed because they have risen to their level of incompetence. A very poignant example is the security situation in the country which continues to get worse with the same set of security operators since 2015.

So, as we march on today into another 1,461 days of Buhari's second term, we propose to chart a pathway to political stability and economic prosperity.

The stories overleaf about the state of the states and how the economy can rebound attempt to provide useful insights into how Nigeria and Nigerians can make progress.

When the array of politicians in APC went about Nigeria campaigning for change in 2015, many keyed into the paradigm and the party won.

But what, perhaps, may have become the downside was the lack of clarity in the content and context of the change paradigm. Thomas Stewart, in his book, INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL, explains that capital, particularly, human capital, if not properly handled, could lay to waste. He insists that "you cannot define and manage intellectual assets unless you know what you want to do with them."

The challenge that creeps up most times is the lack of ability to weave together a very strong, potent and effective set of policy initiatives that would not on the one hand, promise to deal with a problem, while on the other hand creating another set of problems in the process. It is, perhaps, the inability of the Buhari administration to create the necessary linkages that continues to pour cold water on its many initiatives.

Those interviewed, ranging from employers of labour, to officials of chambers of commerce, to industrialists and financial analysts, there is a co-terminal point of convergence in their suggestions, which is that for Nigeria to develop, we must change direction. As an analyst once observed, sometimes when Nigeria changes direction for the better, rather than move forward, it opts to take backward steps, thereby making the whole endeavour a fool's errand.

It is hoped that President Buhari's second term would correct the noticeable shortcomings of his first four years. Should those steps not be corrected, May 29, 2023, some 1,461 days thence, would happen on the Buhari-led administration, just as 2019 has happened today, with many Nigerians insisting that President Buhari has come with colours that are not flying.

But "being in power," Margaret Thatcher, the former British PM, once said, "is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

President Buhari and Vice- President Osinbajo should roll up their sleeves again and work for Nigerians to feel the gains of governance, without being told that government feels their pains or that it is working.

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