By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, are you one of those who buy into the fake narrative that our dear beloved country is too difficult to handle; that the different ethnic groups hate one another to the point of death; that Nigeria can never know peace; that all Nigerians are corrupt and fraudulent; that religious fanaticism is our problem; that all hope is lost and we should go our separate ways, and so on, I have good news for you today. I’m willing to risk some measure of boundless optimism rather than my usual pessimism. There is no doubt that Nigeria can frustrate any soul. It is indeed very easy to give up on the possibility of Nigeria ever getting out of the woods. But trust me, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, if we do the right things, and navigate and meander our way, the way we should.
I doubt if the Buhari government would ever change it’s style. I really don’t care any longer. I have moved on, peacefully, and looking forward to the next four years or so. From experience, I know this controversial second term will soon evaporate like the ones before it. Who would have thought 20 years have vamoosed in a jiffy since our return to Democratic rule in 1999? If we could survive those years of hocus-pocus, why can’t we endure the next four years of higgledy-piggleddy!
My sermon is going to be simple and straightforward. Let me quickly tell you when and how we got it all wrong. We lost our paradise in 1966 when the military struck and sacked the most cerebral set of politicians we ever had or assembled. Not just that, we killed the regionalism that made it possible for our major ethnic groups to develop independent of one another and at their own self-determined pace. From that moment on, one military government after the other continued to exchange the baton of foolishness, backwardness and ultimately destruction. They began to ride roughshod on us, pretending to be holier-than-though, while leading us to Golgotha, the place of perdition. Though we claim we now have a civilian administration, it is obvious to discerning minds that we are living in fools’ paradise.
Once we’ve accepted the fact that we are definitely in servitude, the next point is to determine and decide the way out of this quagmire. My proposition is easy. We must search urgently for a good leader while we manage the ones we have now and hope for miracles. I don’t really care where he or she will come from, as long as that person is a Nigerian by birth. I also do not worry about his religious beliefs. All our past leaders had claimed one of the mainstream religions and they have mostly exhibited traits of Lucifer than that of God or Allah. So, let no one come to preach to me about the need to find a suitable Christian or Muslim. Same on the matter of ethnicity, none of our past and current leaders has ever succeeded in turning their parts of Nigeria into anything spectacularly remarkable. Rather they’ve neglected and abandoned their unfortunate places to eternal squalor and majority of their people to subhuman degradation. If anything, perhaps, they created a few emergency entrepreneurs and billionaires. No more.
Now, fast forward. In another two years, the race for the 2023 general elections would have started in full swing. Some have already begun their clandestine moves, leaving nothing to chance. The first mistakes we must never make again is to think a third force can achieve much in the next elections. I’m more interested in who becomes our next President. I have many friends who think I’m obsessed with Presidential election. Sure, I do, because Nigeria operates a Presidential system, which confers humongous power in the hands of the President. We only need that one man to change Nigeria into one of the greatest nations on earth. Try and picture the monstrosity the President controls today. It is unparalleled anywhere in the world. I make bold to say there is no President of a large country as Nigeria as powerful as Muhammadu Buhari. You may be tempted to mention the leaders of USA, Russia and China but, believe me, Buhari has more power than all of them combined. Buhari is in total control of all apparatus of governance in Nigeria. But the power is nothing short of personal aggrandizement, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Thus, what we then need, urgently, is a leader who can crystallize that enormous power into greatness for our long-suffering country. The new leader must worry less about the alluring aura and the appurtenances of power. The extravagance of public office holders is too bizarre for this time and age. By the lifestyle of the presidency, a dangerous signal is by happenstance sent to the subordinates that governance is a jamboree. It is almost impossible to find a Nigerian politician without the swag of a peacock. There is no such word as service in their lexicon. We need a President who can demystify this outlandish proclivity for profligacy.
The new leader must have a career, investment portfolio, or business. It won’t be too healthy if his life totally depends on proceeds and dividends of politics. He must have sufficient education and must have managed people and resources in his private life. I’m not saying the person must be a graduate, but, really, why not? A country littered with some of the most educated and sophisticated human beings on planet earth should never end up in the hands of near-illiterates and antiquated leaders. A leader is not expected to just govern at home like an Emperor, he would be needed on International scenes and engagements and must be able to represent us well on such occasions. Each of the two leading parties must do a critical search before arriving at their candidates. And where they take it for granted that any unserious candidate they field can win, we the people should punish them at the polls for taking us for granted.
Please, let me say and emphasize this before it escapes me. Nigeria should stop looking for a saint to govern us, but we should also not choose obvious rogues as leaders. We should avoid a witchhunt that is usually based on character assassination. We’ve wasted a lot of far better and much intelligent leaders because of our preference for fake idols of the market place. There is no saint to be found anywhere but nations are governed by performers. Stronger institutions will take care of whatever foibles and idiosyncrasies he may harbour.
We need a leader who is detribalised and who sees every Nigerian as his kinsman. A good President must visibly show love to all and demonstrate it in words and in deeds. He should never fan embers of ethnicity or religion. Our leaders must learn to assemble the best teams regardless of where they come from, the way we select our football players. No leader should waste our scarce resources on sponsoring religious trips abroad. Religion should be a personal relationship between you and your God. Our secularist Constitution should be protected and enforced. Anyone wanting to go to Mecca or Jerusalem is very welcome, but it should be at their own expense.
Let’s now move to what Nigeria needs do to be much greater. Truth is, we all know what to do but none of our leaders is able, or willing, to bell the cat. This is the main tragedy of Nigeria. How can a patient know the prescription for his chronic ailment and yet refuse to buy and take it as regularly as recommended. It is as if our country is on a suicide mission as no one has been able to arrest and reverse the perfidious drift. Our kamikaze attitude calls for serious and divine intervention but from my reading of world history and religious studies, I’m reasonably convinced that “heaven helps only those who help themselves.”
I know the usual excuse in Nigeria is always about lack of funding but I wish to disagree. If we manage the little we have well, we can do so much with it but none of our politicians is ready to reduce his personal comfort. Our leaders live ostentatiously like Royals and not as servants of the people. Nigeria will never make progress unless our leaders consciously decide to have pity and mercy on the country. Even our current President has caught the bug of ceremonial and grandiloquent Presidency. Anyone going through what Nigeria is suffering and sees our annual budget would readily conclude that ours is a cursed nation. And it all begins in Aso Rock Presidential villa where money is wasted like rain water. I have seen no evidence that our economy is a source of worry as leaders continue on their binge.
Education must be the priority of any smart leader. My interactions on global campuses have revealed to me the secrets of all great nations. None of them ever became great without investing substantially in quality education. We are more than double the size of Great Britain which parades about 10 of the top hundred universities in the world. Not just that, practically all these universities are dominated with citizens of China, India and North America. The greatness of those countries are well secured for the future.
I know the next question will be what would I do as President to resurrect our dying education. I think it is not too hard. I will be very practical. It is impossible to build our own Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or Yale or Stanford in four years but we can start by upgrading a few of our existent institutions of higher learning after doing same at the lower levels. First there must be a clear selection process to determine which schools can be rehabilitated first and fast. Education starts from providing habitable environments. No private investor must be allowed to operate mushroom schools to start with. They must comply with stringent laws and requirements. After the environment is the content or curricular. Teachers must be well trained and adequately remunerated. We should no longer allow teachers’ rewards to wait for them in heaven. Those students who can afford it should be encouraged to go private. Government schools must not be for dregs of society but also for serious minded students in search of robust knowledge.
A good leader must declare states of emergency in several sectors. Each must have a carefully selected, meticulously screened and delicately approved committees of experts. Next to education is power. They almost run neck to neck. No country living in raven darkness can ever prosper. A leader who wants to fix electricity in Nigeria must never worry much about being re-elected into office. He would have to step on some powerful toes. Too many people are benefiting from the current malaise and would not want it to end. This lack of patriotism is largely responsible for the unending embarrassment we suffer over electricity.
The government must be ready to go all out like President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, who was able to inject over 800 megawatts in under two years, after Ghana suffered it’s most outrageous power outages. First, he analysed the situation. He identified foreign companies that can deliver in record time. He confirmed their terms. He came back to his people and gave them the options available to them. The news was not very palatable but he told them the honest truth. I will deliver electricity to every home and even double our requirements and probably sell some to other neighbouring countries but you have to pay commercial tariffs. Many hated him for it but he delivered his own side in record time. This is the only way for Nigeria to go.
President Buhari is on his final lap in power, hopefully, if he is not tempted by the demons of democracy to try a third term, so he has nothing to fear about ending the jinx of power failures in Nigeria. If he and his team are willing to do that which is necessary, there will be light in Nigeria. If that’s all he achieves, God bless him forever.
Nearly all our other challenges require similar templates. Health is wealth. There is no reason why each of the six geo-political regions should not have one world class hospital in the next four years. Again, before our very eyes, Mahama made this happen in Ghana. Wherever there is a will, there is a way. Mahama was ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his country. Many of his fellow citizens felt he was inflicting hardship and pains on them but he pursued his developmental agenda without minding the repercussions or backing down because he kept his eyes on the ball and ultimately on the goal post. He paid dearly for it. He was sacked from office but today Ghana is a proud recipient of brand new airports, sea ports, massive hospitals of international standards, beautiful institutions of learning, new stadiums, new markets, good roads, much improved power stations, modern agriculture, cleaner water systems, beautiful and affordable houses, rural internet connections, better trained artisans, and so on.
We don’t have to re-invent the wheels. I know the political climate in Ghana is not of the same tempo and temperature as that of Nigeria. But a determined leader, and a powerful one at that, like President Buhari can take on the system and do the needful. Unlike Mahama, he no longer has any more election to worry about but only a worthy legacy. I know for a fact, Mahama has so much respect and admiration for Buhari. Our President may wish to reach out to his brother next door (they seem to bond well whenever they meet) to ask him the secrets of sidelining those too selfish to wish their country well in order to deliver monumentally in record time. Humility to learn what we don’t know will take us far but are we ready?
Time is ticking, at supersonic speed.