By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me say categorically and emphatically that our dear beloved country is dangerously haemorrhaging again and this perfidious drift must be halted urgently before we all end up in perdition. Anyone telling President Muhammadu Buhari that all is well or that his government is moving in the right direction is either lying or pretending like a rattlesnake. And there are many scorpions around ready to mislead every government and move on effortlessly when things fall apart. For sure President Buhari possesses the ability to move this country in the right direction and lead us to where we want to be but right now it is not happening and the soul of the people palpitates! I’ve been on several television and radio interviews in the past one week and the commonest question is on the performance of our President. The general perception is that the change mantra seems not to be working and the world is worried because of the importance of Nigeria in the comity of nations.
I hope our President will get to see this piece, read it and ruminate on the points I will raise. The Buhari government has lost a substantial equity in just one year as I will try to explain in the next few paragraphs. It must be noted that Nigerians were happy with the election that ushered in President Buhari. Even those who did not vote for him accepted him with unusual equanimity. Those we expected to fight and throw tantrums simply vamoosed into their bunkers. The expectations were high then but I doubt if enough effort was put into seizing the momentum and translating it into a mass movement that would have stood the test of time. It is not too late to reclaim the moment.
The faith Nigerians had in the abilities and incorruptibility of Buhari is mighty enough to move mountains. But unfortunately, I think the government took many things for granted once it took over the reins of power. The government mistakenly believed that the support of the people was like several blank cheques which it could cash at any point in time. The general impatience of Nigerians and their desire for progressive action were never put into consideration. I remember writing two memos to our President in quick successions, when I realised that Nigerians were getting restless and restive, one of which was the desperate memo that earned me an invitation to the Presidential Villa for which I am so honoured and proud.
Still the government did not respond appropriately to the yearnings of the populace. The major problem is that the priorities of Buhari were never palpable to the general public as everything seemed to operate in utmost secrecy. This is probably a relic of the military days when surprise and spontaneity achieved more. However, democracy is an open book and it has become even more so since the internet turned the world into a global information minefield. I’m sure it was assumed that the people would never doubt or query the sincerity of a messiah. So there was no need to provide any real information about the activities of government. That was the first fallacy.
The second fallacy is that people would give the President plenty of time to unfold his change agenda. One year on, it is obvious that this has not been the case. President Buhari should have moved faster once the people started grumbling about the apparent sluggishness of his administration. The selection of his cabinet was annoyingly slow and by the time it eventually came it had evaporated into a deja vu. There was no element of surprise to elicit major excitement. In fact, most people wondered why it took so long to assemble his present team most of whom he could have picked in two weeks or even before he was sworn in. The demystification of Buhari became manifest from that moment not because the team he picked is not worthy or creditable but because the interminable delay in making the choices cost the nation dearly.
The next problem was that the President should have moved to unite and unify the country immediately. It was clear that the previous administrations had riven great division into the Nigerian polity. A new beginning seeking to heal the ulcerous, cancerous wounds of religious and ethnic disunity and disaffection was required. However, starting with a war of attrition, it was obvious our President would soon have his hands full. Not that some of the wars were unnecessary but the timing and methodology should have been meticulously weighed and analysed before launching into the requisite offensive. There was a lot to learn from our nascent democracy. It would have been easier to embark on some of these wars as a military ruler that the President formerly was but not as a civilian leader which the President now is. That realisation appears to have been missed by some of our President Buhari’s advisers.
For example, while the war against corruption was desperately urgent, it ought to have been known that it was intricately and delicately tied to the economy. The need to recover the looted funds as quickly as possible and use them to reinvigorate the economy needed to be balanced by the need to do so expeditiously and tactfully so that the main objective would be fulfilled. My humble opinion and advice would have been to use the carrot and stick method rather than the kill and go style that has now exposed our economy to grave danger and imminent collapse. The angry mob of Nigerians goading on our President has blatantly refused to assimilate the magnitude of the resultant repercussions. But it should be noted that those who feel frustrated about a rotten system can never be bothered if the entire structure collapses. It is such acute disillusionment that gave rise to the ascendancy of a Donald Trump in America. It is the duty and responsibility of leadership to wear its thinking cap well and rise above the giddiness of the baying crowd who have nothing to lose and only wish to see the spectacle of blood flowing without any degree of humanity or compassion for the impoverished masses that they claim to represent. The same people who hailed Buhari yesterday are the ones denigrating him today.
Once it was impossible to generalise the war against corruption to engulf all politicians tainted with corruption no matter their affiliation the government should have requested for a blanket return of government booty via negotiation with all public office holders. Those who failed to take up this generous offer of recovery could then be visited with the might and power of retributive justice. An example of when this great opportunity was missed was when government unreasonably told Nigerians they could no longer pay foreign currencies in cash into their accounts. Perhaps government in its naivety did not remember that politicians had prosecuted the last election through the almighty dollar because it reduced the bulkiness of gratifications. Government should have patiently waited for the dollars to come in, whether in cash or not, before pouncing on the owners. Once that opportunity was missed, the next was to discreetly stretch its tentacles across the world in search of thieves and money launderers. Assets at home and abroad should have been quietly traced for possible confiscation. This could have been done without all the present grandstanding and hullabaloo. When you hear the elephant stomping the ground behind you in a one directional manner, you know it is time to run and hide. In this period when we are celebrating the life and times of Mohammed Ali perhaps it is poignant to say that you do not telegraph your punches rather you “rope a dope”!
Also, the moment our President chose a military style of operation he should have known that corruption would fight back with ferocity and velocity. For example, once it seemed the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had been marked for humiliation even demolition, I knew our President was playing with the tiger’s tail and I sounded my note of warning. Before we could say Jack Robinson, the Niger Delta avengers returned with a vengeance and brought us back to our knees. Today our oil production has plunged to an all-time low even when we had been grappling with the nightmare of low crude oil prices. The Niger Delta Avengers army seems ready to make Boko Haram look like child’s play as they strangulate the economy, degrade the environment and decimate the local population that they claim to be fighting for. Is this what we need to add to our plethora of problems at this time? The answer is a big NO.
The militarisation of Nigeria has become very suffocating. Shiites are being killed in droves in the North West. Mass graves have been identified and uncovered. The Biafra agitators are being massacred in broad-day light and its leaders detained indefinitely. Boko Haram remains a monumental menace to society despite the extra-ordinary efforts of our military and Intelligence agencies. The Fulani and or Libyan herdsmen have added to the conundrum out of the blues. Different militant groups are now armed to the teeth. Trust me these guys don’t look like they are joking. Nobody fights on as many fronts as this government now seems to be fighting without risking it all.
Many have argued that Nigeria should be restructured. It is believed that its present configuration is too artificial. Most of the States are no longer viable while some fringe or full-blown eccentrics are asking for more. It is interesting that in the build up to independence our leaders from the North, Southwest and East were saying the same thing in different words. Nigeria is peopled by diverse nationalities and any nation must recognise this diversity and give it voice and room to flourish. A continuous denial of this fact can only lead to self-destruction. One of our erstwhile leaders in his wisdom foisted unitary system on us when we had successfully thrived under true federalism. That was a mark of courage notwithstanding that it was a totally flawed decision. Our President must find a similar kind of courage to find and examine all the previous recommendations made during different and various constitutional conferences and implement the universal clamour for true federalism. There is nothing new under the sun, as they say, our President already has a rich reservoir of knowledge deposited in some government archives to reach the best decision and modality that will achieve this end. My simple solution, Nigeria must return to and embrace and practise true Federalism. Not doing so is like pushing our luck too far and postponing doomsday.
What is of utmost importance in calling for a political configuration that will meet the yearnings of our people is the state of the economy. My submission is that the economy will never recover in an atmosphere of tension, uncertainty and panic. The Federal Government needs to tone down the negative rhetoric about our country. That unfortunate moniker of a corrupt nation that has been hung round our necks is dragging us down and denying Nigeria the investment in its future that it requires. Our President must make it clear that he is not the only saint in Nigeria but that the majority of Nigerians are saints and he is the leader who epitomises that. This is why he was chosen by the majority of good and well-meaning Nigerians who want someone that would demonstrate to the world that the generality of Nigerians are decent, hardworking and honest and that it is a small minority of Nigerians that are crooks. We must begin to walk away from our ugly past and work assiduously for a beautiful future.
Every nation has lived through its terrible moments but none ever cuddled the past forever as we now seem to be doing. Nigeria is richly blessed with human and natural resources. There is always a new dawn tomorrow and we must get ready for it, embrace it and by so doing seize the initiative. There would always be criminals in every society but we must never allow them to steal our future or still dominate our narrative when we have so many great men and women we can be proud of. Fortunately, we have a President that stands head and shoulders above all else and he clearly leads the way. He must now show it by moving at the fast pace that his country desires, nay demands!
By Dele Momodu