By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me start by thanking all the blogs, WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter wizards who make the incredible efforts and sacrifice to mass-circulate my Pendulum column every week. I’m sincerely grateful for your abiding faith in the written word. Let me assure you that you push me to write this piece regularly no matter how tough. I must also salute all those who reach out to me via emails, SMS and telephone calls offering their appreciation of my humble contribution to nation-building. I’ve just received one such call from a businessman who believes so much in Buhari but feels the man has been encircled by desperate political jobbers who are not bothered whether he fails or succeeds. They are only interested in the allure and lucre of power, he says and he may not be far from the truth.
I truly appreciate the men and women of power who see my weekly sermon from the perspective that I mean no harm but that I am determined to prop up a government I helped bring to fruition in my own little way. It is impossible to forget and ignore my own critics who can never agree with my position on any national or international issue. Unknown to them, they keep me on my toes and force me to hone the elementary logic I learned as an undergraduate student at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
I wish to say categorically and with all emphasis at my command that the Buhari government is flailing. And only the ubiquitous hypocrites and cheer leaders would fail to say it as it is, that the grunts of the people are fast turning into deafening lamentations. No amount of approbation by a President Obama can detract from the plaintive suffering and cries of the Nigerian people. Indeed, much as I love Obama, we must remember that his primary interest is America and the fight against corruption which is a sub-plot in America’s fight against terrorism.
In case our dear President is unaware, and he feels only the wailing wailers are grumbling, I wish to assure him that this is not the case. Some of the President’s friends and supporters are deeply worried at the sad turn of events. They are wondering what went wrong and what can be done to turn the dangerous slide around. In fact, everything looks to them like a bad dream, a nightmare in reality. But on a personal note, I don’t think the situation is as irredeemable as it seems. The solution lies squarely on the President’s table. Only he can salvage his government from this stupendous slump from grace to grass.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s biggest equity is in his legendary incorruptibility. He must have assumed that this equity is rock solid and unassailable. But while the people truly want a reduction in the level of corruption and general indiscipline, you must replace something with something. Buhari’s team believes the problem they have is as a result of waging a relentless war on corrupt people and the freebies that have suddenly frozen up for their friends and acolytes. Not so simple folks. Where are the jobs to occupy and engage the innocent beneficiaries of corruption? A lot of those who had jobs have lost their means of livelihood. Companies are sacking their workers, as if with a vengeance. Foreign investors are running helter-skelter and many have closed shop already running back to wherever they came from. Everyone wants stability and not sermons. And there is no stability, either in the polity, in the economy, in our currency or indeed in our social life.
Unfortunately, this government has been very high on proselytising and low on performance. Their swansong has become abysmally boring. The people are now less interested in the results of President Jonathan’s recklessness in office but more in President Buhari’s remedial panacea. It is shocking that 16 months after our friends took over power they are not yet tired of moaning and groaning about Jonathan. But we sacked Jonathan because we knew and felt his case was very bad. We supported Buhari because of the mystic that he had the magic wand. We didn’t want to be accused in the future of wasting yet another best President Nigeria should have had, after Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. That is why we worked assiduously for a man we had rejected serially in the past. We must beg this government to wake up from its deep slumber. It would be a huge embarrassment and an unmitigated disaster if it fails. So many Nigerians risked everything to midwife this change. I’m willing to support this government to the very end but they should please listen to our pleas and humble suggestions.
The President needs to re-energise his team. Nigeria is too big and too bold to be controlled by a timid cabinet. We need eagles who can fly high. We should be able to find them in a country of nearly 200 million people. There is no doubt that President Buhari has some good hands in his team but most of them have refused to fly, because they are scared. Many have melted into oblivion and irrelevance. We do not need to mention names. Some jobs are so visible that we do not require masquerades to handle. Some jobs require common-sense and not loquacious rabblerousing. Some members of the team have attracted public odium to this government. They make Buhari look so pitiably bad and that should not be so.
The human rights records should also have been better handled and managed during this second coming after the massive damage he suffered in the past. Fighting wars on all fronts from day one distracted and occupied the government. That game-plan was clearly faulty. They should have known that the temperament and tone of a democratic government is ostensibly different from that of a military junta. I once read that too much anger sometimes beclouds reasoning. The government failed to take certain steps to mitigate against the expected backlash of its many wars. It did not reason that hungry people are not always reasonably tolerant of the cause of their social conditions.
No one is sure if President Buhari was ever inclined or advised by his team to plan its offensive well or if he thought he had the same omnipotent power he had from 1983-85. He would have waited a bit and stabilised his government before unleashing mayhem against the enemies of state. I’m told surprise is one of the deadliest strategies in warfare. Most of the looted resources would have remained in our banks if government had not shown its fangs too early. As a lay man in Economics, I will never understand and appreciate the decision to ban people from paying dollars into their own accounts. What did it matter if dollar was paid in cash or by transfer? That was the beginning of the free-fall of our currency down the economic ladder. A large chunk of the money looted has invariably vamoosed into foreign vaults or under some beds or dug-up holes. Shame!
I strongly recommend that the President rejigs his cabinet, especially his economic team and even replace some of the members. This is what a bank would do if some of its managers were not meeting their targets. No manager is too big to be fired by football clubs. There is nothing new under the sun about this approach to governance. There are so many global examples. In 2014, when Saudi Arabia experienced a surge after the outbreak of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS) disease, Saudi King Abdullah fired his Health Minister Abdullah al Rabeeah. In July this year, President Raul Castro of Cuba removed his Minister of Economy Marino Murillo from his portfolio amid the economic hardship that was plaguing the country. Just two weeks ago, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos fired the country’s Finance Minister Armando Manuel. Manuel had presided over an economic recession caused by a sharp dip in oil prices that weakened dollar inflows, hammered the Angolan Kwanza, leading to heavy government borrowing.
The President should borrow from such examples and do the needful without further delay. I’m happy that even the National Assembly is thinking along the same lines. The government does not have time on its hands and at its disposal. Two years would soon evaporate and the third year will come knocking. It has to start working for those Nigerians who put their fate and faith in the hands of Buhari. We have had enough of the blatant excuses that sound more like expressions of hopelessness and helplessness, thus leading to deja vu.
A few priorities must be tackled speedily. None is greater than the issue of power generation which is already witnessing appreciable progress. I believe the Minister of Power, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, should be allowed to concentrate strictly on power and give his other portfolios to equally competent people. I would love to see a former Governor Donald Duke take over works. I do not care WHICH PARTY HE BELONGS. I have deliberately mentioned this great Nigerian who could easily have been our own Obama if we were a country where merit and achievement catapulted people into the highest office. This government would do well to consider a government of National Unity. Since the suffering we are enduring does not discriminate along Party lines, the solution should not ostracise any capable Nigerian.
On the economy, President Buhari should invite and involve the best brains at home and abroad including non-Nigerians. The Bank of England brought in an expert from Canada as its Governor. Dubai invited a Briton to run one of the most ambitious airports on planet Earth. The London Gatwick Airport was sold to a consortium led by a Nigerian. Ghana has just built a world-class Cargo section by Swissport. Before our very eyes, Ghana is attracting the biggest aviation businesses in West Africa. The world has moved beyond our jejune and archaic style of doing things. Our parastatals have become too unwieldy and totally wasteful. We have so many agencies all over the places managing nothing but eating everything. That does not mean a wholesale sale of our national assets but recourse to effective and efficient lean management wherever that may come from. I say emphatically, nothing would change unless we change our retrogressive ways.
Instructively, the National Assembly and the Executive arms of government must cut down on government expenditure drastically. The National Assembly is making sense with some of its recommendations but it is has to go beyond that by actually implementing those recommendations and putting pressure on the Executive to do the same. All the legislative aides, executive aides, delegations to foreign assignments and government’s fleet of aircrafts and motorcades are atrociously over-bloated and unnecessary. I stumbled on a video footage of President Vladimir Putin of Russia’s motorcade. It had nothing more than four (4) vehicles accompanied with escort motorbikes. In 2012, President Putin even went as far as announcing that he and his prime minister will work more from home to cut the disruption caused by their motorcades in the city of Moscow. That is Russia, a global super-power making an effort to run a leaner and more effective governance structure.
In Ghana where I have lived for over a decade, I have seen the simplicity of the Presidential system of governance from Rawlings to Kufuor to the late Atta Mills and now John Dramani Mahama. Her Majesty, the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II in all the glory of her monarchy goes around in a simple motorcade of usually two or three vehicles. The accompanying vehicles are oftentimes unmarked. But the case of Nigeria is a stark contrast. It sometimes looks as if we are war with some imaginary alien foe. Every security outfit competes to feature in the entourage of our respective leaders. Then there are the support vehicles, including ambulances, bomb disposal vehicles and anti-tank machines
Everything is collapsing except the business of politics. Every government that comes to power seems to be in competition with previous governments in the craze to practice capitalism without capital. Clearly, this is not sustainable and we cannot continue like this. Something has to give. President Buhari must restore confidence again by allowing the change millions of Nigerians voted him for in March 2015 to begin from his desk. It is commonly said that, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Our time is now.