By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, reactions to my column last week were not unexpected. As anticipated, they were indeed varied. Some people were impressed that anyone could tell President Muhammadu Buhari what most people would never dare. Others felt I could talk because I don’t work with the President and therefore do not feel the pressure of those that do. A few more simply dismissed my contribution as they usually do without any good reason.
It could be true that more often than not, aides usually misread their bosses and idols and so feel under pressure not to irritate, annoy or even antagonise their Boss. I have had the privilege of working and interacting with bigwigs at home and abroad and noticed that many of their employees treat them with awe, fear and trepidation but not necessarily with respect. On my part, I have tried to remain truthful, respectful and loyal to my bosses without being fawning or uncritical. Sometimes, they would love and appreciate these attributes. On other occasions, they’ve chosen to live in denial and bury their heads in the sand like ostriches do. Even when they have discovered the truth, ego has sometimes denied them the chance of accepting the fact that you were right and they were wrong.
So I wasn’t surprised that some Abuja guys were not impressed about my recent article titled HOW THEY MISLEAD OUR LEADERS. I won’t be surprised if our President did not read that important article because it was kept away from him. The easiest way to fail as a leader is to be shielded from reality by cronies who tell you all is well when all is far from being well. The other way to invite failure is when a leader allows sycophants to invite and amass enemies for such leader. I witnessed both of these first hand during the seeming deification of President Goodluck Jonathan by those who felt he was beyond reproach. But after his government collapsed, most of those who fought imaginary enemies on behalf of President Jonathan simply vamoosed and left the former President to his personal ordeal. Ironically, it was those of us considered his enemies that came out boldly to defend him and to protect his rights under the rule of law given the statesmanship that he had demonstrated in the twilight of his administration.
What I find baffling is the fact that man never learns any didactic lessons from history. Less than two years ago, many of those who have somehow found themselves in power today hailed the critics of Jonathan’s administration. They found our pens more powerful than machine-guns. They called to thank us for our patriotism and gallant battle to restore hope to a dangerously bleeding nation. I remember one particular gentleman, who is currently a Minister; he used to phone me to commend my maturity in attacking issues rather than personalities. Today he has stopped calling and I’m sure he is no longer comfortable with the same level of patriotism and maturity that he praised.
Let me reiterate that I love President Muhammadu Buhari but mine is not a fake or blind love. I was taught by my very traditional mum that “a mother chastises a child she loves” and I have translated that to mean that conversely, a child must offer true words of advice to parents he treasures. This is why I talk about our President with such respect and decorum but at the same time I boldly analyse his policies and actions and candidly offer advice as I see fit. I believe we can help in supporting him by telling him the true state of affairs and painting the real picture of things. Nigeria is much more complex and complicated than some of those in power today wish to admit. I suspect they have also assumed that they know the mind-set of the President who they perceive as stubborn and unyielding and would rather play along in order not to invite his wrath. The impression out there is that Baba is mean and vengeful and can trample on and injure anyone in his line of fire. When I tell people I met a soft, gentle, humble and caring man once in 2011 and twice in 2015, they tell me that was all a façade and I couldn’t judge him on those accounts. It may be necessary for the President to free his people from this self-manacled bondage they have chosen for themselves, as I once advised. The unfounded fear of Buhari may stultify the progress of this government. And only the President can help his men and women overcome this dangerous paranoia. The world has moved beyond the type of maximum rulership which this suggests and the President is not such a person in any event.
I have have been seeing posts on social media indicating that some aides have been telling Baba that majority of Nigerians are satisfied with his government and that only the disgruntled elements, otherwise nicknamed “wailing wailers”, are complaining. But this is not true. Nigerians are complaining about many things and Baba needs to know. Of course, not everyone is lamenting like the Biblical Jeremiah. There are always new beneficiaries in every new government. And those who have crossed the bridge, or ladder, of pain into comfort don’t usually see the misery they left behind. That was the anecdotal case of the French Empress who asked why people could not eat cake when there was scarcity of bread. Little did she realise that bread and cake belong to the same family of flour and that the issue was one of poverty not merely famine or supply.
Nigerians are complaining about the slow pace of work. They want Baba to jazz things up. Not that they expect him to do it all but they are hoping he can rejig this government and bring in proven and tested Nigerians from any part of the world and whatever political or religious background. It is the prerogative of every government to hone its engine of governance regularly by discarding worn-out batteries, plugs and pumps. You may need to flush dirty engine oil and replace with premium lubricant. It should be obvious that what we have at the moment is far short of the speed and stamina required to take Nigeria to the next level.
Nigerians are complaining about the seeming Nothernisation of the key sectors of the Nigerian economy and polity. I am personally not very worried about ethnic sentiments as a completely detribalised Nigeria but there are those who feel very strongly about this and the President may need to allay their reasonable fears of being extinguished and exterminated from the national politics of Nigeria. My honest suggestion is that Baba should come out to tell Nigerians the criteria he uses in arriving at his choices. He should confront his critics with superior logic and the mathematics of appointment distribution. He should not just dismiss this as a non-issue. That is the burden placed on him by Constitutional democracy. Every controversial action and decision must be explained tirelessly and endlessly. As I have said several times nothing beats merit, not even primordial ethnic sentiments.
Nigerians are complaining about the high cost of governance especially in this era of dwindling national fortunes. Many are telling us that we persuaded them to vote APC because we flaunted the credentials of Buhari as a frugal and simple man not susceptible to frivolous spending or profligacy. They are taunting us that they have seen no evidence of the reduction in the extravagant spending on presidential jets and the upkeep of government personnel and their families. Again it may be necessary to update and educate the Nigerian people on how government has concretely worked on cutting costs in these austere times. It is always good to talk to people who may not know the facts and those who feign ignorance deliberately. The government communicators should, please, not be so dismissive lest they are accused of being standoffish. No effort should be spared at carrying everyone along including known and unknown troublemakers.
Nigerians are complaining about the religious sensitivity of this government. They believe that Northern Christians are being studiously marginalised and this should be urgently addressed. In a country where the President was blackmailed in the past about his religious antecedents by being described as an Islamic fundamentalist it is only appropriate for the President to sensitise people and propagate his commitment to secularism. A good example of this is the fact that whilst he may have felt the need to pick Christians as his running mate in the past two elections he was not forced to pick Pastors as his running-mates. It is clear that he did this out of choice and to show that he was willing to work side by side with Christian fundamentalists in the task of nation building. Baba should not jettison the principle of religious tolerance he has imbibed and displayed. It would be politically rewarding if he gives every Nigerian that same sense of belonging. Nothing is more volatile than religious conflagration and it is always a handy weapon in the hands of enemies of State.
Nigerians are wondering what direction the economy is headed with the incessant free-fall of the naira despite all efforts at arresting the kamikaze plunge. Added to this is the deregulation of the price of petrol and the pains being felt by these twin policies can only be described as untold hardship.
While Nigerians are highly impressed that Baba is fighting looters to standstill they want to know what is happening to all the humongous cash already recovered. Many states are still in financial mess, unable to pay their workers. Like someone joked on Twitter yesterday, the hope is that Baba would not keep the money in savings for the next government that will come and redistribute to the looters again. That should be food for thought.
It would be fantastic if we can do what President John Dramani Mahama is doing in Ghana, by investing heavily in legacy projects that will definitely outlive his government and launch Ghana into the big league of modern nations. Nigeria should borrow a leaf from Ghana by revamping and upgrading our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, railways, oil facilities, seaports, and so on. It would be sweet victory for Nigerians and President Buhari if they can enjoy the fruits of some of the recovered loot in the very near future.
Nigerians are also talking about the spate of agitations for the breakup of the Nigerian State, especially the renewed call by the pro-Biafra groups of South East Nigeria to carve out an Igbo nation. While we may not understand the exact mission of the Niger Delta Avengers, one of the most lethal militant groups in Nigeria today, it is not likely to be too far from that of the Biafrans ultimately. The groups must be delicately handled. Their leaders may have personal and selfish ulterior motives but what is clear is that they are echoing the sentiments and yearnings of their people for self-determination borne out of frustration in being marginalised in the Nigerian power game. At the end of the day, there is nothing violence can achieve that dialogue cannot handle better and faster. It is time to tone down the drums of war and set Nigeria on the path of restoration, peace and progress.
There are simply too many distractions and Nigerians are suffering as a result. I have no doubt about President Buhari’s patriotism and zeal and his desire to improve the lot of Nigerians. It is about time that he demanded the same of his lieutenants and require them to put national interest over and above personal or party interests.