No one needs to tell us how Nigeria has regressed almost irretrievably in the last seven years or so. The only way to get back our country is not to make the Buhari mistake of allowing politicians, with their selfish dispositions, to careen us to their preferred paths. We must not only get back our country through electing governors who are capable, but also the ones who can change our situation. Doing this will demand the efforts of all and sundry.
Even in the grip of hopelessness, it will still be suicidal for a nation to be hopeless. This will seem to be the situation with Nigeria as she meandered into a new year yesterday. The same yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari was in the shrine to offer the rituals of a new year. In his 2022 new year message, Buhari read the prepared words of those trained in the art of suasion. He reeled evocative statistics, depicting the grand and very persuasive efforts of his government to tackle insecurity and rev up the economy. Buhari called on Nigerians to welcome 2022 with hope and look forward to a year in which the myriad of challenges being faced by the country would be a thing of the past.
“In spite of the challenges we have faced as a nation, the good news is that we have so far recorded four consecutive quarters of growth after the negative growth rates recorded in Quarter II and Quarter III of 2020 due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we welcome 2022, let us, with hope, envision a year of continued progress against our combined challenges arising from security and socio-economic issues. As it is said, the past is but a story told, the future will still be written in gold,” he said.
The truth is that 2022 is critical to the fate of Nigeria. It is a make-or-mar year for the country. Statistics of Nigeria’s plunge into the abyss are benumbing. On the insecurity side, the situation is so grim that there is today an upswing in the number of Nigerians who die every hour from violence-induced deaths. Arguably, the estimated one million people killed during the Biafran-Nigerian war and the number of our countrymen who have died from insecurity in Nigeria under this regime may not be dissimilar.
In a very gripping report, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICSAN) reported a grilling situation of the Boko Haram insurgency thus: “On the evening of February 23, 2021, suspected Boko Haram militants fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at several densely populated areas of the city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Some 16 people were killed, including children playing in a playground, and nearly 60 were injured,” and that, “between March 2020–June 2021, over 1,400 students and staff have been kidnapped in several school abductions reported in northwest Nigeria. With more than ten million children currently not attending school, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. In northern Nigeria, only 53% of primary-school-age children receive a formal education.”
Although belated, the Buhari government, which had initially claimed that labeling bandits as terrorists did not matter, recently saw reason with ordinary Nigerians in this regard. In an ex-parte application that the Director of Public Prosecution brought before a Federal High Court in Abuja, government sought and got the court to label the bandits as terrorists. Economy-wise, a recent The Economist’s report entitled “Nigeria’s economy is stuck in a rut” perhaps explains the problem better. Using the index of the hike in transportation and rising costs of living, the magazine said that there was no doubt that there is a link between Nigeria’s economic woes and the steep rise in crime.
The missing factor in all these is government. Government is so absent that we can apply the same taunt that the biblical Prophet Elijah evoked on the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel on the Nigerian government. Elijah and Baal were in a contest, which occurred between Baal and Yahweh, over who had the power to invoke fire. Baal’s bull slaughtered, hewn into pieces and placed on the altar, the prophets helplessly paced up and down, invoking Baal to send down fire but none came. Then Elijah poked fun at them, “Call with a loud voice… Perhaps he is talking, or he is pursuing enemies, or he is on a journey; perhaps he is sleeping and will awaken.” Perhaps, Buhari is sleeping and will soon wake up? His government is so thoroughly de-emasculated that it rightly answers to the Max Weber classification of the failure of the state.
However, in this year 2022, it will be foolhardy to look at Buhari if we want to make any headway with Nigeria. To take our country back into our own hands, we have to look beyond Buhari for remedy to our grim situation. I am in possession of the copy of a keynote delivered by the minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola at the Yoruba Tennis Club Annual Lecture on Friday November 5, 2021 and I think it speaks largely to the post-Buhari future that we must seek as Nigerians. The keynote was entitled, “What can the President do for me?”
In righting the wrongs of Nigeria, we must focus attention on who becomes, in the main, state governors and local government chairmen. These are the people who have direct bearing on our individual lives. Even at the national level, while the myth of the so-called powers of the president is borne of norms and practices, the president is as good as the kinds of people in the judiciary and the legislature.
The crux of his lecture was that, broken to its basics, the Nigerian president is not as powerful as we mythify the office to be. According to Fashola, in the Nigerian Constitution, the office of the Nigerian president is referred to only 48 times. Fashola thus sees an error of the conflation of “powers” with “function” by analysts of the power of the Nigerian presidency over the years.
In his words, “there are 23 instances (which) refer to powers exercisable by the President; nine instances refer to powers exercisable by the President subject to the National Assembly; four instances refer to powers exercisable by the President subject to other institutions; nine instances refer to the President’s functions and duties; and three instances refer to restrictions on the powers of the President.” What that means, according to him, is that, the “all powerful,” “too powerful” president of Nigeria has constitutional restrictions in the way of his so-called powers because it can only be exercised in conjunction with others. In his argument, if that office is so copulated with others, why don’t we ensure that those others are fortified, made of sterner stuff and see whether there will be no change in the exercise of the power?
In righting the wrongs of Nigeria, we must focus attention on who becomes, in the main, state governors and local government chairmen. These are the people who have direct bearing on our individual lives. Even at the national level, while the myth of the so-called powers of the president is borne of norms and practices, the president is as good as the kinds of people in the judiciary and the legislature. This is why we must put more energies into getting the right persons into the legislature and ensure, through the advocacy of civil society organisations, that the judiciary is peopled by those who lay store by justice and nothing else. Once we ensure this, we will get whoever is the president to tow the path of the people and society.
Now, 2022 is the year when the foundation of a post-Buhari presidency would be laid. In about eight months’ time, the primaries of the political parties to pick the president and the governors will hold. The moment we make the mistake of choice and pick characters who would take Nigeria from frying pan to the fire, we would have sealed the fate of Nigeria finally.
The mistakes that Nigerians made with Buhari in 2015 must never be repeated. Thank God that the list of persons on parade as presidential materials are people whose recency in public service is currently at issue and in the public domain. Except for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose tour of duty in governance is about 14 years old now, virtually all the others being talked about are people who are currently serving Nigeria in the gubernatorial capacity. The list ranges from Governors Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, Udo Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and Fashola, being about the only minister among them. The other candidate being talked about is the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
Most importantly, the would-be Nigerian president must not be coronated into office. What do I mean by this? He must be a willing president and must not be coerced into office. Our experience over time has been that candidates who are persuaded into office always end up badly. This is because of their ill preparedness for the office. Someone who wants to vie for the Number One office in the land must be like a sprinter, who must not only run but must breast the tape to emerge victorious.
We must also look at the presidential hopeful’s track record. Yes, we thought we got the track record of Buhari’s frown at indiscipline right and were atop the tempo of his supposed incorruptibility, and we made the mistake of not knowing that incompetence was far more damaging than corruptive tendencies in a ruler. The major problem we had with Jonathan was that he was incompetent and we rolled it over in Buhari.
It is becoming obvious to the elite and even ordinary Nigerians what damage bad governance can wreak on the lives of a country. No one needs to tell us how Nigeria has regressed almost irretrievably in the last seven years or so. The only way to get back our country is not to make the Buhari mistake of allowing politicians, with their selfish dispositions, to careen us to their preferred paths. We must not only get back our country through electing governors who are capable, but also the ones who can change our situation. Doing this will demand the efforts of all and sundry. Bad governance took us to where we are, where even the rich and the powerful are at the mercies of its manifestations, from banditry to the Boko Haram insurgency and a depreciating economy.
The president will not come to Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, to fix the leaking roof of the health care centre. It is only when the governor is empathetic about the plight of the people that he will spend their money justifiably and for them. The president will not fix state and local government roads in Ngazki local government of Kebbi State, if the people elected a man who does not put himself in the shoes of his people. It is the same with all the amenities and issues of governance that can transform the people’s lives. This is why 2022 is key. With the deplorable nature of Nigeria and governance, once we make another mistake, four years may be just enough to take the country to the sepulchre.
What then are the criteria we should seek in who becomes our president? We must look for youthfulness. Though Yahaya Bello has polluted the thesis of the necessity of the youth in governance, yet the youth as a category has so many advantages. That is why we cannot afford to elect senescent persons into office again. Senescence breeds infirmity, laxity and indolence in office. Youth is almost sine qua non for agility.
Second, we must never make the mistake of allowing our would-be president not to go through the presidential debate. The packagers of Buhari, in 2015, knew that allowing him to go into debate with Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as “clueless” as we said the latter was, was going to be his waterloo. So they packaged a litany of shenanigans, which forcefully took Buhari off the hustings. When Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), debated Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the run up to the 1993 presidential election debate, the moment M.K.O began to talk, though a stammerer, it was obvious that he had a superior brain to that of the Kano-born aristocrat. There was no way we would have had Buhari on the debate dais and we would not have had a peep into his mind. Perhaps the calamity of today would have been avoided then.
Again, the president-to-be must not suffer from ill health, which would be a baggage to governance. What this means is that we must ensure that through medical examination or evaluation of his family history, the candidate must not suffer from or be susceptible to sicknesses or diseases that can hamper governance.
We must also look at the presidential hopeful’s track record. Yes, we thought we got the track record of Buhari’s frown at indiscipline right and were atop the tempo of his supposed incorruptibility, and we made the mistake of not knowing that incompetence was far more damaging than corruptive tendencies in a ruler. The major problem we had with Jonathan was that he was incompetent and we rolled it over in Buhari. We thus must look at a presidential hopeful who is hardworking, resilient, a go-getter and one who has a burning passion for transformation of the status-quo. As the Igbomina people of Yorubaland would ask anyone who offers them a herbal concoction to use to cure an ailment: have you ever been afflicted by the ailment before and used this as the drug to cure it? We cannot afford to engage in trial-and-error of who becomes the president again.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.
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