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Editorial: President Buhari and the need for Real Change

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When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, expectations were high both within and outside the country, that Nigerian was going to witness the much desired change. Indeed, the case for change had been made very eloquently by the All Progressive Congress (APC) during the electioneering campaigns. The party’s quest for power was carefully anchored on the need for change in Nigeria. That campaign resonated loudly with a broad spectrum of Nigerians, many of who were clearly dissatisfied with the way the country was managed. It was therefore, not surprising when the result of that election was called and Muhammadu Buhari emerged victorious. For many, that victory epitomised Nigeria’s yearning for a new order.
But surprisingly, the administration in its early days, gradually began to distance itself from those lofty promises and pledges. The broad expectation of change soon faced a massive crisis of confidence because the Buhari administration began to interpret the change in ways that differed from the common understanding and expectation of many Nigerians.
The situation became more perplexing when it launched its “Change Begins With You,” campaign. The way the government saw it, the real obstacle to change in Nigeria was the average Nigerian. And so, the logic of their position was that if the average Nigerian changed his responses and attitude to life, then the country would have changed.
Without mincing words, the problem with Nigeria is, as the famous late novelist, Chinua Achebe pointed out in his iconic book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, that of bad leadership. Successive generations of Nigerian leaders have fallen increasingly short of the requirements of genuine patriotic, nationalistic and committed leadership. Various leadership classes in Nigeria have consistently tended to define leadership from the narrow prism of selfishness and the various other primordial tendencies of nepotism, tribalism and religious bigotry that bedevil Nigeria.
Whereas there are many reasons why Nigeria has suffered so badly in the hands of poor leadership, the consensus, however, is that our leadership class has lacked a noble vision which puts leadership at the service of the led. The evolution of the modern Nigerian state as a conglomeration of distinct nationalities forcefully brought together by the British colonial imperialists may account, to a large extent, for this sorry state of affairs. But it does not excuse it. This is 2019, about six decades since independence was granted to Nigeria. That Nigeria has not been able to do so is tragic.
When President Buhari appeared on the leadership scene in 1984, many Nigerians welcomed him with open arms. His maiden broadcast to the country spoke directly to the heart of Nigerians as it identified indiscipline, corruption and lack of commitment as the bane of the Shehu Shagari civilian government. Sadly, he himself became guilty of some of these maladies within a few months in office. The situation was such that when another military coup led to his forceful exit from office, the nation erupted in jubilation. Nevertheless, there were many Nigerians who still retained fond memories of the stern talking general who exuded military discipline and ascetic lifestyle, such that he became romanticized to the extent that by 2014, the party he led, the APC, was elected to power.
The huge expectations of many derived from such nostalgia and the promises he had made. Unfortunately, within four years in office, this newspaper can say boldly that President Buhari has not met the lofty expectations of most Nigerians. The fact that he has been reelected should not be-cloud the deep feelings of disappointment among many Nigerians, including even those who may have voted for him. His victory, therefore, should not be interpreted by anyone as an endorsement of his first tour of duty. If anything, it a grudging acceptance by the long suffering Nigerian people that the alternative was not as compelling as the opposition party had made it out to be.
President Buhari now has a second chance to try to make amends and manage the affairs of the country better. The first point of duty for him should be be to form an all-inclusive pan Nigerian government. The current government is too hopelessly lopsided to pass for a national government. Many people, including this newspaper, have consistently criticised President Buhari’s unabashed proclivity for nepotistic appointments. Interestingly, nepotism tribalism and religious discrimination were previously identified as his major weaknesses. Both himself and his major promoters had assured a skeptical Nigerian public that he would make strenuous efforts to control these demons while in office, but the evidence has proven the contrary. It has emerged that the president is incapable of growing beyond his ethnic and religious base. And has, to a large extent, been a president of Northern Nigeria Muslims.
Nigeria is a heterogeneous society, with two dominant religions contending for space. The part of wisdom for any Nigerian leader would be to manage the complexities of this situation adroitly, borrowing a leaf from the experiences of such past leaders as President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Jonathan, both of whom were very nationalistic in their appointments. But president Buhari has failed to do this and studiously ignored all appeals to effect changes. Luckily for everyone, especially for himself, he has assured Nigerians that his second tenure will witness a more inclusive government that would be more merit driven so that every section of the country would feel a sense of belonging. Well, as the old saying goes, “it is better late than never.”
The challenges confronting Nigeria makes it mandatory for President Buhari to run an inclusive government and employ talents from every part. Government should not be seen as an exclusive preserve of one section, one ethnic group, or even one religion. It should be run as a government of the peoples of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The second order in the business paper for the new government should be to review its economic policy. As many respected organisations, locally and internationally, have observed, the government economic policy in the first term was shambolic, uncoordinated and knee-jerk. It is only its monetary policy that appear to follow any organised plan. As the former American president, Mr. Bill Clinton famously quipped “it’s the economy stupid!”
Governance is about providing engagements for the people. Nigeria has continued to slide down all the indices of sustained development. Poverty is rampaging. Insecurity and unemployment have become the rule rather than the exception.
It is interesting to recall that President Buhari came to power initially on a three-prong agenda of creating employment, curbing insecurity and fighting corruption. There are not many people in Nigeria today who would give him a pass mark on any of the above. It is now commonly accepted that Nigeria is more insecure today than it was in 2015 when he assumed office and evidence abound. Zamfara State has become the killing field of Nigeria. Armed militia men continue to reign terror and death, almost unhindered. On the highways, insecurity is the order of the day. The journey between Kaduna and Abuja, which used to be a leisure ride, has become a thoroughfare of death with armed robbers maiming, kidnapping and killing travelers at will. All over the country, blood is spilled almost on a daily basis, sometimes even with those paid to protect lives and properties as the culprits.
Elections have become mini wars. The last governorship election in Rivers set a new record where agents of state security became partisan aggressors. Amnesty International and Transparency International, have jointly agreed that corruption in Nigeria today is worse than it was in 2015, going by all the indices. Indeed, President Buhari has his task well cut out for him. There is a need for fresh beginning; a need for real change. The country should be reset and a more concerted effort made to manage the complex challenges arising from governing a country of this size and complexity.
The initial approach of the divine right of kinship has proved faulty and inadequate. No one person, not even President Buhari, knows it all. No one person has a monopoly of knowledge, or even of patriotism. Neither President Buhari nor the APC has a monopoly to patriotism. Governing Nigeria should be an all-inclusive affair. More importantly, there should be a genuine and honest approach to the challenge of seeking for solution to the myriad of problems confronting the country. The current approach reeks of hypocrisy and holier than thou attitude, that is detrimental to the progress, peace and unity of Nigeria.
Some sections of the country, particularly the South East and South South, appear to have been deliberately left out of the governing loop, perhaps in response to their political choices. In order to ensure progress, these vital parts of the country should be brought into the government.
Indeed, our preference would be for a government of national unity which will incorporate the leading political parties, without prejudice to the ongoing legal challenge of the result of the presidential election.
We are deeply disturbed by the gathering storm. The level of restiveness and divisiveness in the country is growing alarmingly. The lesson of history is that such situations do not often end peacefully. Unemployment and youth joblessness are potential time bombs. President Buhari should wake up, re-energise the country and initiate real changes, otherwise we are afraid, the future will be very bleak.