“I won’t leave office as a failure.” That confident statement by President Muhammadu Buhari last week, sought to address one important issue, namely, to re-assure the nation and its people that he intends to make a success of his very important national assignment as president and that the cocktail of critical challenges that confront him are doors through which he would take our dear country through to a greater nation and thus cement his place in our national history.
Life is about hope and when there is some possibility that, that hope would rise like the phoenix through the crucibles of critical national challenges, hope makes good music in the ears of the public.
It is good to know that our president, who has not had much luck in what fate has thrown in his path since 2015, is not fazed by the economic, security, political and other crises that have bedevilled his administration in the past six years and indeed threaten to give him a performance mark he would not be proud of at the end of the day. It is good to know too that despite his apparent posturing to the contrary, Buhari is acutely aware that what he eventually makes of his eight years in Aso Rock would be judged by history, not by him. Every leader fears the possibility of an unkind judgment of history. As the twilight zone looms in the horizon, leaders must permit themselves some introspection. Perhaps, the only man who did not fear the judgment of history was the late British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. He said history would be kind to him because “I will write it.”
It took some unusual courage on the part of the president to make that statement that can qualify as a promise he intends to keep. Under his watch in the past six years, Nigeria has found itself confronted with unimaginable new security, social, economic, ethnic, political crises and the widening of its traditional fault lines. The emergence of ethnic champions threatens to wreck the work of our heroes past. Despite his being shielded from the facts of our deepening frustration and despairing situation as a nation by his minions and handlers, the president could not but be aware that our country is far from the same country he promised to fix when the people gave him the thumbs up in 2015 and 2019.
Our country is more or less broken today. No one knows for sure the extent of its brokenness. But we know we are where we never believed we would be. The statement makes me wonder if the president is making a last ditch promise to resolve the ethnic crises, pull the nation and its economy back from the brink and restore ethnic harmony in an increasingly divided and divisive nation with ethnic champions pulling in different but uncertain directions in the twilight zone of his administration. Buhari is a man of his words, believe me. Promises made and promises kept.
Miracles do happen. Our nation is seized with the frenzy of miracles and miracle-working men and women touting the holy books like talisman. It does not matter that history has no record of nations that solved their myriads of problems and met their existential challenges through miracles. That should not stop our nation from being the first. Its miraculous emergence from its present state of crushing poverty and insecurity would be proof positive enough that nations that failed were nations that lost their hope and trust in miracles. It costs nothing more than a threat to your larynx to shout the mighty name of Jesus and get the hosts of heaven to drive out poverty, make our country secure from kidnappers and armed robbers and bandits and unite the nation around the common cause of nation-building and nationhood.
When I read and re-read the president’s statement, I was buoyed by the fact that although the Buhari administration has entered its twilight zone in its march towards the sunset decreed by our constitution the president refuses to be overwhelmed by the many crises that arose and grew worse under his watch. A conspiracy of fate and human frailties keeps throwing banana peels on his path. Our nation is not just poor, it is the poverty capital of the world; our economy is necessarily burdened by the weight of foreign and domestic loans and its groaning can be heard in Agila; our country has never been this violent; nor our insecurity this overwhelming. The experts are predicting that this giant of Africa has either become or is on the cusp of becoming a failed state. Never mind. The experts have been proven wrong time and time again. This house is too big to fail.
These and other unwanted developments taken together would lead to an easy conclusion by the uninformed that Buhari has made a promise he would find difficult to keep. No one doubts his capacity to pull his administration from the jaws of a possible failure and set it back on the pedestal of incontestable success but the enormity of the task befuddles the best minds. Keeping the promise means that our country would be less poor and the people less impoverished and the crown of poverty capital of the world would be given to another country worthier of the dubious honour; it means that the wanton killings of innocent fellow citizens would end and all Nigerians would be brothers and sisters in a more secure nation of some 214 million black people. What was not done in six years could be done in two. Keep hope burning bright.
Buhari came into office in 2015 with the bells and whistles of citizens fatigued by PDP and wanted a change we could believe in. We invested our fond hopes in his capacity to provide us with a new kind of leadership able to galvanise the resourceful people of this country into a productive economic machine; a leadership that would distance itself from the common frailties of politics of power for the sake of power; a leadership that would throw its arms around the country and its people and ensure that in the words of our old national anthem, the differences in tribes and tongues do not constitute impediments to our oneness as a people; a leadership, in short that had learned the right lessons from the mistakes of the past and would not repeat them.
In that spirit, Buhari came and we believed he would see, set our country on the path of clear economic and social development and be the leader we thought he was cut out for – bold, decisive, empathic and generous in the exercise of his enormous presidential powers.
This was what motived Nasir El-Rufai, the then newly-elected governor of Kaduna State, to write two memos to Buhari, first in April 2015 and later on September 22, 2016 – one before he took office and the other about four months after Dr Goodluck Jonathan vacated Aso Rock villa for him. El-Rufai offered him some important pieces of advice he believed Buhari must take into consideration as he prepared to take office to help him make a success of his administration. I dare say that in them, El-Rufai spoke for all of those who wished Buhari to succeed as president.
In the 2016 memo, El-Rufai offered the president a road map on what he called “immediate and medium term imperatives,” as his informed contributions towards making the administration successful. In it, he offered the president clear gems, some of which are:
*You must through your words, your personal example and the selection of the team around you, unite our country by creating a sense of inclusion that gives people of proven honesty, competence and commitment, roles in your government.
* The president must communicate actively and directly with the Nigerian public about his vision – the government’s plans and strategy and roadmap to take the country out of the current, dire economic situation.
*The president should speak to the nation – something akin to a state of the union address on December 1 or January 1, preferably in a joint session of the national assembly during which he will explain away some of the perceptions and lay out the national plans and strategies and roadmap above.
* Commit to a three-year reflationary budget with at least 40% of budget meant for capital projects, supplemented by robust PPP legislation to attract private investments…
*Effect personnel changes in the presidency, the ministries (cabinet and permanent secretaries) and constitute a small team to review all future appointments for competence, capacity, integrity, diversity and inclusiveness.
And he also threw in some bombshells. He wrote:
* Mr President, there is an emerging view in the media that you are neither leading the party nor the administration and those neither elected nor accountable appear to be in charge, and therefore the country is adrift.
*We are facing an unprecedented national economic crisis, but our administration has failed to roll out a coherent response and action plan, or even appeal to our patriotism with a rallying cry to unite and sacrifice in the face of adversity.