For clarity, I shall outline a few areas where the tenure of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has demonstrated that turning around the fortunes of Nigeria isn’t a job for one good man. Definitely not for anyone who’s alien to the system and isn’t fully integrated into the existing political structures, contrary to what some now advocate. If a one-man riot squad could do it, without the buy-in of the system within which he of necessity operates, Buhari would have turned Nigeria into El Dorado.
Before I give my outlines, using examples from the outgoing tenure, I make the following observations. Known for his reforms as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and now as governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai made a comment about Buhari not too long ago which I shall paraphrase. Asked to comment on the Buhari regime, El-Rufai said, “He’s a nice guy”, and that’s why he (Buhari) doesn’t sack people in order to achieve results. El-Rufai said he sacked people and that was why he achieved results.
Based on El-Rufai’s comment that time, I give my first outline that explains why I think the writer on Twitter missed something in his submission. One politician, no matter how good he is, can’t get the job done unless he has appointees he can trust with vital assignments. Also, with the current condition of our system, such a politician can’t proceed without embarking on some serious reforms first. There’s a need to re-configure the system to make room for whatever good policies and programmes he has. Apart from a few men and women, Buhari doesn’t have the kind of appointees he needs to translate his vision into mission. That’s the Nigerian context to this conversation on the search for a man some believe is ‘different’, ‘good.’ Meanwhile, did anyone notice that the majority of the officials Buhari appointed have been embroiled in scandals, alleged or otherwise?
Also, public institutions and agencies have become so disreputable that they would destroy the best of intentions a so-called good political leader might have, and without these agencies, he can’t achieve much. The reports about these agencies are shocking. From local to state and Federal Government agencies, officials are accused by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit of illegally withdrawing cash in hundreds of millions of naira from public accounts. Agencies expend resources that the legislature doesn’t allocate to them. Lawmakers even threaten actions against them for not coming forward to account for the illegal use of public funds.
There’s as well the constant report about agency officials who divert public funds. With such looting going on in agencies, how can any well-intentioned leader have his policies implemented well? More than this, institutions and agencies in Nigeria aren’t strong, and they can’t be strong until the staffers show courage; faithfully playing the statutory role such institutions are established for. It’s people who make institutions strong. Someone tells me how the owner of a company illegally changed directors, adding the names of dead persons, just because he wants one of the directors out. The staff of the Nigerian government agency in charge of such a matter issues the needed papers in affirmation of the illegal act.
There’re as well constitutional provisions that inhibit the effective implementation of a good policy. Some politicians promise voters the skies and I wonder how they would execute such under the current unitary constitution that we glorify as federal. Efforts to review some of such inhibitive laws have faced opposition at the state level. One example is the local government autonomy bill which the National Assembly doesn’t seem to be able to get past the states. Meanwhile, the local government is closest to the people and this is where many local problems ought to be solved. They aren’t, and one effect is that the president is blamed for all the problems in every community. We want a president who’ll solve the problems even in those states where the governors refuse to allow the local governments to function well. Which politician does the online writer expect to perform wonders in such an inhibitive situation? Such a politician would soon discover that Mount Everest has been placed on his shoulders to smash; an impossible task that I believe Buhari has since recognised.
We seem to forget these stated fundamental hurdles and many more are in our system when some proclaim their preferred politician as an invincible messiah. No politician will deliver on expectations if the obstacles are the kinds I’ve outlined, and this has been demonstrated in the last eight years. So anyone making the same argument that there’s one good politician somewhere who’s better is simply leaving out other vital issues relevant to performance. It’s fiction to believe what we need is one good man in a system that’s this dysfunctional.
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Rather, what we need is a politician who knows the ropes, one who can touch just a few issues – economic, social, and political – that a politician can ever hope to in any polity whatsoever. What we need is a man who’ll arrive office in June to do exactly that, hitting the ground running. Just a few areas he needs to touch and the multiplier effects will be felt down the line, not someone who’s promising to touch everything. No politician can do that and get it all right in four years, not even in eight. We don’t need in office a politician who’ll arrive and be out of his depth, floundering, not knowing which first lever to tweak in other to set the conveyor belt of the machine of reform and service delivery in motion. What we need is a man who has the political capital, the networks, an experience of exactly what to do, one who’s been right at the centre of the system. It takes one who knows the system to fix the system.
I noted last Friday that politics and politicking can’t operate in the smooth efficient manner that profit-oriented companies do. One reason is that the former involves making compromises, resolving disputes, making alliances, securing the buy-in of influential stakeholders. For political leadership in our clime is about making life better for the people at little or no cost to them, and relevant stakeholders must be carried along. These things make politicking tough and implementing good policies sometimes even tougher.
The online writer’s best political candidate may get to office only to find that these issues inhibit him. So his political capital to carry many along will be called into question. That a politician has crowd doesn’t automatically mean he has the needed political capital. It’s deeper than that. Gathering crowd is different from navigating the political processes needed to execute good policies. So for me, the political leader who’ll turn things around for Nigeria in the limited way any office holder can ever hope to needs to come from within the system. He can’t be an outsider, which is what the online writer canvasses with his men in ‘agbada’ and men without agbada innuendo.
Now, to other comments made in the public space. One, some say a ‘stingy’ man is what they want as president. That argument overlooks a few issues. The system in which the current president operates is one. I don’t need to dwell much on that except to state that Buhari qualifies for the tag, but those in the system around him have demonstrated that they believe if he doesn’t want to ‘chop’ he should allow them to ‘chop.’ In the event, they ‘chop’ as reports of looting indicate. A president who’s ‘stingy’ still needs the buy-in of the system, otherwise, he can’t succeed.
Finally, there’s the argument that we need a young man who can run around and that Buhari missed it because he’s too old. But Buhari is about the same age as President Joe Biden of the United States and the US system works better. Why? The US system has officials who’re courageous and willing to defend their agencies and institutions no matter who the president is. They’re the bulwark, the system that faithfully implements whatever little a US president is able to do with his policies. That can’t be said of the Nigerian system. So, even if it’s a ‘young’ person that’s Nigeria’s president he’ll still see ‘shege’, the very kind our system has shown Buhari.
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