BY UMAR ARDO, Ph.D
After nearly sixty years of independence and fifteen different leadership trials, it would seem that getting the right persons to govern Nigeria out of her present threshold of tribalism, sectionalism, underdevelopment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, violence, insurgency, banditry, extremism, corruption, lawlessness, etc., into a peaceful, organized, orderly, united, prosperous, technologically advanced, developed and secure country, is like squeezing water out of a dry stone. That Nigeria and Nigerians are incapable of producing such leadership is a notion gaining increasing acquiescence amongst citizens and foreigners alike.
But is producing such a leadership akin to the natural impossibility beyond the ability of Nigerians to squeeze water out of a dry stone? Few, if any, would admit to this cul-de-sac, yet all sedulous bids, no matter how well intended, to put the required leadership in place have so far ended in woeful disappointments.
Nevertheless, the aspiration to develop Nigeria is as high among southerners as it is among northerners; just as it is among Muslims and Christians. It is also no less low among the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, as among the majority and minority ethnic nationalities in the country.
But from the results of affairs over the years it is hard to conclude that Nigerians are indeed capable of producing the right leadership, no matter how much and how widespread it is desired.
There seems to be an apparent disproportion between efforts and outcomes, and between desires and results.
This view has gained more currency and velocity lately with the seeming failure of the present Mohammad Buhari’s regime to make the changes much expected of it. And this is no surprise as President Buhari seems to be the last hope of ‘the Nigerian common man’.
Buhari ran for office and was elected president on a set of principles of trust and hope. The overriding factor in his campaign was Buhari himself, on his assumed integrity, incorruptibility, forthrightness and the magic ward to deliver! The 2015 presidential campaign was mainly about Buhari; it was Buhari the person – not his policies, nor his programmes, nor even his political party, but Buhari the man and his promises – that had received the drumming endorsement of the Nigerian people, particularly northerners.
To virtually everyone in the North, Buhari was the only man, and therefore the only hope, for the people. That is why sagacious political strategist would draw up for him sophisticated electoral blueprint after his 3-failed attempts without asking for something in return.
That is why an old woman of over 80 years would sit out in the scorching sun of the northern desert for a whole day just to see Buhari the person and donate her life-long savings towards his election bid without expecting anything back from him. That is why poor wheel barrow pushers, nail cutters, shoe shiners, hewers of woods and fetchers of water, literally the wretched of the earth, would starve themselves to buy cards and donate their meager earnings towards his election without any hope of ever meeting him. And that is why someone would trek from Lagos to Abuja in joyous celebration of Buhari’s electoral victory without a price tag.
So when Buhari won the contest and sworn-in as president, it was expected he would solve the numerous problems of the country: to better the lot of the over 40 million unemployed Nigerians; solve the problems of the unemployed and of those whose wages cannot feed them through the days of the month; solve the problems of abject poverty across the land, of those who go to bed on empty stomachs; solve the problem of parents who stay awake late into the night thinking of how to feed the family the next day, how to pay the children’s school fees already due and how to settle the landlords their housing rents; solve the problems of those who are frightened by the mere thought of illness either of themselves or members of their families for reason that they cannot afford to pay hospital bills; solve the issue of those people to whom electricity, good roads and portable water are unaffordable luxuries; of children who drop out of schools or go without school altogether merely because their parents cannot afford to pay their school fees; of youth who have gone wayward, left their homes, turned to thuggery, crime and drugs, killed or sent to jail while their parents and relatives looked on helplessly; of young girls who, forced by social difficulties, go morally astray just to earn the extra kobo to help in the upkeep of their households, and parents and relatives look the other way; solve the problem of both the almajiris whose parents have virtually forsaken them into the wild world without food, education or care, and the problems of the bush Fulanis whose cattle have been rustled or grazing lands or routes have suddenly ceased existence; solve the problems of those who cannot farm, fish or fetch clean water because their environments have been destroyed by oil pollution; solve the problems of corruption, terrorism and insurgency in our towns and villages.
One can go on and on as the issues are uncountable. And these are a mere fraction of the numerous difficulties, agonies and frustrations being faced daily by the vast majority of Nigerians who trusted with all their hearts that Buhari would solve their problems.
Other than these problems of individual survival, there were also along with them daunting challenges threatening the very survival of the nation that President Buhari was equally expected to resolve.
In his campaigns, Buhari summed these concerns up into three – insecurity, corruption and economy. In other words, the resolution of these three would resolve both the individuals’ and collective developmental challenges of the nation; to create sense of belonging and forge functional unity to a desperate and despairing nation torn apart by cries of marginalization, agitations and separatist tendencies.
These are the problems President Buhari was expected to solve. And he could very well have done so if he had adopted the right approach of running a consultative government, as consultations and taking of advice are composite foundational elements of successful leadership.
But when Buhari took over power he simply refused to set up a governing team of any sort to formulate, advice and channel solutions to these daunting problems. He refused to appoint key advisers, political and economic; and it took him over six months before he was pressured by public outcry to form even a constitutionally required ministerial cabinet.
As it is a standard universal norm that no leader leads without advisers, and as time has ascertained that a leader who acts solely on his own judgment always fails, it thus was clear to discernible minds that President Buhari was destined to fail.
Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, said that when a ‘king’ has unsuitable [ignorant] advisers, “his reign will be like a cloud which passes on without dropping rain”. And, to say the truth, Buhari’s government of the past four years may not be a drought but cannot be said to be a rainy one either – and this is to put it most generously!
Still, as a historian who studied how firmly the present is tied to the past and how intimately different parts of a system depend on one another, I am optimistic in the possibilities of not only Nigeria evolving the right leadership to give the desired developmental goals, but also President Buhari capable of initiating the process towards attaining this goal in his 2nd Term, if he puts his mind to it.
Even though many will find it difficult to foresee how to bring this about, the simple fact that there are similarities among men wherever they are suggests that as men Nigerians are also capable of producing the right leadership as produced in other human climes. Of course there are differences, which basically emanate from the society in which men live.
That in President Buhari expectations were high and results are low begs the question: does man make society in his image or is he a reflection of his society? For me the answer is both, but with a proviso – for men of weak will, the society becomes the molding agency; while men of strong will mold the society in a distinct image envisioned by them, different from how they met it. However, this must not be taken in absolute terms.
The fact is that once the will on the part of the leader is strong and genuine, and merit is given preeminence over mediocrity, policy is divorced from analysis and action from affirmation, then clear leadership difference will be made. And this must necessarily start from the composition of the individuals making up the entire leadership team.
Instructively, the fact that the composition of the team is solely made by the President means that the quality of the government is also solely dependent on the kind of appointees the President assembles to himself.
In making these appointments, the president’s own skill or lack of it to distinguish the great disparity that exists between men who are suitable and men who are not itself can decide whether or not we can attain the ultimate goal. To this end, therefore, the President must necessarily think deeply, consult widely and select carefully in matters regarding the appointment of members of his new government; and thus when ultimately making these appointments to ensure that only honest, patriotic, competent and very skillful persons are chosen.
By his reelection, Nigerians have given President Buhari a second and final chance to make up for the failures of the past. If he truly stands up to it, then he will save himself, his regime and the Nigerian State from an impending conflagration or revolution.
Because as Ted Gurr, the world renowned Criminologist asserts: “when expectations are high and results are low, men rebel”. Buhari could very well be the last bus-stop to a revolution, depending on the choices he makes.