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Saturday, 14 March 2015

BUHARI AND THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS


BUHARI AND THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS
 PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU, Email: dele.momodu@thisdaylive.com
 Fellow Nigerians, let me confess that I do not envy General Muhammadu Buhari at this moment. I will explain what I mean very shortly and briefly. The People’s General, as I love to call him, is a victim of his own popularity. What ordinarily should have been an asset has almost become a liability, or put another way, a blessing turning to a curse. From all empirical data as well as mathematical calculations, General Buhari looks set to create a major upset on March 28, or whenever it pleases the gods of Abuja to hold the elections. A game of abracadabra is still playing out while the world is watching our shenanigans with pity or amusement or both.
 The ruling party has chosen to engage in a political Russian roulette while the country speeds dangerously towards the abyss. Who are we to challenge those who see power as the beginning and the end and are incorrigibly committed to fighting to retain what they got on a platter of gold. At any rate, I am one of those subscribing to the permutations of a General Buhari victory no matter how tall a dream it seems. As a matter of fact, I’m willing and ready to place a bet that the election is not going to be as closely and keenly contested as many people think. I foresee a landslide that would make it difficult for troublemakers to practise their trade. The Buhari Movement has finally ignited and spreading at the speed of sound.
 My simple and straight-forward projection is that both President Goodluck Jonathan and General Buhari would obtain and satisfy the mandatory 25% votes in two/thirds of the 36 states making up the Federal Republic of Nigeria (plus the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, the ultimate seat of power). This translates to the fact that the two leading candidates must work assiduously at locking down 24 states each while battling hard to close the game with some blistering majority votes. I believe this is where Buhari would have a towering advantage.
 If you consider my optimism a mirage, please cool temper for the D-day is at hand. By this time next week all us would have fixed our gaze on Saturday May 28, 2015. How time flies! When the elections were postponed, from February 14, 2015, it was as if the new date would never come. But blessed are the patient at heart for they shall inherit the earth. The PDP no doubt has regained some momentum and they have now had ample opportunity to bulldoze their ways into earlier impregnable fortresses with the whiff of money. But the effect is not yet palpable.
 What is certain is that APC has sparked the panic mode in PDP. This seems to be their time. I’ve never seen President Jonathan work as frenetically as he’s being doing these past weeks. It is certain President Jonathan is under no illusion that this is going to be an easy task or mission. In fact, this is going to be a fiercer election than any we’ve ever seen in the past. The battlegrounds would most definitely be in the North Central and South West. General Buhari will lock down the North West and North East most categorically while President Jonathan will secure his traditional catchment areas, in the South South and South East. However, let me note that General Buhari is likely to make some incursion into President Jonathan’s territories than vice versa. The President today does not control a cult followership in any part of Nigeria while General Buhari enjoys some Rock star status in many parts of Nigeria where he has become the icon of change.
 This fact was revalidated only yesterday in the presence of no less a witness than the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, Mr Reno Omokri at the Transcorp Hilton hotel, in Abuja. I had entered a packed lift as the Hilton was teeming with activity as usual. As soon as I sauntered in, I was instantly hailed by most of the guys for supporting Buhari. The shout of “change” resonated and boomed in the lift. There was a white lady who appeared fascinated by the almost carnival-like atmosphere. Mr Omokri and I alighted from the lift same time and the gentleman of God requested for a selfie with me which I gladly obliged. I wished other Jonathians were as humble as Reno. I had always admired the man who had the incredibly difficult job of selling the image of an unpopular President. In recenbt time, he’s landed himself in trouble while trying so hard to make a success of a thankless job.
 Anyway, the Transcorp Hilton encounter was only one of so many others during my short visit to Abuja. Everywhere I turned, the talk was about change. I am very certain that most of those supporting Buhari today are not members of APC. I’m not even sure many of them are his rabid fans. What I found common to them is their personal frustrations with a party that has been in power for 16 years with little to show for the support garnered from Nigerians. Some have openly confessed that Buhari is a candidate of necessity forced on them by limited choices. This is the thrust of my epistle today.
 To whom much is given, much is expected. General Buhari is thus expected to be the Lamb of God who must be prepared to carry the sins of the world. He must possess the power of optical illusion in order to perform instant magic in a nation on its bent knees. First, Nigerians will hold him to the promise of killing corruption when the time comes. The cynics insist this is impossible and dismiss his most avowed credential as an anti-corruption crusader as a mere ruse and bloody hypocrisy. They point at the seemingly rampaging horde of politicians around him and wonder how he hopes to handle them.
 They are right and wrong. They are right in as much as there are no saints in government anywhere. It is virtually impossible to win elections in Nigeria without huge sums of money for logistical and practical purposes. Everyone knows that the General has loads of integrity but no money. How then does he hope to tackle some of his supporters who may have profited from the proceeds of crime and corruption? A tough nut to crack; or so it seems! But I have a fair answer.
 I have had the privilege of interacting a bit with General Buhari and his disciples and can safely confirm that he has what it takes to reduce corruption to its barest minimum allowed in decent societies. Trust me, the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom in his camp. He regularly tells them not to treat him as robot. The almost surreal respect they have for him helps to whip everyone in line. And no one wishes to test the sharpness of his double-edged sword.
 General Buhari recognises the fact that he has to carry saints and sinners along in party politics and a democratic setting. As a game of numbers, it would be foolhardy to be holier than the Pope. All the pontificating therefore must be measured and tested without rocking the boat entirely. He has learnt tremendous lessons and gained exceptional insight into how Nigeria works. He knows that as a civilian President, he will never be able to wield draconian powers like he did during his first coming as military dictator. History has a way of mellowing people down. The General Buhari that I see today is a man with a hard interior and a softer and more relaxed exterior. He would have to manage a delicate balance as a born again democrat. I’m sure he can do it.
 The second challenge ahead of the new government, if Buhari wins as many expect and anticipate, is how to handle and ameliorate the intractable problem of mass unemployment. The General himself has confessed to this daunting challenge repeatedly. He says the first step is to stop the leaking economic sewage and block the drain pipes of unbridled corruption. A new regime of disciplined fiscal planning would have to be introduced pronto. Vocational training would have to be encouraged and recommended for the multitude of naturally endowed Nigerian youths. Nigeria is in dire need of technical expertise. Many artisans currently indulge in trial by error. Their income would improve once they can gain the confidence of clients and consumers. Politicians, especially our elected representatives, would have to downgrade on their atrocious remunerations which have become so controversial and unsustainable. It is hoped that General Buhari would be able to convince our political office holders to have mercy on the rest of us. The era of over-inflated contracts would have to be jettisoned for a more reasonable and accountable process.
 The collapse of education is not less important. In fact, it must form the bedrock of all developmental dreams and goals. No nation can advance to a developed status without correcting the anomalous and embarrassing state of our institutions from primary to tertiary level. The modest achievements of the Obasanjo administration have been wasted and truncated by subsequent governments. What makes the situation terrible is not just the fact that we are producing glorified illiterates in many institutions but the fact that the exodus of our kids to foreign lands in pursuit of the proverbial Golden Fleece has now become a major waste of our foreign exchange reserves. It is sad that many of the smaller and poorer countries around us have taken advantage of our cruel and retrogressive attitude to education. How General Buhari reverses this debilitating trend remains to be seen.
 It is no longer a secret that our economy has been run aground by a most profligate government despite the pretentious grandstanding that ours is the largest economy in Africa. Many states are unable to pay salaries. The Naira has been in a free fall after nose-diving in a most cataclysmic manner. There is no way traders would not be wishing for a quick miracle before our businesses perish, especially those dependent on foreign exchange. The General and his crew must urgently tackle the over-dramatized issue of diversification of our resources to generate much needed income. We can no longer over-emphasise the importance of finding alternatives to oil which seems to have exterminated our thinking faculties. For a country reputed to be one of the largest oil producers, it is disgraceful that we are not able to refine most of our crude; we still flare our gas, and quite simply prefer the easy route to cheap money rather than invest in the creation of sustainable wealth.
 Another crucial area for General Buhari to deal with is power, the generation, transmission and distribution of which seems to have become an impossible mission. It is so bizarre and inexplicable how the more investment we pump into having stable electricity, the lesser the result. Even with the much privatisation of this sector, we have had no joy.
 The last and probably the most critical issue that the General will have to tackle and resolve quickly is that of the security of the nation. A nation may be rich, corruption free and peopled with citizens who are well educated and in suitably employment. However, this will count for naught when their lives and property are not secure. This is where the General’s military experience and his past antecedent as the scourge of another terrorist religious group, the Maitatsine Sect, will come into play. It is not just Boko Haram that we are worried about though. Although largely unspoken, because of the fear and support they are receiving, the country is being held to ransom by terrorists referred to as ‘militants’ simply because they come from the same area as the President. It is not just because there is open plundering of our wealth through the large-scale, unbridled stealing of the nation’s oil but the thieving buccaneering spirit they engender means that others feed into their frenzy. Hence, the spate of kidnappings and resort to use of sophisticated weapons and equipment by armed robbers remains largely unchecked. Our people, indeed our leaders as well, live in constant fear. But for now they dare not speak. I am convinced from what I have seen and heard that the People’s General will deal with this issue of security in a decisive, efficient and effective manner.
 I must add that it has been rightly observed by some people that General Buhari has not offered a solution to our apparently intractable security problem. The answer is simple! The right security policy in the hands of the wrong leader will lead to further disastrous consequences. I need say no more.
 You can now see why no one should envy General Buhari. The cross he would have to bear would be a heavy one. I believe he has what it takes to take on the demons plaguing our country. He would have to step on some fat toes. However, it won’t be strange act to a man known for his no-nonsense approach.
 With so much rancid rot refusing to leave us alone and in peace, we certainly need a General Buhari now more than ever.
 I can’t wait.

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