The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi; firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Coaster bus tried to meander through the surging crowd and the sea of human heads, chanting “Sai Baba”, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari tapped his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, by the shoulder, pointed in the direction of the vehicle’s window and asked: “Look at that man; what can you see from his face?”
Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who was then apparently just adjusting to life as a politician, replied: “I can see real excitement on his face. Like many others here, the man is obviously very happy to see us.”
Evidently not satisfied with the response he got, Buhari asked Osinbajo to look at the man again. When the former Attorney General of Lagos State returned the same answer, Buhari decided to lecture him: “That man you are looking at believes that if we win this coming election, all his problems will be solved within 24 hours after we take over.”
The import of that scene and the ensuing dialogue in Gusau, Zamfara State on January 21 this year, as captured by Osinbajo at the first Abuja edition of ‘The Platform’ on May Day, is that Buhari is well aware of the burden of expectations that he carries as he becomes president of Nigeria tomorrow. Yet he has no magic wand with which to revalue a Naira of our national currency to approximate to an American Dollar “with immediate effect”. He cannot snap his fingers to conjure electricity to power our homes. Fuel queues will not disappear from our petrol stations because Buhari has just been swept into office with the promise of ‘change’. And Abubakar Shekau’s army of Boko Haram killers are not likely to surrender to the authorities after Buhari assumes office tomorrow.
In his article on democratic transitions, Dankwart Rustow draws a distinction between theories that seek to explain the genesis of democracy and theories that address democratic stability and our situation today approximates more to the latter. Yet, according to Rustow, the ability to build consensus by finding common grounds in the wake of a regime change depends on the capacity of the leader who must have a long-range vision of what he wants to achieve. That, I imagine, is where the expectations from Buhari derive because he comes to the number one job more prepared than any of his civilian predecessors in office.
Buhari is the first Nigerian civilian to personally seek to be president and pursued his dream (even after three defeats) until he realised it. All his civilian predecessors became president or prime minister either by accident or through the benevolence of some other do-gooders. This is an issue I have written about before but on a day such as this, it is important to remind us of what Buhari’s victory truly represents.
At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Sir Ahmadu Bello should have been the Prime Minister as leader of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) which won majority of the seats at the parliamentary elections. But for personal reasons, the late Sardauna of Sokoto ceded the office to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who became Prime Minister instead.
During the Second Republic in 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was seeking to go to the Senate on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which had heavyweights like Maitama Sule, Adamu Ciroma, Shettima Ali Monguno and the late Abubakar Olusola Saraki jostling for the presidential ticket. At the end, Shagari became our president. In August 1993, Chief Ernest Shonekan was appointed by General Ibrahim Babangida to head his contraption called Interim National Government after the June 12 presidential election annulment fiasco.
In 1998, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in prison praying for God to deliver him from the clutches of General Sani Abacha when fate played a fast one on his jailer. With Abacha dead, Obasanjo was released from prison and offered the presidency of Nigeria to which he famously retorted, ‘how many presidents do you want to make of me?’ As it would happen, after spending two-terms in office, Obasanjo began to play Oliver Twist, by asking for more years. But by the time his third-term ambition collapsed in 2006 with no room left to manoeuvre, not only did Obasanjo handpick the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as successor, his wish eventually became Nigeria’s command. And finally, through the misfortunes of others, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s legendary good luck catapulted him from deputy governor to governor to vice president until he became the Commander-in-Chief.
What the foregoing says most eloquently is that in Buhari, Nigeria will have its first civilian leader who consciously sought the presidency which presupposes that he must have an idea of what he would do in office. Buhari also defeated the incumbent president, the first of such to happen in Nigeria.Notwithstanding all these, what is perhaps Buhari’s biggest selling point today is that he comes to office with what is usually described as “Referent Power”. He is generally trusted as a man who would not fiddle with the treasury in a society where integrity in the public arena is very much in short supply. But leading by example does not make Buhari a perfect man, and that is what worries me about the way some of his supporters are going on as if we have just elected a prophet.
Buhari will do this. Buhari will do that. Those are the tales we have been hearing from some time-servers who may not even know the man but are already positioning themselves through the media in the bid to hijack him and our collective destiny. Yet, the reality of our national condition today is that Buhari can do practically nothing without seeking the patience and understanding of Nigerians. And for that to happen, Buhari must be seen to be human. That means having the courage to admit to mistakes and failings (where they occur) along the way and being bold enough to make course corrections.
For sure, there are many weeks, months and hopefully years ahead to write about Buhari who will, from tomorrow, be on the “line of fire” for whatever fate befalls our country. But as I wish him well, I want to end my piece with a simple story about the true essence of leadership by example which requires enormous sacrifices. It is a lesson that will serve Buhari who should be wise enough to dispense with the cult of personality being built around him if he does not want to fail.
Concerned that her son was addicted to eating a lot of sugar, a mother sought appointment to see the legendary Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi. When she finally did, with her son in tow, she said: “The whole nation listens to you, please tell my son to stop eating sugar, as it is not good for his health”. Ghandi replied, “I cannot tell him that. But you may bring him back in a few weeks and then I will talk to him.”
Upset and disappointed, the mother took the boy home.Two weeks later, she came back. This time Gandhi looked directly at the boy and said “Son, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.” The boy nodded his head and made a solemn commitment to heed the admonition. Puzzled, the boy’s mother asked Ghandi, “Why did you send us away two weeks ago when you could have simply told the boy what you just did?”
Gandhi smiled and said: “Two weeks ago, I was eating a lot of sugar myself.”
May God grant Buhari success as he assumes the mantle of leadership tomorrow as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank You, President Jonathan
In a piece titled “Goodluck to the President”, published on this page on 31st May 2012 at a period Dr. Jonathan was marking his first year in office as elected president, I reminded him of what I told his handlers in May 2010. My thesis was that courting public adulation, as they were doing at the time, could ultimately prove to be counter-productive. To drive home my point, I used a fictional account of the events which followed the death in 1997 of Princess Diana as depicted in ‘The Queen’, a multiple award winning 2006 British film starring Helen Mirren.
While Queen Elizabeth IIsaw Diana’s death as a private family affair, then newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair exploited the situation by reflecting the public wish for an official expression of grief. This instantly earned Blair public acclamation while the Queen became so unpopular that many were even calling for the abrogation of the monarchy. The instructive dialogue from the encounter (as depicted in the film) which may also serve Buhari who assumes office tomorrow as President of Nigeria goes thus:
Queen Elizabeth II: You don't think that the affection people once had for me, for this institution, has been diminished?
Tony Blair: No, not at all. You are more respected now than ever.
Queen Elizabeth II: I gather some of your closest advisers were less fulsome in their support.
Tony Blair: One or two but as a leader, I could never have added my voice to that chorus.
Queen Elizabeth II: Because you saw all those headlines and you thought: 'One day this might happen to me'...
Tony Blair: Oh... er...
Queen Elizabeth II (cuts in): ...and it will, Mr. Blair; quite suddenly and without warning...
Today, to put it mildly, Blair is not a very popular man in Britain. Similarly, I am sure President Jonathan cannot claim to be happy with the way he is being perceived today, 24 hours before he leaves office, against the background that when he took over power in May 2010, he could do no wrong. Incidentally, many of his fair-weather supporters who were hailing him yesterday have moved on as he himself admitted two weeks ago.
Notwithstanding, I believe President Jonathan has in the last five years tried his best for our country, and considering the manner in which he conceded defeat after the election, he can leave office with some pride. Not only did he save the nation from what could have been a serious crisis, he demonstrated the power of personal example that helped set the tone for several other defeated candidates at the elections. And with that, he has left a democratic legacy for which he will forever be remembered.
It is therefore my hope that the incoming Buhari administration will accord President Jonathan nothing but respect after office. He deserves it.
Still on the Subsidy Book
Perhaps because it came at a time the nation was groaning under the yoke of acute fuel scarcity that has affected all the critical sectors, the manuscript of my book, ‘The Inside Story of the Fuel Subsidy Scam’, released online http://bit.ly/1EY9s80 last Thursday has been generating considerable interest. And I hope that the next administration will pay attention to the details therein so that they don’t continue to make the same mistakes that have culminated in the crisis we are going through today as a nation.
However, following my intervention on the subsidy issue, I have in the last one week had to respond to several mails, all pointing in one direction: that I am now only advocating for the removal of fuel subsidy because a new government is coming and that I did not support President Jonathan’s efforts in that direction. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
I have for long understood the danger the subsidy regime portends to our economy and for that reason, been an advocate against it as demonstrated in my piece of last week - House Report and Buhari’s First Major Call. But even before then, when it became evident that President Jonathan was finally resolved to put an end to the rent element of the downstream sector or the petroleum sector, I came out clearly to endorse removal of subsidy, even though it was not a popular position to take at the time.
Because the piece, titled, “Lend Me One From Tomorrow’s”, and published on this page on 13th October, 2011, still speaks to the current situation, I am reproducing it so that readers can better appreciate how the subsidy regime remains antithetical to our economic well-being as a nation:
If the morning, as they say, shows the day, then we should brace up for trouble in the coming weeks. Following the public release of the 2012-2015 Medium Term Fiscal Framework and Medium Term Expenditure Framework, there is already a groundswell of opposition from labour and other stakeholders. And in the last few days, I have received several mails from readers who plead with me to throw my lot with ‘the people’ by opposing the complete deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector otherwise called removal of fuel subsidy.
I want to preface my intervention with a story I told sometimes in 1999 or thereabout which is still very relevant today. And like I did back then, I seek the indulgence of readers because the story is about a supposedly loving couple having problems which bordered on sex. The husband happened to be a man with healthy appetite hence he would not allow his wife any breathing space. After putting up with his antics for some years, she took the matter to her in-law as the 'court of first instance'. After narrating her story, her mother-in-law asked whether her son was maltreating the wife in other ways; she said no. Was he providing for her as he should? She answered in the affirmative. The parents of the husband declared that the wife had no case because their son was only claiming his rightful entitlements. Case dismissed!
Defeated, the poor woman accepted her fate for a while before reporting to her own parents. Let us call this the 'court of appeal'. Here, they equally asked the same set of questions her in-laws asked. Her mother however added: "Is your husband dating another woman?" She said no. In the ruling that followed, they scolded their daughter for attempting to shirk her marital responsibility. The appeal therefore failed and the man continued to claim his entitlements. Ultimately, the wife took the matter to their local pastor as the final arbiter, if you like the ‘Supreme Court’. Having listened to the tale, the pastor sent for the husband so he could hear both sides. When the husband came, the pastor asked the wife to retell her tale which she did. "Is it true?" He replied: "It is true Sir but the problem is that I don't want to have affairs outside."
This to the pastor was a serious problem but after a discussion that involved bargaining and trade-offs, it was agreed that a maximum of three times a day was enough for any couple. Thus a ceiling was effectively placed on how many times the man could 'harass' his poor wife a day. It was a Friday evening and back home, the man, quite naturally, claimed his 'quota' for that day. Then came Saturday: To cut the story short, by mid day, the husband had performed his matrimonial obligation three times and the wife thought she would be left alone. When he therefore started behaving funny again, she exploded: "What is the problem? Have I not met my responsibility for today?"
Looking crestfallen, the husband replied: “Yes, I know, but please lend me one from tomorrow's".
The friend who told me this story said it was a real life situation. He may be right or it may just be a ‘fabu’ but what is not in doubt is that the tale is a metaphor for the Nigerian condition and our proclivity to borrow from the future. Like the irresponsible husband in the story whose marriage was definitely bound to crash at some point, we have been borrowing so much from the future that it is only a matter of time before we reach rock bottom. But I understand what the current agitation is all about.
Like most commentators, I can make a thousand arguments on why it is callous to overburden the poor of our people by removing the current subsidies on fuel. I can canvass brilliant ideas to justify why, if it is only cheap petrol that the people enjoy, so let it be. I can present moving stories of the social consequences of the removal of subsidy: The pain, the anguish and the tears to come. Yet given the situation on ground, there is no way we can continue with the corrupt, inefficient and unsustainable subsidy regime. To do so will amount to entrenching a culture of continually borrowing from tomorrow.
I have followed the drama in the Senate concerning a proposed motion by Senator Bukola Saraki where he noted that in the 2011 Appropriation Act, the sum of N240 billion was allocated for subsidy yet by August ending, N931 billion had been spent with a projection that by the end of the year, “we will have a fuel subsidy bill of over N1.2 trillion as against the N240 billion budgeted in the Appropriation Act.”
Making allusion to the (mis)management of the federation account and the subsidy abracadabra by NNPC, Saraki drew the attention of the lawmakers to the fact that the 2011 Appropriation Act was based on “a Capital budget of N1.1 trillion for the entire country yet a single agency of government can incur the same amount without due approval of the National Assembly.” As former Governors’ Forum Chairman, I understand where Saraki is coming from but he is also aware the problem did not start with the 2011 Appropriation Act as fuel subsidy accounts mostly for the distortions we have had in budget planning and execution in the last decade just as it feeds the monumental corruption in our oil and gas sector.
Fortunately, President Goodluck Jonathan has finally come to terms with the reality that you cannot rule a country by Facebook! Given my understanding of Nigeria, our president, especially in these difficult times, must be like the man leading the orchestra: he has to back the crowd. Now President Jonathan knows. And he deserves our support. We must understand that he didn’t create the situation under which we find ourselves today. All the leaders before him, with our collective connivance as a nation, had been borrowing from tomorrow. Now that he has mustered the courage to say, “thus far and no more," the least our lawmakers and other critical stakeholders can do is to offer their understanding and support.
There is a way in which the series started three weeks ago on this page (on a fiscal regime that will freeze oil money away from recurrent expenditure) ties in with this issue. But my support for the economic direction of the Jonathan administration is a qualified one. I want to see concrete plans as to where the ‘savings’ from fuel subsidy will be targeted because it makes no sense to me to impose heavy burden on the people and then be funding dubious projects like the N30 billion National ID scheme. I also want to see greater commitment to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (original version).
While the argument for withdrawing fuel subsidy is compelling, there is an urgent need to carry along critical stakeholders in the media, civil society and labour because, to borrow an adage, it is much more productive to erect a fence at the top of the cliff than to build a hospital below. The days ahead are definitely bound to be very difficult and the month of December will be particularly critical. But I believe there is an extent to which we can continue to borrow from tomorrow...