Sunday, 6 September 2015
Buhari needs new ethos and paradigm -Idowu Akinlotan
In its response to accusations of sectionalism and even nepotism in determining federal appointments so far, the Buhari presidency has confidently indicated that balance would soon be restored, itself an admission of existing disequilibrium. Presidential aides went on further to reassure the country that President Muhammadu Buhari, a changed and firm leader and democrat, harboured no sectional agenda, whether hidden or open. They also added that all the appointments made so far were done on merit, without explaining why merit can’t seem to be widespread, or why it seems to the government expediently localised. There is no statistical proof of how many people are persuaded by the president’s response, but there is at least evidence that most Nigerians, assured by the government’s overwhelming response to the anti-graft war and other laudable steps taken so far, are prepared to give the president the benefit of the doubt.
Why the president did not deem the controversy weighty enough to merit his direct intervention and explanation is hard to fathom. Last week, given the intensity of the migration crisis inundating Europe, not to say the evocative and iconic images of distressed, dying or dead migrants, some of them infants, the British prime minister, David Cameron, felt compelled to urgently and directly respond to accusations of British lukewarmness on the plight of refugees. Germany foresaw the scale of the disaster early enough and indicated preparedness to accommodate more than its fair share of refugees. Britain reacted a little late, but at least Mr Cameron finally stirred himself. A leader cannot react to everything, but he must have the judgement or at least the intuition to know matters weighty enough to require his direct intervention.
President Buhari’s governing machine may just be revving up, as he and his aides have generously asserted. But he has an urgent responsibility to define that machine and open the understanding of the public to its fundamental attributes. Other than his travels to assemble a coalition against Boko Haram, and a few words now and again on his anti-corruption war, he has not made either concrete or symbolic trips to the geopolitical zones of the South to deliver a few great messages about himself, his government, and his country. There is nothing on the ethos of the country, those ennobling characteristics of the nation that manifest in the cumulation of national attitudes and goals. Nor is there anything yet on his governing paradigm, that indispensable fulcrum of policies. But perhaps he is still in deep contemplation.
One hundred days in the life of a government may be an arbitrary figure advertised by unreflective and populist military governments. But it is not so short a period for the public to begin to have a feel of the fundamental direction of the Buhari government in terms of a political manifesto, social charter and economic philosophy. These charters go far deeper than the anti-corruption war he appears besotted to, than his platitudes on the rule of law and other liberties, and than his promises of the good life for everyone, especially the poor. What, in short, these times call for is the enunciation of a new ethos and paradigm for Nigeria. These are the two fundamentals required to drive his vision in the next four years. These are the fundamentals that will define him as a leader and sculpt an image of him in the public mind. These are the fundamentals that will shape and refine the country, and give it a personality in the world, in the same way an individual is defined and shaped by intrinsic ideas and inscrutable personal responses to experiences.
Recruiting advisers and presidential aides, and making other key appointments into his cabinet, are not an end in themselves. They are just a part of the building block. What should engage the president is the kind of building he wants to construct and the use it would be put to. When critics assailed him over the 30 or so appointments he had made so far, accusing him of insensitivity and insularity, it was not because they already dismissed his government. The enlightened among the critics were only alarmed that the appointments did not give an indication of the change and future Nigerians want to see, or that President Buhari possessed the depth and innovation needed to remake the society on a scale that rivals great countries in other parts of the world.
This column advocated this point a few weeks ago. Who are we? What do we stand for? How costly is the life of a Nigerian? What is the leitmotif of our existence? Do we have a leader who embodies the ambition and worldview of Nigeria? This column’s engagement with these issues, especially the recent presidential appointments, is anchored on historical facts. As far back as 6th – 5th century BC, Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, recognised the importance of widening his empire’s leadership recruitment base by casting his net far and wide to include promising captives of his many wars. The empire boasted of a template to sieve and assess talents from far and wide, a function he obviously placed great emphasis on. It was in that process that Daniel the Jewish captive was discovered. He would later become Prime Minister of Babylon.
President Buhari must possess an acute sense of history, particularly Nigerian history, in order to function above the common mediocrity and self-created restraints that past leaders had entangled themselves with. World history is important to him to the extent that the lives and achievements of great world leaders and countries can ennoble his own actions and inspire him with great and incomparable examples. But to him, Nigerian history must be indispensable to the extent that in one sweeping and wholesome breath he would personify the life and ambitions of Nigeria.
Once a Nigerian leader reaches that esoteric level, he becomes inured to the giant obstacles and barricades — some of them ethnic, and others religious — that create artificial divides between the people. He will then aspire to produce a definition of Nigeria within which he can situate a definition of himself, making the two inextricable, the one personifying the other. He will go on to synthesise the concepts of citizenship and individual rights without which Nigeria can never be great, not even if everyone achieved sainthood in a corruption-free country. Nigeria’s past leaders struggled with depth, unable to do more than enunciate a code of superficial and artificial behaviours for the country, and at various times devote either a department or a ministry to champion what they described as a reorientation movement. But their ethical revolution and national reorientation were nothing but sentimental and wasteful drivel.
A cursory study of Roman history would have shown these leaders how to develop a new ethos, and nurture it. Roman Empire citizenship was so valuable that it was not even lawful for anyone, no matter how highly placed, to strike a Roman without a trial. (A Roman citizen could not be tortured or whipped, nor could he receive the death penalty, unless he was found guilty of treason. If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in Rome, and even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die on the cross). Paul the Christian missionary had reasons to remonstrate this point with Roman officials during his illustrious proselytising career. But more than two centuries later, Nigerian leaders have been unable to formulate an inspiring, practicable and disciplined concept of Nigerian citizenship, and have consistently sought to hide their incompetence and mediocrity behind the mask of bureaucratic and political skullduggery. Nigerian leaders and their security forces, nearly all of which cannot draw a line between private security interest and national security interest, possess probably one of the worst and most contemptible views of citizenship. Without a revolutionary conception and enforcement of the rights of the Nigerian, it is impossible to harness the country’s energies for national redefinition, growth and greatness, let alone to mobilise the people behind the government for country and glory. Two centuries ago, it meant a whole lot to be a Roman citizen. Today, it means virtually nothing to be a Nigerian.
President Buhari was elected against the wishes of millions of sceptics who never really believed he had changed for the better or was capable of changing. He will be president for the next four years. So, it may be imprudent to give up on him until he gives up on himself. He will of course be criticised, counseled, admonished and reproved until he becomes a much better man and leader, even at 72. If he wants to mobilise the people behind himself, he will need to do more than just fighting corruption, remoulding the economy and instilling discipline. He must fundamentally rethink many national concepts, using a study of historical examples as a stepping stone. He must take contributions from his brilliant aides or his own private readings on how the concept of the German, American, British, French, Russian, and Chinese persons, among others, evolved and were nurtured over the centuries. He can learn from them if he wishes to leave the country a changed nation, far better than he met it.
In a Sunday Times of London extract from his new revelatory and shocking book, The Outsider, due for release this week, the author Frederick Forsyth disclosed how he spied for Britain during the Nigerian civil war. His spying was not much different from the pushy but guileful manner many Western countries’ diplomats ferret information out of top Nigerian business, cultural and political leaders. The disturbing fact is that nearly all Nigerian leaders dissolve into molecules in the presence of white leaders, especially of the industrialised democracies. Though he has not started well, given his hasty visit to the United States even before he had time to recognise his own soul, President Buhari must begin to find ways of hardening his resolve against foreign interferences, and carving out a brave and independent idea of his country and unleashing and propelling the sublime geniuses of its peoples, whether they are writers, artists or musicians. That a leader does not grovel at the feet of white leaders does not mean that, like late Gen Murtala Ramat Mohammed, he is rebellious or defiant. His independent posture can also be interpreted as confident and self-reliant. If Nelson Mandela could do it, other African leaders can also do it, even if not on the same scale.
Eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo was a gross national waste and misadventure. He had the opportunity to lay a solid foundation for Nigerian democracy, albeit a minor component of the needed national ethos. If that was all he was capable of, the country would today be grateful for that modest contribution. But he lacked the intellect and the discipline to fulfill that great and noble mission. Umaru Yar’Adua was a painful, emasculative hiatus. And six years of Goodluck Jonathan proved more than enough to purge Nigerians of any great hope for the future and infuse them with the most enervating pessimism ever. Between the three former leaders, not counting the about 40 years before them, Nigeria has managed to waste 16 whole years.
If the next four years will not be another needless waste, President Buhari must take counsel far beyond his inner, and sometimes limited, reaches. He and his party enthuse about how well he has started. It is not clear what kind of measures they are using. But he needs to conceive and implement fundamental policies that will touch every nerve and organ and hidden crevices in the body politic. He has neither conceived nor implemented anything substantially evocative of the ethos and paradigm his government and this country sorely need. Even the anti-graft battle he is waging has not taken cognisance of the political economy of corruption, let alone devising formulae to ensure a lasting impact on the society, economy and polity.
It is time Nigeria stopped frolicking with the peripherals of politics and government. President Buhari must dig deeper, with the help of his aides and advisers, into the purpose of government to bring out the ethos and paradigm Nigeria needs to fulfill its manifest destiny. Much of the little good Chief Obasanjo did in his eight years in office were quickly reversed because they were neither substantial nor impactful of the lives of the people in an unchangeable, unalterable way. President Buhari will undoubtedly do some good, but whatever things he does seem fated to become meretricious rather than consequential and ramifying — an obsession with provision of milk and bread, etc. rather than life- and destiny-changing ideas and policies in a way no one can dismantle for hundreds of years, not even with a succession of incompetent rulers, such as the Ottoman Empire endured after Suleiman, and Rome fitfully experienced after Julius and Augustus Caesar.