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Buhari: Leadership challenge and burden of change

Buhari-ook

By Kayode Oluwa

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those who would profit by the new order……[But] it is better to live a day like a lion, than to live a hundred years like a mouse”
[Machiavelli, 15th century Italian philosopher].  

The emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as the sixth democratically elected president of Nigeria was greeted with great optimism and high expectations by most Nigerians, particularly the downtrodden. Buhari’s victory was momentous and instructive, considering that it was his fourth straight attempt at the presidency!

The doggedness, perseverance, resilience, determination and eventual victory of Buhari reminds one of the great days of the Roman Empire. In those heydays, when the Roman army won in battles they paraded their defeated foes through the streets in chains. And, as part of the celebration, they burned incense on a series of alters throughout the city.

That way, those who couldn’t see the procession knew the army had triumphed because they could smell the incense. The aroma was symbolic of their victory. There’s a semblance and lesson here for Muhammadu Buahari. Considering that he rode on the campaign message of “change”, Buhari should see his victory as an ‘aroma’ which is symbolic of a clear manifestation of the desire and yearnings of the people for change.

Consequently, Buhari should, first and foremost, see himself as a reformer and change leader and roll up his sleeves for the arduous task of reforming the country.

In leading change, Buhari, as a transformational leader, will do well to be reminded that leadership is about vision, service and ability to motivate and inspire people [not to coerce or command, like a military dictator that he was before] and to influence their actions and behaviours towards the progressive attainment of a shared vision, common goal and collective aspiration.

Leadership is about compassion, caring for the people and finding solutions to contemporary challenges confronting an organisation or a nation. In this context, Buhari, as the change leader, particularly at this critical period when the nation is confronted with ginormous socio-economic challenges, must realise that he will have to be at his very best physically, emotionally, mentally and intellectually to successfully lead the change revolution. Leading change, at a time such as this when the morale of the people is low and their expectations are high is not a tea party, but a huge responsibility that comes with so much burden and enormous challenges.

And to surmount these challenges is almost like squeezing water out of a stone! It should immediately sink to the new government that the time for rhetoric and sloganeering change is over. The time for celebration and euphoria of electoral victory is over. It’s now time for action!  Buhari and the new APC government must begin to ‘walk the change,’ that they’ve so much talked about, in order to justify the people’s confidence, mandate and overwhelming support.

To successfully actualise the change, inspire, mobilise and win over the already disenchanted, but highly expectant Nigerians, the Buhari presidency will have to be creative, innovative and imaginative by strategically thinking outside the box and interrogating the existing order and status quo. The new government must ensure that governance is no longer business as usual and that things are done differently, so as to positively impact on the lives of the people.

Instructively, most analysts and observers, including the international community, as well as the generality of Nigerians, believe that ‘The Buhari Era’ may herald a turning point in our quest for national rebirth and economic renaissance. It is, therefore, heart-warming and reassuring that the new ruling [or is it governing?] party, All Progressives Party, APC, recently organised a policy dialogue on the policy direction and Implementation of the Agenda for Change, with the theme “Implementing Change: From Vision to Reality”, at which experts drawn from different fields of human endeavour presented papers in various areas of our national life which will form inputs into the road map for the actualisation of the policies and programmes of the Buhari administration.

In order to bridge the gap between policy formulation and implementation, which has always been the bane of previous governments, the Buhari administration should evolve the necessary policy implementation frame work/machinery by putting in place a concrete strategic plan of action which will clearly articulate the tangible deliverables, specific milestones and definite timelines for the actualisation of the change revolution.    The Buhari government will do well to realise that change is not a sprint but a marathon, not a destination but a journey, which can be long, demanding, topsy-turvy and dotted with so many twists and turns. Along the journey through change, the leader will have to ‘steer the ship’ and navigate through the tides and waves, ebbs and flows of the rough and stormy waters. Change is fraught with obstacles, hitches, glitches, mistakes, hiccups, set-backs, disappointments, uncertainties, fears, anxieties, concerns, complaints, lamentations, discomforts, anger, bitterness, dissatisfaction, disaffection, confusion, resistance, opposition, criticisms, disagreements, feuds, conflicts, intrigues, bickering, rivalries, clash of interests, power tussle/power struggle, horse trading, conspiracies, controversies, animosities, bad blood etc.

Consequently, in driving change, Buhari, as the change leader, must be prepared, right from the outset, to readjust his mind-set and thought process, in order to successfully cope with the obstacles and challenges associated with the change process. The inherent challenges notwithstanding, Buhari must press forward with the change, realising that “to lead the orchestra, you must back the crowd”.  

The first major challenge that the Buhari presidency is likely to face is the need to strike and maintain a balance between the cost and speed at which the change will have to be executed. This is a difficult but absolutely necessary and delicate decision to make.

The dilemma the new government will face is this; while everyone agrees that there is a need for a fundamental change and systemic reform to be effected rapidly to improve the situation of things in the country, there is equally a corresponding need to minimise the ‘collateral damages’ or possible adverse effects of the change on the masses. This is a catch 22 situation. When radical changes and fundamental reforms are introduced and executed rapidly without compassion or ‘human face’ or without due consideration to appropriate timing, as well as sensitivity to prevailing situation, circumstances and realities on the ground, including the current mood, plight and feelings of the people, the concomitant social costs may set off a domino effect that can discombobulate the change.

On the other hand, if the leadership decides to slow down, delay or remiss on the change, the already bad situation may linger and be further compounded, with the attendant socio-economic costs. Striking a balance, therefore, by finding a safe, middle course approach to this dilemma, will require considerable leadership skills and strategic deft from Buhari as the change leader.

To be continued.

Oluwa, a Leadership and change management expert and former Secretary-General, Nigerian Council of International Chamber of Commerce, wrote in from the Executive Business School, Lagos, via kooluwa@ebsng,com.


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