By Ogaga Ifowodo
ON 3 June 2015, I was a guest on CoolTV’s morning programme, “Good Morning Nigeria.” The topic was “Buhari’s job as a democrat.” I added “so far,”on reading the invitation e-mail, wondering if the show’s producer or anchor hadn’t betrayed an unusual case of what might be called “change anxiety.”
Guest and audience, it seemed, were being invited to score the performance of Buhari, whose first coming was as a military dictator,after five days in office as a democratically elected president. My invitation was dated 30 May, so the assessment had been deemed necessary the day after his swearing-in! The first question I was asked concerned Buhari’s failure to name his cabinet. “But you can count the number of days he’s been in office on the fingers of one hand!” I pointed out.
The producer, obviously,had merely projected the general anxiety of the Nigerian people to bring closure to the trauma of the Peoples Democratic Party’s 16-year plague on the nation. For victims of the I-don’t-give-a-damn philosophy of government, change cannot come fast enough. But then, to score a government, no matter the whirlwind of expectation that bore it to power, five days after assuming office? I reached for fable to illustrate my stance of patience and critical optimism. At least, in the first 100 days.
I recounted the story of the tortoise who fell into a pit latrine and was trapped there for seven days (I may have said seven years on air, but no matter). No one heard his cries for help as he fell, nor subsequently whenever he could bear to open his mouth to call for help. For seven days, he endured indescribable stench and breathed abominable air, among other horrible ordeals, including that all who came after relieved themselves on him.
But at last, someone heard his by now feeble cries for help. “Tortoise, hang on there, okay? Help is on the way!”she said to him. But as soon as tortoise heard the footsteps and other noises of the rescue operation afoot, he shouted, “Hurry, hurry! I can’t bear the stench another minute!”
Now, can we accuse tortoise of impatience, of desiring rescue too soon—the very minute it was promised? Would it be fair to blame the rescuers if it took them longer than a minute, say an hour or even a day, to rescue him? After all, it is tricky business for all concerned: tortoise may very well end up being buried in ordure, just as any or some of the rescuers could end up joining him down there, not to speak of the danger of destroying the crude but very useful convenience, if care was not taken.
Even more questions: how long should it take to rescue tortoise? Would it be appropriate for the rescuers to deliberate on proper ways and means while tortoise languished in the latrine? Wouldn’t that be inexcusable time-wasting, abdication of responsibility, and even shocking indifference to an emergency? Lastly, how much should it matter to tortoise that help comes in a minute,an hour, or a day?
Confession: other than my stance of patience and critical optimism, I have no right or wrong, yes or no, answers to the human predicament this fable entails. I have retold it here more clearly than I did on the TV show to highlight the dilemma faced by the victim (tortoise, the Nigerian people) and the would-be rescuers (President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress). I will only elaborate as follows. Any government—of the right, left, or centre—deserves a reasonable period of grace,upon assuming office, before it can be properly assessed as to the effectiveness of its actions. It must be granted a certain, that is, limited, benefit of the doubt at inception.
Thus, I refrained for well over a year from criticising President Jonathan after he finally succeeded his deceased boss. A reader sensed betrayal and wrote to accuse me of seeing nothing wrong with Jonathan because he was a fellow Niger Deltan.
President Buhari has given a slew of reasons for his slow and deliberate approach to constituting his cabinet, all of which boil down to one claim: that he wishes to understand the extent of the rot that had wholly compromised the government so he could name the right people to execute the programme of change.
Call it diagnosis before prescription. What must the surgeon do if, set to operate, he detects that the patient’s condition is different from or far worse than earlier believed? Besides, there is the question of down-sizing a mammoth government that consumes 75% of our resources in order to free up sorely needed funds for capital development. It may be arguable which approach puts the horse before the cart, but it is clear that unless this is done first, then Buhari must give us on demand the same monstrously large cabinet that we are also impatient to do away with.
But whether or not one is inclined towards guarded but critical optimism or simply impatient for change NOW—assumed to be what it means to hit the ground running, though if you ask APC spokesman, Lai Mohammed, Buhari has been in a sprint since 29 May—the taste of the pudding remains in the eating. By the fruits of Buhari’s slow and deliberate approach we shall know him. I wager that he will be vindicated.