Owei Lakemfa

October 12, 2015

Scales and high jumpers

Scales and high jumpers

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 28, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

By Owei Lakemfa
THE President, Muhammadu Buhari is a victim of the high targets and expectations  he and his lieutenants are setting. They do not appear to have learnt lessons from the Road Map and manifesto  they made which are littered with promises, very difficult to fulfill.

Shortly after assuming office, rather than name  ministers as was expected, he held on for four months. The populace thought he was sorting out angels, therefore, expectations were very high. The drama was heightened by the elaborate secrecy the list was wrapped in. So when finally unwrapped, it was an anti-climax. In any case, it contained twenty one names, not the thirty six expected.

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 28, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 28, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

Although some over enthusiastic aides and party faithfuls have sought to  attire Buhari in messianic regalia,  they are  borrowed robes he needs to reject, especially  in his honeymoon period. The President is no revolutionary who has come to replace one  system with another. Rather, he is a reform-minded politician who is working with those he is familiar with, and the materials  in the ruling party. Anyone familiar with these fabrics will realise that it is quite a baggage from his old Presidential Task Force (PTF) days to the new APC which parades quite a handful of people who have not only been in power over the years, but are also not about to change.

To worsen matters, rather than  focus on the onerous task of presiding over  a huge country like Nigeria which is expected to lead Africa,  the President wants to further burden himself with the Petroleum portfolio.

Insurgency is a very difficult and complex challenge to meet. The Yar’Adua administration  Amnesty Programme which ended insurgency in the Niger Delta, was nothing short of a miracle. But we cannot assume that because miracles happen frequently on television, we are about to witness another; the defeat of  Boko Haram in the next four weeks as Buhari instructed the Service Chiefs.

In setting the three-month deadline, the President was also setting a deadline  for himself. This is another target set too high to achieve. If all a high jumper can scale is a metre and half, he should not set for himself, or allow others set a three-metre high jump for him.  Human nature can be complex. My mentor in trade unionism, Wahab Goodluck used to teach that if a labour leader is confident of achieving ten items in negotiations with the employer, he should tell his members he can achieve six. He said if he achieves all  ten, he would be hailed as a hero. On the other hand, if he promised to win ten items, and ends up winning nine, the members will feel disappointed that he could not keep  a basic promise. Some may even accuse him of selling out to the employer. From being a hero, he may be condemned as a villain.

It is time the President talks to the people  about our common future; we need to know what programmes can be implemented and the role of the citizenry; which cannot be implemented and why. We know the economy  is not in good health. The Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, warned last month that the country is recession-bound in 2016 unless government takes proactive measures to revive key sectors of the economy. We have  to get down to serious work. Government is a continuum; there are some achievements of the previous government the country needs to build on or continue, such as a reformed electoral body and commission and the construction of new rail lines which would establish  the mass transport system we never had.

This administration does not have much time on its hands; four years  is a very short time in which Buhari is expected to perform, and meet some of the high expectations of Nigerians. He must guard against being like the boastful debtor who promised to pay  by month end thinking it was a long way off, and when the month ended, could only scratch his head.

The hubris of President Olusegun Obasanjo is his assumption that he knows everything. So those who knew this, also became experts, not in governance, but how to massage his over bloated ego. With this, they got away with anything under his administration. He is clearly, not a good judge of character, which may be why his memoirs are full of lamentations.

President Goodluck Jonathan might have been laid-back. He seemed contented just to be president and watch his lieutenants. He listened to many including opposition governors and his party people , who gave him the impression that he was doing marvelously well even in the face of massive protests against his policies. He appeared loyal to people, and a willingness to  defend those he trusted even when commonsense dictated he should have replaced some of his key functionaries. He shared this flaw with General Yakubu Gowon, and of course, President Shehu Shagari.

Buhari is being presented as a superman who  can solve all problems. The reality is that he cannot.   His state reminds me of  the American President, Barack Obama who ran for office when the country under George Walker Bush, was a mess. The economy was in shambles and its standing abroad was  quite bad. Some Nigerians I know, who have dual citizenship, abandoned their American passports to travel on our green passport.

Obama restored hope by telling Americans, “Yes, we can”. He let them know that they can change their unacceptable circumstance.  He knows he is human, and his lieutenants did not give the false impression that a messiah had arrived to free them.  Obama’s men did not spend valuable time attacking Bush and his government; there was serious work to do, and they set about doing it. The fact that he can do virtually nothing about gun control, and has the emotionally-traumatic duty of frequently addressing Americans whenever another nut murders innocent people, does not mean he is not a great American leader.

Buhari can be like Obama by providing commonsensical leadership and working hard on achievable programmes. Yes, he can. In fact, he should.