By Rotimi Fasan
FOLLOWING from comments made here last week about how some members of the Buhari administration have been shifting the goal post in terms of when Nigerians can expect to begin to see the gains of a Buhari presidency , I wish to underline some points. Leaders have both to be focused and inspirational. That to me is the whole point of last week’s piece. To appear to lose faith or to engage in doomsday predictions in the guise of being pragmatic or ‘facing reality’ can only pour cold water on people’s expectations and what they could make of the present direction in which the Buhari administration is headed.
America was effectively in recession when Barack Obama became president in 2008. But his inspired and inspiring rhetoric backed with hard work has since turned things around for Americans. As he leaves office now, his approval rating is one of the highest for any American president at the same period of their presidency. Winston Churchill didn’t lead the British people through World War II by telling them to expect the worst simply because that was all there was to expect anyway. He didn’t tell them things would be easy either. He prepared them for the worst but he also looked for a way out for them.
But with the Buhari administration there seems to be too much emphasis placed on the amount of sacrifice Nigerian should make before they could expect to see the dividends of voting for Buhari. Rather than the government justifying the faith people reposed in it with evidence of performance, some members of the administration would prefer to see Nigerians celebrate them for executing services they willingly offered themselves for.
They appear to be reading the people’s complaint about how tough life has become in the last 18 months as an expression of ingratitude or a sign of rejection. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Such reaction is for me a foolish way to interpret things. It’s a kind of ad hominem response that does nobody any good. It amounts to a personalisation of issues in a way that does not address the subject of the people’s concern, which is the difficulty of making ends meet and the generally high cost of living. These are bread and butter matters that constitute the bedrock of governance. No government can be said to be governing in the interest of the people or with their authorisation without addressing them.
Governments are voted into office to work and provide evidence of such work. Leaders should earn the trust they enjoy. Neither should they be blindly supported as some did the Jonathan administration and brought it to ruin. Until a government is able to meet the basic needs of citizens, until it can create room enough for citizens to be able to eat and clothe and provide decent housing and health cover for themselves, such a government only wastes its time.
It would be measured by how well it impacts the people in the aforementioned areas and not in terms of how much loot (which nobody can touch) it is able to recover. While those who thought one more year under Goodluck Jonathan (not to say four) would have been a disaster for this country must have felt a great sense of relief that he was not reelected, it makes no sense to expect them to continue to thank God that Jonathan’s opponent in the election won. Buhari offered to lead and he presented an agenda into which some Nigerians bought. He promised the people change, essentially from the corrupt, morally impoverished and incompetent government of Jonathan. He offered to do better and nobody said the job would be easy. But he offered himself and on that count alone, if not for any other reason, Nigerians have a right to take stock of how the administration has fared.
Yes, they can see a lot of motion especially in the fight against corruption. But there is in fact little movement. They can see that many under Jonathan abused their oath of office in the way they plundered the treasury, turning it into their private purse. Only the wicked and morally depraved can still say no looting took place under that administration. Never mind the typically naïve talk by Goodluck Jonathan that nothing untoward happened with Sambo Dasuki’ management of the $2.1 Billion meant for the procurement of arms in the fight against Boko Haram.
Jonathan knows any guilty pronouncement on Dasuki is a pronouncement of guilt on him and his wife, Patience. In spite of criticisms of selective treatment of corruption cases, the vast majority of Nigerians are apparently in support of what the Buhari government is doing to tame the hydra-headed beast. What is worrying is that there are no convictions of persons found guilty even when the funds so far recovered cannot be put to any use, being still subject of litigation. Yet, Nigeria is in recession and the government is itself making plans to get a $30 Billion loan that could in some way help cushion the effect of our present economic troubles.
The question then is what should people do in the face of all this? Do they have a right to expect change in their material condition and indeed reap the gains of giving support to the new sheriff in town? Should we say that because they voted for this government and the government is fighting corruption then they have no right to expect anything else from the government? What is the case being made by those who treat their expectations that their lives should improve with the direct or implicit charge of ingratitude?
That the people already have all they deserve by voting Jonathan out of office? Or that their gain is in expectation and that they must never seek the fulfillment of their hope that life under this government can move beyond the grind of not being able to afford basic means of livelihood? No, I say Nigerians have a right to insist that this government can do something more than just tell them that they are fighting corruption and that is where it all ends.
A leader must determine what tasks demand attention and when and how to go about executing them. This is what I meant by focus. Anything else is to risk failure and lose it all. No government would be rated high for fighting corruption at the expense of making life livable in the ordinary sense of being able to meet basic existential needs. Governments exist for people and not people for government. Ultimately, what counts is how the fight against corruption brings relief to Nigerians. Otherwise, it is a nullity.