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President we have versus the President we need

By Dele Sobowale

“The buck stops here.” Harry Truman, 1884-1972, US President.

“I am determined to get to the root of this collective blackmail of all Nigerians and ensure that whichever groups are behind this manipulated hardship will be prevented from doing so again.” Buhari.

America is great because they have often elected Presidents who take responsibility when things go woefully wrong. Harry Truman’s dictum resonated again when President Kennedy ordered an invasion of Cuba which ended in disaster for the US. Kennedy wasted no time talking searching for culprits. He addressed the American people and apologized for the fiasco. That was mostly responsible for the positive response of Americans to their young president thereafter.

Buhari, early in December 2017 assured Nigerians that there was sufficient fuel for the period. He spoke as President and Minister of Petroleum. Nigerians who believed him would never forget the hardship suffered as they embarked on journeys. Unlike Truman and Kennedy, Buhari has been making empty threats, once again, to deal with those responsible for the calamity. If you believe that threat, then you will believe anything. Buhari has been making promises since 1977 to bring an end to fuel scarcity, as Professor Kole Omotosho, reminded us, when he was Minister of Petroleum Resources. He made the same promise as Military Head of State between 1984 and 1985 until he was shoved out of Doddan Barracks, to no avail. He is back 40 years after.

As the old words of wisdom have admonished us, “If a man fools you once, shame on him. If twice shame on you.” Buhari has fooled us, not twice but three times in one life time. Those old enough, like Omotosho have been victims of his broken promises on fuel scarcity thrice. Only the morons will be deluded again on this matter.

Just in case he actually intends to find the culprits for this latest murderous fuel scarcity, I will like to help him out in finding them. It will be interesting how he reacts to it. I am always willing to help out.

The first culprit Buhari should drag into judgment can be found by approaching the nearest mirror and looking at it. The face that he sees in that mirror is the first person who messed up our lives. Permit me to give an example to substantiate the point that the face in the mirror was mostly responsible for our predicaments.

On December 29, 2017, I was in Kaduna where the fuel scarcity was mind-boggling. Out of curiosity and for the record, I took a taxi, whose driver is a university graduate, who charged me outrageously but understandably. We headed for the Kaduna Refinery – one of the failures of the moment. Even before getting there, I knew what would happen. Buhari’s refinery was shut down and had been shut down for months. Designed to produce fuel, it is adding to our misery as a nation. Around the scrap called refinery, hell was let loose at various filling stations.  Fuel for Kaduna had to be trucked in under Buhari.

The story was the same in Warri and Port Harcourt. Buhari had been in charge since May 29, 2015, but he continues to shift blame to Jonathan whose tenure is now ancient history. Nigerians were fighting for fuel right in front of his refineries as if their lives depended on it. In fact, they did. Nigeria’s Blamer-In-Chief, B-I-C, of the Armed Forces cannot admit that after two years and seven months in charge he has once again failed to solve the fuel problem as he did in 1977 and 1984-5.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in the dock should be the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Those two officials, frequently now in the news for the wrong reasons, were aware that with the landing cost of petrol close to N145 per litre, no marketer could afford to import fuel and sell at the normal price since the Federal Government had stopped fuel subsidy. So, none imported fuel; leaving only the NNPC to supply Nigerians. What was imported was insufficient resulting in the scarcity which prevailed. Buhari’s promise to deal with those responsible should stop right there. He should sack the President; sack the Minister and sack the NNPC GMD. But, he won’t. He will continue to chase his own shadows.

Unlike those who waste time believing that Buhari or any other leader is indispensable, I am on all fours with the late President of France, Charles De Gaulle, 1890-1970, who told us that “The graveyards are full of indispensable people.” I start thinking of as many options as possible each time a new Nigerian leader emerges – in case we need one. When Olusegun Obasanjo started with his plans for Third Term I quietly started considering the possibilities for his replacement.

Late in 2005, I wrote a series of articles titled AFTER OBASANJO, WHO ELSE? Eight different Nigerians were featured in the series. Some have been degraded by diminishing time and can no longer be seriously regarded as options. But, surprisingly, two are now very actively considered as plausible successors to Buhari and one might be added as time goes on. With only fifteen months left to the Presidential Elections in 2019, permit me to introduce the first of the two active opponents of Buhari identified as far back as 2005. Please read on.


“It is difficult to see how an arrogant, authoritarian, self-admiring egomaniac can be transformed into an effective leader in a democracy”


Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth; indeed he had no spoon of any sort. He was born into poverty and had to pull himself up, one would have said by his boot-straps but he had no boots either. At least not until later in life and he had to get the boots himself. That he received a very sound education by any measure known to mankind is itself a triumph of will over fate. And when he later became successful, he started out in politics with the PRP, the Malam Aminu Kano led party for the poor and under-privileged. Humility is so ingrained him that it is clear within minutes to a visitor that it is not faked. He really understands the poor and he is not too far removed from them despite his now exalted position.  When Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote, in one of the poems that brightened our secondary school days, “ If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/ Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch”, he must have had a person like Makarfi in mind. Shortly after our interview with him; at 1.45 a.m (that is the middle of the night for God’s sake) the governor drove out with only a driver and a police officer in mufti to attend a meeting on his government’s anti-poverty programme! Only the Chief Executive of a state who is sure of himself can do that. So, tenacity the man has in abundance and that is one attribute which our future Presidents must be able to demonstrate before they get elected.

Courage is the noblest of all human attributes after justice. Some are born with it; others acquire it through experience. Young Makarfi must have been born with an abundant amount of it. After beating all odds to complete his primary school education, principally by working himself to the bones after school, he was confronted with the choice of secondary school to attend. He could have joined the band-wagon of the northern elite to attend Barewa College; but he rejected it. He also had a choice of attending Kings College, Lagos; he declined that also. Instead, he decided to go to Federal Government College, Enugu. When asked if he was not afraid, given the fact that the civil war ended only three years earlier and tempers were still high, he replied that he was fascinated by the enterprising qualities of the Igbo people, who had trooped back to the north and re-established their businesses as soon as peace was declared. Even Daniel walking into the lion’s den must grant the young man some credit for guts. And from that experience, he was able to develop the ethnic tolerance that would save Kaduna from going the way of Kano when the religious conflict that engulfed the state during his first term broke out. He also learned to trade profitably, which is nothing to laugh at; most of the rest of us, non-Igbos, cannot manage an iced pure water stand in the Sahara desert profitably even if there is no competition.

The lesson we can draw from this, given the composition of our nation as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious polity is clear. We need leaders whose background and previous experience would have prepared them to transcend their narrow ethnic, religious and class affiliations. Kaduna state, next to Lagos state and now Abuja, is home to representatives of all the ethnic groups in the country. The future president of Nigeria must have had some experience balancing the interests of multiple groups; even when those interests can be sometimes diametrically opposed.


That was not all. Next week, readers will be served another slice of Ahmed Makarfi, a natural bridge builder since 2005. The series will end with how Markarfi achieved the miracle of mending the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which we all thought was dead.




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