By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
He who has never learned to obey can never be a good leader —Aristotle
IF you had to list similarities between presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, you will be hard put to go beyond two or three that will not be violently disputed. For instance, you will get a nod if you mention that, like many politicians, their personalities are basically driven by outsize egos that drive them to insist they must be the fulcrum around which the nation revolves.
You will also be correct if you mention that as military men, they overthrew democratically-elected governments in the past, and then reincarnated as repentant democrats who served two terms each as elected presidents, which may explain some of their dispositions. If you scratch your head at this stage, you will get a little sympathy from those who are prone to contentment with abridged history.
If, on the other hand, you are listing dissimilarities, you will be spoilt for details. Obasanjo will spend his entire life attempting to re-model Nigeria this way and that way, but mostly along lines that are not far from his control or substantial influence. Buhari, however, cannot wait to put as much distance between him and Nigeria as is possible.
Actually, this is where the dissimilarities are more glaring. Obasanjo is still in the trenches, but Buhari more or less drew the line on running the country or influencing its governance not long after he was elected. Obasanjo began scheming his perpetual presence in our lives before he left the Villa. Buhari said, in words and deed, that he just wants to leave the legacy of having a credible election conducted under his watch.
If you want the final icing on the cake, mention books written by and about Obasanjo on Obasanjo’s world view. Buhari has not written two essays about himself or about his administration. Buhari may not have read of Winston Churchill’s boast that history will be kind to him because he would write it. Obasanjo may, or may not have read about one of Churchill’s famous words, but he has made a lifetime career of writing his and other people’s histories in letters and books.
Only a few weeks ago, Obasanjo’s antenna smelt a vital piece of history in the offing and attempted to grab a little limelight by hinting rather firmly that Buhari’s sole legacy will be tainted unless the latter made some major adjustments to the outcome of the presidential elections. Buhari, predictably, ignored him. Obasanjo may be currently smarting from being crowded.
Just think: he would still be holding his I-told-you-so party if an entire army of fairly neutral and solidly interested observers, a posse of credible monitors, respected domestic and global critics and an outraged nation had not risen to denounce an election which promised so much and delivered too little to meet major benchmarks of credibility and integrity. It turns out that INEC was spectacularly raining on Buhari’s parade, and it will remain wet even after the judiciary has passed a verdict on an election that Buhari thought might be his redemption.
You would think exiting on the back of a thoroughly disputed election, for a man who came to power following an uncontested electoral victory and a textbook peaceful transition will be the ultimate dishonour that will define the character of an eight year leadership, but you will be wrong. There is a long list of failures that would precede the elections fiasco, and it might not be entirely uncharitable to assume that the president had one of those rare moments when a past flashes through a life, and you are made to clutch at one redeeming star out of a long line of gloom: support INEC to conduct an election that may get the nation to think his eight years did not exist.
In those eight years, poverty and corruption and insecurity, the three scourges Buhari said he would fight have fed fat on weak leadership and swamped the nation. He had lowered the bar on good governance so effectively it will be difficult to see how it can be made lower. It would take a generation to retrieve bits and pieces of the nation that have drifted apart owing largely to incompetence and insensitivity in managing pluralism. The transition from him to the next good president(s) may test the nation’s resilience, and its surviving the stresses from recovering lost ground may reveal whether its foundations have been irretrievably damaged by the pure poverty of ideas that was the hallmark of the Buhari administration.
Buhari inherited a ship suffering from a bumbling captain and a demoralized, thieving crew. He locked himself up in the captain’s cabin and let things sort themselves out. His last two years may win an award for the fastest deterioration of a nation in distress. We became a nation in a queue, where the cost of existence rose literally by the day. When you were not joining the legion of a-meal-a-day, you were running or dying from killers who had the run of the country, or staying at home when criminals said so. Breathtaking theft of public assets, scams and impunity across the country from top to bottom alienated particularly younger Nigerians from the idea that there was any good in being good.
In a few weeks’ time, we will know who will commence the damage control after Buhari. The greatest damage will not be in the state of the economy, or the damage to the popular faith that any leader can be legitimately elected to fix Nigeria, or in the massive challenges in rebuilding our security assets and improving our thinking over dealing with citizen security.
It will not be in harnessing the energy, sincerity and intellect which evaporated under Buhari’s watch. It will be in the perception that the citizen is relevant and important only during elections, and leaders, who all have to be rich enough to buy their ways into power, can live in isolation from laws of the land and in contempt for all standards of accountability and respect for public opinion.
The pains inflicted by the Naira reprint policy are far removed from Buhari, who appears to believe that removing pains from lives of citizens is not his responsibility. The worst legacy Buhari will leave behind is contempt for the rule of law, which is captured so tragically in his refusal to comply with the judgement of the Supreme Court compelling the the use of old currencies until end of the year.
A president sworn on the Qur’an and the Constitution turns his back on the law and the citizenry, and when he decided to speak at all, he gets paid lips to say he did not have to instruct compliance with it. No one should bet a legitimately-earned new money Buhari and Emefiele will budge. The same paid lips will soon roll out expensive, glossy records of eight years of waste and agony, but this time in projects and programmes which would mean nothing to Nigerians under their current circumstances.
The President to be sworn-in on May 29 will have the most difficult job to handle in the world. Imagine coming through one of the most serious challenges to an election in the courts, only to confront a nation with very little trust or respect for leaders or each other. His biggest challenge will be to win some trust. No leader anywhere can achieve anything of value unless he can get enough citizens to believe that he means well, and he respects them. The next president will have to build his own foundations of good and accountable government, because President Buhari will leave none behind.
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