The change of batons
It is only fair that we should formally welcome President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the 18 new state governors who assumed office on Democracy Day, May 29. They have become our ogas. They are not our messiahs but ordinary Nigerians who might, as President Ibrahim Babangida once told me of himself, do extra-ordinary things for their country. None of them offered himself as a messiah during the electioneering campaigns, so let us not elevate the secular to the sacerdotal.
Their arrival on the podium of political power is a fair indication that despite the disputes over the last general elections, we did much better than merely cast our votes for the candidates of our choice at national and sub-national levels. We strengthened our democracy and demonstrated our commitment to it. Our transition from Buhari to Tinubu was a long trek for the nation through the jungle of fears and doubts and threats. Hope has replaced those fears and doubts and threats.
Our fate and that of our nation have become the individual and the collective responsibilities of the new men of the moment. Whatever they do or fail to do or do rightly or wrongly will place Nigeria on a higher or lower rung of our human progress and national development. They may move us out of our comfort zone as a potentially great nation or at the end of the day, leave us lower in our forever lurch as a potentially great nation where motion is celebrated as a monumental movement.
It is in our nature as human beings to hope and expect that this new set of our rulers or leaders at national and sub-national levels, will drink less from the pools of arrogance, impunity, disrespect for the rule of law and selfishness and drink more from the pools of service and humility and elevate our common humanity from the mediocre to the higher grounds of our shared humanity as citizens and as human beings. New brooms may not necessarily sweep better but their capacity to do a better job than the old broom is rooted in the concept of human development. The new renews and makes progress possible.
Their assumption of duty has done something for the country already. It has lowered the temperature in the pressure cooker we lived in under Buhari for eight years. There is now, as President Goodluck Jonathan would say, a fresh breath of air blowing throughout the country. I say that with some caution because it is easy to cross the line and rhapsodize hope as a reality.
As the new president and the new state governors settle down to take on the tough tasks before them, we need to lend them a helping hand by reminding them of at least four critical challenges that may either be hurdles to be jumped with a certain degree of agility or mountains to be climbed with some inherent difficulties.
One, they have inherited a post-Buhari Nigeria that is actually a strange country to most of us. Before they say or do anything, they should try and see what the current country is; what its problems and challenges are; enquire as to why we are where we are and why. The view is different when you look in from outside than when you look in from the inside. You cannot solve a problem without knowing what problem you are trying to solve. This has often been the case with our new set of leaders who believe that their new faces are omnipotent powers.
To borrow from Solon, gentlemen, know our country at national and sub-national levels. There are some serious injuries to our national psyche. If the new men of destiny ignore these injuries, they pile it on with impunity, the new political affliction lodged in our blood stream under Buhari’s watch.
Two, the new president and the new state governors face mountains of rubbish that cannot be ignored if the post-Buhari Nigeria is to make some sense to them and the people. Eight years of a president who ignored our diversities and catered to narrow, provincial interests deprived us of our brotherhood and widened the ethnic and religious fault lines.
Mutual suspicion has become compulsory for all Nigerians. We hate, therefore, we are. We are no longer our brothers’ keepers; we are the enemies of our brothers. We have been broken into little islands of mutual antagonism. It bears repeating that Nigeria is a broken nation. A change in federal and state administrations alone cannot immediately heal the wounds.
We need the will to heal the wounds. The time is now under the new dispensation. The burden, of course, falls on Jagaban’s shoulders. He recognises the task he has taken on as our president at this point in our national history. In his inaugural speech, Tinubu said: “We are here to further mend and heal this nation, not tear it or injure it.”
He recognises too that mending and healing the nation is a burden all of us must be prepared to bear along with him. He underlined that fact in these words in his speech under reference: “The question we now ask ourselves is whether to remain faithful to the work inherent in building a better society or retreat into the shadows of our unmet potential.”
Three, public expectations in the new administration are high. They usually are in a nation sold on miracles instead of careful planning based on a tangible road map drawn up by experts.
Tomorrow cannot arrive quickly enough. We tend to push our leaders to be seen to be performing to the tin drumbeats of public adulation when they are hardly ready to do so. They are consequently pushed to make promises to enable them ride on the crest waves of public applause. It is injurious to our national progress because it hews to our short-cut kia-kia mentality.
I know it is a temptation not many of them, including the president, can resist all of the time. But transforming our dull morning into our bright afternoon is not magic; it is a process. Democratic governance rests on promises, no matter how unrealistic they might be. But the new men must approach this temptation with some informed caution. There are no new promises as such to be made. All the promises had been made before time and time again. That we still find the refurbished promises attractive indicates how slow human progress truly is.
Four, the cardinal principle of democratic governance is the constant dialogue between the leaders and the led. It is no news that Buhari trashed this time-honoured principle because of his pronounced contempt for the people he purported to rule. In this new dispensation, that dialogue must be restored so Nigerians can live the true meaning of democracy as a government of the people, by the people for themselves.
Five, this country is greater than the sum of its public officers. If we continue to spend more on the comfort of our public officers at the expense of development, then we certainly cannot, to quote the president, “remain faithful to the work inherent in building a better society…” The new men and the returning men under a new dispensation must commit to a paradigm shift in favour of capital projects so the roads can be built, the schools repaired and the potable water can be brought down to the reach of the common man and woman.
Despite the humongous loans Buhari took ostensibly to fix our infrastructure, the challenges of fixing them are greater now than ever before. At a campaign rally Tinubu mocked Buhari: “They can’t even generate enough electricity to roast popcorn.”
We, the people, harassed from one administration to another, disappointed by one administration after the other, make but a humble request of Jagaban: Take urgent steps to open the economic and business space to enable Nigerians unleash their creativity and resourcefulness and rebuild the economy as formal or informal sectors.