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The promise of change and the challenges of change

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President Muhammadu Buhari


Perhaps we have to await June 12, the new democracy day, for us to know what President Buhari has in store for the country as he begins his second and final four-year term. It would not be fair to anticipate him but it would be right for us, as citizens, to wonder whether we would have more of the same or less of the same and more of the new, whatever new might be.

There is no denying that Nigeria is a vastly changed country from four years ago when Buhari rode to power on the promise of change. Our political, economic and social challenges are now greater. More importantly, our country, for the second time in its political history, faces existential challenges made more frightening by the widening gap in the fault lines of ethnicity and religion and compounded by the mind-blowing insecurity.

It is difficult not to offer the president some sympathy. He has much more than he bargained for on his plate. What he does in the next four years would determine how history would judge his rule and what he made of the opportunities offered him to lead our country. It is his duty to tackle these challenges. But he must do so as a leader not as a ruler. It is important for him to re-examine his style of leadership and open his heart to the entire country. His continued parochial responses to national problems and challenges must now give way to his Nigerianness in his approach.

A leader must be open to a welter of views and opinions and learn to pick what would serve him best. This is not always easy for people who are settled in their ways and are beholden to a few trusted friends and aides. I am sure that if Buhari listens to the views and the voices of a fraction of the 350 ethnic groups in the country, he would be greatly enriched and would know more than he does now, what ails us as a nation.

Change is still the slogan of the Buhari administration. We did not see much of that in the past four years. We must see them in his second term. The president’s first port of call at this point should be the re-examination of some of those policies by which he ruled the country in his first term in office. Circumstances must have given some of them the colour grey, meaning, they are past their due date. Such policies must be changed. Policies are not cast in stone. They are only guidelines after all. He must either rejig them or change them in response to current demands in the interest of the country.

As I see it, Buhari’s challenges boil down now to only two words: save Nigeria. He would save Nigeria if his anti-graft war succeeds and he rescues our country from the venal men and women who abuse their public trust and give our country a bad name; if he ends the reign of terror by Boko Haram, kidnapping and banditry. He would save our country if he asks India to take back its trophy as the poverty capital of the world; if he tackles unemployment and puts our young people to work; if he cleans up our educational system and re-positions it to serve the nation and the people better; if he ends the waste in the power sector and forces the stand by generator manufacturers to take their generators elsewhere.

These would be nice. It would be nice to wake up to the serving of daily newspapers sans lurid stories of graft. It would be nice to wake up to the silence of generators in the neighbourhood because the discos have silenced them with constant power supply. It would be nice to know that our university graduates are not clutching virtually worthless papers that pass for their degree certificates. And it would be nice, very nice, to see that our young people are no longer wearing out their shoes along the pavements in search of public sector jobs cornered by the influential and the well-connected for their own children. These successes, to be sure, would make our country a different country.

But the real challenge go far beyond all of these. They are more insidious. These challenges are rooted in the political develop
ment of our country and should also be seen to be at the root of our current national problems. It has to do with how we are governed at all levels of government. Our multiplicity of states has not quite brought the benefits to our federal system because of the inherent contradictions in our federal system of government. I return to my old argument that our centralised federalism is inimical to best practices in federalism. It has proved unworkable and patently stifling. The president and his advisers should give some serious thoughts to how our federal system could work best for the country and its people by either physical or administrative restructuring.

Buhari, in addition to fighting corruption and finding ways and means of tackling the other problems, should play the true statesman in the next four years by looking into those problems that hobble our nation’s forward movement in its political, economic and social development. Corruption is bad, very bad, but it is not to blame for everything. It is a consequence of something other failures. The fact that he would not seek another term in office should give Buhari both the courage and the freedom to do those things we have refused to do but which would be beneficial for the country.

I do not think the stubborn refusal to effect fundamental changes in the architecture of our security is any longer realistic. The government’s decision to set up part-time police is a clear admission that no matter how large the Nigeria Police Force might be, it cannot effectively police the country. Interestingly, Buhari has actually blamed the insecurity on the police and community leaders. We may find this funny but it shows that security is a local matter best dealt with locally.

Let me conclude this with the conclusion of my two-part column for this newspaper, Why the history bools matter: “Buhari could not leave a greater legacy for the country than the administrative restructuring of our dear country. I know some people find this offensive. That counts for nothing because anything that challenges the status quo is offensive to those who benefit from it. But our country cannot become the nation of our dreams if its leaders continue to fear offending some and pleasing others.”
It is time for the president to step on toes, if need be, by taking those critical decisions that our nation needs to be saved. He does not have the luxury of time. He has only the pressure of time.


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Muhammadu Buhari‎
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