Wisdom and statesmanship: Buhari’s masterstroke
Today, I yield place unusually for my leading article to a thoughtful contribution by Dr. Stephen Lampe, an author of books and articles. The taste of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Enjoy the reading.
It is now June 2022 and the national trepidation is finally over. It all started about 20 months ago as #EndSARS. Who would have thought that it would lead to a truly new Nigeria and catapult President Muhammadu Buhari from the run-of-the-mill group of visionless African leaders to the rarefied rank of people who made the Black race proud; the small group that includes the likes of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. The phrase “Muhammadu Buhari’s Masterstroke” (MBM) is now on many lips around the world.
Why did Muhammadu Buhari act? The end of his second term is on the horizon and reality dawned on him that he would have no credible legacy after years as head of government. He reflected on his years as Military Head of State (1983-1985) and as the civilian President since 2015. He has become a well-recognized leader of a major ethnic people with whom he shares close affinity in West Africa. But the assessment of him as leader of the most populous black population in the whole world has been poor and, in many quarters, even derisive. That perception saddened him, and he realized that it misrepresented his ethnic people as incompetent leaders. He decided that he had to create a legacy. A strong stable and progressive Nigeria that would be the pride of black people around the world was a mission he had to pursue, especially as such a country would also be beneficial to the entire Fulani ethnic people wherever they may be.
The President realized that the forces of globalization had become such that one could no longer ignore the rest of the world. The global concern for the Chibok girls demonstrated this before and the world-wide and high-profile support for #EndSARS confirmed that it was no longer wise to look at the world through a narrow ethnic lens. Advice from trusted foreign friends, such as Archbishop Justin Welby, provided further impetus.
Finally, COVID-19, which had hit the President ‘close to home’, underscored the futility and transience of power and wealth. The urgent necessity to pursue a lasting legacy of a united, stable, truly Federal Republic of Nigeria became his passion.
What did he do? After a lack-luster beginning at trying to manage the #EndSARS crisis, President Buhari got inspired and the busiest time of his life began. He consulted widely and, in many cases, intimately. He held meetings with past Heads of State (civilian and military), leaders and prominent members of the National Assembly, irrespective of political party, and conferred with State Governors individually and in small groups. Senior leaders of the security agencies were represented at most meetings. He consulted individual leaders of political parties and had sessions with speakers of the various State Assemblies. He arranged meetings with trade union leaders, many civil society organizations, social media influencers as well as prominent musicians, actors/actresses and other cultural personalities. His many senior aides had never had to work so hard and so humbly. Among their assigned tasks was to provide summaries of past constitutional review conferences.
A most significant recognition of the President was that a piecemeal approach would not do. A holistic approach to the country’s challenges had to be developed. And it was developed.
COVID-19 had reduced the demand for the country’s crude oil and oil prices had plunged throughout the world. Further borrowing, external or internal, was out of the question as existing debt was becoming increasingly difficult to service. Yet the holistic approach to resolve our national challenges, save the country from anarchy and collapse, and create his desired legacy would require ample financial resources. A solution immediately suggested itself: resources had to be reallocated and be better managed.
Here then were the elements of the President’s masterstroke. First, he stated explicitly and emphatically that governments and their agencies at all levels must respect the rights of individuals to exercise their God-given Free Will provided that in doing so, they do not interfere with the rights of other fellow citizens to exercise their own Free Will. This is the fundamental basis for human rights. Therefore, the Government would unequivocally protect individual rights of speech, peaceful assembly, and non-violent protests.
SARS was, of course, disbanded. It would not be replaced; neither would analogous police units be established. And as the major function of any government is to protect the citizens from internal enemies (criminals of various types), there would be no question of defunding the police. On the contrary, the required police reforms would call for much increased budget allocation and its disbursement would be carefully and consistently monitored. Policemen would never again have to buy their uniforms, shoes, etc., nor resort to personal resources to perform official assignments.
An even more significant reform arose from the recognition that crimes are committed locally and are best tackled locally. In addition to the Federal Police System, States would be free to establish their own police services. A community policing strategy would be promoted. The strategy would be such that would ensure that policemen live within their communities and not sequestered in barracks.
Arising from the President’s consultations was the general acknowledgement that allocations to political offices and political office holders were excessive in absolute and comparative terms, even if the state of the economy were not so dire. It was unconscionable that the budget allocations to the National Assembly exceeded by far the combined Federal budgets for Education and Health. Salaries and allowances of political office holders would henceforth bear a relationship to the national minimum wage; the appropriate ratios would be determined at Federal, State, and Local Government levels. In effect, the salaries and allowances of the Presidency as well as of its political staff would be slashed considerably; so, would those of members of the National Assembly, the State Assemblies, and Local Governments.
The remunerations of State Governors and their political appointees would be similarly slashed. It was also thought unconscionable that the offices of State Governors and Deputy Governors were made pensionable and with perquisites that only the wealthiest billionaires can afford. State Assemblies were urged to abrogate laws on pensions and remunerations for past governors and deputy governors. It was agreed that for reasons of national security and in line with international best practices, the offices of President and Vice President would remain pensionable.
An element of President Buhari’s masterstroke is the recognition that the Federal Government had become too bloated over the years. There were just too many redundant agencies. Existing recommendations that some of them be disbanded were not acted upon, and they continued to consume resources that should have gone to key sectors like Education, Health, and Infrastructure. President Buhari would take urgent action to reduce the size of the Federal Government. He would also support constitutional actions to reduce the number of items on the Exclusive List and devolve more functions to the States. The focus of the Exclusive List would be matters that absolutely require central coordination and others that touch directly on national security, such as the Armed Forces. It was understood that national security should be about real national interests and not the interests of the governments and individuals who happen to be in power.
President Buhari acknowledged that the Judiciary had contributed greatly to our problems. The Judiciary would be reformed, and the National Judicial Council reorganized to ensure that it performs its functions much more effectively and transparently.
Perhaps the most significant and surprising element of the Muhammadu Buhari’s Masterstroke (MBM) was the explicit acknowledgment that the principle of homogeneity should be the single most important principle in determining the political structure of any country. By this principle, one may assert the following: peoples that are completely different historically and culturally should not belong to the same nation-state. Zero or near zero homogeneity prescribes separate countries. However, people who should, by this principle, belong to different countries may freely choose to belong to the same country for mutual advantage. In doing so, all the associating groups must understand the consequences. And they must be willing to be guided by another principle: the principle of balance between giving and taking. No group may take without giving. On the other hand, perfect homogeneity dictates one nation-state with a unitary form of government. As national heterogeneity increases so should the form of political association become looser and less centralised.
The principle stated above implies that the formation and the disintegration of countries are governed by the natural law that ensures that birds of a feather flock together. And any political association (indeed any type of association) that does not adjust to the realities of how similar or dissimilar the participating units are cannot be sustained for long. Diverse ethnic groups with little in common cannot be forcibly accommodated in the same country and kept together forever unless there is considerable devolution. It should be noted that to apply the principle of homogeneity would normally require self-determination. Therefore, issues pertaining to the national question should be resolved through free negotiation by constituent units. In general, alignment with the natural laws of justice and love is quintessential wisdom.
Dr. Stephen M. Lampe, formerly of the World Bank, was a Columnist (Millennium Wisdom) for The Guardian and is the author of Building Future Societies: the Spiritual Principles (1994) and Thinking about God: Reflections on Conceptions and Misconceptions (2014) among other books.