By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo on Sahara, Published May 2016
I want Buhari to succeed. It is the same way that I wanted Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan to succeed. And I should probably qualify the success that I am referring to here – I mean succeed for Nigeria and for ordinary Nigerians. I believe when they do well, we all do well as a country.
Just as I have maintained in this column, a leader has just a small window to show the direction of his or her administration. In politics this is determined by how the leader chooses to spend his political capital in the first few months in office. Once a leader loses the people by allowing their goodwill to dissipate, it is hard to rebuild.
In the case of Obasanjo, two years into his first term, when he started making excuses that he needed to get through the first term in office before he could shake off the people who brought him to power and then fundamentally reform Nigeria, I knew he did not have it in him. By the time he went into the campaign mode for a second term, I had written him off.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua emerged under the same circumstance that throws up our leaders. His era hardly got started before illness grounded him. The shenanigans that followed his illness, especially his refusal to make way for Jonathan to take over as acting president while he recovered, made me write his obituary even while he was alive.
And then came Jonathan. He was the first PhD holder to become president. He hailed from the Niger Delta where the vast majority of the wealth of the country came from and where ordinary citizens are swimming in poverty even as oil is drawn all around them. To cap it up, Jonathan had no shoes when he was growing up we were told. Despite his pedigree, there was that iota of hope that when he wins the 2011 election he would look inside of himself, find something bigger than himself and make the choice to succeed for Nigeria.
By Jonathan’s second year in office, as the rot in the system started to ooze out, I had no doubt that he had no political will to take the tough decisions needed to shape Nigeria. He had essentially allowed minors to intimidate him and to run amok at the expense of Nigeria. Even before he went into a reelection campaign mode, I was sure that under his watch the real armed robbers of Nigeria had stolen the nation blind.
Then Buhari came from the left of Nigeria’s political divide. But the process was similar. The same criminal political class came together and picked a candidate with a primary goal of protecting their past, present and future criminal ventures. Again, majority of Nigerians had reasons to renew their hope. This was a man who had been running for president for over a decade. He knew what to do when he gets there we were told. It helped that he had a stint as a military head of state from 1983-1985. Those were part of the selling point. Again, majority of Nigerians bought into it.
As Buhari’s government marks its first year in office, a lot of the promises and the reasons for hope have vanished. Even many who enthusiastically supported Buhari during the elections are regretting it. Some are even wishing for a return of the Jonathan’s administration in spite of the daily barrages of looting revelations that happened under his watch. Opponents of Buhari are having a field day comparing and contrasting his doctrine as a military head of state and his approach as a democratic president. Some are gloating, “we told you so.”
All these are normal in any healthy political system. What matters is whether the leader is aware of the sentiment of the people and is doing something about it.
One year into Obama’s presidency, Washington Post graded Obama. Out of 25 major campaign promises, the newspaper acknowledged that 7 were accomplished, 15 were in progress and 3 were not yet attempted. Even at that, most Americans were beginning to feel that the change Obama promised was not going to happen. The Tea Party movement had taken shape and the Republicans had vowed to obstruct everything Obama planned to do and to ultimately stop Obama from getting a second term in office. But Obama was not deterred.
By May 29, Buhari’s score would be less satisfactory than Obama’s score at the one-year mark. But beyond the checkmarks of accomplishments, at the one-year mark, the Nigerian people would have become less hopeful than Americans were at Obama’s one-year mark.
After May 29, Buhari has essentially one year left in office. After 2 years in office if he has not turned things around and made the Nigerian people feel better about themselves and their country, he has lost the plot and the narrative. Once you lose it in a four-year term it is hard to regain it.
The usual excuse of blaming the slow pace of change on the challenges inherited by the government is historical. It has always failed as an alibi. Most great leaders are those who confronted great challenges and found a way to overcome them. Leaders who came into power at times of relatively low challenges have historically been mediocre leaders.
There are things Buhari should have done before he’s overwhelmed by a litany of unexpected disturbances and distractions associated with governing a country like Nigeria. He should have mapped out a strategic master plan on how to revive Nigeria, even in the midst of great economic downturn. He should have surrounded himself with competent people who have the confidence and skills to self-start without looking over their shoulders for guidance from him. He should have selected a seamless media and publicity team that is familiar with the needs of the 21st century media landscape that excuses no gaffe and has the capacity to snatch the narrative from the newsmaker.
Buhari has one year left to do the things he should have done yesterday. If he fails to do so, history will consign him to the same miserable place that it has left Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. No amount of pleading or garagara can save him from that unfortunate fate.