by Suraj Oyewole
After four attempts, former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, will finally be getting the opportunity to lead Nigeria under a civilian dispensation as the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) declared him the winner of the 2015 presidential poll. It is indeed welcome news for many Nigerians, at least from the perspectives of those of us who believe in his capacity and anonymously worked for his victory within our capacity.
My passion for the Buhari project is based on my conviction of the Daura General’s ability. I was a toddler when he ruled as a military leader, but as a student of history and politics, I grew up reading a lot about him, like other past leaders. I also took my time to study the man’s lifestyle, and it appears to me he is indeed an honest man with the will to make a difference. I threw my weight behind him in 2011.
Having been involved, voluntarily, in the project in 2011, and failing, I was initially disillusioned on the chance of the general this time around. It dawned on me that contesting against an incumbent in a system like ours was like hitting one’s head against a rock. However, when one of my friends in the struggle in 2011 sent me a strong message, two months ago, on why I should not sit back this time around despite our experience in 2011, I knew I had to come out of my shell for the man, yet again. That is how much some of us have given to the man Buhari, not for any pecuniary consideration, but because of our belief in his ability.
Now that the opportunity has arisen, I don’t think the general needs telling that the task at hand is gargantuan. Buhari cannot afford to disappoint the millions of Nigerians who believe in him. Like some commentators have noted, the present problems of Nigeria are far more complex than those of the Nigeria of 1984. Let me quote the words of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now emir of Kano, who wrote in July 2002, ahead of Buhari’s first shot at presidency: “Muhammadu Buhari as a military general had more room for manoeuvre than he can ever hope for in Nigerian politics. I am not sure that sterling performance as head of a military junta translates into the same level of competence in a liberal environment where the tools are persuasion rather than coercion, and negotiation rather than suppression.”
Sanusi could not have said it better. Yet, I believe that with his will and sincerity of purpose, Buhari can make a huge difference and set Nigeria on the path of renewed progress. The first thing I will like to see from the new president is a national re-orientation strategy – a recovery of patriotism not driven by horse-whips. This the general can achieve by leading by personal example. From my reading, Nigerians appear ready for this. To narrate an example, I saw some young men and women crossing a road in Victoria Island on their way to work the morning after the presidential election results were announced, and with some sense of pride, they marched across the zebra crossing reminding the oncoming car drivers that “This is Buhari era. Respect the zebra crossing. No to indiscipline”. This may have been a joke by these young men and women but it still sends a message: they are already identifying with Buhari’s reputation for not tolerating indiscipline.
Like Simon Kolawole, the well-respected columnist with ThisDay newspapers, wrote a few weeks ago on Buhari and the burden of expectations, Nigerians, having suffered from years of misrule, are impatient, and are only ready to hear “food is ready”, not “food will be ready”. I hope Buhari knows that. Nigerians will remind him of each of those promises he made during his electioneering activities.
Buhari needs to know that a lot of ground has to be covered and he must hit the ground running. This is not the time for rhetoric. I believe four years is enough to make a huge impact, and all the promises he made during the campaign period must be fulfilled without any excuse, which was part of the bane of the outgoing administration that has a penchant for blaming past administrations for Nigeria’s nagging problems, rather than making visible efforts at tackling them.
I have always contended that Buhari’s party, the All Progressive Congress, despite not being much different from the People’s Democratic Party that it just dislodged, has a better quality of personnel. It is not a coincidence that a good percentage of the most performing public officers (Fashola, Oshiomole, Amosun, Ajimobi, Aregbesola) in the current dispensation are members of the APC, and the ones that defected from the PDP happened to be arguably PDP’s best hands (Tambuwal, Amaechi, Kwankwaso, etc). Yet, I believe it is the technocrats, who will do less of politics and more of governance, who must steer the wheels if Buhari wants to succeed. Former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola will be a great asset to Buhari’s change dream. So would Kayode Fayemi, Adams Oshiomole (when he completes his tenure as governor of Edo state), and a few other politicians. Professor Pat Utomi and Festus Keyamo are other already well known personalities who may be useful to Buhari. It is soothing that Buhari’s deputy is also a technocrat with a reputation for performance.
Another bane of the Jonathan presidency was in allowing itself to be cornered by ethnic hawks who ended up making him look like an Ijaw president. The shortest way to losing his goodwill would be for Buhari to make the same mistake. President-elect Buhari must be prepared to adopt a pan-Nigerian outlook, and should not be seen as a Fulani president, as some people have been quick to predict. Here, perception also matters, so Buhari should not give any slight room for suspicion.
Having a good media team to drive a president’s communication strategy is important, but Buhari’s media handlers should not dwell on lies and cheap propaganda in reporting the president’s efforts. The economy currently totters and this is one area that will make or mar a Buhari presidency. Buhari’s economic management team needs to be world-class. He should not go for less. The private sector share of the economy has expanded since Buhari’s military regime. Despite challenges, largely from the high costs of doing business, the private sector has continued to expand, especially since the return to civil rule in 1999. This has to be sustained. The private sector has to be supported and provided opportunities to thrive.
While the government redeems its pledge to diversify the economy by focusing on agriculture and SMEs, very close attention still needs to be given to the petroleum sector. Indigenous participation in the oil and gas sector has improved significantly in the last ten years, and the new government should deepen the gains. Many investment decisions have been on hold due to the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, but I believe President Buhari and the incoming National Assembly will do well to give this bill speedy passage, and listen to the concerns of stakeholders. The petroleum industry will remain critical to Nigeria and the new government must focus on entrenching transparency in the sector.
My biggest fear for the Buhari presidency, I must confess, is the Boko Haram menace. The president has promised to put an end to the insurgency that has claimed the lives of over 15,000 people, banking on his military background and experience in handling a similar insurgency (Maitatsine) in the past. This being one task of which performance is easy to assess, Buhari cannot afford to fail here. In fact, if after six months of his administration and BH bombs still go off at will, then the honeymoon may end so soon. Buhari needs to arrest the situation – and fast.
This is an opportunity for a fresh start. And Nigerians have given the Daura general the chance he has sought, without success, at three previous attempts. Failure cannot be an option. To a man given this rare opportunity, much is indeed expected.
Suraj Oyewale, a chartered accountant and public analyst, lives in Ajah, Lagos.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.