Thursday 2 June 2016

#MustRead: The Personal Change That Buhari Needs

President Muhammadu Buhari
by: Niran Adedokun

I do not think that anyone or thing has done as much disservice to President Muhammadu Buhari as the interview published in a number of newspapers this last weekend.

The interview was supposed to be some kind of anniversary benefit for local media outlets who have complained about the President’s preference for the foreign media, but after reading the interview, I could not but ask myself how possible it is for a leader to be so contemptuous of his own people.

Now, before taking this any further, I should point out that this is no attempt to just criticise the President without reason. In fact, it is not an attempt to criticise; this comes out of sympathy for the situation of the President and an attempt to suggest ways to make his tenure as blissful and memorable as possible.

I was one of those people who argued that integrity should not be the sole criterion for a decision to hand over the lives of close to 200 million people to anyone. I argue and still posit that in addition to integrity, (which I would, actually put on the fringe of competences that a modern-day national leader should possess), the know-how, a teachable spirit, a large, accommodating heart open to adaptability, large doses of compassion and inextinguishable humility are some of the criteria we should demand of a leader.

Since he was sworn in last year, Buhari has continued to drive in the nails of his impeccable character into our consciousness, to the neglect of most of the other very important attributes that a leader of the diversity of Nigeria, in this age and time, should avail himself of. For all intent and purposes, the President is sold on this “I am here to save Nigeria” mentality such that the opinion or interests of others are discountenanced.

How else do you explain the following response to a question on the National Conference put together by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014: “…You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months? The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9bn to organise that meeting (National Conference) and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that the discussions on what the National Assembly ought to do were more important than keeping our children in schools. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or asked for a briefing on it and I want it to go into the so-called archives”

With that statement, Mr. President dismissed a convocation on which the country spent a whopping N9bn, a conversation, which had some of the nation’s best slaving over steps that would make for better restructuring and effective governance of the country.

Let us concede to the right of the President not to implement recommendations from the conference, what does one make of the haughty declaration that “I haven’t even bothered to read it or asked for a briefing on it and I want it to go into the so-called archives?” Does it mean that he already anticipates the 600 resolutions in the 10,335-page report, which the conference produced? Or is he telling us that there could be nothing good from this five-month deliberations, that there is no new thing he could learn about Nigeria and Nigerians from this document?­ Or, is it he just does not care.

Whatever it is, the tendency to dismiss everything that does not suit Buhari’s fancy seems to be at the roots of all the challenges of his Presidency and it may shape the things that will perpetually confront his administration unless something positively drastic happens.

There is another instance in this interview where the President spoke about the strict foreign exchange policy of his administration as if economists who contradict his ideas were the enemies of the country.

Hear him: “Now, you need N350 to get a dollar! I challenged Nigerian economists to tell me what benefits Nigeria has earned from the devaluation so far. How many factories have we built by killing the naira? I have to reluctantly give up because the so-called Nigerian economists come and talk things to me, and when I raise issues they talk over my head instead of inside my head. For us to lose over N300 (every year we’re losing the value of the currency by N100), what for? Let them tell me how many factories they’ve built.”

So, I wonder what he means by the “so-called economists.” Aren’t economists those who save the economies of nations? Did they become the “so-called economists” because they did not tell him what he wanted to hear, or because he cannot forgive them for daring to have been right all along as things have now swung out of control? Why describe a group of noble professionals so condescendingly simply because they express opinions you do not subscribe to in a field where you have neither competence nor mandate.

I think that a combination of the President’s lack of adaptability and lack of tolerance for contrary opinion is enough to see things spiralling out of control.

But it is not just that. The President also needs to learn to show compassion and large heartedness. The sporadic onslaughts by people suspected to be Fulani herdsmen have received such cold and belated reactions from the President that people have suggested some conspiracy. When the Agatu incident in Benue State happened, for instance, the President left no memorable comments that showed his sadness at the needless loss of his people.

In the interview under review, although he concluded his take with the following: “So that is what I can answer about the herdsmen and I think the law enforcement agencies are working very hard to identify them,” he had earlier told a long story to indicate that the herdsmen killing Nigerians were likely foreigners hired to wreak havoc. It is so shocking that while a group is said to have killed not less than 3,000 Nigerians in the last one year, the country’s number one citizen has no definite intelligence on them. Yet, the forces under his command would open fire on defenceless protesters in the eastern part of the country on unsubstantiated claims of firing the first salvo against the security agencies. And this state aggression is fast becoming a trend given the killing of Shiite Muslims in Kaduna earlier this year and the summary execution of agitators for the state of Biafra over the past couple of months. What has happened to non-lethal ways of curbing citizens’ excesses if there are any?

Concerning the abominable renewed militancy in the Niger Delta as perpetrated by the Niger Delta Avengers, it will be impossible to exonerate the President from having instigated this crisis by the unfortunate sound bite he dropped during an event in the United States of America that those who gave him five per cent of their votes cannot expect to receive as much government patronage as those who voted for him 95 per cent.

President Buhari possibly thought this was harmless but how could that be in a polarised country like Nigeria. And unfortunately, I do not see much that the President has done to galvanise unity in Nigerians in the past 12 months!

But this should be the desire of anyone who hopes to lead his nation to greatness. And in attaining that, a leader must shed every toga of sectionalism and parochial interests, a leader must be open to listening to people and adopting new ideas; such a leader must show respect to his citizens otherwise we would not have a country but a fiefdom. One in which the leader’s minions will also talk down on the people like we have recently seen some of the President’s aides do with relish.

Nigeria belongs to all of us and our President must make every citizen of the country have that sense of belonging. It is the only way he would ever be able to effect change in the country but this change needs to start from the President and those with him in his hallowed court.

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