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By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, permit me to enlarge this subject as much as possible. Nothing is more crucial than getting the leadership of Nigeria right, as quickly as possible. Many have asked me certain questions, after reading my recent articles, which I intend to answer, in this epistle to my fellow citizens.
Why did I support Muhammadu Buhari to be President in 2015? The answer is simple and straight forward. The then President, Goodluck Jonathan and his party, PDP, did not leave us much options and it seemed there was only one logical and rational way to go, no matter how unpalatable, Buhari and his APC. They seemed the only risk and gamble worth taking. Profligacy was at its highest. Corruption was rife. Insecurity was widespread, the economy was in shambles, the currency was in freefall and the malaise and rot was just all pervading. Buhari was himself attractive, not only because of his famed incorruptible stance but also as a stopgap, if only to arrest the deepening sense of gloom and doom in the polity. Buhari became an interlude. We needed a father-figure to rescue us from a rampaging foe. APC was not my party. Like me, majority of those who supported Buhari did so out of acute frustration. And, as with me, they did not belong to his party. They were encouraged by Buhari’s no-nonsense pedigree. Even if they did not consider him perfect, they believed he would be more disciplined, prudent and focused. The only thing we probably forgot was the fact that Buhari would never possess in a democratic setting the same powers he wielded as a dictatorial Head of State. We did not consider how encumbered he would be in his second coming.
Buhari himself possibly underrated the magnitude of the rot at hand. He must have also ignored the avuncular influence of the ubiquitous Nigerian Mafia. He came and took his time on even the most mundane of things. This was his most fatal error. Picking his cabinet took forever. He did not seize on the huge popularity and excitement that catapulted and heralded him to power. He lost the uncommon opportunity to exploit that momentous zeal and giddiness that had engulfed Nigerians at the announcement of his victory. Some of us smelt the danger early and expressed our feeling earnestly and concretely. I wrote copiously about it in my desperate memos to the President. We were the ears of the government as itinerant journalists and our own ears were full from endless lamentations by the public. As if to make matters worse, the President had to battle for his personal life. He was outside Nigeria more than inside, this year, in particular. But we thank God for the miracle He has performed in the health of our dear President who is now back home with us and hopefully invigorated to embark on the arduous task ahead given the short period of time he has remaining in this his first term.
Do I have regrets supporting Buhari? If the truth must be told, there have been periods I felt lost in the wilderness because of the pace, tempo and direction of governance. I was deeply troubled also by the manner a government of change carried on as if our situation was normal and tolerable. The methods and methodology of this government appeared to be too similar to that of its predecessors. I found that bizarre. The amount of time, energy and resources wasted in fighting a war of attrition within the ruling party itself was rather atrocious, as if repeating the mistakes of Jonathan in the last days. But I won’t say I’ve totally given up on our government.
There have been flashes of hope every now and then. It was good and refreshing that the President made use of one of his best weapons in-house, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, while he was away on medical vacation. Osinbajo was able to demonstrate to all and sundry that what is required to get Nigeria out of the doldrums is no rocket science but the ability to play less politics and do more of governing. His persona and abilities galvanised the economy. That we have “exited” the recession is in no small measure due to the policies and practices that he has put in place. His use of executive orders, rather than subsidiary legislation which can sometimes be cumbersome to pass and implement, was novel and, its significant practical effect is reverberating all over the economy. When the unity of Nigeria was tried and tested by some ethnic jingoists, the government did not rush to war but chose to dialogue with various groups like former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did with the Niger Delta militants. The result is the relative peace and calmness we enjoy today. Another remarkable example of what is possible and feasible in our country is how Osinbajo has been able to crisscross Nigeria without any fear of reprisals wherever he visited. This has shown that the Buhari government has more to gain by reaching out to everyone with an olive branch rather than behaving like warmongers. War has never resolved anything but rather torn peoples apart and made secret and silent enemies who would be awakened and galvanised to destructive action when the time comes!
Will I support Buhari in 2019? Let me say I doubt. My reason won’t be on account of incompetence but because I don’t think it would be fair for men of that generation to continue to hold Nigeria by the jugular. What those who refer to Donald Trump’s age and that of his arch-rival, Hillary Clinton, fail to realise is that those candidates were groomed in a much sophisticated environment. Trump was able to build a business conglomerate while Clinton has had a spectacular and effervescent career in politics and leadership. Those would definitely count in their favour. The same cannot be said of our aged leaders here. Also important is the fact that America would always pick leaders based on merit and towering achievements but our old brigade would always revert back to antiquated and primordial religious and ethnic sentiments. Nigeria needs to move hurriedly from its present style and stereotypes that have held us down and sometimes even dragged us backward. We must seek and find agile, current and stylish leaders who understand the language and register of modern trends. There is no way anyone above the retirement age can fit that bill in 2019 no matter how hard. I say this with every sense of responsibility and not as a matter of personal prejudice. As I will continue to say, I admire President Buhari and believe that he had a monumental role to play in the emergence and continued existence of our nascent democracy.
I know some would say age does not matter but I wish to insist that it does. If we can experiment with old age, and we have for far too long and unreasonably, with no commendable or commensurate results, there is no reason not to conversely encourage the young ones to come in, learn on the job, make mistakes and ultimately get things right. Indeed the same old brigade benefitted from this approach and opportunity given to them by their predecessors who were willing to hand over because modernity in that period had begun to make them relics. The position is more stark now because the advent of the internet and the satellite technologies and innovations that it has spawned has completely transformed the world. Our geriatric leaders would never have a clue about this new world that has left them way far behind. It is not just about social media as they seem to think. There is a lot more in terms of advancement in education, finance, power, health, infrastructure, philosophy, ideology and the like. This propensity by our leaders of yore to embrace youth, entrust leadership to them and adopt the new technologies are basic principles that we must try to enforce in the next dispensation. There is no longer a doubt as to what to expect in the older leaders but there is still a chance of remoulding the younger ones.
My sermon is simple. Anyone above 65 should please enjoy his retirement with his family in tranquillity and perpetuity. At that age, he has already given his best to Nigeria. If his generation was so wonderful, Nigeria would not have been in this peculiar mess. It is time for others to try. If they fail, age will soon catch up with them too, like it is already catching up with my generation, and those coming behind would have to take their own chance and opportunity. By fielding people in their seventies, Nigeria would have wiped out a minimum of 30 years of those between the ages of 40 and 70 and this is grossly unfair and very unfortunate. What that means is that the older generation is saying that there is no Nigerian from age 40 to 70 that can lead us. That notion is unacceptable and regrettable.
Let’s now get down to brass tacks. There is nothing, Constitutionally, stopping those in their 70s and 80s aspiring to public office. Indeed it is their right to do so if they so wish. And if Nigerians, in our collective wisdom or stupidity, select and support them again, then that is their luck. Those who share my view that a new generation of leaders must emerge and be tested urgently have much harder work to do than those who wish to maintain the status quo. As I confidently expressed last week, the youths I see today want everything in a hurry and, if possible, without suffering for it. But there can be no gain without pain. The mind-set of entitlement must give way to that of selflessness and sacrifice. The authentic change-agents cannot sit with arms akimbo and await miracles. If our youths continue with the current attitude, the ancient generation will continue to lead and misrule while the modern youths will continue to wallow in servitude, self-pity and lamentations.
It is a shame that the vibrant students’ union organisations we used to know have disappeared to all intents and purposes. The quality of Nigerian schools and educational curriculum has also dropped abysmally. What has further compounded the situation is the mass poverty which has impoverished the souls and minds of our nation and its people. The situation is so bad that we are mostly controlled by survival instincts. But we must not give up. No matter how much we think we can all “make it” (to borrow that cliché) individually, the road will still be long and tortuous. It is in our collective will and tenacity that we can achieve the Nigeria of our dreams. The older generations would always tempt us with the whiff of money but this would be tantamount to nothing but tokenism and folly given that, in any event, much of that money is from our common wealth looted from our collective treasury that should have been used to transform our lives more than a few pieces of silver can.
Nigerians, young and old, deserve better than this cycle of oppressive benevolence. Nigeria will never know progress until we vow to seize the bull by the horns and do the needful. The journey is not going to be easy. The roads will be littered with thorns. The falcon may not even hear the falconer but try we must. The statement must be boldly made that we are children of a new generation and we know who we are, where we are going and how to get there. It is our future and not their future. They cannot tell us how to live it!.
It is time for our youths to say “Yes, we can”.