Buhari, Change is Actually an Active Verb By Simon Kolawole
Months have slimmed down to weeks, and soon we will be counting days and hours to the historic change of baton between President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Soon and very soon, Buhari will start dominating the headlines: Buhari did this, Buhari did that. Jonathan will take the back seat, except he wants to be like that megalomaniac interloper in Abeokuta. The front-page pictures of the newspapers will be all Buhari. The subject of discourse by columnists and TV analysts will be Buhari. If the weather is too hot, it will be Buhari’s failing. If a policeman collects N20 bribe somewhere in Ode Omu, it will be Buhari’s fault. That’s the way we are.
God save Buhari if the PDP propaganda machinery is half as effective as that of the APC: he would be in hot soup from the word go. But the PDP, as things stand, is crushed and in disarray, and it may take the party years to get its bearing. So Buhari should at least have some breathing space in the meantime. Given the global goodwill he enjoys — backed by his reputation as an honest and modest man — Buhari will likely be given a chance. Typically, electoral success produces the initial euphoria, followed by the honeymoon after inauguration. Next, the people begin to size up the new leader and, finally, the hard reality sets in. That’s the way life goes.
Buhari won the presidential election promising “change”. Now that APC has captured power, “change” must move from slogan to action. During the campaign, “change” was a noun, an idea, a jingle. “Change” must now function as a verb, an active verb at that. Verb, we were told in primary school, is a “doing” word. Active verb “does”; passive verb is “done”. So Buhari must change Nigeria else Nigeria will change him. He must be the subject, not the object. If he does not “do”, he will be “done” for. If he does not “change” Nigeria very soon, trust Nigerians to become nostalgic and romantic about the past. You’ll start hearing: “Even Jonathan was not this bad!”
In Nigeria, we always think a former president is better than the current one. After all, it was suggested at some stage that Gen. Sani Abacha was better than President Olusegun Obasanjo. I heard arguments about how Abacha kept the exchange rate at N80 to $1 and how it had fallen to N120 under Obasanjo. While I would agree that Abacha and Obasanjo were alike on many counts, I wouldn’t suggest Abacha, who spent five years torturing and murdering Nigerians, was better. However, if people could say late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua — who did virtually nothing — was better than Jonathan, then I have seen it all.
Three things will define the Buhari administration in its infancy: one, his first cabinet; two, his first decisions; and three, his first budget. Will his first cabinet be dominated by jobbers, losers and other hopeless nominees intended to settle political IOUs like Obasanjo’s team in 1999? Will Buhari spend his first days in office reversing policies, instituting politically motivated probes and cancelling contracts like Yar’Adua did in 2007? Will Buhari’s first budget be overloaded with overheads and subsidy payments like Jonathan’s in 2011? These could end up shaping the direction of any administration. The morning foretells the day in many instances.
For Buhari to make a difference, he must start from his first cabinet. If he gets it right, he has a good chance of getting his initial decisions and first budget right. If he gets it wrong, he will have misappropriated his goodwill so quickly. One of the most enduring self-destructive traditions of new governments in Nigeria — and I include states as well — is the tendency to assemble cabinets that are heavy on regular politicians and light on men and women who have more than politicking to offer. The conventional wisdom is that the full-time politicians helped the president to power and he will need them for re-election. Hogwash. You only need a few full-time politicians in the cabinet.
If I were to advise Buhari, he just has to break with tradition. At 72, he has seen it all. He has nothing to lose. I don’t think he is planning to build more houses or buy private jets or marry more wives. He can afford to throw himself into changing a system that has ruined us for ages. He has to put his feet down on the kind of cabinet he wants. He must resist the suggestion to transfer people from APC headquarters to the federal executive council. Those who have proved that they can manage party affairs very well should continue to do so — after all, APC still has a lot of electoral battles to fight. You don’t disband a structure that has served you so well.
In setting up his first cabinet, Buhari should insist on having nominees who must have more than politicking to offer. He should state the criteria. They must be men and women who have demonstrated competence in their fields and careers, not only in partisan politics. I would suggest that rather than getting one nominee per state, Buhari should request at least three so that he can have a choice and will be able to weed out those who are not fit and proper to be in his team. At every turn, he must maintain that only the best should be nominated so that he can have a quality shortlist of 36 ministers, as provided for in the constitution.
In my opinion, a ministerial nominee should be asked to prepare a brief proposal, stating their preferred ministry, highlighting the sector’s problems and proffering the solutions. The nominee should then defend the proposal before Buhari and an interview panel. It will be very glaring if the nominee knows what he is saying or he is just a piece of matter seeking to occupy cabinet space. A tough nomination process will serve Buhari extremely well. If you have a competent team, your job is half done. All you need do is give them the political backing and the leadership needed to translate “change” from a noun to a verb, from slogan to action.
In 2003, Malam Nasir el-Rufai actually faced a panel chaired by Obasanjo, with Vice-President Abubakar Atiku and Chief Audu Ogbeh, then PDP chairman, in attendance. According to el-Rufai, Obasanjo asked him specifically: “If you are appointed FCT minister, can you restore the Abuja master plan?” El-Rufai responded: “Of course, I can do it if I get your backing because those violating the master plan are your friends!” At the end of the interview, it was clear to all that el-Rufai could do the job. We remember what followed. This shows the importance of screening, matching nominees with positions and allowing them to prepare for the job ahead.
If Buhari makes the mistake of appointing funny characters into his cabinet without a thorough fit-and-proper test, he should just forget about “change”. We would return to the very thing we are trying to run away from — that system of patronage at the expense of Nigeria’s development. The time has come for us to put our best feet forward. The cabinet must be dominated by bright minds who must understand the technocratic and political skills needed to deliver reform. If Buhari gets that right, it has the potential of ballooning his goodwill and sending a clear message to 170 million Nigerians that, indeed, something is about to happen.
XENOPHOBIA VS XENOPHILIA
I have noticed, with concern, threats by Nigerians to “retaliate” the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. I can understand the anger, worsened by the pronouncements of South African leaders who are too shallow to recognise the ramification of their tacit endorsement of the barbaric behaviour of these street urchins. However, we should not allow this uncivilised behaviour to change who we are. Nigerians, by nature, are xenophilic: we are very accommodating of foreigners. We should not allow them to infect us with xenophobia. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. That is what Apostle Paul said. Maturity.
Before his appointment as the inspector-general of police, Mr. Abba Suleiman came highly recommended. All I ever heard about him was that he was a thoroughbred professional, one who was above board and very straight. But there is something about Nigerian politics that keeps killing our best. His misadventure into trying to remove Aminu Tambuwal as speaker of the House of Representatives, even brazenly attempting to interpret the constitution — a preserve of the judiciary — damaged him. He has now been sacked, reportedly for almost turning himself into the ADC of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari after the March 28 presidential election. Opportunism.
Every African, every African leader should be ashamed of the Mediterranean migrant tragedies, which have claimed up to 1,700 lives this year alone — and a possible 30,000 overall by year end. The image of desperate Africans who sardine themselves into unseaworthy boats on illegal journeys to Europe breaks my heart. It is all the more saddening because most of the people on these boats are not running away from war or persecution. They just have this perception that they are better off as second-class citizens in a developed country. So what are we going to do about our continent? Distressing.
BUHARI AND JONATHAN
I hope I’m not getting too excited about this, but I never imagined that I would see an outgoing president and an incoming one — from opposing parties — behave so responsibly in the transition period. I’ve been impressed by President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari so far. They’ve held several meetings and always come out with warm smiles. It could well be for the cameras only. It could well be that after May 29, it will be fire-for-fire and media war over legacy issues. But, please, let me enjoy this unusual moment in Nigeria’s political history while it lasts. Gratifying.