Now That Baba is Back Home By @DeleMomodu
Fellow Nigerians, I hope you followed our President’s visit to America, their America, early this week. Love them or loathe them, the Americans are in a class of their own. Most of those who complain the most about the supposed verbosity and ruthlessness of the Americans always dream of visiting what has been aptly tagged God’s own country. The reason is simple. America has branded and positioned itself as the greatest nation on earth and you can’t argue this with a people who are fastidiously convinced about their country’s superiority over others. Woe-betide any American President who is not able to defend this creed or hype with all his might and faith. America and Nigeria share a lot of commonalities as I shall elucidate in a moment.
Americans love their country to bits. Trust me, Nigerians probably love theirs more despite being our own worst critics. Indeed one can trace the oftentimes virulent criticism to the great love for a nation that those critics feel has been raped and betrayed uncountable times. Wait till an outsider attacks Nigeria before you see or feel the vibes of patriotic zeal in us. We can abuse our country endlessly but will never allow strangers to do it for us.
The Americans love their food like mad, especially burger or steak or spareribs. Nigerians are worse, and you can ask me, as I consider myself a prime epitome of this phenomenon. Wherever I go in the world, I am never comfortable until someone leads me to a Nigerian restaurant or something close. I just landed in Italy yesterday and as I typed this column, my tongue was mercilessly salivating and searching for that esoteric eba or pounded yam with efo riro, edikaikang, oha or egusi soups.
The Americans are loud and probably condescending. I think Nigerians are louder and many would dare say without sounding like an ethnic jingoist that some of our diverse tribes are quite acerbic in words and in deeds. You would easily figure out a Nigerian in a market place, no matter how crowded the place is. We love the good life and would readily spend our last kobo on it. No wonder we are renowned for our display of affluence and wealth be it in the exclusive shopping precincts of the world or the local halls or civic centres where we celebrate different occasions like weddings, birthdays, naming ceremonies and even funerals. We are the only ones in this wide wild world capable of feeding 5,000 guests free of charge, with champagnes and expensive wines and cognacs flowing like water.
America is the home of entertainment and a breeding ground for perpetual rockers in California, Las Vegas and New York. Nigeria is home to the happiest people on earth, where human beings have plentiful reasons to celebrate life every single day, no matter how sardonic our economy has become. The aphorism “Lagos for Show” is not a joke but a truism as the city conjures the image of the good, the bad and the ugly, as you may want it. No apologies, that is just who we are. America prides itself about Hollywood but Nigeria is almost catching up with the most prolific film-makers on our planet via Nollywood.
Only God knows how many Nigerians currently live and/or work in America. I have attended many reunion events all over the place and often wonder how many of us are left back home. Our scholars are highly rated in all major American universities. America would instantly suffer a dearth of medical personnel if Nigerian doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and nurses or its intellectual workforce in general decide to return home in droves. Our immigrants are doing so great in all spheres of human endeavour because they are specially endowed and indeed are very smart arguably. I seriously believe that our human capital is much bigger than our oil revenue. This is why Nigeria cannot be ignored within the comity of nations despite our many transgressions and shortcomings. It is gratifying that this is one of our remarkable traits that President Obama noted at the beginning of his meeting with our own father of the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari during his visit to the land of opportunities.
I have a theory that suggests the Americans have since discovered the virtues we don’t seem to know about ourselves. Several American Ambassadors and diplomats have taken near-permanent abode and residency in Nigeria despite the turbulence and tempestuousness that occur and recur in our land with rigorous regularity. Even when their tenures expire they often return to our trouble-prone country to marry or start a business of their own. It says something about the cordiality that exists between us. Conversely, if you wish to punish a Nigerian big man, let the Americans terminate his visa and that of his family and you would see a sullenly crestfallen juggernaut. It is such an amazing symbiotic relationship between us.
Once upon a time, the government of the United States had a kind of filial bond with ours but something definitely went wrong recently. The first sign of a crack came when America practically and blatantly refused to support the Jonathan administration in its long-drawn battle against Boko Haram. There were rumours that America could not trust our Abuja leaders to keep secrets emanating from gathered intelligence. As if to confirm the belligerence and bellicosity of our government, President Goodluck Jonathan gleefully announced its decision to count the Americans out of its list of friends and sought a new bride in Russia. Those who understood the rudiments of International Diplomacy wondered how a country like Russia that was on its bended knees and trying to survive against a regime of sanctions could help Nigeria out of its many security challenges. Anyway, Jonathan had his way and that was it.
But the times have changed and a new man is now in charge. The Americans must have tacitly supported a change of regime in Nigeria as a form of quintessential retaliation against a man that did not understand the fact that America never forgets a favour just like it never forgives an injury. As soon as President Buhari came to power, they wasted no time in reaching out to him so as to obliterate the Jonathan obduracy as quickly as possible. President Barack Obama was able to achieve that this week by rolling out the red carpet to a new Nigerian President who is yet to assemble his team back home. The meeting was that urgent and important that it could not wait a day longer and protocol had to be altered somewhat for this purpose. President Buhari read the game correctly and was able to seize the opportunity with both hands.
By most accounts, the President made Nigeria and Africa very proud. Thanks to his media team and his photographer, Bayo Omoboriowo in particular, we were able to follow the President as if we were with him all the way on his voyage. Once again, President Buhari was able to prove cynics wrong especially those who thought he lacked the capacity of a statesman on the world stage. The only snag in my view was the non-inclusion of women in the entourage of President Buhari. It is tragic that no Nigerian woman was deemed qualified to travel with the President.
We must avoid this scenario in the future. It portrays us as a nation that sees women as nonentities. It was a great oversight that should not have happened under any circumstance. There were those who grumbled also about the supposed lopsided imbalance between the southerners and northerners in his team but again I am not about not one to play any ethnic card as most of those who accompanied the President did so in one official capacity or the other. Some of them were of course appointees of his predecessors. Despite this, the respect and recognition accorded President Buhari was palpable except to his rabid haters who would never see anything good in him. That is fair enough as it is impossible for everyone to love you no matter how hard you try.
My advice as always is that the President should move on with his mission to rescue Nigeria and disregard those determined to bring him to ridicule and disrepute. Let me reiterate for the umpteenth time that it is not going to be an easy task. The powers and principalities that litter Nigeria are not going to let him have a field day and he too must be very tactical like a true military General that he is. He must resist the temptation of fighting on too many fronts at a go lest he opens his flanks to dangerous invaders. That is one of the lessons to be gained from the Jonathan administration which we warned against severally but was studiously ignored.
The war against corruption is not going to be prosecuted and won through indiscriminate arrests and detention. Too many structures are already faulty and derelict and must be fixed and replaced before certain institutions can begin to operate normally. Nothing kills a war against corruption than creating the impression that someone is on a vengeance mission. The government should avoid anything that may inadvertently, create panic in the polity and must learn from the pitfalls of similar wars in the past.
This is of great importance because we are part of a larger society and whether we wish to accept it or not, we can only thrive if we encourage both foreign and local investments. No investor is going to come to this country if there is no certainty, sanctity or security of their investment especially when some overzealous security operatives are rampaging about like bulls in a china shop! And the local ones would take flight if we do not learn how to apply methods to our maladies
There are many ways of fighting corruption. They all do not need to be loud. Sometimes that may be the most ineffective way. There is also the tendency for rumour mongers to thrive and scandalise innocent citizens for no reason other than causing mayhem in such an environment. We have recently been regaled by fantastic figures of looted funds stashed in American accounts by public functionaries from across the political divide. By all accounts the sums are staggering but to discerning minds the manner of the disclosure of the alleged loot and the persons involved suggests they are fanciful but nothing can be ruled out in these momentous times. That is another reason the President must act quickly and decisively hence the good name of some people may be forever tarnished by reckless and irresponsible accusations.
It follows therefore that now that the President is back home, he should assiduously work on getting his tested and/or trusted foot-soldiers together and form a cabinet strengthened by Special Advisers. September is simply too long to wait to do this. There is no good reason for waiting as many busy-bodies are already using this lacuna to achieve their usual despoliation. President Obama may not have appointed all of his cabinet in a couple of months but key cabinet appointments were made even before the administration started and were confirmed almost immediately thereafter.
Indeed many are saying in loud whispers that the prolonged absence of a cabinet to support the President is unconstitutional. The Constitution expects that by now the cabinet should be in place and that there should at least be an Attorney-General by virtue of sections 148 and 150 respectively.
In particular, they are quoting section 148(2) of the Constitution which envisages that the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purposes of (a) determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation; (b) co-ordinating the activities of the President, the Vice-President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the President generally in discharge of his executive functions …”. By continuing to govern alone the President is unwittingly creating the impression of running a one man show which the enemies are willing to amplify. Even as a military dictator, President Buhari recognised the need for governing with others hence there was a Supreme Military Council almost from inception of the administration in January 1984 and a Federal Executive Council of Ministers which was constituted within a short period of time on 18 January 1984. As Professor Tam David-West revealed a while back, background checks were completed within a period of about 10 days from 7 January to 17 January 1984, a reflection of the diligence, efficiency and urgency General Buhari was known for in those days. The delay in a democracy is therefore more difficult to understand.
I have said it before that nations are not governed by saints but by performers. Let the President entrust Nigeria to some reasonable men and women and not those over-recycled people who plunged us into this mess. There are good politicians just as there are terrible technocrats but both camps must be married carefully. Perception is key in governance and the President should send a powerful message to the nation via the calibre of people he assembles. The President cannot continue to rely on the same technocrats, some of who were complicit in the monumental looting that the President is seeking to address and redress. He needs fresh hands to assist him in this and ensure that he fulfils the constitutional requirements that enjoin him to govern this country with other compatriots.
The President does not need to look far. There are thousands of competent Nigerian who share his vision and his mission. He only needs to identify them and enlist them.
I trust the President to deliver on his promises resoundingly!