The Goodluck-Buhari Relay: Those Damned Shoelaces By Abdulmalik Ibrahim
May 29th 2015, standing in the pavilion beside my good friend Rinsola Abiola, whose face was by then soaked in her tears, a smiling gap toothed, tall lanky septuagenarian waved to the crowd with clenched fist as he was chauffeured in a fancy military automobile round the Eagle Square, Abuja. General Muhammadu Buhari had just taken an oath to become the leader of the biggest black nation on earth. That singular act sent waves and waves of reverberations not just across Nigeria but the world over, as everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief that indeed Nigeria’s fledgling democracy had finally come of age. In between sobs and tears, Rinsola kept murmuring barely audible words, from which I picked out the phrase; ‘we made it’. That reminded me of the campaign period and how in my own little space, I became a vocal, visible and staunch advocate of the Buhari cause. I remembered how I jumped on the campaign train from Portharcourt, to Kano, Lagos and Abuja. I remembered the lavish fund raising dinner we had at Oriental Hotel in Lagos and how after much hassle with men my father’s age, I was able to get an epic selfie with the charming Daura born General. I remembered how my social media presence was riddled with the Buhari story, to a point where some loved ones felt I was too open for comfort in my advocacy for the Buhari Presidency. I was offered sincere advice to tone it down a bit for fear of any repercussions I could suffer in my place of work should Goodluck Jonathan win the elections instead. I remembered queuing up for hours under the scorching sun to vote and thereafter setting camp outside INEC office till the early hours of the next day when results from all seven (7) Local Government Areas in my zone were collated. I remembered keeping vigil in front of the TV as INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega meticulously led us on a journey of mathematics, time, precision and how to handle unforeseen work hazards like the ‘Orubebe quagmire’ he encountered. Remembering all that and more and standing there beside Rinsola and her teary eyed face was my proudest moment as a Nigerian.
And when finally President Muhammadu Buhari spoke, it was with that all too familiar stern, sincere and unwavering tone he is accustomed to. He made some pronouncements which fell between the bandwidth of the realistic and grandiose, occasionally sending the by then emotionally laden crowd into feats of hysteria whenever words like corruption, Boko haram and the likes left his mouth. But the highlight of that historic speech was perhaps when he said ‘I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody’; an oxymoron of sorts pregnant with so much wisdom and message that it prompted a fierce international debate over whom it was specifically directed at. On twitter we, the twittering collective children of anger, all wondered just ‘who the owner of that sub was’.
Time, though absolute in form, still remains a relative phenomenon based on what perspective one chooses to view it from. Three weeks into the Buhari presidency and the fairytale ‘honeymoon’ seems to be well and truly over. Nigerians are now split into two groups in their assessment of it. Notice how I said the Buhari ‘Presidency’ rather than the Buhari ‘government’, because in my opinion and perhaps that of the majority of Nigerians, we are yet to have a ‘new’ government. The first group, the vocal majority, to which I belong to, believe that President Buhari and his wobbly party the APC have failed to kick start the engine of governance, giving rise to unnecessary speculation and volatility which is affecting his ratings and by extension the general health of the nation. The second group, the patient minority, to which my wife belongs to, believe that Buhari needs all the time in the world to get it right, arguing that after all life is a marathon and not a sprint. I sharply disagree with this line of thought because of its simplistic approach to the complex and dire situation of our nationhood. Think of it as a 4×4 relay race, where former (the irony in this title though) President Goodluck Jonathan, having sauntered rather erratically through the 400 meter track, has finally, with great difficulty and reluctance handed over the baton (Nigeria) to President Buhari and instead of maintaining the onward seamless motion, he’s rather stopped to…wait for it…’tie his shoe lace’ because he reasons that should he go on without tying his shoe lace, he might get tangled up and stumble on his tracks. While his fears are legit, I however fault the timing of it. President Buhari had 400 meters to tie his shoe lace as Goodluck Jonathan was running to handover the baton to him. Why wait till after the handover to start tying those damned shoelaces???
Regardless of the excuses given, from the late handing over of important official notes by the outgoing government and other sundries, President Buhari ought to have by now appointed key personal staff and a few advisers who should have swung into action with all the machismo and bravado of a government fully intent on tackling the pervasive lingering problems bedeviling Nigeria. Less I’m construed; by swift action, I do not mean that President Buhari should come up with a fast, cure-all formula for Nigeria’s diverse malaise, NO! I do not expect to see a drastic curbing of corruption within his first three weeks in office; neither do I expect a high surge in kilowatts of power generation. I do not expect a sudden disappearance of queues at the petrol stations or the worthless naira notes in my wallet appreciating in value overnight. On the contrary, I still expect to be shackled down by a drunken police constable should I refuse his demand of a fifty naira ‘for the boys’ token. I still expect to meet the same pothole which almost broke my car’s axle on my way to work the morning before. I still expect Arik Airline to arbitrarily delay my flight from Portharcourt to Abuja by EIGHT golden hours without the slightest courtesy as a ‘sorry for the inconvenience’. In spite of all these and more however, I expect that three weeks into the life of any government, a certain level of confidence should have been built up in the Nigerian psyche. I expect major announcements being made. I expect some fluidity and motion, even if it’s mere vibrations. I expect for instance, a state of emergency declared in the energy sector with a clear, fine blueprint of stringent measures to be taken to overhaul the sector with a mandate of bringing succor to the suffering Nigerian masses. Less for the Boko Haram issue which I laud President Buhari’s immediate and rapid response, the Presidency seems to be in a fix as to how to go about the other businesses of governance.
But get this straight, we might after all be wrong in our feelings towards the Presidency. Buhari might after all have a clear workable plan for Nigeria up his sleeves, waiting for the right moment to unleash and ‘wow’ us all. Unfortunately for him and his people, a successful government is run based on both facts and perception. Ask former President Goodluck Jonathan on the role of perception management in governance, and you will get a solemn treatise on what could, might, and ought to have been done differently to save his failed legacy. His uncontrollable consistent gaffes and that of his wife, the established cold nonchalance of his government to the plight of Nigerians and an inept reactionary media crew all served up to set him up for the historic plummeting he took at the polls in March. Sometime ago, I had an interesting conversation with a direct and one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Goodluck administration. After a long back and forth over the performance of his benefactor, I got tired and asked him to sincerely look at the growing number of people falling below the poverty line, people who can hardly feed much less clothe or shelter themselves. To which he answered, to my chagrin, that this is a normal routine and trend the world over. That as long as we have a capitalist system in place, there will always be a growing number of both the RICH and POOR classes. That conversation for me summed up the Goodluck administration. While Nigerians saw rising poverty, the Jonathaninas saw rising wealth. While we cried over Boko Haram, they rejoiced over old refurbished locomotives. While we pointed to growing unemployment, they screamed ‘biggest economy in Africa’. And so it went, until karma, in its habitual blatant manner, settled our case finally in JEGA’s majestic electoral court.
Inherent in all these is a lesson worth learning for President Buhari and his people. They should never isolate themselves from the feelings of the Nigerian people. They shouldn’t build tall fortresses of illusions and grandeur to surround themselves from us. They should rather extend a loving hand of trust to the Nigerian people and break the cycle of mistrust between the government and its people. They should build a formidable proactive media team that is able to discern where the current flows and lead us in line.
Finally, a good leader needs to at every moment in time be able to read the mood of the nation and key into that and sway the tide favorably to his side. Call it propaganda, good PR, deception or whatever word you can find in your dictionaries, but President Buhari needs to take charge and come out to lead Nigerians with as much vision, gusto and surety never witnessed before in the life of the Nigerian state. This is so much needed because never has the nation’s resources seem eerily meager compared to its over bloated idling population. Regardless, this bleak present has never seen a brighter future. So help us God.
Abdulmalik ‘KAIZEN’ Ibrahim tweets as @ibmaleeq…