Time For Critical Soul-Searching: Open Letter To General Buhari, By Joshua Otene
Permit me to once again, express my sincere congratulations to you and by extension, the entire membership and supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on your resounding success in the March 28th presidential poll. The 2015 General Election can be rightly described as a watershed in the political history of Nigeria and a crystal-clear indication that our dear country is indubitably on course towards democratic advancement.
I was privileged to attend the December 8th through 11th nerve-racking Presidential Primary Election of the APC at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere, Lagos; where you emerged victorious on a landslide. I’ll always consider it a great honour to have served as an Electoral Officer at that convention, which I had previously described as the new paradigm for internal party democracy in Nigeria. You will agree with me that the credible and transparent manner in which that convention was organized went a long way in shoring-up support for your candidature as well as endearing the APC to the vast majority of Nigerians.
Without recourse to personal aggrandizement, I wish to inform you that my overt support for your candidature in the recent presidential election actually gained momentum after the APC Presidential Congress. I am not a registered member of the APC, but I did tell my good friend who invited and actually ferried me from Abuja to the APC convention that if you emerged the APC Presidential standard-bearer, I would gladly go all-out to contribute my quota towards your presidential campaign (a statement that I defended in words and in deed!). I was unambiguous and emphatic in stating that if any other candidate emerged at the APC presidential primary, I may consider supporting President Jonathan for a second term.
But to avoid any misconception, I should state that I did, and still have enormous respect for all the other APC candidates that contested the primary election with you. In fact any one of them could become my choice candidate in a future election. Therefore you should understand that I was not part of the mammoth crowd that just yelled ‘CHANGE’ for the fun of it! I was specific on what should characterize the ‘CHANGE’ that I sought. I thought of the ‘CHANGE’ more as a vector quantity, with fixed magnitude and direction. My support for your candidature was never hinged on my jingoistic followership of your person, even though I am aware that you do enjoy a cornucopia of such. I supported you simply based on my ardent belief that you were a better alternative to President Jonathan. I have long perceived you as the apotheosis of self-discipline and incorruptibility, which in my reasoning are essential yardsticks for engendering the much-needed sense of national rebirth.
But President Jonathan was not voted out of office for nonperformance. In fact I don’t think it is ever possible for any nation’s president to be accused of nonperformance. Jonathan was voted out because his performance did not meet the expectations of the generality of the population. The under-performance of President Jonathan has however compounded the burden of expectations that you are soon to be saddled with. The citizens want to see an end to terrorism; general insecurity, endemic unemployment, corruption among a horde of others, and they want to see it NOW! It is absolutely essential that the citizens’ verdict of your performance in office after four years deviate markedly from that of your immediate predecessor.
Your Excellency up till this moment, I have no doubt about your sincerity to deliver on your campaign promises to Nigerians. But I still consider it a point of duty to you, to myself and to all Nigerians to humbly caution you on the need to maintain your focus and integrity even after you become vested with what may seem ‘absolute power’. This is because no human being is infallible. In Nigeria today, political office is regarded with so much awe and holders of esteemed positions are seen and treated as demi-gods. We have seen many a councilor or local government chairman derail and sail on delusions of grandeur, upon tasting the allure of office! This behavioural pattern is not unexpected, because it is said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely! But because you held the highest office in the land over 20 years ago, I don’t expect you to be intoxicated by it now.
But I urge Your Excellency to do some serious soul-searching and proffer sincere answers (at least to yourself) to the three questions that I am about to pose in this letter. Firstly, being that are you prepared to do all that it’ll take in order to set-up a formidable cabinet; one whose members would all be in congruence with your visions and aspirations for the country? I must state with due respect Mr. President-Elect, that no matter how laudable your visions are for this country, Nigeria as an entity is too large to be driven on the passion and commitment of one man, not even if that one man is the President and Commander-in-Chief! You need to put a great team in place in order to succeed as the president. Your scorecard in the final analysis will be the sum-total of the scorecards of all your appointees. Your appointees can either make or mar you.
For instance if your Minister of Works refuses to work, then the roads will go (or remain) bad and you will take the greater share of the retributions from the indolent minister’s peccadilloes. It will therefore seem that your greatest responsibilities as President and C-in-C will be to APPOINT members of your cabinet and to SUPERVISE their efforts/activities (apologies to my good friend Joe Dauda, author of the book “My Phlegmatic President”). Your much-touted anti-corruption campaign, which is at the core of your policy thrust, will end up as mere pipe dream if the Inspector General of Police, the Chairmen of the EFCC and ICPC respectively and other relevant individuals and institutions responsible for the war against corruption went to bed and slept through the tenure.
Fortunately for you, the APC is studded with high-profile professionals from diverse fields, men and women of integrity whose experience you can tap from to actualize your Nigerian dream. To mention specific names here will not be appropriate, but I know that you know just what I am talking about. I also know that you are obliged to consider recommendations from deserving quarters for appointment as ministers, etc. But your quest to bequeath the teeming Nigerians with the dividends of good governance must take precedence over your desire to impress any party bigwig or institution. Therefore the buck lies on your desk, to ensure that you fit round pegs in round holes.
Furthermore, I will like you to search deeply within yourself to see if there is any tendency that your leadership will be inclined towards civilian dictatorship. The slightest ember of ‘militocracy’ that you may still possess within you must be extinguished before you are inaugurated into office as President and C-in-C come May 29th, 2015. I have made this a point of concern in view of what Nigerians have had to endure in the hands of your fellow ex-soldier turned President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR.
Memories of the gruesome massacre of thousands of helpless and hapless civilians in Odi, Bayelsa State and Zaki-Biam, Benue State by the Nigerian Armed Forces, on the orders of Chief Obasanjo cannot be erased in a hurry. That kind of command, to ravage entire villages killing anything in sight that has life, will hardly come from a civilian president that respects the norms and ethos of democracy. If Obasanjo were a civilian through and through, then I could say that the memories of Odi/Zaki-Biam Massacres would haunt him like an incubus to his grave! But he is not a civilian, and so may have well forgotten about the incidents. However other Nigerians, especially the victims of the massacre and the citizens of the world at large, will never forget the killings. In any case, it was one of the troughs of the Obasanjo civilian administration, which drew him widespread opprobrium. I don’t want that to be the case of ‘My Very Own President’!
Finally, Mr. President-Elect, you should thoroughly search your soul to see if there’s still any person that you need to forgive for the evils perpetrated against you in the past. Even if you find it impossible to forgive any of your previous offenders, then you must resolve never to pursue vendetta via the instrumentality of your office. It would only be tantamount to smashing a mouse with a sledgehammer. Apart from distracting you from your primary function to the State, your crushing effects on your enemies may draw the ire of the teeming million Nigerians that are fervently looking up to you for responsible and qualitative leadership.
Recall Your Excellency that just prior to the presidential election, Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State came out publicly to say that he had forgiven you for what he termed ‘truncating his political career in 1983’. In similar vein, the family of the late sage, Chief Adekunle Ajasin made statements that they had forgiven you for the detention of their father under your military regime in 1984. The family further cautioned the PDP against using the incarceration of their father and others as a smear campaign against your candidature, stating that even their father did forgive you before his demise. In fact two of Pa Ajasin’s children, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin and Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, were part of the crowd that received you and your running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, at the Akure airport during your presidential campaign rally of Ekiti and Ondo States.
Forgiveness is a virtue that is preached by both Christianity and Islam. Revenge may be sweet momentarily, but it can be likened to a sweet-tasting pudding that will eventually leave you constipated. You have also been incarcerated before. I expect that you must have suffered betrayals from people in your previous botched attempts to clinch the presidency. Now is the time to let go of all the grievances, so that you can enjoy the bliss that comes with forgiveness.
There are many other questions that I wish to ask you Mr. President-Elect, but time and space cannot permit me. I also know that this is not the right time to subject you to the drudgery of reading a very lengthy missive. But the aforementioned questions sum-up my greatest fears concerning the success of your administration. These fears stem from the fact that I have staked my neck out too far in your support. I have been very vociferous in declaring that your leadership will bring about the needed change in Nigeria. I will really not like to hide my face in shame in the turn of events. Thank you.
Joshua Amana Otene.