By Martins Oloja
As I was saying, the specific objective of this piece (of advice) is to sensitise the power elite in the North into realising that they need to understand the times in Nigeria now. They should know what to do with President Buhari who they have prepared to run again when he will be about 77 in 2019. I am persuaded that they (the elite and power brokers in the North) need to know that other stakeholders in ‘Project Nigeria’ and indeed their friends are no longer comfortable with the fact that the region is still not interested in exposing its best brains to political leadership in this convoluted federation.
It is obvious that they want to serve again the gods of business-as-usual. The business-as-usual gods encourage their worshippers to think first about what they will take from their country and not what they will do to develop the country for the common good. Such gods encourage stomach infrastructure rather than critical infrastructure for the country. We now know the gods: they egg on their older adherents to think more like politicians; yes politicians who meditate day and night about the next elections rather than statesmen who think about the next generation.
These gods of the belly instil fear in their politically exposed followers not to think about significant people in their midst. They (the gods) advise their faithful to sponsor only their prominent candidates who can win election even if they (the candidates) can’t serve public good anymore. An ancient teacher and legend, Paul of Tarsus once told some old folks in Philippi who were then ambitious, empty, gluttonous and needy: …their god is the belly…their minds are set on earthly things…
As I was saying, there is no doubt that General Buhari is a good man who has always had good intentions for the country. Intention is a quality and not a strategy. And we once believed in his integrity and capacity to fight corruption and its allied forces. Not anymore. At the moment, even his old allies and followers are saying all over the place that his integrity may have been overrated, after all. But come to think of it, the integrity was unassailable in 2015 when he told Nigerians he met in South Africa during an AU summit that he was indeed too old to run Nigeria at 72.
Barely two weeks after he was sworn in as president, specifically, on Monday June 15 2015, President Buhari candidly observed that age would limit his performance as Nigeria’s president. The Nigerian leader who confessed this in South Africa after an African Union summit, wished he had had the opportunity to lead the country when he was younger. His words: “I wish I became head of state when I was a governor, or just a few years after as a young man. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do.”
The President had then in South Africa assured people that despite his age, his administration would bring positive change. Before the presidential poll, not a few Nigerians had blasted the APC candidate then for contesting at 72 even as there were dark hints that the APC presidential candidate was ill too. Some attacks were quite virulent. Some other elements had then suggested that Buhari might die in office, like Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Meanwhile, in the same Johannesburg declaration, the president reiterated his commitment to the refrain in the APC election campaign then when he said, “our government is determined to secure the country, manage the economy, create employment and fight corruption. Some articulate writers have said if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. This APC administration intends to kill corruption in Nigeria. We will do our best, I assure you.”
Let’s tell some truth today in public interest. As the old man sincerely confessed and declared in Johannesburg in 2015, his achievements have been limited even in the area of security management, fighting corruption and creating jobs. What is worse, even the embattled Acting Chairman of EFCC, the arrowhead of the anti-corruption crusade, Ibrahim Magu, has admitted his limitation and frustration in the tough fight.
Besides, in the presidency, there have been curious challenges: The EFCC Chairman nominated since November 2015, has not been confirmed by the Senate in 2018. The Chairman of the older anti-corruption agency, ICPC too has been acting. Curiously, the authorities in the apex intelligence agency, the DSS specifically indicted the president’s nominee as Chairman of the EFCC, saying the nominee, Magu lacked integrity to run the office. They conveyed that to the Senate since March last year when the president was being treated in the United Kingdom for an undisclosed illness.
The President’s SGF too has been sacked over alleged corrupt practice. The Chief of Staff to the President is generally believed to have been protected too from prosecution on allegation that he collected five hundred million from a telecommunication company to reduce a fine imposed by Nigeria’s telecom regulator. The Inspector General of Police too is being shielded from the strong arm of the law as a whistle blown on him by a serving senator has become a forgery in the hand of the country’s Attorney General. And the real eye-opener: the Mainagate, a scandal that has exposed a bumbling and dysfunctional presidency under the old man, President Buhari. A fugitive civil servant, Maina who was hibernating in Dubai, UAE, was visited by the Attorney General of the Federation in Dubai. Thereafter, he was reinstated to the directorate cadre of the mainstream civil service.
It is scandalous that top officials of the federal bureaucracy have been shifting blame for the monumental corruption being dressed up in a veneer called Mainagate. No one has been punished for the shameful act, after all. Incredibly too, a federal director is facing investigation after an asset recovery agency seized 86 vehicles and four houses, etc from a serving director who allegedly acquired them between 2016 and 2017. There have been more scandalous issues in the federal civil service that the presidency should have overhauled for operational efficiency. This would have changed public perception of anti-graft warfare so far. We have been waiting for Godot on this!
From inception of this platform, which was on the fact that the honeymoon of the new ‘Sheriff in Town’ would expire at some point, I have been harping on the expediency of a strong presidential bureaucracy. The bureaucracy comprises, in our context, the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HFCSC) and the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) strengthened by the office of Chief of Staff to the President. Here again is the thing, a strong presidential bureaucracy headed by a resourceful and dynamic SGF would have prevented a scandal of including nine dead men in a belated constitution of boards of government agencies the other day. The Office of the SGF, as we have often noted here, consists of at least seven permanent secretaries, let alone directors. But the quality of SGF the president has been appointing sine 2015 has been the blighter in the chaotic presidency. On yes, a dysfunctional presidency where interagency rivalry and poor coordination often lead to the president’s men undermining each and one another most times at the National Assembly.
Certainly, this President has not shown that he has been in charge of the bureaucracy of his office. He wasn’t at 72. He isn’t at 75 now. And so how can he take proper charge at 77?
That is why there is a responsibility here to point out that most people may not have any challenge accepting that the presidency should remain in the North from 2019 to 2022, but other stakeholders in ‘Project Nigeria’ would prefer a more dynamic candidate from the North. The power elite who have a responsibility too to package this through their political party should recognize one inescapable fact often expressed in an error of parallax in the alignment of personal and public interests.
A parallax error is scientifically, the perceived shift in an object’s position as it is viewed from different angles. The error is most easily noticed by looking at a nearby object with one eye closed, then looking at it through the other eye. The apparent motion of the object is the parallax shift, and it is responsible for a small, but noticeable, error common to optical equipment.
In this context, since we have a federation no matter how complex and even convoluted, the interests of all the geo-political zones should be aligned in such a way that the office of the president should be focal points of all the interests as defined through policies and politics – of even appointments and political reforms in public interest.
But at the moment, there are some actions and inactions of president Buhari through parochial appointments and silence on the atrocities of the deadly Fulani herdsmen, for instance, which have made most stakeholders from zones (apart from northwest and northeast) to be feeling that the Nigerian leader serves the interests of only parts of the North dominated by Islam and Hausa/Fulani.
Ordinarily, the operative words here should not have been ‘alignment of interests’, an act prone to ‘error of parallax’, but the institutionalization of a public service representation responsive to change and driven by national interest that all citizens, old and young would cherish without remembering religious and ethnic backgrounds.
But President Buhari has so far demonstrated complex ‘parallax errors’ with the way he has been managing politics and policies in the fragile federation. His New-Year statement on restructuring, for instance, was grossly insensitive at such a time like this.
That is why I am persuaded that PMB is too frail, too old and too unprepared to run in 2019. The power brokers in the North should not think about just victory to serve the gods of business-as-usual: they should think about the next generation, a united and developed Nigeria. They should plot a developed northern region that avoids error of parallax that can harm this chaotic federation.
We will continue this conversation on a different plane next week.
– This piece was written by Martins Oloja/Guardian