- If he does not start well, he will play catch-up, and that does not bode well
Today the Buhari era begins. And the glory and success of this era will depend on whether it is the institution that supervenes and not the will of the strong man.
The history of Africa’s flirtation with progress has been defined by the ancient deference to men and the diminution of the process. That explains the grip for over two generations of a cabal of vicious stragglers around the corridor of power on the society. The consequence has not only been the atrophy of the republican ethos, but a slew of sufferings that include poverty, disease and ignorance.
As the Buhari government marches onto the stage, the nation is in its lowest ebb for over a generation. The standard of education has plummeted, people die from preventable illnesses, infrastructure has decayed and where it has not, it is non-existent. We will concede that some state governors have etched their performances in stellar ways, even if such glorious doings still fall significantly short of the nation’s needs and expectations. Many young men and women have no jobs, and those who have skills cannot match their engagements with qualifications.
Security, especially the rise of insurgency, has pockmarked the landscape of the north and paralysed the rhythm not only of commercial life but also of social life, and led to the evaporation of towns and villages and the defilement of womanhood.
At the higher reaches of government, the greatest tragedy is rampant corruption. It has been noted that Nigeria’s main challenge is how to rise above the base instinct to satisfy individual and group interests at the expense of the corporate progress of country. Individuals, tribes, political groupings and religious fidelities take precedence over the happiness of the whole.
That is the fulcrum of corruption. Our bulwark against this fortress of decay is the adherence to the principle of the rule of law. That is where the Buhari administration must begin.
It is the adherence to the rule of law that will show that institutions are more important that the strong man. The end purpose of institutions is to ennoble the humans. We do not seek the law for the law’s sake. Humans make the law but the law ought to be bigger than the humans, for humans make the law in the ultimate interests of the humans.
So, if we follow the principle of the rule of law, we shall not have the sort of impunity that besmirched the past half-decade when contracts were awarded on the basis of cronyism, and performance or execution of the contracts was rare or shoddy. Due process is a byproduct of the application of the rule of law. The right people get the contracts so that the right job is done, and the people will enjoy the right benefits.
The tragedy of the power reforms under the Goodluck Jonathan administration was that due diligence did not take place, and those who eventually took over the GENCOs and DISCOs were not immersed in the finances and state of technology of the power companies they were buying. It led to a cap-in-hand rush to the government and banks for support, thereby problematising the tackling of darkness in our homes and power in the offices.
The nation slid even further into energy crises, and the consequences were deeper poverty, unemployment and infrastructure travails.
To pursue the rule of law cannot ensure a prosperous society but it lays its foundation. We shall continue to see the society as a place of rules and not of men. Talent will take superior position over cronyism and opportunism, and it will also trigger industry rather than the sluggish bones of the slothful who want to reap where they did not sow.
With that we can build physical infrastructures that will not collapse over our heads but will serve as anchor for the farmer to get his wares to the consumer and the teacher to convey his message and give homework assignments without fear of power failure.
Social infrastructure, underpinned by healthcare and education, will flourish. The mind and the body constitute the greatest assets to any society. Once these are guaranteed, all will flourish.
One of the drawbacks of the Jonathan administration was lack of budgetary discipline. The reason was that the era lacked accountability and wallowed in profligacy. It is one flaw the Buhari administration must avoid, and it will do that by not only monitoring that the nation’s finances are well spent but also by making sure that it uses men and women of competence and integrity to work with him. Buhari should beware of the wily ways of tribal and religious loyalties that could ruin a worthy project.
In a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society such as ours, a sense of balance and decency will do President Buhari as well as the nation a lot of good. The Jonathan era was accused of caving in to the low impulses of faith and tribe and it even became defensive in blatant ways.
President Buhari should not allow himself to be seen as a religious bigot or an ethnic avatar, and he must make self-conscious efforts to disabuse his fellow citizens of any such suggestions. Either by words, deeds or symbolism, he must loft himself as a Nigerian who embodies our secular aspirations even while professing our private pieties.
Yet, we need him to pursue with a sense of stout leadership a project of true federalism. Nigeria carries too much of a throwback to the Unitarianism of the military era of which Buhari was a part. It will be a heroic paradox for him to direct our liberation from that suffocating grip and usher in a federalism in which states are allowed to flower, whether in terms of generating their own wealth or by way of guaranteeing their own security.
Part of the unhealthy dependence on the centre for revenue and survival arises from a skewed constitution that gives the Federal Government power over the resources of states. He will do well to revive debates as well as documents of past rigorous work, and push legislations that will help unlock the wealth of the land.
Also related to this is electoral reforms, where the Uwais report should serve as the starting point to ensuring that our elections do not rely too heavily on a few individuals, whether in parties or in the umpire bodies. The last elections have demonstrated how the Independent National Electoral Commission’s chairman, Attahiru Jega, could not change any result or process of election even when all saw that it was rigged.
A civil service that does not work except to stultify a good process or help a corrupt government must know that it has no place in a modern society, and the Buhari administration must ensure that we return to the civil service reforms suggested in a recent work by Orosanye as a starting point.
The task for the Buhari government is great, and he has to go down to work without fanfare. But Nigeria cannot be healed overnight. Work should be seen to have begun and in the right direction. That’s the only way his era can truly live up to the mantra of change chanted during the campaign season.