TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI BY REUBEN ABATI
On the occasion of his 76thbirthday, on Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari who is running for a second term in office, was quoted as having said that he needs more time in office. More time in office means: “vote for me for another term of four years.” “Allow me to serve you as your President for four more years.” I congratulate President Muhammadu Buhari on the occasion of his 76thbirthday. I know him fairly well. I can write a long epistle about him. I can also write on what I know about him and how his path and mine have crossed, but that is one of the many stories in my head that will be told someday. The time for that will come. This piece is meant to congratulate him and advise him.
At 76, President Buhari can definitely look back at his life with joy, a measure of contentment and a full quantum of gratitude to God. In the course of his life-time, he has been gifted by Almighty God with very important values: relevance – he is definitely a relevant player in Nigerian politics in every aspect in which he has been a participant; recognition- he is without doubt well recognized for the roles that he has been privileged to play in Nigerian politics; and influence- he is, we need not debate this, a man of influence; in 2015, the Nigerian voting population insisted that they wanted Buhari, even those who had no say in the matter said it would be either Buhari or nobody else.
To these three, God, in His Infinite mercies has added the grace of longevity. At his age, Buhari remains one of the very few members of his generation who can still make comments about “the other room”- a matrimonial department where many men of his children’s generation are complete failures and neophytes, but in that department, he remains present, and should we say active? with a young, beautiful wife, who is perpetually “possessing her possession” through comments, body language and gestures. I think Aisha Buhari loves you, Mr. President, in spite of her “yanga.” Nonetheless, I don’t want to imagine what 76-year-olds do on their birthdays with their much younger wives, but I hope Sai Baba, you had a good treat on your 76thbirthday. You deserve it. Most women would be glad to have a husband like you; every child would be happy to have a father so blessed. I join others sir, in congratulating you. And I wish you many more years of relevance, recognition and influence.
But, sir, I disagree with your proposition that you should be given more time as President of Nigeria. My bias may be well known in this matter. But I assure you that this is not a partisan comment. Indeed, many years back, precisely in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan had proposed that a four-year term was not good enough for Presidents and Governors. He wanted a five-year or six-year term for Presidents and Governors. Our argument then based on knowledge and observation was that a President or Governor would ordinarily spend the first year trying to understand the territory, another year to settle down, and given the stringent conditions in Nigeria’s procurement laws, it would take another year to get government going and by the time that happens, the election cycle would have kicked in. We argued further that the obsession with second term was inimical to Nigeria’s democratic process.
Every Nigerian office seeker at the Presidential and Gubernatorial levels would ordinarily want a second term for ego, ethnic, political and opportunistic reasons. President Jonathan argued that to cure this mischief, it would be better to have a single term to accommodate both the settling down and performance phases. In other words, a President or a Governor who has been given a five or six-year tenure knows that within that period, he or she can either perform or self-destruct and then move on. We thought of this further as a way of giving people an opportunity to perform within a time frame. We believed that a single service phase would not encourage the kind of laggardness that we have seen in the last close to four years.
The biggest opposition to that proposal came, of course, from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its hypertensive spokespersons. They said President Jonathan wanted a second term through the back door and that the proposed constitutional amendment was in his interest. One of the main paragraphs in Law 101 is that no law can have retroactive effect. Even the most talented idiot in the APC must have known this. However, the APC propagandists were so ambitious and disoriented at the time they simply took leave of reason. Curiously, the same loudmouths of that season have become cautiously quiet at this time. Should they talk? What we proposed having failed, simply means a sitting President who is unable to take full advantage of what he has under the law should be asked to go home in peace….
They brought President Buhari to power with their lies and propaganda. They produced a President on the weight of mere spittle. They couldn’t produce a cabinet for six months. They have now turned around to blame Jonathan, even for that. They couldn’t formulate a blueprint until almost two years later! The Ministers in this government are the worst ever seen since 1999. In a country of supremely talented people, at home and in diaspora, that is a scandal. It should be no surprise therefore that nothing earth-shaking has happened under the watch of the APC. We must say this because in 2015, Nigerians blamed President Jonathan.
Some leaders of thought argued that anybody but Jonathan should be President. Today, these same leaders are full of regrets. They have confessed with their own mouths that they have failed as leaders of the Nigerian people. They promised the people change. They gave them backwardness. They promised a new dawn. They took the country backward. Nearly all of them who backed the Buhari project in 2015, have eaten their words. Nigerians must at some point ask for their formal apologies. All these characters who claim that they know Nigeria better than the rest of us must not be allowed to get away with their perfidy. They must be made to recant openly and renounce their know-it-all-pretensions that brought us here. There are too many persons out there who are messing up this country, protected by nothing other than a sense of entitlement. They are the real enemies of Nigeria.
Because they all dropped the ball, the country is now in dire straits. When you ask the average Nigerian: are you better today than you were in 2015? The answer, we can confirm, is in the negative. The mood in the land is sullen. Investors fled long ago. Poverty rules the land. Economic growth moved through recession to deflation and stagnation. We have never had it so bad since the return to civilian rule in 1999. What sucks is the arrogance of those who claim they think for the present government. Mrs Buhari tells us, and we should not doubt her, that only two unnamed persons think for the Buhari government. That is terrible. That is scary, and more so, because Madam should know.
Even if Madam is playing what we all now refer to as “the other room politics,” we can see that the President is failing even in his own area of ascribed strength: national security. Boko Haram has gotten worse! Public communication is a disaster. How on earth can only two persons think for Nigeria? Okay, may be three. And where is the National Assembly if this be the case? And the judiciary and the whole apparatus of government? No wonder some lawmakers are asking for a parliamentary system of government and other Nigerians are insisting that the entire country is in urgent need of restructuring. Little wonder, if I may add, that virtually everyone today wants to be President of Nigeria. Most of the people running for President in the lead up to the 2019 general elections in Nigeria know that they they can’t be President, but they are in the race, I assume, as a form of comment on what seems to be the devaluation of that office by the APC.
President Buhari should not ask for more time. The issue is not his age. There are older Presidents elsewhere, whose attentiveness cannot be questioned. Mahathir Muhammed of Malaysia is 93. Nobody has ever underrated him. His credentials as a patriot and thought-leader are unquestionable. The issue is not about Buhari’s health either. What bother us is the cluelessness of this administraion. The Jonathan administration was accused of cluelessness, but the Buhari administration has shown very clearly that it is the ultimate definition of that affliction. Everything has gone South since they took over!
But I give President Buhari one credit. He has raised public consciousness about the urgency of the need to curb the menace of corruption. His officials may have focused more on members of the opposition in a vindictive and malicious manner, and they may have overlooked the failings of members of the ruling party, but we have seen the administration insisting that corruption is an evil that must not be allowed to destroy Nigeria. What we have more or less, is a single-message government, however, whose efforts in that department may seem contradictory, even if its utterly mismanaged original purpose, is compelling. I do not doubt the fact that President Buhari means well; he wants a better Nigeria definitely, but the problem is that he sees Nigeria from a blinkered, binary prism of “my people and their people”. That is where the problem lies. His problem is not necessarily ethnicism, as phrased, but a revenge mentality that is fed by fear and insecurity. Many Nigerians say he is an ethnic or religious gladiator – may be. When they deconstruct this further, they may well see other strands in the onion of his politics – class, self-interest, insecurity, game theory.
He doesn’t need more time as President, partly for this reason, for these are the same things that hold Nigeria down. He also has nothing new to offer He has established a strong message: integrity and accountability in governance with all the contradictions of the effort. We have seen. We have heard. Nigeria has learnt some useful lessons. Buhari’s place in Nigerian history is irreplaceable. He has been a war hero. He has served twice as Head of State. He has been a candle-light for his part of the country. He has been a major player in our history and lives. Those who want him back as President are using him to serve their own interests. I don’t see anything new on the table: an analogue President in a digital age? Nigeria deserves the change the people insist they have been yearning for. President Buhari must be happy that in spite of all odds, he has held Nigeria together thus far under his watch. He deserves a happy 76thbirthday and a happy retirement in 2019. “Correct me if I am right… “
What manner of Christmas?
It is Christmas and the town is this dull? In my neck of the woods, the only song I hear is the lamentation for help; people wanting to have to have a merry Christmas but they tell you the country is bad, things are hard; there is no money in circulation. They expect you to perform miracles, after all the man whose birth is to be celebrated performed miracles in his lifetime, miracles that brought Salvation to Mankind. The simplest miracle people ask for is as small as N1, 000 or less!
The other miracle of today’s Christendom is in the form of tithes, Naira, Euro, Dollar and the kind. This monetization, this gift-ization, this commercialization of Christmas is not new. The profit side of what is meant to be a spiritual occasion has simply overtaken everything else. We related to the God of old in terms of prayers and blessings. And we believed.
Today, people relate to God in terms of cash. Father Christmas is now Santa Naira, he collects tithes and gate fees! In those days, we looked forward to Christmas as the season of new clothes and shoes, the season of chicken and turkey. It was the season of Christmas song and dance and joy and the cantata. How many parents will allow their children go out these days as Christmas approaches? We are in the age of kidnappers. How many are singing and dancing? How many can afford to buy new clothes or sing new songs? In Southern Kaduna for example? Or those other places in Nigeria where many Christians were slaughtered in the course of the year? Barkin Ladi? Christmas brings a message of hope and redemption. But where is hope? Where is redemption? Where is redemptive leadership?
Such a dull Christmas season. Why are our people so sad? Do they even know it is Christmas?