By Dan Onwukwe
POLITICS requires that those who hold public office should define themselves and where they stand on critical issues affecting the nation. What it means: When a leader fails to do that, particularly the President, he will begin to waddle around and, inevitably run aground in the office of which he was elected. It’s no longer a matter of conjecture whether the cup is half full or half empty for Nigeria. It’s completely empty and in the cusp of implosion. The pain of how our dear country has come to this miserable state, moving progressively worse in spite of all efforts since the present democratic dispensation, 22 years ago, is something that troubles the mind.
And it raises one vital question: Is Nigeria jinxed in producing transference leaders, leaders who can make things work for the country and the citizens? It was for this reason that when this column made its debut on October 28, 2008, it began with a pointed, poignant headline: “Is Nigeria proving too hard for President Yar’Adua”? The headline was necessitated by the tempers of that time. Hope was fading in the country. Yar’Adua presidency was a torrid one, made even worse by ill-health. The state of despair and disillusionment in the country was high. It has grown frighteningly worse under the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari. It is not unkind to say that Nigeria under Yar’Adua’s leadership looked directionless, with the president apparently confused and perhaps visionless. It made many to ask in cold anger whether Yar’Adua was ever prepared for the high office and the task before him. The answer is not hard to find. The late president behaved and governed with a measure of fear and timidity. His state of health worsened matters for him and the country. He was like a stranger in the seat of power. He wasn’t surefooted. He didn’t know how to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to hold it in reserve, an essential attribute of a leader. Like many of Nigeria’s storied succession process, it was as if his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo foisted him on Nigeria against his will. As things turned out, Nigeria paid the price. Every country is as good or bad as its leader.
To be fair, Yar’Adua was a good man, seemingly morally upright, a complete opposite of his predecessor. Obasanjo was, for all that was beyond argument, a strong-willed and willful President who knew how to overuse power. One of his weaknesses (they are many), was that he confused his own destiny with that of Nigeria. He thought he was the “messiah”. And no one is. If not for his hubris, OBJ would have been an excellent president. His undoing was that he believed he could do no wrong. But comparing Obasanjo with either Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan, is like comparing cat with dog. A cat doesn’t bark, a dog does. It’s not in its nature.
If Yar’Adua was coy as president, his successor, Jonathan lacked firmness in taking decisions. Jonathan as president wasn’t clueless as his trauducers labeled him. But, because circumstances defined his political journey, he was not really prepared for leadership, at least not at the time he took over the presidency in extraordinary circumstances, via the “doctrine of necessity”. Years before, he had become governor of his home state, Bayelsa because his principal, DSP Alamieyeseigha, was impeached and disgraced out of office on corruption allegations. It is not unfair to say that as governor of the oil rich state, Jonathan’s performance was at best, mediocre. That lack of adequate preparation followed him to the presidency, the highest task anyone can give his brain. You can now see the trajectory of these three former presidents- Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. Their fortunes became Nigeria’s misfortune.
If we bemoan the lacklustre performances of these men as presidents, Buhari from all accounts, is considered by many as much worse than his predecessors. No sooner did he become president in 2015 than he abandoned the agenda that brought him to office. These are: the economy, security and anti-corruption. All of these have become his Achilles heels. He has since become more or less a president of a section of the country rather than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His problem, and indeed, that of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) stems from what Jonathan fittingly captured in his memoir, “My Transition Hour”, that when you embark on digging a hole for your enemy, make it shallow, because you may be the one to fall into it”. How prescient Jonathan’s counsel has come to hurt the governing party and the incumbent President. Check out the record. On July 12, 2014, Babatunde Fashola, told The Nation Newspaper, that the only way to have stable electricity in the country was to vote out the PDP. He added that a “serious government will fix power problem in six months”. We are now close to six years of APC administration. Has power supply been stable? The more you look, the worse you see. Nigeria is drifting under Buhari’s watch. This may sound like a sinking sticker on the APC and the president. But, if truth be told, every passing day, Nigeria under APC has become sicker than many of us had imagined. Insecurity has squeezed us all into a corner. No one is safe from terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. The economy has experienced two recessions in four years. Inflation and unemployment have soared to all-time high of 17.33 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively. National debt is now N32.2 trillions. The present government inherited N18.89trn in 2015.
Yet, the president’s men say Nigeria is better under Buhari presidency. Do you believe that? If you do, you can sell water in the desert even when it’s raining. You see, a president can only infuse democracy with a new intensity of citizens’ participation if he shows competence. In other words, competence is the only attribute that can fill a leader with a genuine self-confidence. Neither raw power nor tremendous amount of morality is enough. When a president shows competence and not an AWOL leader, especially when serious national issues that affect the lives of the people demand his attention, it gives the people confidence and abiding faith in the ability and capacity of the president to turn things around, from despair, to hope, from pessimism to optimism. That’s how good leaders bolster the confidence of a shaken nation whose citizens have become disillusioned about how things are going in their nation.
To be fair, a lot of things call forth empathy for president Buhari. His health is one of them. Sometimes, poor health is beyond anyone’s control. However, here is the irony: while campaigning for the presidency, Buhari condemned foreign medical trip “if we cannot make our hospital functional, we cannot say to have a nation”, he said. Since his presidency began, things are getting worse rather than getting better. Our hospitals have become mere consulting clinics. We have lost count of how many times he had gone on medical trip abroad. Nonetheless, good health is key to governing. That’s why presidents are not judged like ordinary men. The sad story of how Nigeria came to being on the edge of a failed state can be traceable to inability of successive administrations in heeding to timely advice, especially in security matters. Take for instance, as far back as 2014, according to The Guardian newspaper of September 18, kidnappers under the aegis of Association of Registered Kidnappers (ARK) released a manual detailing various ransom conditionalities for every kidnapped person, in particular, top government officials. Where else can you get such bizarre thing except in a failed state? Now, bandits have held the country at knife-edge. Almost all the presidents we have had since 1999 had no clear vision of where they wanted to take our country beyond tomorrow. And in politics, there’s no point embracing a vision if that vision is not in sync with what the citizens need. Our leaders have disappointed Nigerians. They squander public trust. They pursue simple, selfish interest with zeal, but approach critical issues of state with half-heartedness. That’s why insecurity has risen to a frightening level across the country. In all, I wonder if our leaders bother about legacy, how they want to be remembered.