We can no longer leave the business of governance in the hands of the political leadership. It doesn’t just work. It has never worked. When Goodluck Jonathan accidentally became Nigeria’s president after Yar Adua’s demise in May 2010, his ill-preparedness and unfitness for the lofty assignment associated with the Office of the Presidency was an open secret. Somehow, we excused his inadequacies and assumed that things will improve after some time. We also assumed that he will learn on the job. At worst, he will surround himself with technocrats who will get the job done. How so very wrong we were!
Six years after, those assumptions fell down flat, kpata-kpata!!! Under his watch, Nigeria has witnessed the most colourless governance in history. Each passing day, Nigeria plummets deeper into a sinkhole of corruption, unemployment, violence, ethnic fragmentation, and is incrementally gravitating towards the brink of collapse. 247 days after their horrid abduction by ruthless insurgents, Chibok School Girls remain unfound despite trillions squandered on security expenditures, and even more being borrowed. Folks that should be permanently housed in Kuje Prison, including those that ought to be perpetually confined within the thick walls of Guantanamo Bay now have unrestrained access to Aso Villa. It has officially become a crime for public and elected officials and their cronies to loot mere millions of Naira; instead, billions of dollars generate legs and wings and disappear uninhibitedly from the national treasury. And nothing happens. Nobody is questioned; nobody gets quizzed and nobody gets fired. In the last six years, Nigeria has dramatically moved from what was a semblance of constitutional democracy to what Douglas Anele aptly described as ‘agbata ekee” democracy.
Muhammadu Buhari recently won the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) amid widespread jubilation across the country. With the successful multiparty merger and the inter-ethnic harmony that characterized APC’s national congress, Buhari’s chances in the 2015 presidential election are very bright. My biggest grouse is that the emotive melodrama that foreshadowed the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency is about to repeat itself. Rebranding exercises, fictitious saintly profiling and slushy online Buhari-campaigns have heated up in the last few weeks across the social media, with most of them bereft of discernible issues that hint about the nature and scope of the “change” that is about to come. How can we repeat the same mistakes again?
Thus far, Buhari offers something most politicians don’t have or aspire to have: character. If there were any scandalous skeletons in his cupboard, desperate Nigerian politicians would have exposed them as far back as 2003 or 2007. By the way, Nigerians are not shopping for a leader with papal attributes. What they want is a problem solver. But beyond character, what next? Few weeks to election, what are the cards on the table? I see none. What are his main priorities? I can’t categorically tell. For example, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State made education the central theme of his gubernatorial election campaign in 2011. His post-electoral programs also maintained a special focus on education. Education therefore became a one-point agenda that provided Imo electorates a basis to assess the quality of his leadership and hold him to account. So, what is Buhari’s game plan?
I don’t expect Buhari to make too many promises, but we need to know exactly what he has in mind, and what his plans are. With the election inching so close, there is no coherent action plan detailing his order of priorities. We cannot afford a costly repeat of the Jonathanian tradition of guesswork and when-we-get-to-the-bridge leadership. Not anymore. A presidential vision is a collective vision; not a personal one. We have a right to know what that vision is, interrogate it and connect with it. There is no better time than now.
Many Nigerians share in his passion for zero tolerance against corruption with great enthusiasm. But besides cleaning the Augean stables, what next? Reducing the cost of governance and plugging the multifarious leakages mean that Nigeria would save more and have more resources to solve its manifold problems. How Buhari plans to harness and deploy these resources so as to yield a marked increase in the quality of lives, and for the benefit of all Nigerians is still a mystery.
No doubt, Buhari may likely surround himself with seasoned advisers and technocrats. His vice, Professor Yemi Osibajo, is one himself. There are two main reasons why Nigerians should never ever bank on this. First, Goodluck Jonathan’s administration provides compelling proof that a technocrat-filled cabinet does not necessarily translate to corruption-free and competent leadership. Right under the watch of Harvard-trained economists, the porousness of Nigeria’s financial reserves gained global notoriety, while unstoppable looting of oil revenues reached record highs never envisaged in financial transactional history. Secondly, vice-presidents have always been mere appendages under Nigeria’s democratic tradition. That is why most students of secondary school and university age don’t know the name of the vice-president Namadi Sambo. A vice-president becomes a threat to his boss if he ever exercises political power so valiantly in public. So, except with the help of force majeure as happened under Yar Adua, I have no expectation that Professor Osibajo will break this tradition. And if he does so, it might provoke serious tensions of a scale thicker than the tribal fracturing witnessed under Goodluck’s era. I know Nigeria well enough to predict this very obvious fact.
Buhari’s military background provides reasonable basis to believe that he might draw on his wealth of experience to contain the Boko Haram insurgency if he becomes president. But how will he do this? No information. Unlike the central government, the civil society, the media, and other non-governmental organs of society need to plan, budget in advance, and key into this security agenda if it exists. His silence is deafening and distracting.
So far, Buhari has successfully run an issue-less, emotion-driven campaign. He has Goodluck Jonathan to thank for that. Nigeria is gradually drifting from a clueless to an issueless government. Goodluck’s poor leadership has created a huge void between the government and the governed, spurred anger among the populations and fuelled an unquenchable desire for change. It doesn’t matter if a mere object like a pencil runs against Goodluck in 2015, many voters frustrated by his backward-ever style of governance would cast their votes in favour of that pencil. Buhari would hopefully, fill that contemptible void. But how? I wish I know…
Victoria Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change (www.spacesforchange.org), a youth-development and policy advocacy organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is currently a post-graduate student of Harvard University in the United States of America.