I find it interesting that the President, major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), says he does not want to leave office as a failure. Two weeks ago, this column raised the question about what legacy the President hopes to leave behind in 2023. That question arose because, contrary to what many people think, big infrastructural projects would not count whenever Nigerians remember the President’s stewardship. So, with the recent manner of speaking, he seemed now conscious of what history would say about him, as should any man of his age and status.
One is, of course, not unmindful that Buhari did not utter these words with his mouth. The soundbite came from the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), after he emerged from a five-hour security meeting with the honcho, service chiefs and other members of the country’s security team. Monguno told journalists that Buhari “… also made it very, very clear that he’s not ready to exit government as a failure. He is not going to tolerate that; he’s made changes and is ready to make further changes if he is not satisfied. He is completely determined to ensure that there’s a turnaround in the fortunes in the theatre of operations.”
The Yoruba say that words from the mouth of a masquerader can only be the contemplation of the gods. It is, therefore, safe to assume that Monguno conveyed the President’s true sentiment. It could also suggest that the man is honest with himself. The security of lives and property in Nigeria has become such a cofounding embarrassment that any must be thoroughly worried.
Some Nigerians, however, hold the opinion that the horse has already bolted from the stable. They reckon that having not achieved significant milestones in 75 months, the remaining 21 months of the regime would be too few for any meaningful reversal of what many consider to be the floundering of the Buhari tenure.
I find that position pre-emptively pessimistic. The President’s recent assent to the Petroleum Industry Act (warts and all), the prompt appointment of an implementation committee and the positive signals it sent to industry players are tell-tale signs that buying people’s trust isn’t necessarily rocket science.
A lot of time, seemingly simple but honest steps taken by leaders are all the people need to restore trust and support for the government of the day. So, when a government expresses its commitment to positive change and leaving the country better than it currently is, I would instead query its understanding of that promise and what it must do to achieve it, rather than how much time it has left. In managing people, little actions or words that cost leaders next to nothing can foster peace or war.
For example, President Buhari reportedly made this remark about the security situation in the country. He received briefings on troops’ exploits in the war against insurgency, which has led to the repentance of hundreds of terrorists. But Tuesday’s unprecedented event where the country’s apex military training institution, Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, suffered a terrorist attack (even though the media still referred to the perpetrators as bandits) raises questions about the President’s grasp of the country’s troubles.
Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State had days earlier asked his people to defend themselves against bandits! Between Friday when he vowed not to leave office a failure and Tuesday, “bandits” killed eight and abducted 25 people in Zamfara State; they killed 10 people in Kaduna State; and 14 in Buhari’s native Katsina State. The terrorists shot two officers dead and kidnapped a Major in operation, which sent shock waves down the polity. The city of Jos in Plateau State has also been on fire lately.
It has been two whole months now that the President promised to speak to separatist agitators and those who incite trouble in Nigeria in the “language they understand”. Yet, there has been no remarkable improvement in the situation.
At such junctures, one would imagine a reconsideration of strategy! If you can’t move forward in a journey, it makes sense to consider a retreat, so you can live to fight another day. The Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein, once pointed out the awkwardness of doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. And a President who wants to succeed in his remaining few days in office must take advice from this and become more hands-on.
As well-trained and effective as the Nigerian security agencies might be, it is evident that the level of conflict in the country is becoming overwhelming. Can we even tell that there are no elements in these agencies sympathetic to the cause of insurgents, terrorists, bandits, and others taking arms against the country? Therefore, it is unlikely that the military and other security agencies will ever comprehensively contain the security challenges that the country currently faces on the battlefield.
This suggests that it is time to employ the brain alongside the brawn in these security matters. Whether they call it carrot and stick or kinetic and non-kinetic, this regime needs to, at this stage, yank off its messianic mentality, bury its pride, seek help, and try all possible peaceful means of de-escalating tensions in Nigeria. The security of lives and property is the primary responsibility of the government, and citizens do not need to know how the government achieves this. People just want to sleep with their two eyes closed, and it is the least a government can do for its people. There are conflicts in this country that do not need the deployment of troops, a situation that honest conversations would put to final rest. These are the kind of opportunities that President Buhari should begin to pursue in this twilight personally.
Take the President’s grazing routes pet project as an instance. He recently set up a committee to review “with dispatch” 368 grazing sites that a previous committee identified. This action is despite the apparent stand of many state governors against grazing sites and the clear anachronism of the idea. Even if this concept is the only thing that can save Nigeria from the frequent clashes between farmers and herders, it would be more effective to call a meeting of all governors. At this meeting, Buhari must restrain himself from playing a know-it-all emperor but rub minds with them on dealing with the nagging challenge.
The realisation of the import of collegial processes in tackling knotty national issues would determine whether Buhari’s wish to leave a legacy of success is a mere dream or vision, which he is determined to see through. It is unlikely that you would ever find anyone who does not wish to leave their world better than they met it; however, achieving the same requires willpower and the competence for execution. Otherwise, wishes would be like the proverbial horses, which beggars ride with abandon.
It is curious, for example, that President Buhari is comfortable with the ongoing industrial action by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors, which his ministers of health and employment are unable to resolve. That is when Nigeria is under the threat of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside disgraceful afflictions like cholera, malaria and what have you.
According to a report in the media earlier this week, hospitals in Saudi Arabia recently had a recruitment for specialist doctors in Nigeria. That exercise indicates that the reported 1:5,000 doctor to patient ratio in Nigeria is about to worsen. Yet, the President has not seen the need to galvanise action towards retaining doctors who are leaving the country in droves. He has not led any national initiative, which encourages governors to improve primary health care delivery standards and facilitate more accessible health care delivery through community health insurance.
The President wants to succeed, yet, he has not done much for education. Despite the increase in the numbers of higher institutions, more than one and a half million qualified candidates do not get admitted annually. Yet, there are no plans for that gap year, no vocational training to get their hands busy or empower them with sustainable skills.
Out-of-school children figure increases by the day. Those who go to school are abducted daily and left in the hands of bandits for months on end. Yet, these are the ones who should hold the future of the country. Nigeria just seems to have lost her soul as far as the welfare of its children is concerned.
The main gist here is that President Buhari can still do a few things to make Nigeria better and fulfil his dream for success. If he gets it right on the security front, but most of Nigeria’s children and youths are ill-equipped to face the future, and a significant number of Nigerians continue to grapple with a wobbly health system, this regime will still have failed Nigerians, who reposed so much confidence in it. There is still ample time to change this narrative if the will and knowledge are available.