By Tabia Princewill
Nigerians are intensely political people, full of fire and outrage in their support or ability to undermine any figure of authority. Ours should have been the greatest of democracies, given our profound interest in public affairs. Unlike many Western countries where belief in any ideology is waning and voter turn-out is lacklustre, Nigeria is a country where fortunately and unfortunately dogma endures: we believe in many things (many unsubstantiated, antiquated convictions with destructive powers) but we differ from our Western counterparts in our unwillingness to critically assess and scrutinise said beliefs, hiding behind ethnicity and religion to justify those mysteries which enrich a few at the expense of the many.
Our rigid support system, based on how we worship, or what part of the country we come from, shows our mistaken understanding of political participation which is more a conspiracy to commit, support and justify theft than anything else. Politics rarely goes beyond, in the immortal words of Patience Jonathan: “na we time” (to do what? I’ll leave that to the readers’ imagination).Now a crucial question poses itself: in the battle between the old, corrupt ways and the new, can the President rid himself of those undesired elements, even if they may be his nearest and dearest, who could ultimately cost him his re-election?
Our society is not educated (or mature) enough to turn partisan debates into civic engagement: country first, rather than party first, is a concept which continuously eludes us. However, APC must be wary of Nigerian disillusionment. Nigerians have slowly begun to realise their power: if they no longer believe in the APC because its narrative is unconvincing (a far cry from its fervent pre-election sense of national urgency), because, it seems, many in APC look all too comfortable with the old ways they campaigned against, then this would spell the end for the party. Nigerians won’t accept to be fed the romanticised notions of ethnic or primordial loyalty which dictate support based on everything other than rational considerations of performance: it’s already happening. A party that consistently gets votes in the modern world isn’t one that puts food on the table by sporadically donating relief items, it is, instead, one that empowers and prepares people for self-reliance.
What Nigerians really need, right now, is for the real Muhammadu Buhari to please stand up. I’m following the aftermath of the political conventions in America. There are so many lessons to be learned about what involvement in politics truly means, about the part every individual citizen has to play in mending a country and telling a new story. Ours (both our tragic story and heart-breaking country) needs Buhari, if he can let go of some of his friends before it is too late.
Perhaps his experience of being removed from power by striking at the heart of the cabal which enjoys and profits from Nigeria’s dysfunction, made him more of a realist. Perhaps it turned the soldier into a politician who is more ready to compromise by keeping some of those undesirable elements close, despite the scandals and unanswered questions, because of the greater damage they could do behind his back. Perhaps the strategist in Buhari can still surprise us. But we need the man who doesn’t pander to the interests or fear-mongering of corrupt individuals who either use militants or separatism as blackmail. He doesn’t have to have all the answers (those who voted for Buhari were no fools, no one mistook him for a policy wonk) but he must surround himself with more qualified, talented people who can provide said answers. Enough of the recommendations and placements based on rumoured or alleged familial connections, etc.
His communications team never tapped into his strengths and never sold a post-election plan or vision. The cynics might say there wasn’t one. But Buhari’s personal narrative, his knowledge of the civil war and all it wrought upon us in ethnic politics, could serve to unify this country, if he had the right people to articulate and sell his personal thoughts and memories to the masses. Obama once said: “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.” I doubt many around our President fully understand the power of words. Many of the criticisms currently directed at the President, including the perceived lack of economic direction, would be far less if only there was someone regularly speaking to Nigerians, explaining the reasons for the hardships and detailing a way out, as opposed to ignoring the problems in the “Jonathanesque” way previously criticised.
The President does occasionally mention our values but not enough in connection to economic realities. Everything about the collapse of our economy, our reliance on FX dependent imported goods, etc, is a direct consequence of our shallow mind-set, never mind the elite schools many in our society will tell you they attended. We think and behave like paupers, semi-illiterates, awed by meaningless things. We’re paying the price for it now. A communications team should have used the President’s personal story, his humble beginnings, to inspire us to think differently about money and its uses. Very few people remember policy in detail but they remember the stories told about said policies: the intellectual passion, the storytelling prowess shown in the US when discussing the American idea is totally absent in Nigeria. Those few would-be intellectuals Nigerian Presidents have around them are often relics of an unfortunate past. Few are creative enough to craft the new policies we need to catapult ourselves into modernity and by extension, prosperity. The Muhammadu Buhari we need at this point must find a way to synthesize the old and the new. Not by providing jobs and opportunities for his friends’ children as is often the case in Nigeria but by allowing real talent to thrive. If the best man can get the job in Nigeria, half of our problems would be solved.
In Nigeria, offensiveness seems to be a legitimate form of engagement or even defence. The idea that padding the budget isn’t illegal isn’t just a dangerous one, it’s a testimony to the mind-set of politicians who think Nigeria is a country to be ruled rather than governed. Is decriminalising an accusation not a form of self-indictment? It amounts to saying “even if I did do it, it isn’t a crime”. Either way, one now sees the legislature has little grasp of its true functions. Only the executive is allowed to re-write the budget and replace projects, etc. Lawmakers are only empowered to trim sums, not allocate money themselves! Then of course there’s:”You mean I can’t come and see my President? Do I need any reason to come and see my President? It was a private visit.” Therein lies the problem. Without a doubt, Obama receives private visits—many in private locations. The White House or in this case, State House, belongs to every citizen and it is their right to scrutinise what goes on within it. But to a Nigerian politician, the state is often a private rather than a public affair. How this all ends will undoubtedly reveal who the real Buhari is and either bode ill or well for APC’s future.
Either not everyone in government is on the same page or the “real” Buhari is someone else entirely. After being told that subsidised rates would be reserved for more essential and productive functions of the economy, and that parents who send their children abroad can “afford” to source for FX in the parallel market, subsidised rates are given to pilgrims (both Muslims and Christians). Prayers can’t on their own boost Nigeria’s revenue, never mind what some fanatics, hiding under the cover of religion to help themselves to Nigeria’s resources, will tell you. Prayers are immaterial in a country of hypocrisy and generalised stealing. Sai Baba who so hated waste, where are you?