On the day he won the 2008 presidential election, President Barack Obama declared: “It's been a long time coming, buttonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
More than six years after and less than two years to go in his second term in office, America has endured. America has recovered from the Great Recession. But the jury is still out as to whether America has changed. Even if it has changed, there is no doubt that America has not changed in the fundamental way Obama promised it would change during his 2008 campaign.
If there are gaps between the mission and the manifestation, it isn’t because Obama did not try. As observed by William Shakespeare and aptly quoted by President Muhammadu Buhari in his inaugural address, “there is a tide in the affair of men.”
It is permissible if the tide is a once in a lifetime time tide. But a tide that has come again and again, with established patterns should not catch us by surprise. Vigilant people learn from the experiences of others and position themselves to perform better in the face of a routine tide for generations yet unborn.
With that said, here are top five lessons Buhari can learn from Obama’s presidency.
1. Start with the most pressing issue. Invest your political capital and goodwill in it. In Obama’s case, he invested in reviving America’s economy that was shedding 800,000 jobs a month when he took office. He was able to get deficit-averse Republicans to approve almost a billion dollars in new money into the economy. In the case of Buhari, his first mission is to vanquish the Boko Haram insurgence in the North East. No talks of investment and economic revival will make sense with instability in key regions of the country. So far Buhari appears to be toeing the line going by his decision not to invest any capital in the APC internal schism about who becomes the leader of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
2. Once the emergency situation is under control, pour in a big chunk of your political capital in the most groundbreaking issue facing the nation. Just before the opposition gets their acts together and figures out the weaknesses of your government, take a stab at this fundamental issue. In the case of Obama, it was the healthcare. For over 100 years, past American presidents have tried to provide healthcare to Americans but failed. America remained the only industrialized nation in the world that has no provision for universal health insurance for its citizens. Obama cracked it by investing all he had in the fight for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as "Obamacare." In Buhari’s case, the most important legacy he could leave for Nigeria is to restructure the country to make it fair and equitable to all. He could do this through a series of far-reaching constitutional amendments. He could use the recommendations of the Jonathan’s national conference as a starting point. But ultimately, for Nigeria to stand on a solid ground, years after Buhari is gone, issues around devolution of power, geopolitical imbalances, resource control must be addressed.
3. At some point in the future, the opposition will shape up. They will find a mission and will run with it. By the time Obama was done with healthcare bill, the Tea Party had emerged as the leading voice of the opposition to Obama’s goal of fundamentally changing America. With their Republican allies, they were able to halt Obama’s agendas, like closing Guantanamo Bay, passing a comprehensive immigration reform, and imposing carbon emission limits through cap and trade system to tackle climate change. The PDP will eventually regain their voice and will oppose everything Buhari intends to do. They will overcome their nihilistic nature and offer Nigerians an alternative to what the APC is offering.
4. There are no magic places where the solutions to a country’s problems lie. They can be found anywhere and everywhere and in every citizen when leaders are humble enough to listen. Obama often meets with leading newspaper columnists and editorial writers to hear their thoughts on the issues confronting America. Nigeria’s print and online media are full of solutions for anybody who cares to listen. Even tailors, barbers, students, market women, all have ideas about what needs to be done to solve the numerous problems confronting Nigeria. The question is, will anyone listen to them?
5. Some would wish that you fail. When Obama came into power, highly placed Republican Party members openly vowed to work against Obama. They said that they would ensure that he would be a one-term president. At one point, they oppose everything Obama proposed. But Obama did not allow that to cripple him. He did not spend his time blaming his opponents. He kept working. He kept finding new ways to advance the interest of the American people even when all the paths appeared to be closed. Buhari should expect the same. When tempted to make enemies of those who opposed him, he should remember the eternal advice of President Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency of the United States following the Watergate scandal. Nixon told his staff: “No matter how well you do your job, some people will not like you. Always remember: others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
N/B: This column will now go on a few weeks vacation to allow me to complete a book. See you at the other end.