Feeling taller than a tree, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta said last week: "Our young people have once again shown that they are as good as the world's best and brightest."
He was celebrating Kenya’s achievements at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, where they topped the overall medals table for the first time in history.
Kenya’s feat is even more remarkable when you look at the nations below them on that table: the United States, Jamaica and Great Britain, in that order.
No less impressive in Beijing was second-placed Jamaica. Once a nation whose coaches came to Nigeria to learn of our athletic prowess, Jamaica is now rewriting the world’s sprints story.
While Kenya’s athletes were arriving in Nairobi with seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals, their Nigerian counterparts returned empty-handed. Beyond not being good enough at anything, we were not good, period.
This is what comes of decades of mismanagement and neglect of Nigerian sport outside of soccer and, perhaps, table tennis. Soccer has some success in Nigeria because it is everyone’s favourite sport. Table tennis has some success because of its stronghold in the southwest, not because it has a federal identity.
Then there is Track and Field, which has collapsed because there is no short-cut to success, and Nigeria has failed to put in place the kind of persistent, long-term and rigorous system that spots talents early, and nurtures them. Instead, we now wait for competitions to be announced, and then we scout the world for athletes we barely know.
In my view, we should revamp the National Sports Commission, as currently constituted, and start all over. Our sports should incorporate the private sector and our army of knowledgeable former athletes, and institutionalize a plan that centres on developing our athletes.
Speaking of starting over, Ministers of the Goodluck Jonathan government have issued a statement in which they warned President Muhammadu Buhari to give Mr. Jonathan “due respect.”
They accused the Buhari administration and the All Progressives Congress (APC) of condemning, ridiculing and undermining their administration, and of rubbishing the integrity of its individual members.
I think those Ministers are working with the wrong calendar. To the winner go the spoils, which is why the time for raising your voice is when you are in charge. That is when you demonstrate integrity and goodwill, fulfill campaign and administration promises, and record the achievements that speak for you after your tenure.
Eloquence is not explaining half-truths and dubious intentions; eloquence is when your achievements silence your critics for you.
In other words, speaking on behalf of a cabinet which had up to five years to nail its name to the mast of history but failed to do so is foolhardy. The reality is that there is no longer a Jonathan government. It is now every man for himself, and the prayer of every member of that era should be this: “Lord, let them open my folder early, so that the world will see my achievements and integrity, and honour my family.”
A few words about achievements: Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari finally declared his assets.
He should not be celebrated for it. His declaration was supposed to be an easy entry-point into governance, undertaken as soon as he came into office. He should be criticized for doing it as late as he has. No excuse or explanation is good enough. Sometimes, the letter of the law is far inferior to the spirit.
Finally, President Buhari’s first 100 days in power is attracting close scrutiny, sadly for what he has failed to do rather than what he has done.
For those who do not know me, I was one of the first proponents of General Muhammadu Buhari for President. I did not just support him, I endorsed his candidature.
That was not in 2015, but in 2011, when some of the people who would turn out to be his handlers and confidants four years later were among his fiercest critics.
For my trouble, I was called a lot of names, but given that, four years later—or just seven months ago—he was indeed elected to that post, I feel a certain validation.
In other words, there aren’t many people more qualified to tell Buhari to stop being a politician and do the right thing. His administration is suddenly on the defensive, claiming it did not make 100-day promises to the electorate. It disowns campaign documents that, having helped erect his candidature for office, are being made to look as though they were crafted by aliens.
The truth is that Mr. Buhari cannot have it both ways: having benefitted from that “subterranean” help as he battled for votes, he cannot now disown them. At the very least, he should have addressed this subject as soon as he took office, knowing that this day would come. His team is overflowing now with explanations, justifications and caveats that should not be.
Personally, I believe that Buhari will honour his mission, and change the Nigeria narrative. The question is: when?
To that, I guess his response would be: “someday.”
Someday is not good enough. The time to serve, and the only time he can guarantee, is NOW.
That is why I consider the profile of Buhari’s appointments so far to be an insult of his mandate. Anyone who claims that his persistent and overwhelming appointment of Northerners to critical positions is justifiable as long as they are merely “qualified” gives the president a mandate he neither requested nor earned on March 28.
Mr. Buhari promised to be the president of all Nigerians. His appointments so far do no justice to this. He reminds me of our history of public officials who, when they arrive in a privileged position, convert it into a personal buffet. And they tell the starving and the malnourished, day after day, “Wait, just you wait…you will see how much I will feed you!”
The truth about right and wrong is that the right thing cannot wait. If Buhari must appoint, he must appoint with a conscious, consistent effort to reflect the nation he took charge of on May 29. There ought to be no ifs and buts. He cannot sow doubt and fear, yet tell those who gasp that they are over-reacting.
Nigeria’s best and brightest—in athletics as in politics—come from everywhere. If Buhari is seeing them only under one hut, he is not looking. He can ask for help, but he should not tell those who challenge him to be patient or to like it.
The reason he won the presidency is this: people had reached the conclusion that the right thing could not wait until tomorrow.