Introit: On May 29, 2016, I found it expedient to buy a VIP ticket and watch two unfortunate extremities struggle to overreach, over-exert, and out-shout each other to exhaustion. On the one hand were the inconsolable losers of a bygone corrupt and derelict era for whom the idea that there is anything, anything at all, that you might have gotten right in one year is sacrilege. I will return to their matter presently. On the other hand is the swelling rank of your fundamentalist supporters, a dangerous breed of personality cultists who present a clear and present danger to our democracy insofar as they criminalize as high treason the slightest entertainment of the thought that there are things, plenty of things, that you got wrong in the first year of your presidency. For this category, to even say that there are things you could have done better is a crime deserving of capital punishment.
Now that both camps have exhausted themselves in the destructive and counter-productive venture of screaming themselves hoarse to demonize or deify you yesterday, those of us with a pan-Nigerian agenda beyond your person to think and worry about can essay a few reflections for your consideration above these two fundamentalisms. I will cut to the chase.
A Divided Country
I read your speech. I was very pleased to note that it passed the hubris test. You elected the tack of humility in presenting your case to the people. This is encouraging. There is so much arrogance of power in Nigeria. Our national history is such that power has never ever had to respect the dignity of the people. Power has always towered above them, separated from them. This has damaged the psychology of power as it has damaged the psychology of the people. Power needs to be patiently retrained to understand who the master is: the people. The people also need psychological retraining for they have come to naturalize the idea of power as their lord and master. They are the first to defend power’s “right” to talk at them and not talk to them. They are programmed to be hostile to whoever tells them that this needs to change – especially if they have constructed a personality cult around the incumbent holder of power as is your case. Furthermore, your communication team is so hubristic, its leader so arrogant, that your own contrast with them is always soothing.
Beyond the humble tone of that speech, my assessment is that you continue to grossly underestimate the problem posed by the widening bitter divisions in the country. At no time in my entire adult life have our traditional fault lines of ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation been this nakedly poisonous and fratricidal. There is so much hate across the land it corrodes critical intelligence and saps valuable energies Nigeria could use for development. Your government needs to understand that nothing can be achieved in this kind of wounded and injured context. It is true that there is little you can do about what is really feeding a great deal of this hate: the original sin of your ethnicity, your religion, and your geopolitical origin. However, it would be deadly to mobilize these as the only catalysts of the division and bitterness. There are layers and layers of historical injustice and essential unfairness going back to the very foundation of Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most unfair nations on the face of the earth. You must never give up trying to heal the country at a fundamental level.
As citizen Adesanmi, I don’t give a rat’s ass about those who hate you because you are Fulani, because you are a Moslem because you are a northerner. I kick their sorry asses whenever it tickles my fancy. Other times, I just mostly ignore and watch them choke on their own hatred on my Facebook Wall because I am immune to their insults and perennial callow carping. I can do this because I am just citizen Adesanmi. Citizen Buhari and his government do not have this choice. You have to own them and their hatred. All your symbolic gestures must constantly engage them with humility. You can learn from President Obama here. He has spent the last eight years reaching out to the American right, especially the far rightwing of the Republican Party and the Tea Party. They hate and disrespect him because of his race. But he is their President and never stops trying.
Furthermore, you must not allow your fundamentalist supporters to convince you that the hatred and intense dislike are fed only by ethnic, religious and political animus. There are serious issues of economic and social disempowerment feeding the disenchantment against you. There are serious legitimate issues with how you have run Nigeria on the economic front so far. These frustrations also feed into the animus against you. We need a comprehensive vision on how you plan to heal these injuries.
Thank you for the comprehensive listing of your government’s efforts against Boko Haram in your first year in office. We are pleased to hear the gains recorded as well as the dividends of your hands-on approach at the domestic, regional, and international levels. However, I was mildly irritated not to have heard a whimper from you about the widening terrorism of nomadic herdsmen. If it was in the speech and I missed it, forgive me. You have had Agatu and Enugu under your watch, just to mention those two instances. This makes the nomadic herdsmen the most democratic of all the terrorists we have currently operating in Nigeria. Other spectres of terrorism are contained and localized. We have only one that is roaming all over the country, leaving sorrow, tears and blood in its trail. The attention paid to Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers needs to be paid to these nomadic terrorists. In your own case, you need to be seen to be paying serious attention to this problem. I believe the reason is obvious to you.
Listen to me, Mr. President: you may throw all the money in this world into our security challenges, you may run from pillar to post in West Africa, Europe, and America building coalitions to help us secure life and property in Nigeria, you will not succeed if there is not a pan-Nigerian buy-in into your security policies. The people must be mobilized to support you across the country. This cannot be done if you continue to feed perceptions that some terrorists are more equal than others in your book. If you need a concrete example of the destructive power of bitterness and how it could hamper your security efforts, I will give you one. It was recently announced that the clean-up of Ogoni land would start. I read people with names from that area on social media saying to hell with your attempt to clean-up their own immediate environment! That is the power of bitterness. How do you want to effectively move soldiers to such neighborhoods to take care of the Avengers while we hear no similar plans to take care of the nomadic herdsmen? You must invest more in symbolic legitimacy for your security agenda Mr. President.
This continues to remain your strongest suit in my estimation. This is where you continue to enjoy the widest support across the country. You also have considerable opposition because corruption does fight back and is fighting back in very desperate and dirty ways in Nigeria. Personally, I have no patience with the opponents of your anti-corruption efforts. Many have lost their regular source of yams from the goats and yams era and have become very vocal critics of the anti-corruption war. Many still cannot get over sore loserhood from the 2015 Presidential election and have been demonizing the anti-corruption war. Only the establishment of a National Centre for the Treatment of Post-Electoral Loss Disorder can help them.
However, you must not make the mistake of thinking that every critique of the anti-corruption effort is a product of malice. Some have complained about the showy and red-carpetish nature of the whole thing. High-profile arrests, detention, and endless adjournments. It is true that the same people asking you to intervene and accelerate the trials would be the first to demonize you as a dictator interfering with the judicial process in a democracy. However, there should be a way for your Justice Ministry to assign more resources to the courts and tribunals as a way of speeding up the process.
There is also the question of the campaign funds of APC. Chief Odigie Oyegun haughtily dismissed calls for a public disclosure of how these funds were sourced and how they have been retired. Sometimes, I don’t know which planet Nigerian politicians come from. They just jump up and insult the intelligence of our people. Where has he ever heard that only the party in power needs to retire her campaign funds? Mr. President, we need to hear from your party. We are waiting.
The inclination is strong to dismiss those calling for an equal searchlight to be beamed on the Big Men in your party. After all, their party had sixteen years to fight corruption and did nothing. Their hero had five years to go after APC big wigs and did nothing. As long as the yams were flowing, those who have now suddenly become apostles of good governance said nothing about the corrupt people they are now asking you to go after. You need a lot of leadership mojo to overlook this level of hypocrisy and recognize the fact that they do have a point no matter how ill-motivated. The EFCC needs to look into the dossiers of the politicians surrounding you with as much zeal as she is looking into the dossiers of the PDP folks.
We also need to urgently unlearn our conceptualizations of corruption. The focus on politicians, albeit very necessary, makes us lose sight of the fact that we now have a society in which corruption is indissociable from the right to life and the right to survive. There is no legitimate way to live honestly in Nigeria without bending the rules a little bit here and there. Forget the N18,000 minimum wage and try to wrap your mind around how a Nigerian making even N60,000 per month can survive honestly on that salary without stealing from his employer or from the Nigerian state. For the 1% who are looting billions, corruption is a choice. For the 99%, we have created a society of compulsory corruption where the choice before the citizen is to steal and live or be honest and die. Professor Itse Sagay and his committee have an additional responsibility to help you think beyond narrow views of corruption. You cannot successfully fight corruption if the majority of your people have no choice but corruption.
What I am looking at here is actually our report card since 1999. We have fared badly. We have not deepened democracy. From administration to administration, we are stifling democracy and shrinking the space of democratic ethos. This has as much to do with leadership as with Nigeria’s terrible record with followership. I’d thought I’d seen the worst of followership with the sort of robotic herdishness that destroyed your predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Alas, there is a strand of your own followership that has become a very real danger to democracy in Nigeria. Democratic practices and ethos have suffered terribly. Democracy is not just about strengthening the familiar institutions and pillars we associate with it. Democracy is not just about the struggle for free and fair elections. It is about constantly expanding the space of critique and constructive dissent.
I have no evidence that you are personally encouraging this sort of personality cultism which stifles the democratic space when supporters of a deified figure begin to behave like subjects in a theocracy. Under the past dispensation, personality cultism was subsidized by the state insofar as somebody was hired by the Presidency to manufacture consent and criminalize dissent online. I am yet to see that sort of behavior from the successor of Pastor Wendel Simlin. Consequently, I can only guess that what is fueling this dangerous personality cult is the sacralization of your integrity narrative by the fundamentalist wing of your support base.
The consequence is a tragic restriction of democracy. Thus, even the right to protest is being criminalized in 21st-century democratic Nigeria. I do not support your fuel pricing policy. I also did not support the labor unions’ call to strike. My reason: ever since they betrayed the first Occupy Nigeria, they have not done enough to atone for their sins and become worthy of the people’s confidence anew. But it is one thing not to support their strike action and another thing to indulge in the sort of widespread criminalization of the very idea of protest against your administration like we witnessed recently. I have lived in Canada and the United States continuously since 1998. I don’t think there is a day when a group is not protesting against the Federal Government in front of Parliament Hill (Ottawa) or Congress (Washington). That is democracy. The perceived integrity of a leader is no immunity against protest.
I admit that you are not the one criminalizing protest and dissent. It is the intolerant fringe of your support base. You can help reduce the damage that these fundamentalists are doing to our democratic ethos by finding the space in your speeches to the nation to constantly include a few lines about growing our democracy and what this entails.
Where possible, you should hold out the current Governor of Lagos state as an example of the fanatical wing of your followership. In Ambode, they can learn that vigilance and conscientious critique by citizens can help a leader get his act together and begin to deliver brilliantly. Ambode was at the receiving end of severe criticisms in the early months of his administration. Luckily for him, no army of fundamentalist supporters arose to declare him above criticism. Today, we are witnessing the results in Lagos. Ambode is succeeding because he was criticized in a democratic setting. If you succeed with Nigeria sir, it will not be a consequence of the Hosanna in the highest choruses of the fundamentalists. It will be due to the vigilance of those who will not accept or explain half way measures for you.
There should have been a rejig of your team, especially your cabinet. You asked the public to help you rate your cabinet. Have you been listening to the report card, sir? There are too many deadweights and too many overwhelmed people in your cabinet. I don’t know the name of your FCT Minister because he is invisible. I have no idea what Chris Ngige is still hanging around for. Babatunde Raji Fashola is clearly overwhelmed and should be given only one of his current three portfolios. You need a more dynamic team for what clearly is your last year in office. By the end of 2016, the race for 2019 would have begun in earnest. 2016 is the last real year you have to make a difference.
As for your communication team, the least said about her the better, but I am happy that the Vice President in his own interaction with social media influencers acknowledged the problem and promised improvement. We cannot have a communication team whose leader responds to calls to up his game by sponsoring hack writers to malign people’s integrity with barefaced lies from the pit of hell. Pius Adesanmi is not beholden to you or anybody in the political field. I do not write proposals. I do not seek contracts from government people. If your communication team thinks that sponsoring lies that I sought a contract with you or submitted a proposal to write your biography is what will keep me quiet, they have another think coming. The sad thing about this sponsored lie is that they forgot that they are supposed to be change. It used to be that Pastor Wendell Simlin manufactured these kinds of lies in the goats and yam dispensation, forging papers and documents in the attempt to implicate the future Emir of Kano. Now the head of your communication team is sponsoring lies that I submitted a proposal I never even wrote. Where is the change?
I wish you more success in the service of our Fatherland in 2016.