Barely three weeks after the chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), John Odigie-Oyegun, said party leaders would prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari to run for a second term in 2019, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu confirmed last week his principal will indeed run.
Every Nigerian is entitled to seek public office, and to serve as many terms as the constitution allows. To that end, President Buhari is qualified to seek a second term, but 18 months into the current term, amidst mounting doubts, is an awkward time to be thinking about another four years.
That is because Buhari is unlike any Nigerian ruler since independence, including Buhari 1.0. Unlike anyone else, President Buhari 2.0 came to office with the clearest of mandates: purge the Augean stables.
As he took his oath of office in May 2015, it was clear that if he made appreciable progress on this mission, Nigerians would camp out on the streets in 2019 to beg him to continue.
The problem is that, contrary to what the President now seems to think, Nigerians fear that his fangs may really be made of wool; his teeth too soft for the akara.
Shehu was responding to Buba Galadima, a politician who had said that should Buhari seek re-election in 2019, he would lack popular support, an assessment the spokesman dismissed as “unfounded and utterly ridiculous."
In the words of Shehu, ''President's enormous goodwill remains ever strong because the people are convinced the President is acting in their best interest, despite the temporary unintended consequences of reforms."
As one of those who strongly advocated Buhari for President, believing that of the principal candidates on the ballot in 2015 he was the answer to Nigeria’s prayer, it is obvious that if this is what the Buhari administration really thinks of the 18 months it has served, it is reading the wrong tea leaves.
But part of it is true: no baby is delivered without pain. True change, or reform, travels on the back of pain. But the presidency must avoid the temptation to explain injury in the language of an insult. It must avoid the kind of cleverness which advises the voter that if he weren’t so stupid, he’d be able to see.
How to do that? One approach that committed leaders have always adopted is to change those who read its tea leaves. Put differently, the leader must find the courage to put in office people who are not afraid to tell him the truth. The government can ask the people directly to point to what aches, and how much.
Best of all, in the face of rising criticism, the leader is best advised to choose not self-righteousness, but a new understanding and commitment, because many a bad journey is salvageable when it is discovered early that pride comes before a fall.
To help Buhari to understand why there is such restlessness in the land, here are a few excerpts from his famous Covenant With The Nigerian People, which he published just before his election.
“No matter how vast our resources, if they are not efficiently utilized, they will only benefit a privileged few, leaving the majority in poverty,” he wrote. “I believe if Nigeria does not kill corruption; corruption will kill Nigeria.”
And then, among others: “I pledge to:
Publicly declare my assets and liabilities and encourage my political appointees to also publicly declare their assets and liabilities. Affirm that our strategy for tackling corruption will not only focus on punishment. Rather, it will also provide incentives for disclosure and transparency. Show personal leadership in the war against corruption and also hold all the people who work with me to account. Work with the leadership of the National Assembly to cut down the cost of governance. Present a national anti-corruption Strategy.
Lead a government founded on values that promote and protect fundamental human rights and freedoms. I will promote the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, affirm separation of the powers of government and support an independent judiciary. Present a detailed strategy for protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms provided for [all] in our Constitution.
I will give all it takes to ensure that our girls kidnapped from Chibok are rescued and reunited with their families. Deliver a Marshal Plan on insurgency, terrorism, ethnic and religious violence, kidnapping, rural banditry and ensure that never again will Nigerian children be slaughtered or kidnapped at will. Boost the morale of our fighting forces and the generality of Nigerians by leading from the front as the Commander-in-Chief and not hide in the comfort and security of Aso Rock.
Commit myself and my administration to the protection and regeneration of the environment in the Niger Delta and to ensure that oil companies comply with global best practices on environmental protection. Sustain and streamline the human capital development in the Niger Delta, especially focusing on youth and women.
Continually acknowledge our diversity and consciously promote equality and equity in all government businesses and activities.
Unveil a health sector review policy to ensure efficient and effective management of our health systems with focus on prevention. Ensure that no Nigerian will have any reason to go outside the country for medical treatment.
Embark on a program of mass mobilisation to ensure that all children of school age, no matter where they may reside in our country, and no matter the social conditions of their parents, are in school. Work with other levels of government and through relevant government agencies to allocate resources to schools while strengthening community participation in school management. Implement a comprehensive review of the goal and content of our secondary education to ensure that it also serves the purpose of skills acquisition and fits purpose.
Make agriculture a major focus of the government and lay the institutional foundation to attract large-scale investments and capital to the sector. Actively promote a well-coordinated and innovatively funded Youth in Commercial Agribusiness Programme. Revamp the agricultural cooperative system to drive rural agriculture and improve stakes for smallholder farmers. Develop a system of small-scale irrigation systems to ensure all-year round farming.
Address the gaps in power sector privatization to ensure it serves the needs of our people. Explore and develop alternative sources of power such as small, medium and large hydro plants, wind, coal and solar and other forms of renewable energy to ensure efficient and affordable power supply.”
These excerpts from the President’s voluntary covenant are not the past, but the future. It is why I have previously argued that he needs not more than one term to make the fundamental change of uprooting business as usual.
The problem is that just as some leaders often think that a four-year tenure is a very long time, eight years is unfortunately but grudgingly considered the basic minimum—ask one Olusegun Obasanjo—required to do anything. And then it is too late.
The Buhari challenge is neither long nor complicated. It is a robust anti-corruption response. Anti-corruption is the key to change; change is not the key to anti-corruption. But if the fundamentals cannot be done in four years, they cannot be done in eight, either.
In other words, it is not preposterous that Nigerians may be unaccepting of justifications and excuses. And they know that if we are already talking about 2019, time is running out.