Long before the 2015 election, I met a Facebook friend, Emeka Nwokeocha, in New York City. It was at a time when former President Jonathan was complaining that he was the most criticized president in the world. I told Emeka to wait until the next president comes into office and the criticism would increase many folds. I said that because I knew that the fundamentals of the economy were faulty. Warnings were coming from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala about the need for diversification and savings. I knew from studies upon studies that said a chunk of our earnings were lost to corruption and the rest were used to pay top government officials. That lifestyle was unsustainable. Then, I didn’t know the next president would be Buhari.
I explained to Emeka that whoever would be the next president would confront a different band of citizenry. It was before Reuben Abati called Jonathan’s critics “children of anger.” And well before Femi Adesina called Buhari’s critics, “wailing wailers.” What I explained to Emeka was that everyday information technology expands and reaches more and more people. What it means is that in this era of social media, everyone is a reporter, a critic and a publisher. And whatever they produce will join the huge information superhighway. It may not clog the highway, but it will surely change the prevailing order. And that is exactly what happened. People have hunkered down around their preferred echo chambers and from there regurgitate the sermons and the doctrines of their team leaders.
Another thing I told Emeka was that, just like those Democrats who did not appreciate what Republicans did to Bill Clinton during the impeachment period took their anger on George W. Bush, so would those who did not appreciate what the opposition party, APC, did to Jonathan would turn around and take their anger on the new president. It is the way of the world.
What I left out in the conversation was that every president would have an opportunity to withhold or provide his opponents the ammunition they would use to attack him. George W. Bush did that when he went to war in Iraq and the American economy collapsed under him. Obama did that when he rammed through Obamacare in Congress without a single Republican vote. Jonathan did that with his inability to tackle the security situation of the country and take control of the runaway corruption. Buhari did that with his haphazard and antique approach to biting economic decline and his poor grasp of what it takes to handle the complexities of a modern nation.
By May 29, 2017, it would have been two years of Buhari’s government. By then the characteristics of his administration would have solidified. He is slow to act. He is sequestered within the confines of his comfort zone, which is limiting and ineffective in today’s world. He is stubborn in his own ways and doesn’t reach out for new ideas and new blood around him. He has trust issues and in his bubble he has surrounded himself with people he trusts who turn around to take advantage of him to embrace the same maladies that he preaches against. By May 29, no matter how clear his successes are, the excuses for his failures would have become embarrassing. His critics would then be repeating the chorus.
And then what?
The people who are so incensed about the Buhari government are the very people who are doing the least to prepare for his replacement. When you ask them of the alternative, they say anyone but him. If you press, they mention Abubakar Atiku. If Atiku is the answer, then you are answering the wrong question. There was a time when El Rufai was on the list of possible candidates who would make Nigeria great. But his sins as FCT minister, his refusal to publicly declare his assets and live above board and his actions and inactions as governor of Kaduna state has greatly diminished his light. He has since dropped off the list despite his legions of social media supporters. Like most politicians addicted to instant gratification, he “used the first part of his life to destroy the last.” Beyond the usual names, there are people in Nigeria with the right pedigree and integrity to lead the nation come 2019, but nobody is organizing around them. The only people organizing are the same people who brought Nigeria to where it is today.
I have searched for an expression that would capture what I am feeling about the dilemma of our nation. I found it in the latest edition of the journal, “Philosophy and Public Affairs”. It is called “moral grandstanding.” That is the reason it is difficult for anything sensible to happen in Nigeria’s political arena.
Every side has this unshakable feeling that they are divinely right while others are mortally wrong. George W. Bush captured it years after he left office when he noted that, "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions." For most of us, there are worst examples only in other groups. But if you see worst examples in other groups, it follows that there are worst examples in your group. And when we judge our group, we do not see the worst examples. We only see our intentions. We intentionally avoid looking at the actions of our group for fear that we may have worst examples lurking. When the worst examples in our group are pointed out to us, we rationalize it. We blame learned behavior, desperation due to gross unfairness or we blame the devil.
The way to make Nigeria great is for us all to first come down from our high moral stool. There are good people in every group. That is why the country is still standing on bended knees if I must add. Until we accept that fact, we cannot begin to imagine how to build the country together. If we don’t accept that premise, if we are satisfied with generalizing and moralizing, we would be dissipating energy without getting any work done.
If I did not believe that the ideals of Nigeria have not been tried and found wanting, I would not have had any hope and stayed engaged. I believe that the ideals have been found difficult and left let untried. In such situation, we default to the easy position, which is to desecrate and demean. It is convenient. It absolves us of any guilt.
We have lived dangerously for too long. That we have not imploded does not mean that we have eternity to get it right. There will be no renewal if there is no reconciliation. Laziness leaves all possibilities under the radar unimagined. But the reality is an expert in upending fantasy. We make choices daily. Sometimes we make a choice from which we can never turn back.
Should we waste the next two years barking at the dogs or should we do something to get the dogs on leash and back into the house? Should we keep crying that the rain is beating us or should we get a cocoyam leaf and cover our head? The only way we do not have power over what our leaders do is by telling ourselves that we do not have power over what our leaders do. The power to bark can influence things, but we can always do more. The one thing we must not fail to do this New Year is to begin to do things to get the kind of leaders we want in 2019. If we don’t, we have no right to complain when the people who care choose the leaders for us.
Happy New Year!