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Buhari Does Not Need More Than Four Years By Sonala Olumhense

Does President Muhammadu Buhari need two terms in office? Some people close enough to know are saying this is a current concern.

As a commentator who was strongly criticized in 2011 when he endorsed Buhari’s presidential candidature over Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, I disagree, and I hope he is not listening to those who are distracting him from focusing on the present.

The way I see it, his aim should be to serve one remarkable term of office.  He can achieve far more in four years of focused service than in eight simply because he can.

Here is why.  The first thing to remember is that despite the mantra of “Change” by Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria will not change overnight.  

All Buhari can really achieve is to set the table: moving the pieces, knocking down political glass ceilings, and shifting the assumptions so that even when he is gone, Nigeria will continue forward.

To accomplish that, Buhari should seek to change the perception that only he can move Nigeria in the right direction.  No one person can.  As I argued before he choose his Ministers, the answer is to work towards a system that will encourage and entice a more patriotic and responsible kind of Nigerian to seek public office.

Nobody has benefitted more than President Buhari from a credible electoral system, but he has also seen the system at its worst and most frustrating.  Sadly, our best talents have no map into political leadership unless they are being used as pawns by various thieves and sundry selfish interests.  

Buhari does not need eight years to address this.

This is a corollary to, and the flip side of, the war against corruption.  Its achievement would be to replace the corrupt with the honourable; the incompetent with the achiever.  To discredit the discreditable without crediting the creditable would be self-defeating.

Nobody who means well for Nigeria questions Buhari’s anti-corruption drive.  But to give the impression that Nigeria completely lacks men of honour is even more dangerous than the politics he inherited.  

By all means, let us destroy the looting culture and end the reign of looters.  Let us end the pompous and false arrogance of entire looting lineages and people with seedy records who are advertised as prospective servers and guardians of the commonwealth.  Let us destroy the godfather menace.

But what follows?

What should follow is that a new agriculture must emerge.  Unless the farmer seeks and encourages a new and more vigorous variety of crops, he labours in vain, as more virulent strains of weeds will take over the property.  

Is Buhari listening to the right voices?

Also last week, for instance, another disturbing narrative was provided by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former leader, who cast doubt about the prospects of Buhari’s change agenda.

Boasting about his achievements as President, he said it appeared as if Nigeria was only just beginning the fight against corruption. 

“We must kick corruption out because it destroys almost everything…Leadership has to be committed to change. Beginning with the reality of the budget, there is need for sober reflection. Rebuilding the foundations of governance involved (sic) paying attention to values, principles and practices that promote hard work, innovation and sacrifice…”

As usual of Obasanjo, it was a self-serving recall of history.  Nobody can deny him some of the strides he enumerated, including the establishment of some anti-corruption bodies.  

But the entire world knows it was a ruse, and evidence abounds nationwide.  Former EFCC chairman Nuhu Ribadu is on record as affirming that Obasanjo lacked the heart to fight corruption.  

 •    Mr. Ribadu also chaired his Joint Task Force on corruption, a powerful panel which comprised the ICPC, the EFCC, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Police.  The panel recommended that the CCB prosecute 15 governors.  
Obasanjo ignored its report and proceeded to make one of the indicted governors the nation’s Vice-President, on his way to becoming President.  
    •    Obasanjo can also boast to whomever he likes about the 2006 Paris Club debt deal.  But a “top Nigeria government official” walked away with N60b from the deal, former PDP chairman and the current Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh complained, even to the ICPC.  
I have raised this issue several times, but have yet to hear any member of the Obasanjo government, including those posturing as saints, challenge the allegation.  
    •    The Obasanjo government, which largely held corruption as being synonymous with Sani Abacha, got billions of dollars in loot repatriated.  Obasanjo has never said what his government did with the funds.  
    •    And whatever happened to the famous National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, which Obasanjo positioned as being so authoritative it would be Nigeria’s final economic reform programme?  Why was it never implemented by Obasanjo or his party, and why is it never referred to by name by any of its principal proponents who pretend as if there is no such thing as History?

Hopefully, Buhari asks himself this question.  Obasanjo spent eight years in office; Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan whom he personally chose to succeed him, a collective eight.  

Sounding as if Nigeria is not reaping what Obasanjo sowed, the former president was complaining last week that some governors are “acting like emperors…rendering public institutions irrelevant and useless in the manner they starve local governments their legitimate funds…”

But these governors are no worse than those he chose to promote to the presidency and political god-fatherism 10 years ago.  Had he permitted that prosecution, the governors he criticizes today would not be in the same business.  

This is the reason why Buhari should be careful from whom he takes his political counsel.  Staying in office for the maximum number of terms is neither a measure of strength nor a prescription for success.

What Buhari needs to achieve in these four—or eight—years is a reworking of the political terrain to strengthen our institutions and empower the inflow of men and women of nationalism and character.  This includes addressing Nigeria’s campaign finance conundrum in favour of patriots who do not want to trade with, or be traded by, political godfathers and thieves.  

If he takes this approach, over the next two election cycles—one of which he would supervise as President if he doesn’t contest—Nigeria can make amazing progress towards the dream not simply of credible elections, but of credible governance.   I believe that one term aimed at creating a level playing field is eminently superior to eight years of one strong man during which credible successors cannot bloom.

We need a leader capable of seeing beyond himself.  In that sense, 2019 is a real challenge.  Should Buhari work at serving only one term, he will foster a new spirit of service and hard work, with many younger people with leadership potential able to make the argument about their suitability.  

In such a scenario, assuming Buhari remained popular, he will be able to consolidate the gains of his presidency, and stick around to nurture and guide those who continue with his dream.
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