There’s nothing wrong in believing that a man will make a significant positive change to the lives of a people. Almost always, the emancipation of a people (nation) begins with a man. Moses led the children of Israel out the land of slavery, Winston Churchill inspired the British to resist the rampaging Nazis, Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a nation without potable water in the 1960s to an economic superpower and the black people in South Africa owe their freedom to the doggedness of Nelson Mandela.
Nigeria, a nation that has existed in defiance to God’s command (‘Let there be light’) made over six thousand years ago, sure needs a leader. Our antecedent is that the ability to manage our affairs as a nation is at best tenuous.
Having squandered every opportunity at nation building, there’s a ray of hope that President Buhari will bring about a positive change. A review of the President’s inaugural speech shows that he understands the issues Nigeria and Nigerians face. However, faced with many pressing issues, the risk of taking on too many thereby spreading our resources too thin is heightened.
Nigeria has few problems, very few actually. It is the symptoms of Nigeria’s problems that are many. The focus on the symptoms rather than the problems has been the bane of our development. Our problems are rooted in unenlightened self-interest, ethnic prejudice and religious intolerance.
Solution to Nigeria’s problems
Our inability to isolate ourselves from a given situation and see the bigger picture is the crux of our problem. We suffer from the malaise of me, myself and I. It’s unfortunate that we’ve not been able to extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of destructive individualism.
The recent fuel crisis exposed the folly in the mindset that ‘once we’ve sorted ourselves out individually, all will be well.” When the black market price of petrol got to N600 per litre, the street became deserted. Fewer and fewer vehicles plied the roads. Even people who have the cash were afraid of the quality of petrol ‘area boys’ peddled. Groceries became very expensive because transporters could no longer haul goods profitably. Banks informed their customers they would be closing early! That the intense scarcity of petrol for barely one week brought the nation to its knees showed the fragility of our socio-economic environment.
We got to where we are now because every facet of our lives has been personalized. For instance, what to expect from our public institution depends on who holds the power at any point in time.
The solution to our problems lies in imbibing the ideals of a better society. We must come to terms with the fact that the whole (the Nigeria) is bigger than the sum of its parts (family units). When law and order break down in the society, the affluence of the constituent family units cannot hold it together. Examples of the consequences of the breakdown of law and order abound in countries of Africa and Middle East.
We must begin to build institutions (systems) that work. To this end, it is imperative we use every opportunity to send the signal that a better Nigerian society is non-negotiable. For a start, hard work, transparency and accountability must underscore our reward system.
Suggested focus areas for President Buhari’s administration
President Buhari highlighted several issues bedeviling Nigeria in his inaugural speech. It is a no-brainer that any attempts to take on all the issues will be a recipe for failure. It is against this background that I suggest that his administration focuses on three: power, corruption and insecurity.
The imperative of solving the nation’s power problem is predicated on the fact that there can be no meaningful development without the availability of power. Our technological advancement is tied to having adequate power supply. Lee Kuan Yew said that much in his From Third World to First. God did not even start creating other things until there was light!
A lot can be done about insecurity challenges when we have power. Some people have argued, and rightly so, that the power situation in Nigeria is a symptom of a bigger problem – corruption. Insecurity has a remote link to corruption. In effect, power, corruption and insecurity are not mutually exclusive. We must deal with them concurrently.
It is a statement of fact that corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria. However, what is peculiar is that Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world where there are no consequences for corruption. Corrupt people are simply left alone.
We must come down hard on corruption because it is destructive. All our development efforts have failed because macroeconomic growth models do not have corruption as a variable. With the prevalence of corruption, the expected multiplier effect of government spending (over 80 percent of national income) is unrealized.
President Buhari’s administration must ensure there is consequence for corruption.
Experiences from other countries that have dealt and are dealing with insecurity issues show that the fight against insecurity is a marathon not a 100-metre dash. Relocating the Defence Headquarters to Maiduguri will very likely not bring an end to insurgency in that part of the country. We must be careful to avoid a situation where the insecurity becomes quicksand that sucks the resources and strength of the nation without any significant result to show.
In the short term, Nigeria needs a strong presence in the north eastern part to prevent escalation of terror but the medium- to long-term solution lies in sustained intelligence gathering, investment in education and infrastructural development.
With respect to education, President Buhari’s administration should emphasize science and technology as this would serve the nation’s technological advancement. Technology provides the solution to most human problems. The recent experience in conflict zones around the globe is that smart nations deploy unmanned weapons (on the strength of technology) so as to reduce their human losses whereas technologically disadvantaged nations enlist more and more of their soldiers thinking victory is in the size of manpower deployment.
I believe, like President Buhari said, ‘we have an opportunity.’ However, he (President Buhari) holds the ace in helping us take the opportunity. Leadership is about making hard choices. More often than not, great leaders are appreciated long after they have left the reins of government. If President Buhari will make hard choices, taking the opportunity his administration offers will become an irreversible accomplishment.