I hereby take the liberty to share with you excerpts of a lengthy interview I granted someone who, for the purpose of this page, I will simply refer to as the devil’s advocate (DA).
DA: Hi Uncle Sam, I wonder how you are feeling now that your man is earnestly assembling northern troops in Aso Rock to wage a supremacy war against the south.
US: If you’re referring to President Muhammadu Buhari, the last time I checked, he is still the President, Head of State, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.
DA: Please, don’t tell me you haven’t been following his appointments to know that he is building an impregnable sultanate in Aso Rock.
US: It’s too early to worry about sectional and regional balance in the Presidency. The Civil Service bureaucrats know offhand every letter of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and since they’re assisting him in setting up the structures and tracks on which he wants to run his government, I am certain they will guide him though the letters and spirit of the constitution. Mind you, the Vice-President is a legal luminary who has excelled both in legal theory and practice. He is a constitutional lawyer much at home with the rudiments and principles of constitutional democracy. That alone is enough to give me comfort and buy me space to look at the larger picture rather than lose sleep over the question of whether Mr. President is slipping away from the federal character radar.
DA: My friend, you can run as far away from reality as you want, but you do know that the chick that will grow into a cock will be known from the moment it is hatched. In all endeavours, the first cut matters a lot. The gentleman is unfolding his inner mind gradually, and from what I have seen, he is more of a northerner than a Nigerian.
US: It may not be politically correct for me to say charity begins at home, but I do not see the rationale in judging Mr. President from a few appointments. Here is a man who has been in the political jungle for over 30 years. He was scorned most times, despised and ridiculed by those who considered him a nuisance. Yet in that pariah, he made friends – true friends who believed in him, and were never dissuaded by the seeming unrealizability of his dreams. It’s natural, quite moral and fair for him to first bring to his right-hand side such rare and discerning personalities before opening the gate for the multitude he must work with.
DA: Now, are you saying he didn’t have many such friends down south, and if so, doesn’t that demonstrate that he didn’t sell himself as a national leader but as a northern messiah?
US: Let’s be honest; how many of us down south had, before he was packaged by the All Progressives Congress(APC), believed in his cause, and were ready to give him a chance. Many times in 2011 was I tempted to ask Femi Adesina what he saw in Buhari, that could make him put out himself for him the way he did. For some of us, having been kicked out of government by Jonathan it was natural that we opposed Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the way we did. In sum, most of us support causes and personalities out of political measurements and benefit projections – not out of genuine association with those causes or personalities. Anyways, the Presidency is the largest employer of labour in Nigeria – involving the office of the Vice-President, Ministers, Special Advisers, officials and agencies responsible for the execution and administration of all the public affairs and laws of the Federation. The President still has to make the APC government felt in terms of personnel in the various Ministries, Parastatals, Agencies, Boards, Committees and the rest. There are therefore one million and one jobs up for grabs!
DA: You’re obviously justifying sentiment and nepotism, and playing down the role of merit in Mr. President’s appointments.
US: I have no yardstick for merit, but I know that Mr. President knows what he is up against. He inherited a failing state, a broke country. Oil and other natural resources can hardly do more than what they have done for the country. If he is to succeed, he knows he has to turn to human capital. He and his team must be a catalyst for innovation. He must empanel high-end thinkers and creators. He must infuse in every sector of the country personnel that can engender innovation and promote ingenious and out-of-the-box thinking and ways of doing public business. The Presidency must by its configuration and empanelments create an environment that can release the best of energies and ingenuity in Nigerians.
DA: I am surprised to hear people like you, who never gave Jonathan any chance, being this positive-minded about Buhari who, from the word go, has shown obvious bias for his people –with his appointments.
US: Look, Buhari is a General who knows the limits of divide and rule. He knows that he needs a united Nigeria for him to cast his name in the history of the country. He may have human failings, but I see in him a leader who would not sacrifice long term and enduring goals for transient present gains. He has experienced the worst in human nature and thus knows why he should not send any part of this country to the trenches. He is a beneficiary of shared commonalities and concerted efforts. His presidency is a direct result of a confluence of divided coalitions and, as such, must be a good student of win-win solutions. But for deciding to join forces with other coalitions, his dream of becoming the president of this great country would still have remained in the proverbial pipeline.
DA: I’m still not sure you’re not just cleverly explaining away Buhari’s tendencies of promoting a northern agenda. Already, some of his close northern friends are exhibiting an air of superiority, betraying some ingrained belief that it is their turn, and that they intend to make very good use of it this time around.
US: You do not seem to get my point. If I must spell it out, Buhari is a good leader, and, as such, will avoid the banana peels that litter Aso Rock. I may not be certain that bad leaders are born, but I am absolutely certain that it takes a lot of efforts to make a good leader. Buhari is disciplined and guarded in his utterances and promises to Nigerians. Unlike Jonathan who, from the word go, had a class of people whom he could not hide his personal hatred for, the only people I’m sure may not be in Buhari’s good books are those who would not want to forgo corruption. Since that class of people is caught and encircled by an objective standard, I make bold to say Mr. President is, for now, the president of each and every Nigerian national and citizen.
Yes, psychologists have identified many tricks with which bad leaders manipulate and keep the people subservient to their whims and caprices. One of such is the divide and rule tactic. By this, the bad leader selects a group from among the populace and makes them believe that they are the good ones whilst the rest are the bad guys. Being the good guys, they will always be right in all they think and do, whilst the others will always be wrong. The good guys must always be on their guard as there will never be anything good coming from the camp of the bad guys. The good guys are thereby put in a constant state of war, because, to avert war one must be prepared for war. That bond of solidarity against the evil empire or axis of evil on the other side ensconces and gives the bad leader temporary comfort and sense of invincibility.
As a General, it will be a great tragedy for Buhari to divide his troops into those for him and those against him. So, I refuse to be lured into drawing absolute conclusions from the infinitesimal appointments he has made.
DA: I will be amazed if there are many other people out there who would consider appointments into such sensitive and powerful positions as the service chiefs as inconsequential when those offices symbolize the might of the state. When you consider that the entire Southeast is completely left out, then you will know how deliberate Mr. President is in his appointments.
US: I admit that the omission of the Southeast in the appointment of service chiefs is not entirely excusable. Mr. President and his team will have to work hard to win the confidence of southeasterners that they are not being paid back for rejecting him at the polls. Jonathan’s administration had broken the jinx and had admitted the southeast into the elite club of equals in the armed forces and my expectation is for continuity in that respect. But I know that unless a President wants to do harm to the country’s armed forces, the appointment of service chiefs should be based on seniority. And for critical situations such as the one we are experiencing now, competence and reliability should not be sacrificed on the pale of regional balance. That is why I’d buy the rationale behind the Northeast having two slots. The Northeast is easily the most vulnerable part of Nigeria today and it makes sense to give their children in the armed forces more responsibility in the fight to restore normalcy in that region. If their children fail them, then they would have no basis to blame the rest of Nigeria.
I will in any case defer to Mr. President when he said “I have replaced the heads of Nigeria’s army, navy and air force. Our new military leadership has not been chosen because of their familiarity with those in government, as was too often the case in the past, but on their track records and qualifications alone.
These new military leaders will be based in Borno State in northern Nigeria, where the headquarters of the armed services has been relocated. This shift of resources and command directly to the front line, in addition to the replacement of the head of the State Security Service, Nigeria’s intelligence organization, and a new emphasis on working in partnership with our neighbors, has equipped us to take the fight directly to Boko Haram.”
DA: Don’t you think that Mr. President is deliberately surrounding himself with lackeys and people who would see nothing wrong in what he does?
US: Only bad leaders look for and work with yes-men. A bad leader is a weak leader and, as such, feels comfortable in the company of weak characters. I don’t see Buhari looking for blind loyalty at the expense of competence and ability to deliver. I have hardly come across a true leader who is not desirous of frank but useful advice.
DA: While you’re flattering yourself into believing that he is – or will be — a good leader, many within his party are already complaining that he is unreliable and has begun to betray those who invested in him and put out themselves entirely for his presidency. Some even see the emergence of Saraki and Dogara as his way of checkmating Tinubu’s influence and setting up his own independent structures within the APC.
US: I must admit that this is a very ingenious construction by those who are bent on putting a wedge between President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu. Many of my PDP friends have told me repeatedly that all PDP has to do to reclaim power in 2019 is to sever the relationship between Tinubu and Buhari. They intend to play on Tinubu’s ego and Buhari’s seeming political naivety. That is the sense in which I see this accusation – nothing more.
Buhari doesn’t strike me as a leader who is just concerned about things being done and would care nothing about how they’re done. He’s not a sexual cannibal who consumes those with whom he procreated the presidency he is enjoying. He cares about the goals of his party and the nation because he knows they create more lasting values than his personal goals. He is fair and just. As a General, he knows that cutting off from the likes of Tinubu would cause a huge collateral damage to his presidency and a desire to retain the presidency for the APC in 2019. No General would want to “achieve outcomes and leave followers exhausted, damaged or demoralized. Likewise, a good leader doesn’t devastate the environment, waste precious resources, or cause irreparable harm to make some goal”.
Buhari would have learnt, from the mistakes of the PDP, that the life of the APC depends on his ability to breed committed, stronger and better followers. Without any competition from within APC, Buhari would lack the necessary sparring partner to test his preparedness for the obvious opposition. If Buhari destroys the likes of Tinubu, that means he is not prepared to make everyone around him stronger. He will, like those who destroyed the PDP, fail to leave behind a leader better and more effective than himself.
As I see in Buhari a leader who will leave the APC bigger and stronger than it is today, I have no hesitation to believe that he has no hand in what happened at the National Assembly. If any blame could be ascribed to him concerning the tragedy in the National Assembly, it is his failure to appreciate early enough that for him to be a strong president or have the full compliments of the office of the presidency in his desire to effect the necessary change that Nigerians voted for, the APC must form the Government in the National Assembly. The Constitution did not spell that out because it is taken for granted and it is the tradition the world over that party members do not contest political turfs with their parties. Not even liberal America will countenance a day where a group of rascals will defy the party and form a parallel government within their party.
DA: A good leader would have foreseen what happened, especially when you take into consideration the way the APC was assembled and how it recruited its flag bearers. The antecedents of some of those characters were enough notice that they will fudge rules for personal gains. You cannot have in your party a Bukola Saraki, who never hides his presidential ambition, and go to sleep.
US: I agree with you to a point. APC underestimated the ambition of some of its members; it’s paying for it. The popular calculation is that Buhari will soon be worn out by the onerous tasks of the office and may therefore not want to vie for a second term in 2019. One political calculation is that the bouquet of flowers that will be thrown by the new bride will fall only on one of those holding visible office. The desperation shown by the likes of Saraki and Dogara is not one that a President who is anxious to dispel his military antecedents and be seen as a born-again constitutional democrat can tame.
DA: If you’re truthful to yourself and have regard for public opinion, you would have known that Mr. President’s public acceptance rating is falling. In fact, he is now being referred to as Baba Go-Slow. After all the electioneering grandstanding, his response to the insurgency is worse than that of Jonathan. Everything seems to be at a standstill. And yet you say he is a good leader.
US: Mr. President was not elected to stabilize or improve on public acceptance rating but to do a job and that job cannot be trivialized or be subjected to imaginary public acceptance rating. Reversing the sliding fortunes of this country and placing it on the path of sustained growth and development is a job that requires serious and proper planning. The President has deliberately chosen to study the depth of the decay in the civil service, without distractions from political hustlers. Bear in mind that the moment he announces his cabinet, the floodgate of political hustlers and contract lobbyists will be opened. That will greatly distract him and reduce the steam and energy he needs to put into planning.
It is likely that there is a correlation between expectations and frustrations or pains. Buhari’s presidency came with a lot of expectations. This naturally generates frustrations expressed in impatience and the call for Mr. President to rev up activities. I understand that, and appreciate the call for Mr. President to hit the ground running. But I will not want Mr. President to be stampeded out of that sober, careful, thoughtful, creative and result oriented “cool” approach to planning and implementation, and be rushed into doing things the old way that took us nowhere.
Mr. President puts need for a sober approach to the appointment of ministers when he said “when cabinet ministers are appointed in September, it will be some months after I took the oath of office. It is worth noting that Obama himself did not have his full Cabinet in place for several months after first taking office; the United States did not cease to function in the interim. In Nigeria’s case, it would neither be prudent nor serve the interests of sound government to have made these appointments immediately on my elevation to the presidency; instead, Nigeria must first put new rules of conduct and good governance in place.
I cannot stress how important it is to ensure that this process is carried out correctly, just as it has been crucial to first install the correct leadership of the military and security services before we fully take the fight to Boko Haram.
There are too few examples in the history of Nigeria since independence where it can be said that good management and governance were instituted at a national level. This lack of a governance framework has allowed many of those in charge, devoid of any real checks and balances, to plunder. The fact that I now seek Obama’s assistance in locating and returning $150 billion in funds stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials is testament to how badly Nigeria has been run. This way of conducting our affairs cannot continue.
Indeed, the failure of governance, it can be argued, has been as much a factor in Nigeria’s inability thus far to defeat Boko Haram as have been issues with the military campaign itself.
So the path we must take is simple, even if it is not easy: First, instill rules and good governance; second, install officials who are experienced and capable of managing state agencies and ministries; and third, seek to recover funds stolen under previous regimes so that this money can be invested in Nigeria for the benefit of all of our citizens”.
With regards to the insurgency in the northeast, it is good to note that Buhari is taking conscious efforts to avoid the fundamental flaw in Jonathan’s government’s response to the scourge. Unlike Jonathan who viewed the issue purely as a relationship conflict, Buhari rightly sees it as a task conflict. The concerted efforts he has taken, including the altruistic call for foreign involvement, will surely hit at the root of the insurgency and provide the right antidote for it. The confidence and credibility that President Buhari inspires will surely provide the foundation and catalyst for the end of the insurgency, and return peace to the Northeast and the country in general.
I also see some perceptional issues in what you call public opinion. Unlike most leaders in this part of the world, President Buhari is not loud. He does not exhibit a grandiose or exaggerated idea of himself as president. He is more concerned about doing the job than advertising himself or indulging in fantasies. His media team has brought on board their job rare class and poise that I strongly believe will effectively bridge the gap between the presidency and citizenry.