By Percy Owaiye
As a young primary school pupil, I remember sitting on a tree branch one Saturday evening, and hear General Murtala Muhammed reel out the names of dismissed military officers in one of his nationwide broadcasts then. “Colonel F.A.Z. Sheilu, dismissed!” And on and on it went. All, of course, “with immediate effect”! Those were the months of the hurricane, and the thunder struck with daily regularity.
Unfortunately, the charismatic and very well-liked leader was soon gone. In fact, he lasted for just 200 days. Six months and 15 days, if you like. And what was the verdict of history on that government? Bash, brash, and too much in a hurry! Some till today blame it for the rot that the civil service has become.
A certain Lt. Colonel Muhammadu Buhari lived through it all. He was a major ally and beneficiary of the government. He was posted to the then North Eastern State as Military Governor, and later in the Obasanjo succession, as Federal Commissioner of Petroleum, as they were then known.
Like all good students of history, and coupled with his natural inclination, the young Colonel must have learnt one or two life-long lessons. The one that has become evident is that: one, especially leaders, must make haste slowly. This is what the nation has been confronted with in the man’s second coming. But the nation does not seem to be buying it. And here is the irony: A man imbibes the lesson his nation has taught him, but the nation would rather crucify him for learning the lesson it has taught!
We, as a people, can certainly do better. And it is perhaps time to reflect and be realistic in our expectations. Though the decision-making processes of government have been painfully slow, no one must deny that we are for once, on the right path. This is what is crucial at this point. For too long, we have been on the barber’s chair, running round in circles, and never coming to terms with the real challenges of our country.
As we have argued on a different occasion, Buhari may not be the philosopher king, but he has the passion and discipline to set the nation on a proper course. Our challenges, since flag independence in 1960, remain the same: to clobber the amorphous behemoth the British has bequeathed to us into a coherent and workable unit. And then, to tame the rapacious greed of its privileged elite who take pot shots at the behemoth and thus taking advantage of its discordant tunes for personal gain.
So it pains me, when fellow citizens, for reasons other than altruistic, canvass on different platforms that this administration, to quote them: “has not done anything”! Haba. That cannot be true. The APC government which President Buhari leads, set three main tasks for itself: One, fight the insurgency and terrorism in the North East to a logical conclusion. Two, fight corruption in the country. And three, revamp the economy. Using these three parameters as our guide, can any objective analyst say this government has not achieved anything? First, on the Boko Haram insurgency, it is true that the enemy has been technically defeated. That hated phrase again! But technically defeated simply means that the enemy’s ability to take and hold territory has been completely hampered or decimated. Before, the coming of the present Buhari administration, several local governments particularly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states were under the effective control of the insurgents. That has changed now, as they no longer control any local government in the country, even if they may still make life dangerous in a few places.
As the general he is, one of the first and very significant things Buhari did upon assumption of office was to rally the Lake Chad Basin countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon behind the Nigerian cause against Boko Haram. This has worked magic with ample results to show. The recent approval of USD1bn to consolidate on the Boko Haram gains, rather than draw the politically-motivated controversy, is evidence that the government is on course and focused on winning the war holistically and comprehensively.
As we all know, winning the war is one thing, winning the peace is the harder part. Does anyone in their right mind believe– with the abundant evidence all over the world — that our own version of the devil’s visit would go away in one day, or a few years for that matter? Or that with aggravated and massive military reversals, the enemy would surrender just like that without exhausting the asymmetrical and duplicitous tactics of war of which he is master? That would be the day! Fighting corruption has presented more difficulties than anyone could have envisaged. To be honest, it is not just that corruption is fighting back, too many of our citizens condone and accept it as a way of life unfortunately. Though, there may be credible arguments about the strategies for fighting the national monster, there is no doubt that the Buhari government is laying a solid foundation for its repudiation. The war against corruption is one that must be won first in the mind, before we can hope to make any meaningful progress with examples and retribution.
Little symbolisms like cleaning up the government’s accounting processes and insisting on the due process are good, and should begin to set the parametres for a new era of transparency and accountability. The courage with which the executive is prosecuting key functionaries of government is good and should be sustained. Even if belated in many people’s reckoning, it was good that erstwhile SGF, Babachir Lawal was sacked. Do we need to be reminded that Bukola Saraki is a top-ranking member of this government who has not been spared the ogre of prosecution? Going forward, the message should be simple: any one, no matter how highly placed, must be made to account for his deeds or misdeeds.
And expectedly, the economy has proved the most difficult to handle. Coming at the back of the most kleptomaniac administration ever in the history of this country, it was no surprise. To make matters worse, the oil price dipped very sharply in the international market, and the unexpected hostility the new government faced in the oil bearing zone ensured that we could not meet our production quota, thus exacerbating a very bad situation.
The only way out was to diversify the economic base of the country. This we have paid lip service to for many years. But it is only now that we are seriously doing something about it, President Buhari has put it very well: “We must grow what we eat” And I add: Or else perish! Food production and the real sector must grow with value added. It is not enough that we grow what we eat, we must grow enough for export to earn the needed foreign exchange. The potential is almost limitless, and this government is leading the way with focus and industry.
Owaiye writes from Lagos