As President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari has the constitutional duty to do certain things. These are obligations the Constitution, which he swore to on assumption of office, has placed on him. He, as the country’s leader, therefore, would be judged by his ability to perform these obligations satisfactorily or failure in so doing.
The oath of office of the President of Nigeria did set the norm, in general terms. However, when this is broken down, there are specifics. It is the duty of the President of Nigeria to ensue the protection of life and property of citizens and foreigners living within the territory of Nigeria. Therefore, when there is insecurity, fuelled by insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery, among others, it is the duty of the President and his government to solve the problem and ensure the safety of his countrymen and woman as well as foreigners. It is also the duty of the President to ensure the formulation of good policies, in relation to the economy and others. The President has the duty also to work for the peace and unity of his people.
These and many others are the obligations the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has placed on President Buhari. It is a constitutional duty. However, there are other things providence has placed on President Buhari to do for Nigeria at this critical moment of the country’s history. Being the President of the country at a time when Nigerians are clamouring and underlining the importance of reforms, history beckons to President Buhari to do the needful, engineer actions that would put the country in better stead and be remembered by history as the man who laid the foundation for a modern Nigeria.
The founding fathers of Nigeria had a vision. They set out to accomplish certain things. They tried their best, to the limit of their resources and knowledge. They are gone. Some of the components of the vision of the founding fathers are still germane today. Some of them are anachronistic. The onus is, therefore, on today’s leaders to set new goals, in line with reality of the time. It is something that must be done so that, in the future, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will point to them as what their fathers did in the past for a better Nigeria. We should not be like the proverbial elders who keep saying that their ancestors did some things in a particular way and those things would not be changed. The question is: If today’s elders continue to do the things their ancestors did, even when these things are no longer relevant in the modern world, when they are gone, what would their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren point to as things done by their “ancestors”? Today’s elders would be ancestors in the next 50 to 100 years. Therefore, if today’s elders refuse to change the ways of their ancestors, what would be their legacy when they become ancestors?
Nigeria needs reforms to move to a higher level. In the past, some leaders diligently executed reforms, even in the face of criticisms and fear of failure. History is judging them today by those actions and reforms. Whether you like them or not, former President Shehu Shagari, former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, etched their names in gold for having the courage to introduce certain reforms in the country. Those reforms have contributed to the transformation of Nigeria. The reforms moved the country from a certain point to another, in a progressive line.
I have always wondered what would have become of Nigeria if Alhaji Shagari, General Obasanjo and General Babangida did not have the courage to, for example, approve private universities, private schools, private television and radio stations, among others. Where would Nigeria be in these subsectors? Until the General Babangida government had the conviction and political will to okay private television and radio stations, the country was stuck with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and state television and radio stations, with their limitations and missteps. Even with the fear that granting licences to private television and radio stations could jeopardise national security, at a time when military governments were afraid of coups, the General Babangida military government approved deregulation of the broadcast subsector. Today, we know better. Private television and radio stations have become a veritable source of news, with millions of jobs they have provided. Were General Babangida thinking like the elders who are still referring to the achievements of their ancestors, he could not have done it.
Until the 1979 Constitution approved reforms in the education sector, there was no private universities in the country. It took the courage of Alhaji Shagari to implement this reform by granting approval to the first private university in 1980. Much later, private primary and secondary schools also came into being. Before then, the country could only boast of federal and state primary and secondary schools as well as universities/polytechnics. The limitations of these government institutions were manifest, with inadequate funding or lack of it. It took the deregulation of education sector and the approval for private participation for a turnaround. At present, the glory of the education sector is anchored on private schools. It is not Eldorado yet, but there is improvement and hope for a better tomorrow.
Alhaji Shagari, General Obasanjo and General Babangida rose to the occasion when they were in charge. They did some reforms, which have taken the country some notches higher. History beckons to President Buhari today to do something that would make Nigerians remember him forever. Nigerians are calling for political and structure reforms in the country. President Buhari as a person and the Buhari government as a body owe Nigeria the obligation to change things now. Buhari cannot do it alone. The National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly have a crucial role to play. However, Buhari must drive the process. He is one man, after ex-President Obasanjo, who has the capacity to engineer and see through such a critical assignment. Obasanjo missed the opportunity from 1999 to 2003, having been overwhelmed by selfishness to have a third term in office.
President Buhari knows that the agitation for restructuring of the country is relevant. As the Igbo say, when a child is crying and pointing to a certain place, it is either his mother or father is there. When Nigerians, from all tribes, creeds and standpoints are calling for restructuring, there are things they have seen that are not good in the current arrangement. There is lopsidedness in creation of states and local government areas. There is inequality in representation in government at all levels. There is injustice in the allocation of resources and projects. These are products of a skewed structure.
To become a true statesman after office, President Buhari should work to correct the imbalance. He should work for Nigeria to practice federalism, in the true sense of it, where states control natural resources in their territories, generate and survive on their own resources, provide infrastructure and take care of their obligations generally. The Federal Government, on the other hand, will be saddled with the responsibility of taking care of defence, diplomacy/foreign policy, inter-state policy and currency control, among others.
Much has been said about state police. Some have expressed fears that state governments would abuse state police. This is the same type of fears expressed in the past, for instance, before private television and state radio stations were approved. These fears have no foundation. From our experience, success is limited when security is centralised. If the 36 state of the federation have their respective police, which they recruit, fund and equip, there is no doubt that Nigeria will have a better security situation. Centralised police structure is not working in Nigeria. The Federal Government has no capacity to manage and fund the police. The centralised police structure is the reason we have the paltry number of policemen and women, an ill-equipped, ill-motivated and poorly remunerated force. Now that we are pretending to have a centralised police, the funding is not only the sole responsibility of the Federal Government. If the state governments were not supporting the police, it is obvious that the police would have been non-existent.
President Buhari should, therefore, muster the political will, with sincerity of purpose, looking towards modernism, work to accomplish state police and restructuring before his exit in 2023. He is the man God has placed in a position to do this. History beckons to him. It will be unfortunate if he misses this opportunity.