What Is to Be Done: the Task for the New Nigerian President, By Patrick Wilmot
President Jonathan will perhaps be remembered by the dignified manner in which he conceded defeat, congratulated his successor, and bowed out. Instead of listening to hangers on, denouncing INEC, challenging the results, abusing President-elect Buhari, appealing to the military, or calling on his supporters to take to the streets, he accepted reality and will return to the life he led before.
African leaders have acquired the reputation of wanting to become Life Presidents, pretending to be indispensable and slaughtering fellow citizens to presume immortality. But the desire to cling to power is universal, fortunately allayed in many countries by willingness to learn from bloody reality, and by institutional safeguards to assure the passing of the old and assumption of the new.
For this President-elect Buhari, the Nigerian people, Africa and the rest of the world must thank President Jonathan and guarantee him a future of comfort and dignity. His experience must help ensure that future leaders will not hang on out of fear of death, deprivation, imprisonment and disgrace. President-elect Buhari spent months in prison and years of disappointment, so he knows.
After humiliation, defeats and injustice he has endured and now triumphed. After so much suffering and despair he would cheat himself and the Nigerian people if he neglected a historical mission and became a political chief of thieves. He did not go through the hellfire of betrayal and denigration to preside over a cabinet of rogues.
But given Nigeria’s experience since independence there is no time for sentimentality or undue celebration. Because of the colossal waste, retrogression and chaos, the new leader has to achieve in four years what should have been done in the past fifty five. And given his advanced years and his previous experience as a leader he must realise he has no time for trivialities or praise singers.
A good leader recognises that his best friends are his critics, not those who praise him while he marches toward the precipice. Nations which have succeeded have institutions of court jesters, slave critics and wise elders who remind the Great Man that he remains human and therefore fallible. With humility the good leader can direct by his head and example, not by delusions of grandeur.
Critics of the President-elect need not fear that he’s the impetuous man of three decades ago, or that he will again be captured by narrow circles of incompetent charlatans and praise singers. He was elected by Nigerians from every region, state, city, village, ethnic group and religion of the country and his responsibility is to the entire nation, not just the millions who voted for him.
Africa may appear unique in its history of poverty, corruption, instability and chaotic leadership but no nation or continent has a monopoly on the evils which have dogged Africa and its people. In Africa, America, Asia, and Europe people are the same, with the same desires for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the wish to guarantee a future for their children.
Whether leaders brand themselves conservative or liberal; left, right or centre, people demand the same jobs, education, health, security and shelter. The Chinese do not praise their leaders for proclaiming themselves Communists but for producing goods and services and creating infrastructure to enhance their welfare. Similarly Americans are not enamoured of political labels.
Just as people have similar demands for the basic necessities of life, all men and women have abilities which complement each other in combining to achieve their goals. No nation is made up of giants and geniuses just as none is composed of dwarves and idiots. If citizens are poor, ignorant, insecure and anxious, it means their leaders have failed to exploit their genius.
After solving the immediate problems of insecurity in parts of the country, President-elect Buhari must realise that the only guarantee of long term stability is economic development, to restore the faith of the people in a nation capable of sustaining them, to fulfil their hope that they elected leaders who will cater for the needs of the people, not the greed of selfish leaders.
All over Nigeria there are stereotypes of the trading ability of the Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba. But there are no Nigerians incapable of investing capital to turn a profit, just as there are no Chinese, Lebanese, Americans or Swazis condemned to a life of apathy and stagnation. All men and women desire to work for a living and boredom is a greater danger to life than disease.
In Nigeria, the people of the South West have made most progress on tapping the entrepreneurial abilities of their people to produce goods and services necessary for ensuring their conditions of living. In the South East, the people who made rapid progress just before and after independence have slowed down, hampered by the aftermath of the Civil War and poor leadership.
It is in the North, however, the home region of the President-elect, that retrogression has taken the greatest toll. Borno and Sokoto, once capable of sustaining massive empires in the pre-industrial world, are now spaces of unimaginable poverty and desperation. Kano and Kaduna, once the loci of budding trade and industry are now largely overcrowded slums. And this despite the fact that national leadership has been largely concentrated in the region. President-elect Buhari knows his region, knows his people, and hopefully knows the solution to their problems. Until graduates get employment or the means to advance their studies, killing all the leaders of Boko Haram will prove futile. Until hope is restored mass killing will appear like a solution.
All Nigerians yearn for a secure future, one in which they can see their lives go forward. Nigeria needs an educational system which trains the people to make contributions to the welfare of their nation and themselves. They need industries and service providers to create jobs and the means to satisfy their basic needs. Unemployment, especially of the youth, is the greatest threat to security.
President-elect Buhari must provide the impetus to unleash the entrepreneurial ability of all his people. He needs to radically transform the institutional framework of the political system to encourage investments by local and international entrepreneurs. And he needs multitudes following his direction, regardless of where they come from. No one admires a headless political chicken.
He must create banks to foster small and medium scale industries and micro-financial institutions to stimulate developments at the grass roots. He must pass laws guaranteeing the freedom of the press to assure criticism and suppress extremists who foster repression in the guise of morality. And he must show Nigerians that his actions of 1983 were aberrations of a younger, inexperienced man.
Now that INEC has proved that the people can express their will and be recognised, future leaders must accept that they cannot cling on if they do not perform the duties enshrined by the mandate of the people. If they do not succeed, if they sow chaos and disaster through weakness, depravity, greed or the blandishments of sycophants, they must be prepared to be slung out, like garbage.
Patrick Wilmot taught Sociology at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, for almost twenty years. In addition to textbooks in Sociology and Political Science he has written novels: Seeing Double, Jonathan Cape, London, 2005; Glass, Jacaranda Books, London, 2014; The Paint Job, late 2015. He attended St George’s College and Yale and Vanderbilt Universities.