Buhari and a child

The Buhari Government, against the backdrop of disappointment and vilification, has taken on the system that has fossilised cynicism and turned any effort towards a genuine social contract on its head. By taking a workman-like challenge to the kind of massive unchallenged rewards of access to government and governance, it signals a different possibility.


I often wonder what is emerging here in Nigeria, this incredible country of immense complexity and possibilities. A country in a liminal space, especially under President Buhari, resumes its convoluted dynamics towards nationhood. When the president decided to run again, I, who had an abiding dislike for him for Fela Kuti and War Against Indiscipline (WAI), submitted to his possibility. I continue to thank God for him. The kind of visceral dislike or even hatred that he faces from all quarters is itself testament of his progress. He has created or facilitated the emergence of a national trudge towards a diverse economy. The inevitable sympathy for the pangs and pains we all carry for losing any tacit financial return from our hustles pales compared to what might just be the beginning of a country where our children can make progress based on what they produce, not who they know. I do not expect this government to totally rescue the economy, diversify it or put this right within the next four years. However, as I will lay out below, under this government we have a very good chance of becoming a country where hard work matters, and your access becomes insignificant.

I spent most of my adult life being indifferent to corruption in all its forms, so long as we reorganised and repositioned our country for a more sustainable journey towards nationhood, it would be alright, I thought! I never imagined a situation where military leaders will send troops to war and court martial them for cowardice, while a few shared the money that would have provided arms and made the troops more effective. I never imagined a government squander an unprecedented N51 Trillion in five years with nothing fundamental to show for it. Corruption is no longer about isolated and random acts of gross greed but a systematic syndrome that corrodes social evolution, in the pathology of personal insecurity or fear of lack. President Buhari chose a mission of challenging this head on. Simply, no Head of Government who takes on an existing system is ever liked or popular. Mr. President good for you! I hope you consider only one term and drive this desperately needed change,

How can anyone who has basic understanding of the effect of our dependence on crude oil suggest we can replace this resource in four years, after forty years of dependency? How many of us currently produce world class or even exportable products? How many of us pay taxes to fund government and governance? Of course, we have no Social Contract that would allow some of the kind of trust that is necessary to work productively, because we are yet to see people progress on merit. In fact, worse, we have become so cynical that delivering any civic duty or responsibility is considered impractical as compared to our ever present resort to self-help. Our national and regional fault-lines of ethnicity, as well as religion, are inhabited by our commentators as if they are tourist resorts. However, to expect a transition from a mono-commodity formal economy suffering a severe drop in price and confronted by active terrorism to relative prosperity in one year is a wicked fantasy. To bring home the gravity, the loss of over $60 in the price of crude oil in 2015 is more than twice the about $25 drop in the whole of the 80s that led to the total demolition of national progress.

The president must challenge his team, which has made a problem from what should be a virtue. The administration needs to target the mass of Nigerians at the bottom of the pyramid for regular dialogue and engagement. The elite has the influence that is undeserved because of the laziness and failure to really engage in participatory problem solving. Our people need to become cognisant of the sacrifices, which will take years to bear results.


A less than perfect administration as it always is the case with governance anywhere is not a good excuse to derail a much needed reset button. We are all complicit in the stalling of the long laboured journey towards nationhood. Do you ever wonder how it is that a country where the average person cannot and does not take a mortgage (especially among the working and middle classes) or earn wages that can build a house, yet have people who not only all dream of becoming landlords but many to achieve this on meagre civil service salaries? In fact, not just one home in many cases. In spite of this miracle, we have no recorded level of productivity that merits conversation or can be a baseline for future increase. Less than ten percent (10%) of the labour force is in formal employment and the majority are in the informal economy, with nothing passing through the ‘government books’. Is that itself not a massive enabler of corruption?

A year old regime, and yes imperfect, is far too short a time for the kind of indictments this one is receiving. All oil producing countries are in trouble and even non-oil dependent ones have deeply anaemic economies, largely in recession, so why should Nigeria be different? The Nigerian elite have climbed the Mount Kilimanjaro of constant criticism and negative feedback. There is more than a whiff of ‘white supremacy’ in this habit. They parrot classical economic theories that do not work even in western economies. Many of their exemplar countries are prisoners of their large banks and pension funds. No longer capable of trotting out mantras like consumer-led recovery, they now blame Johnny and Jill foreigner. The elite also forget our economic history. They forget the international responses to the Nigerian Enterprise Promotion Act which is what created the elite and rescued Nigeria from a plantation style economy. They forget the disinvestment strategy by the British, American and Europeans in the 1980s when the economy took a tumble. They forget the timidity and the rush back home of foreign capital when the credit crunch hit in their home markets, leaving the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) holding the bag.

I find that the Nigerian elite are by far the most dangerous barrier to this country becoming a nation. Their obsession with their individual prosperity means the incredible and unjustified influence they have is used to manipulate a highly unsuspecting masses into acts that are dramatically against their longer term interests. The elite notion of their role is to ensure the dislocation and the incompetence of the majority to part designers of jointly owned solutions. They are convinced that social engineering will work, that intelligence bought out of colleges and MBA Schools should be centralised and superior to the broader wisdom of multitudes. They assume westernisation is the only form of modernisation.

To expect a year old government to restructure and organise smallholder farmers is another wild expectation. Worse is to juxtapose large agriculture businesses with smallholder farmers. Each has its roles and the agenda or road map recognises this. It will take years to start to see a proper framing of the dynamics emerge.


If you are a follower of other places in the world, you will see the influence of unaccountable elites driving newspaper headlines with serious consequences. The headlines designed as tools of hysterical responses become pressure points on governments and lead to destructive policy direction for countries. A classic example is Brexit. A product of xenophobic English nationalism, a bastard child of the National Front, the British National Party et al. became a staple of the Murdoch press and their co-travellers. This eventually made its way into mainstream politics via the UK Independence Party and eventually onto the Conservative Party and government. Here we are, Britain is officially a country that recognises its best period is in its past. A nation where grandparents have betrayed their grandchildren’s future for comfort. The same force was driving the Trump campaign with enough hidden and visible bigotry as its progress was based on the need to protect White privilege. Unfortunately, it no longer enjoys the active civilising process by the media.

A few weeks ago there was the headline in a business daily heralding Agricultural Policy in Shambles. Its basis was that over 90 percent of agriculture is run by small informal farmers, not big organised businesses. Quoting from newly released statistics, the author then proceeded to identify export gaps and volume production as solution that was being underachieved. It was another example of the crass uneducated tripe that passes for intelligent conversation. The writer has no history to recognise the past achievement of the old Western Region. Cocoa was from subsistence farmers properly organised. The progress in many agricultural countries is based on investment over time to create a market-led agriculture that does not replace the sociology of the communities of production but organises them in the way that they can deliver effective result, whether in Brazil or Rwanda or the United Kingdom.

To expect a year old government to restructure and organise smallholder farmers is another wild expectation. Worse is to juxtapose large agriculture businesses with smallholder farmers. Each has its roles and the agenda or road map recognises this. It will take years to start to see a proper framing of the dynamics emerge.

Overall, the current administration must move us to a place before the end of 2019 that young Nigerians can safely say progress will only happen for what you produce and not who you know. When that happens it will all be worth it. I hope Mr. President does this for his grandchildren and mine too.


The Buhari Government, against the backdrop of disappointment and vilification, has taken on the system that has fossilised cynicism and turned any effort towards a genuine social contract on its head. By taking a workman-like challenge to the kind of massive unchallenged rewards of access to government and governance, it signals a different possibility. For the first time in my half a century of existence, I see no instant billionaires and winners of life’s lottery from those who have connections. Those who are recruited might be a fortunate few and there might be nepotism but what is the reward? Private Jets? Massive houses in Asokoro? Sudden skyscrapers and estates? I think not. In using our archaic and creaky criminal justice system to frame, initially, a plea-bargaining restitution of funds, we stopped impunity. A follow up of punitive sanctions is not only inevitable but highly welcome. It is a down-payment towards a country where craft, skills, competencies and attitude that deliver creativity and productivity is priced over the proximity to power. People have begun to see that hustling, as well as middle men above hard work. Currently we all struggle to get a buck. Even more delightful is the emergent social capital where we can move beyond cynicism to a healthy scepticism. Where no one can buy votes and encourage political spending as investment to an unaccountable run at the National Cake.

The president must challenge his team, which has made a problem from what should be a virtue. The administration needs to target the mass of Nigerians at the bottom of the pyramid for regular dialogue and engagement. The elite has the influence that is undeserved because of the laziness and failure to really engage in participatory problem solving. Our people need to become cognisant of the sacrifices, which will take years to bear results. A shared understanding of what kind of nation can emerge from this sacrifice will help. Mr. President is part of the elite and so are his team, however he needs to get some positive deviation from in–group mentality and approaches. In fact, there needs to be an alternative approach committee whose responsibility is to think the unthinkable. Overall, the current administration must move us to a place before the end of 2019 that young Nigerians can safely say progress will only happen for what you produce and not who you know. When that happens it will all be worth it. I hope Mr. President does this for his grandchildren and mine too. As for the baying mob of critics: damn them with a single term obsession to make a better future for those to come.

Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.