Well alright. A few interesting personalities have emerged on the political scene, especially for the presidency. We are hoping that they don’t think this is another photo opportunity. Whoever is going to inherit this country from Buhari has inherited a dead pheasant (oku aparo). The Yorubas say whoever inherits such has inherited problems. So, you must really be headstrong to dare this. Every indicator on the national dashboard is showing crimson red. We are way overborrowed. We are not generating enough revenue and our people are averse to chipping in – not even our rich. We have nothing on the ground pointing to an elite consensus. Our currency is about to be further debauched. We relied so heavily and irresponsibly on borrowing our way out of trouble in the last many years. Funders have developed cold feet towards Nigeria – even the Chinese. We may be stuck with dozens of white elephant projects. We have not developed internal capacity for anything whatsoever. Our poverty, unemployment, inflation, and illiteracy levels continue to rise. Terrorists stare down the country. so many crimes and insecurity everywhere. We could call the last 10, 20 years two wasted decades. Nigeria faces the most difficult time in its history, no thanks to a totally ineffective, deluded, bumbling leadership that alienated the people and everybody else.
I fear that an unraveling may be around the corner. Nigeria is being pushed to deregulate all ‘deregulate’ not minding the trouble that may portend. If we should deregulate petroleum and prices rise to say N900 per litre, inflation will easily hit 200% and we will be faced with a Weimar Germany post-World War 1 situation. This means that many more millions of our people will go really hungry, and crimes will rise further, as even people with jobs may no longer be able to even feed with their salaries. Companies will close down and turn able-bodied men and women on the streets. All we need is one more stupid decision. All we need is to delay a very urgently-needed elite consensus by which the Nigerian rich invests their wealth in this country by paying their fair share of taxes and other dues to save the soul of this country. All we need is for us to continue for a little longer along our corrupt, wasteful, careless, greedy, immature, insane little ways by which we loot our nation dead. We are almost there and what we see everywhere is hypocrisy and cynicism. One on hand is those who wish that the nation collapses because they are imbued with some superiority complex about their tribe or clan, or they think they have a smart plan, with enough stashed somewhere. But the best-laid plans do go awfully wrong often. In his book; ‘Surviving the Peace’, Cyprian Ekwensi reported his many got wasted after the Nigerian civil war in the hands of crazed former soldiers who still retained their weapons.
For now, what we hear from many of our presidential contests – especially those who are coming from the outside – is the litany of woes. The idea is just to point fingers and farm out the blame. This is grossly irresponsible at that level. Note that people often become victims of the trouble they whip up. Many of the presidential candidates are building tigers in whose bellies they may end up. Whereas we may not be able to avoid defining the problems that Nigeria faces, it is cheap to only dwell on our woes while seeking votes. You must answer the question of exactly how we got to this point. And you must engage your imagination clearly as to how we get ahead. Some people have said candidates may keep their strategies until they become president – may be so that others do not steal them. That will be very unpatriotic and counterproductive. If you have the ideas, put it out there. In my time, I was neither shy, not afraid, not parsimonious with my ideas. I dumped them all in the open and I can report that a few of them were taken. I recall meeting the DG, Budget, Ben Akabueze at the airport one of these days and I was surprised he knew me by name. He said he reads me, and I wasn’t surprised to see that he started talking about how small our federal budgets are. The CBN governor does read a few of my articles and I saw that the bank took the palm oil sector very seriously. Even the Lagos State Governor, Sanwoolu, not too long ago, mandated engineering students of LASU, UNILAG, and others to embed with the builders of the Lagos Metro. Maybe these guys just thought about these on their own, but there are also chances that the ideas germinated from some of my humble interventions.
We want to know the how. How do we move ahead? How do we save ourselves? In engaging that subject, the leader must think hard and engage his team. If they cannot find a logical way through, they are better off dropping their ambition, otherwise, even if they win, they will be consumed in the smoldering hell that will come. Suggested solutions to Nigeria’s problems must be well-rooted, broad-based, realistic, and show where everybody plays a role. For example, thinking you can borrow some more from IMF or World Bank is no solution. Chasing so-called foreign investors is no solution too. Privatizing all privatize is no solution. Continuing with the already overused small and medium-scale business (SMEs) strategy which has not been delivered, is not a solution too. We must understand that our problems will not take easy, pedestrian solutions anymore. They just won’t work. Presidential candidates can no longer just come and mouth off platitudes. We know which one has good intentions by their promises. Some just want to be president to add to their CVs, but we need thinkers; philosopher kings.
And the trick is in how that leader understands how we got here. We didn’t get here in the 7 awful and foolish years of Buhari – a man who conned the whole of Nigeria but only came to relax and travel. It is bad. But let us not put that forward as a tribal issue. It is a Buhari issue. Something may have happened to him when he became ill or immediately after he won the elections, that made his brain freeze up. The next leader must be very careful of this. Nigeria cannot afford another Buhari. For those who think it’s about age, they are mistaken. Yar’Adua was in his mid-50s and had good, great intentions for this country. What happened to him? Do you think you can explain his demise away based on media reports? He was sick before? You are a medical doctor and you have thoroughly analyzed his medical history? Again, our inattention has been used against us and we are not attempting to free our minds.
In analyzing why we got here, we will see the leader with a small or large mind and who understands responsibility. A responsible leader who will make a change will acknowledge his own part in what became of Nigeria, not just reel out the laundry list of woes to young people such as to make them angry and prepare them for the next round of destruction of the infrastructure of which we are lacking. Imagine an importer-billionaire who says we are a consuming nation performing below Morocco and Egypt after he has made his billions from imports? Imagine a PDP candidate saying only APC caused Nigeria’s near-demise? Imagine an APC candidate still pointing to PDP’s so-called locust years? Imagine a former military man absolving his constituency? Or a civilian trying to dump it all on the military? It will not even be tenable to a younger person to say the old people failed. Did all the old people fail? Is such a statement not devoid of a proper understanding of history? Does anybody know that one in three Nigerian presidents has died in office? 33%. That is scary. What kind of leader was Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Muhammed, Umaru Ya’Adua, and Ironsi? Were they not patriots? So, what we need is an understanding of complexity. There are no textbooks to read to know how to successfully run this country.
A thorough understanding of history and social psychology is needed from Nigeria’s next leader and we will know from the campaigns. This understanding will transcend Nigeria and be conversant about how other nations have evolved. There must be no attempt to confuse Nigerians by making you and your own side look good only. Like the great Sarduana of Sokoto was reported to have told the great Zik of Africa, ‘the idea is not to forget our differences, but to understand them’. Diversity management and indeed diversity cultivation is the reason why the USA sits on top of the world today. We could almost say that a nation that discourages diversity as we are set to do – will evolve suboptimally. We must therefore embrace diversity and understand that we have gone too far in our quest for homogeneity – of tribe and religion – in our definition of proper nationhood. I admit it is difficult just to ‘understand’ our differences and then sit on hands to see what happens next. There are established international standards to which we must adhere. Nowhere is it admissible, before man and God, on God’s earth, to breed children without a plan for them to be responsible citizens. Nowhere is it progressive to just have an overdose of religiosity that robs people of their money and their minds and/or precludes them from adding their productivity to the nation.
We hope to see a president – and indeed presidential candidates – that doesn’t bore or scare us to death about our many cringeworthy woes (including the fact that we are the most despised country on earth with the worst reputation for political corruption, fraud, and yahoo-yahoo, prostitution, drug trafficking, and other sundry crimes for which we are known, not only in Nigeria but in every rough high street almost the world over. We want the leader to also paint a vivid great future for us – a future of high, contributory productivity, collective sacrifice, total public and indeed private accountability, and responsibility to our unborn children from whom we borrowed this patch of earth and the resources within. We want a leader that can energize us about the potential that we have as dignified people. Someone who will redefine this space away from mediocrity. Any leader that tries to absolve him/herself has only started out on the deceptive path and will never depart from it. Our issues are complex, many times self-inflicted, sometimes foreign-imposed. The old people contributed because they didn’t rein in their excesses on time. They basked for too long in the non-existent euphoria that they had arrived. They wasted many resources on awarding scholarships, free houses and cars, and all that to themselves. If they had a long-term vision they would have been modest. Some of them also fell under ideological influences in the Cold War era. The middle-aged (like myself), contributed to it with our foreign orientation about everything – in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and what we respect. We also neglected politics to charlatans for too long.
And the young have contributed to the vices and crimes that some of them have committed at home and all over the world. The bad reputation unfortunately hurts them more than any other demographic. There are many beneficial sites about progress for the youths, where Nigerian Internet addresses have been permanently blocked, many trade websites where Nigerians are not included, and many countries where Nigerians are almost totally excluded. Thousands of Nigerians in hundreds in jails everywhere in the world. We have the worst reputation of any nation on earth. It is not enough to complain about how the old folks have not been provided jobs. What about youth impatience? What about normal youths sent to schools here who believe that the best idea is to join violent cults? What about those who are simply just wicked, stupid, or ignorant? All of us must own our bit of the wreckage called Nigeria. We must stop this race to the bottom, whereby every opportunity – including campaign seasons – is used to bring us down further into the abyss. We must find upsides to this problem and see just how beautiful, prosperous, full of opportunities, blessed, and with great potential for growth, this land is. Otherwise, at this rate, one day soon, and as I’ve always said, people who are smarter than us will one day chase us out of here and take over our land.
The next leader must be a unifier, someone who is able to inspire and bring people together from different walks and persuasions. He/she must be a visioner, who can imagine how we can dig ourselves out of debilitating deficits and create wealth, and create positives, not merely someone with an internal control perspective. We do need to block leakages and deal indeed ruthlessly with violators whomever they may be. But I believe the biggest investment and where the leadership test is to imagine the upside. We may only begin to rise in 2023, or we perish.