Mr. President : It’s a new year and one cannot but hope, for the good of the country, that this year ends better than the last. It is understandable if in the current climate, you think this is yet another in the deluge of critical comments, some well-meaning and others orchestrated by disaffected patrons of your administration. I am actually offering unsolicited advice, for the good of the country, which might help change the trajectory of your administration. Doing this also puts to the test the veracity of repeated claims that you welcome constructive criticism and policy prescriptions. So here goes:
The National Mood
To put it nicely, your administration has not lived up to the goodwill and high expectations that marked your election as the first executive leader of the country with a college degree. Before you, Nigeria has been mostly led by poorly-educated men and soldiers whose claim to fame and leadership was mobilizing tanks and dissident troops to seize the national radio station and promoting themselves as Generals for this great military feat.
These, by the way, are the same men Nigeria’s political class now regard as “statesmen” who enjoy lifelong pensions, belong to the Council of State and hold the nation’s highest honours. Is it any wonder then that these individuals would arrogate to themselves the right to determine Nigeria’s political future, that they will pick who governs the country, on what terms and for how long? They imposed a self-serving constitution on the nation with the immunity clause to cover themselves and want pliant successors they can teleguide in office.
The citizenry is today highly disaffected by the drift and rampant corruption which, to be fair to you, was inherited from the old man and estranged political mentor but for which you must now take the blame. Owing one’s ascendancy to a political mentor should not be subordinated to the interests of the electorate who voted and even died (remember the Youth Corpers) for you to become President in the hope of making their lives better.
The only thing you have going for you right now is that the political opposition is not only adopting the same template that brought the PDP into power but actually mass recruiting PDP defectors and the aforementioned ex-military autocrats for guidance on how to short-circuit your presidency. That is their stock in trade based on their jaundiced understanding of what democracy truly represents. Democracy is not derived from deal-making by a cabal of plutocrats imposing pliant candidates on the people through the agency of corrupt party and electoral processes. This is the template which the APC is now replicating right before our eyes. A cliché here defines insanity as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We are witnessing an alliance of convenience by strange political bedfellows for the sole purpose of gaining power.
So where do we go from here?
The company you keep.
You may not like to hear this but you are surrounded by officials and party members some of questionable character and competence. And some have gone so far to display this “our-turn-to-eat” mentality that is tarnishing your administration. You must discourage and distance yourself from such people.
I hope you still find time to read the biographies of great leaders both locally and internationally. There is nothing wrong with helping one’s people since charity begins at home. Please read how Awo empowered his people with his pan-Yoruba agenda. He did not site a University in his hometown nor did he seek to make every Ijebuman a cocoa millionaire. Instead, he availed all his people of modern and comprehensive education, developed a Yoruba intelligentsia and created the enabling environment for job creation and commerce for his people – an advantage which the Yorubas enjoy till today. That is why Awo was bestowed with the titular leader of his grateful people and remains a revered figure in the pantheon of Yoruba leaders.
Unlike the current pretender to that mantle, Awo actually went to school, embraced education and surrounded himself with intellectuals from every field of human endeavour. He did not achieve greatness by engaging in crass accumulation and making his wife a Senator, his daughter leader of the market women nor did he strive so mightily to ensure that nieces, nephews, in-laws and even the family dog would amass millions. The likes of Awo and the great Zik, with his pan-Nigerian outlook, provide a leadership template for you to consider.
The Way Forward
Let me share some ideas on the way forward that might influence the narrative of your Presidency. My hope is about building a decent legacy for your period in office so that the country is not set back another wasted decade.
However, we must acknowledge your constitutional right to seek re-election if you so wish, unless the courts say otherwise and I see no grounds for such a ruling. Incompetence is not an impeachable offence nor is unhappiness or disappointment with a Presidency. The Nigerian voters elected you and reserve the sovereign right to vote for you or reject you through the ballot box. No cabal, back room deals or pledges made to self-appointed power-brokers should be allowed to short-circuit the democratic process.
The old man and his confederates are entitled to cast just one vote like all other eligible voters. Let the Nigerian people decide who governs them and for how long. Free and fair elections should be the only means of installing or removing a government and the people must thereafter live with that choice until the next elections unless in other instances laid down in the constitution. That is the basis of due process and the rule of law. I hope that every Nigerian, home or abroad will stand in defence of that principle- no matter who is President. The days of subverting a democratically elected government in Nigeria should be gone for good – so those hoping to spark an uprising are just wasting their time and should focus instead on winning elections.
That said, for the good of the country and building a legacy with whatever time you have left in office, you might want to consider a package of options some of which you can easily execute and others that might call for some tough decisions on your part. First the easy part-
– Reshuffle the cabinet: Nothing shows that you are willing to press the reset button than to bring in new hands and technocrats in key departments of the government. Competence, integrity and requisite skills must take precedence over rewarding party loyalists. You can still meet the constitutional requirements of reflecting “federal character” by making less qualified party loyalists as junior ministers (or ministers of state as you call it). Those who don’t like it can go join the APC – you are putting the peoples’ interest above the party’s in order to rebuild the nation and your legacy.
– A reshuffle also gives the opportunity to bid farewell to the controversial and tainted members of your team responsible for the perception of a corrupt administration. So break the news to them at the next cabinet meeting and please thank them for their service to the nation. Then inform them that anyone who has a case to answer will surely hear from a revitalized, unfettered and autonomous EFCC. That means you will not interfere or intercede on behalf of anyone facing an investigation of corruption.
– And lest I forget, please also invite CBN Governor Lamido Sanusi to the meeting and inform him you are fast-tracking his retirement, with full pay and all benefits due to him, with immediate effect. There is no need keeping a flame-thrower in place a day longer, especially one who has been mostly self-serving in his approach to his job and openly ignored laid down channels of communication with his boss. If I were your appointee, sending you this public memo would be deserving of termination too. Again, that is due process.
– You will need to focus on a new Justice Minister with a mandate to clean up the open rot in the Nigerian judiciary. That is going to be a Herculean effort and might require asking for the services of a retired Supreme Court Justice or the likes of Professors Nwabueze, Sagay or others of similar standing and respect with the Nigerian public. Men who know what is required to rebuild integrity and faith in Nigeria’s justice system.
– You will especially need new and competent hands in the Petroleum Ministry, Aviation, Education (sorry, you don’t get to keep your job if under your watch, the nation’s universities are shut for half of the year, nothing personal) and Health (if the incumbent cannot head off a planned nation-wide doctors’ strike after months of notice and warnings by the aggrieved unions).
– The new Aviation Minister should be mandated to establish a national flag carrier before the end of 2014. How a private individual came to acquire the “Air Nigeria” name deserves investigation and should be withdrawn if it involved sweetheart deals or lack of transparency.
– Rescind the planned ban on the importation of used vehicles into the country. Give the public a four-year notice during which the domestic auto industry finds its feet and you embark on federal-state partnerships to emplace real mass transit (road, rail, ferry services) as alternatives for the public. You must begin the demilitarization of policy-making in Nigeria. You are not presiding over a conquered people who must be ruled by imperial decrees or make major policy announcements “with immediate effect”. Again I remind you that the people are your employers and voted for you to make their lives better and not impose unnecessary hardship on them for well-connected corporate interests to make money.
– Rescind the renaming of the University of Lagos. This was another ill-advised move on your part despite the good intentions behind the gesture. Despite his family’s understandable sentiments about honoring his memory, the late Moshood Abiola would have been aghast at the thought of throwing away, overnight, the academic reputation and global branding of an institution that has matriculated and certified graduates for half a century.
– And in the same vein, please make it federal policy to stop the renaming of our existing institutions after individuals. We have enough roads, buildings, stadia and bridges to name after deserving individuals or national heroes. If Awo had wanted it, he would have named the University of Ife he founded after himself but his goal was to put Ile-Ife on the world map as the mythical cradle of the Yoruba nation. So by renaming UnIfe, his goal was needlessly subverted by a military dictator’s bid to woo the Yorubas into supporting his intended bid to become a civilian President. He ignored the fact then that the new university in Ondo State was to be named after the Yoruba leader. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a proud alumnus of the University of Ife (as stated on my degree).
– Declare June 12 Democracy Day and a federal holiday. This was the right thing to have done in the first place. Nigeria’s current “democracy” owes a lot to those who gave of themselves and their lives, in the cause of upholding the freest elections in Nigerian history and the mandate given to MKO. So honour that historic day as the old man should have done. But his ego and small-mindedness are now well-known as a person who would put out someone else’s lamp in order to make his own shine bright.
– Reform the PDP – a saying here goes that when life hands you a lemon, you turn it into lemonade. The defections from your party actually provide a unique opportunity to rebuild and rebrand the PDP as a party of equal joiners and members on the same footing. The political jobbers will leave until they find out that there are not enough positions to satisfy all aspirations in the opposition. Going forward, party positions should be by open nominations and filled through transparent elections from the ward to the national level. The party’s constitution should be reviewed to attract the right membership and not crooks and scoundrels hoping to make a quick buck or feed fat at the public trough. The party constitution must include a moral turpitude clause stating that any member, elected or not, whose conduct or actions tarnishes the reputation and credibility shall be subject to expulsion from the party. That would have taken care of the degree-forgers and committee chairmen taking bribes to pass budgets or influence reports. Do that and you strike a blow against corruption in the party and by extension, the government.
To achieve the above, you will have to lead by example and recommit yourself to the highest standards of probity in public service.
The Samson Option
This is the hard part but likely to be the quickest way to win back the public trust. I call it the Samson option since it calls for personal sacrifice and you taking steps you have so far refused to consider.
I am sure you remember the story of Samson in Bible and how he wasted his powers carousing rather than serving his people as God had called him to do. Well, Samson got one last chance to redeem himself and literarily brought down the temple of iniquity. So please consider the following:
– You have to declare your assets and be prepared to quietly make restitution to the national treasury. No questions asked. There is precedence for this – ask for the files about a former head of state and alleged war-time looting of the Central Bank branch in Benin.
– Doing the foregoing frees you to demand a mandatory declaration of assets by ALL public officials – going back to 1999 – just like you have done and with an offer of a 90-day no-questions-asked amnesty for those who refund or hand over ill-gotten assets to the federal treasury.
– After the grace period expires, the EFCC, in concert with relevant agencies like the assets bureau and the Police will begin painstaking forensic investigations of asset declarations. As an incentive to expose wrong-doing, initiate a whistle-blower law so anyone who provides useful and confidential information about ill-gotten assets will get to keep twenty percent of the reported asset on forfeiture.
– Retroactively revoke all import waivers granted since 1999 and demand that beneficiaries have 90 days to pay the assessed Customs duties or forfeit those items to the federal government for sale at auction. That will right a grave wrong that has seen the well-connected and those most able to pay import duties avoid it while lesser Nigerians do. We cannot be a nation with two sets of laws – one for the wealthy and privileged who buy justice and avoid taxes while the other puts ordinary citizens under the rule of law and payment of levies. Paying all due taxes is a duty for all citizens, corporate bodies and even non-governmental organizations (yes – even tax-exempt religious organizations should be levied what is known here as Payments In Lieu of Tax (PILOT) for the services they enjoy in the local governments in which they operate (religious bodies use public amenities like roads, water, power and Police services like all other citizens).
– Declare a national electric power emergency with the goal of providing a minimum of 20-hours of electricity to every Nigerian home by the end of 2014. This might require a review of budget priorities and ten percent across the board budget cuts for all federal ministries and agencies, including the Presidency to fund the power sector. No new furniture, cars or aircraft for the Presidency, cabinet members or legislators.
– Pay GE and the other power contractors whatever is needed to fast-track their work to meet this goal of boosting power generation. The Power minister should be required to provide a monthly update on improvements in the public power supply. To pay for this, every worker should be required to pay an additional 2% and companies 4% special “power tax” to achieve this goal. They are already paying more out of pocket to buy generators and diesel. The ultimate result will be reliable power supply, more job creation and a reduction in the cost of living, goods and services for the generality of the people. It will also mitigate the debilitating health effects of the noise and poisonous fumes from the millions of private generators in use throughout the country.
If providing stable electricity is the only thing you achieve while tamping down corruption, then your Presidency would have made a notable difference in the lives of the people and given you a worthwhile legacy. Bill Clinton remains a popular figure in American politics today and his presidency is remembered more for ushering a period of remarkable prosperity – 20 million new jobs and a huge budget surplus- than for his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Fortunately, Nigerians are a special breed of people who reward effort as much as they do results. You don’t have to do much for our people to say, in Nigerian English, “the man is trying.”
The Islamist Insurgency and Snipers
Lastly, I would urge you to be more open about the silly but rabble-rousing charge that you have abdicated your responsibility in fighting the Islamist insurgency and instead trained snipers to go after perceived enemies of your administration. That is the most irresponsible and infantile accusation I have ever read in a while and speaks to the desperation of those determined to railroad your presidency. Those who call for a storm forget that when it rains, it falls on everyone.
If your administration is training special forces to combat an insurgency that has has claimed hundreds of innocent lives and brought misery to fellow citizens in the North eastern quadrant of the nation, then say so and, in my opinion, take due credit for it. If it is a Presidential Guard, also acknowledge it. Transparency is the best antidote for such vicious rumour-mongering.
That and the ongoing sacrifices being made by our brave soldiers to protect the nation are worth celebrating. Again, Madam and Governors wives should devote time to visiting wounded soldiers and families of those killed in action to ensure that they are cared for and all entitlements paid to them in a timely fashion. The public at large – individuals, companies and religious bodies should be solicited to voluntarily support an Armed Forces Relief Fund as a collective gesture of supporting our troops.
By the way, is there anything wrong with the defence ministry putting out the names and faces of those killed in combat – following family notification? Why should they be unknown and unmourned by a grateful nation as is done in civilized societies? That should make better news than stories of ministers importing duty-free armoured sedans (at public expense) when they are thousands of miles removed from the war front.
The fact is that an insurgency that once threatened to cripple major cities in the North, with multiple attacks and bombs going off in places like Gombe, Kaduna, Kano and even Abuja, has now been mostly contained to two states. Governor Kwankwaso of Kano would not have had the time of day to be party-hopping or wasting scarce public funds on sponsoring mass marriages (which he and the Zamfara pedophile now take to the APC) if Boko Haram had maintained the stranglehold it once had on Kano City. Yet these are the same folks now playing politics with a national security issue.
In conclusion, let me explain the dead language that headlines this memo. Quo Vadis is Latin for “Wither goest thou?” in King James English or in simple English – “Where are you going?”
Since you recently visited Jerusalem and the birthplace of Jesus, I think you can relate to the apocryphal Acts of the Apostle Peter. Facing possible arrest and execution for proselytizing in Rome, Peter was fleeing from the city when Jesus appeared, walking in the opposite direction. Peter then asked Jesus ‘Where are you going?” and Jesus replied “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” Peter got the message and returned to Rome to fulfill the mission of founding the church for which he also gave his life.
Had Peter shirked his mission, there would be no Christianity in the world today.
So Mr. President, where do you go from here?
Ejiro Onobrakpeya, is a former Editor of The Sunday Times newspaper.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters