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Olusegun Adeniyi: A word for Muhammadu Buhari

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Olusegun Adeniyi: A word for Muhammadu Buhari

By Olusegun Adeniyi

As the Coaster bus tried to meander through the surging crowd and the sea of human heads, chanting “Sai Baba”, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari tapped his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, by the shoulder, pointed in the direction of the vehicle’s window and asked: “Look at that man; what can you see from his face?”

Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who was then apparently just adjusting to life as a politician, replied: “I can see real excitement on his face. Like many others here, the man is obviously very happy to see us.”

Evidently not satisfied with the response he got, Buhari asked Osinbajo to look at the man again. When the former Attorney General of Lagos State returned the same answer, Buhari decided to lecture him: “That man you are looking at believes that if we win this coming election, all his problems will be solved within 24 hours after we take over.”

The import of that scene and the ensuing dialogue in Gusau, Zamfara State on January 21 this year, as captured by Osinbajo at the first Abuja edition of ‘The Platform’ on May Day, is that Buhari is well aware of the burden of expectations that he carries as he becomes president of Nigeria tomorrow. Yet he has no magic wand with which to revalue a Naira of our national currency to approximate to an American Dollar “with immediate effect”. He cannot snap his fingers to conjure electricity to power our homes. Fuel queues will not disappear from our petrol stations because Buhari has just been swept into office with the promise of ‘change’. And Abubakar Shekau’s army of Boko Haram killers are not likely to surrender to the authorities after Buhari assumes office tomorrow.

In his article on democratic transitions, Dankwart Rustow draws a distinction between theories that seek to explain the genesis of democracy and theories that address democratic stability and our situation today approximates more to the latter. Yet, according to Rustow, the ability to build consensus by finding common grounds in the wake of a regime change depends on the capacity of the leader who must have a long-range vision of what he wants to achieve. That, I imagine, is where the expectations from Buhari derive because he comes to the number one job more prepared than any of his civilian predecessors in office.

Buhari is the first Nigerian civilian to personally seek to be president and pursued his dream (even after three defeats) until he realised it. All his civilian predecessors became president or prime minister either by accident or through the benevolence of some other do-gooders. This is an issue I have written about before but on a day such as this, it is important to remind us of what Buhari’s victory truly represents.

At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Sir Ahmadu Bello should have been the Prime Minister as leader of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) which won majority of the seats at the parliamentary elections. But for personal reasons, the late Sardauna of Sokoto ceded the office to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who became Prime Minister instead.

During the Second Republic in 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was seeking to go to the Senate on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which had heavyweights like Maitama Sule, Adamu Ciroma, Shettima Ali Monguno and the late Abubakar Olusola Saraki jostling for the presidential ticket. At the end, Shagari became our president. In August 1993, Chief Ernest Shonekan was appointed by General Ibrahim Babangida to head his contraption called Interim National Government after the June 12 presidential election annulment fiasco.

In 1998, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in prison praying for God to deliver him from the clutches of General Sani Abacha when fate played a fast one on his jailer. With Abacha dead, Obasanjo was released from prison and offered the presidency of Nigeria to which he famously retorted, ‘how many presidents do you want to make of me?’ As it would happen, after spending two-terms in office, Obasanjo began to play Oliver Twist, by asking for more years. But by the time his third-term ambition collapsed in 2006 with no room left to manoeuvre, not only did Obasanjo handpick the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as successor, his wish eventually became Nigeria’s command. And finally, through the misfortunes of others, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s legendary good luck catapulted him from deputy governor to governor to vice president until he became the Commander-in-Chief.

What the foregoing says most eloquently is that in Buhari, Nigeria will have its first civilian leader who consciously sought the presidency which presupposes that he must have an idea of what he would do in office. Buhari also defeated the incumbent president, the first of such to happen in Nigeria.Notwithstanding all these, what is perhaps Buhari’s biggest selling point today is that he comes to office with what is usually described as “Referent Power”. He is generally trusted as a man who would not fiddle with the treasury in a society where integrity in the public arena is very much in short supply. But leading by example does not make Buhari a perfect man, and that is what worries me about the way some of his supporters are going on as if we have just elected a prophet.

Buhari will do this. Buhari will do that. Those are the tales we have been hearing from some time-servers who may not even know the man but are already positioning themselves through the media in the bid to hijack him and our collective destiny. Yet, the reality of our national condition today is that Buhari can do practically nothing without seeking the patience and understanding of Nigerians. And for that to happen, Buhari must be seen to be human. That means having the courage to admit to mistakes and failings (where they occur) along the way and being bold enough to make course corrections.

For sure, there are many weeks, months and hopefully years ahead to write about Buhari who will, from tomorrow, be on the “line of fire” for whatever fate befalls our country. But as I wish him well, I want to end my piece with a simple story about the true essence of leadership by example which requires enormous sacrifices. It is a lesson that will serve Buhari who should be wise enough to dispense with the cult of personality being built around him if he does not want to fail.

Concerned that her son was addicted to eating a lot of sugar, a mother sought appointment to see the legendary Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi. When she finally did, with her son in tow, she said: “The whole nation listens to you, please tell my son to stop eating sugar, as it is not good for his health”. Ghandi replied, “I cannot tell him that. But you may bring him back in a few weeks and then I will talk to him.”

Upset and disappointed, the mother took the boy home.Two weeks later, she came back. This time Gandhi looked directly at the boy and said “Son, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.” The boy nodded his head and made a solemn commitment to heed the admonition. Puzzled, the boy’s mother asked Ghandi, “Why did you send us away two weeks ago when you could have simply told the boy what you just did?”

Gandhi smiled and said: “Two weeks ago, I was eating a lot of sugar myself.”

May God grant Buhari success as he assumes the mantle of leadership tomorrow as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thank You, President Jonathan
In a piece titled “Goodluck to the President”, published on this page on 31st May 2012 at a period Dr. Jonathan was marking his first year in office as elected president, I reminded him of what I told his handlers in May 2010. My thesis was that courting public adulation, as they were doing at the time, could ultimately prove to be counter-productive. To drive home my point, I used a fictional account of the events which followed the death in 1997 of Princess Diana as depicted in ‘The Queen’, a multiple award winning 2006 British film starring Helen Mirren.

While Queen Elizabeth IIsaw Diana’s death as a private family affair, then newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair exploited the situation by reflecting the public wish for an official expression of grief. This instantly earned Blair public acclamation while the Queen became so unpopular that many were even calling for the abrogation of the monarchy. The instructive dialogue from the encounter (as depicted in the film) which may also serve Buhari who assumes office tomorrow as President of Nigeria goes thus:

Queen Elizabeth II: You don’t think that the affection people once had for me, for this institution, has been diminished?

Tony Blair: No, not at all. You are more respected now than ever.

Queen Elizabeth II: I gather some of your closest advisers were less fulsome in their support.

Tony Blair: One or two but as a leader, I could never have added my voice to that chorus.

Queen Elizabeth II: Because you saw all those headlines and you thought: ‘One day this might happen to me’…

Tony Blair: Oh… er…

Queen Elizabeth II (cuts in): …and it will, Mr. Blair; quite suddenly and without warning…

Today, to put it mildly, Blair is not a very popular man in Britain. Similarly, I am sure President Jonathan cannot claim to be happy with the way he is being perceived today, 24 hours before he leaves office, against the background that when he took over power in May 2010, he could do no wrong. Incidentally, many of his fair-weather supporters who were hailing him yesterday have moved on as he himself admitted two weeks ago.

Notwithstanding, I believe President Jonathan has in the last five years tried his best for our country, and considering the manner in which he conceded defeat after the election, he can leave office with some pride. Not only did he save the nation from what could have been a serious crisis, he demonstrated the power of personal example that helped set the tone for several other defeated candidates at the elections. And with that, he has left a democratic legacy for which he will forever be remembered.

It is therefore my hope that the incoming Buhari administration will accord President Jonathan nothing but respect after office. He deserves it.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olusegun Adeniyi /Thisday

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