By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, when I wrote my article last Saturday little did I envisage I was going to stir the hornets’ nests.
And the bees came after me in droves though they couldn’t sting before they were sent back to wherever they came from. What was my offence? I wrote a piece that some people thought gave too much credit to the leadership style of Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. In retrospect, I’m convinced that my attackers did not read the article and if they did, they had a pre-determined motive to find a scapegoat to hang in order to discourage others who may wish to do a seeming hagiography on Osinbajo. I fitted that bill, apparently, and perfectly. But, trust me, they misfired.
I was only being patriotic. I have been to the Aso Rock Presidential villa twice but I have never visited the office of the Vice President. I have never properly spoken to Prof Osinbajo directly, indirectly or even through proxies since he became Vice President. I met him once at a chaotic ceremony in Lagos and we merely exchanged greetings. I have never called his media aide, Laolu Akande, who was once the North American Bureau Chief of Ovation International, to discuss their performance or otherwise.
My first visit was at the instance and invitation of President Muhammadu Buhari himself. And I was very candid and told the President how I had advised the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan for five solid years but to no avail. I gave President Buhari a compilation of my articles during the Jonathan era. I promised to continue in the same fashion under his tenure. And that is what I have been doing.
I have never disrespected the office of our President. He never told me not to criticise him. In fact, I owe him the truth and nothing but the truth, as a stakeholder in the presidential campaign that catapulted him back to power after 30 years of being forced out of power. I never knew we were expected to dissect the government of Jonathan but not that of Buhari. I’m very sorry to disappoint those who apotheosise our President and do not expect anyone to tell him the gospel truth.
I love and admire Buhari but he needs to know what Nigerians are feeling and saying on the streets. I’m proud to be on record as writing to him and advising him regularly in my column. If he fails, I fail. If he succeeds, I would have succeeded. It is preposterous to blackmail any critic as someone seeking government appointment. My mission could not be further away. I believe I can do a lot from outside as much as I can do from inside. There is therefore no need for me to critic the Government simply on account of personal gain.
Let me therefore allay the fears of government bigots who attach conspiracy theories to every action of a critic, I’m not seeking any government appointment. I’m of the firm belief that no self-respecting soul should beg to serve his country. It should be strictly on merit. And I don’t see any logic in the ridiculous argument that critics of government want something from government. Those who want something would rather be in the good books of government. The procedure is simple. You must jump like a frog from one party to the other. You must grovel before the godfathers. I’m happy to be adequately engaged and grateful to God for my modest life. My dream is to witness a greater and better Nigeria. I do not have to be in government to make my humble contribution. I write out of love and not out of hating those God has favoured with authority. My writing is didactic and never acerbic. I do not write to destroy. I write to build. Our country needs those who can stare power in the face and say what may not be too palatable to the powerhouse, but say it with decorum.
There is nothing I wrote that is not being discussed everywhere today. The internet is awash with tales about Nigeria and the medical vacation of our President in London. I believe we can determine the narrative and navigate it in the right direction. Making a fetish of our President’s ailment is ridiculous. It means we’ve learnt no lesson from our recent past and contemporary history. It is not a crime to fall sick. We all do every now and then.
As I keep saying, modern day governance requires the President to make a clean breast of his ailment and provide regular updates about his progress. For one thing, this medical treatment is not private, it is state-sponsored. Secondly, every Nigerian deserves to know what is wrong with our President. It is sad and distressing that most of those in the know are foreigners responsible for his treatment. That is neo-colonialism in another guise.
As if to corroborate my position in last week’s simple and straight-forward epistle, the world media is agog with stories on Nigeria. And for the first time in a long while, Nigeria is beginning to smell like roses. Everyone agrees that something positive is beginning to happen in Nigeria and it calls for a celebration and encouragement. Why should anyone take offence that Nigeria is enjoying rave reviews. Reuters, The Economist, Bloomberg, Financial Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, and others are all focussing attention on Nigeria and asking questions about what exactly is happening to our President Muhammadu Buhari that has kept him away from home for so long. While worrying about his supposed ailment, they still found something to cheer in the emergence, conduct and composure of his deputy who is now in charge as Acting President.
There is no doubt that Osinbajo has been very calm and composed and methodical in his approach to governance. Nigerians in unison seem to agree that they want this new style to continue when President Buhari returns. In their paranoia, some of Buhari’s acolytes see the praise of Osinbajo as an indictment of Buhari’s style which many have complained about as being too slow, rigid and overtly combative. The palpable tension in the land is disappearing and there is a new flow of camaraderie between various arms of governments at all levels.
Osinbajo, soon to be 60 next week, is displaying his agility, dexterity in fast-paced fashion and reaching out to all Nigerians in a bid to fostering unity amongst a perpetually warring people. Nothing demonstrates this new found cooperation than the blistering and blitzkrieg visits of Osinbajo to communities that once felt ostracised and discriminated against in the past. Just imagine an Acting President of Nigeria, from the ruling party of APC, walking with so much confidence and panache on the streets of Uyo in Akwa Ibom, a PDP enclave. It looked surreal.
The Nigerian economy has suffered miserably from the massive shortfall in oil production that reduced the oil-flow and our national income. Osinbajo knew what to do and did not shy away from it. He reached out to the angry and vengeful militants who felt short-changed assaulted and insulted by the Nigerian oligarchy. This is not the time for frivolous arrogance or war-war. What Nigeria needs immediately and urgently is a modicum of modesty to massage the ego of the warlords who are willing, ready and able to bring Nigeria to a halt.
He is also reaching out to members of the private sector. He understands and can speak their language. They feel at ease in his presence. He has engaged the military chiefs in his capacity as Acting Commander-in-Chief. He is representing his boss well and President Buhari must be very proud of the man he chose as his Vice President.
There is nothing to worry about by those who think we are trying to over-praise Osinbajo. That is not our intention. As I clearly explained last week, the team is one, but the style of Osinbajo is just refreshingly different and ostensibly more effective. That should not be a surprise to anyone. Osinbajo is a much younger man. As I noted earlier, he will celebrate his 60th birthday in a matter of days. He is a distinguished scholar who has worked globally. He has worked in government as Attorney General of Nigeria’s wealthiest State, Lagos, regarded as the California of Africa. He is therefore very current. President Buhari’s appeal rested in his anti-corruption credentials and his ascetic discipline that we’ve all come to appreciate and admire. But it seems the style that worked relatively well for him between 1984-85 is no longer valid at this time and age. There is a world of difference between dictatorship and democracy. Fighting corruption is also more difficult in party politics.
There is no way to arrest corrupt people and not touch some of the kingmakers who made it possible for you to attain power. To harass your benefactors is to be labelled an ingrate and ingratitude is a major sin even in the holy books. It must be so frustrating for a very honest leader like Buhari to find himself in the company of artful dodgers. While EFCC struggles and works hard to catch thieves, the agency has to be careful not to step on some fat toes. We are all human, after-all. There is no way Buhari/Osinbajo would be in power today without the avuncular support of some heavy spenders. Political campaign is no kids’ play anywhere. It is virtually a game of gamblers.
I elaborated well on this agonising reality in some of my memos to the President which some political neophytes described as protecting corrupt people. Buhari started on a war-war note and went after some of his own party members who worked assiduously to fund his campaign. Till this day, I doubt if there has been a landmark conviction of any major culprit. In what must have been as a result of acute frustration, the President went after some Judges who were considered corrupt and a cog in the wheels of obtaining fair justice against corrupt politicians and civil servants. Even that seemed to have meandered into a cul de sac.
Head or tail, Nigeria is a very complicated nation with a convoluted configuration. But for now, something is shifting and we should embrace this positive development with both hands. This Presidential Team is beginning to look like a divine one. Let no one put the team asunder.