Now that Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) has been chosen by the Nigerian people, it is my duty as a patriotic Nigerian to help him succeed even though my candidate was President Goodluck Jonathan, a man to whom I will always be loyal and appreciative.
General Buhari is about to mount the saddle and I for one am in a very good position to tell him some home truths because as a senator-elect, I have a very fulfilling job awaiting me and I do not need a job or favours from Buhari so I do not have to play nice.
Looking at the personalities he has appointed to his transition council, I am wont to believe that General Buhari needs to expand his circle of friends and advisers.
As a military strategist, the president-elect must be familiar with the principle that the people you use in subduing an opponent are not necessarily the same persons you will need in rebuilding the territories you took. I may be using military terms, but I am sure General Buhari is aware that politics is war by other means and therefore many of the rules of war and peace apply to politics.
The General will be best served if he thinks of what is best for Nigeria rather than what is best for his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), and its chieftains. He must remember that in Nigeria’s subjective politics, it was his person that the people voted for not his party and he should therefore serve the people the dish they are angling for.
And what are the expectations of Nigerians from General Buhari? Definitely not business as usual. The president-elect ran on a promise of change and while that change was not really defined by its chanters, Nigerians defined it as a change in their situation. To borrow from the famously potent prayers of Mountain of Fire and Miracle members, the Nigerian masses defined change as a situation where wealth and power must change hands from the elite to the masses by fire by force and they see General Buhari as the enforcer angel that will bring about this change.
With this type of expectation, Buhari’s honeymoon period with Nigerians will not last very long if he does not take drastic steps to adjust Nigeria’s economy to the realities of falling oil prices and a dearth of buyers for the Bonny Light Sweet Crude.
To put things into perspective, when the United States started buying less and less of Nigeria’s oil, we looked to China as an alternative buyer of oil but it has since come to light that whereas America spent $101 billion on clean energy between 2012-13, China spent $125 billion within the same time frame.
The above data should alert Nigeria and other nations that look to China for oil markets to the fact that China is even ahead of the West in the search for alternative to fossil fuels as a source of energy.
Buhari may wish he did not win the 2015 elections when the reality of our economic situation sets in. In his December 2014 Channels Television interview, Buhari said he was going to “stabilise the oil market”. The General will learn soon enough that today’s oil market is a buyers’ market. And the General’s choices are limited because he cannot (unless he is extraordinarily brave and politically callous) do the obvious and sack civil servants. Yes, he will eventually have to reduce the over bloated federal civil service, but before he can do that, he has to build up political capital by reducing the overhead of the Executive and persuade the Legislature to follow suit.
Austerity measures must start from Aso Rock. This means that luxurious multi car convoys must be reduced. The presidential air fleet has to go, by way of being auctioned off or sold to local airlines. Estacode allowances must be slashed and the president’s entourages should be lean while non-essential foreign travels should be banned. The president-elect should not underestimate the big difference these small changes can make and their capacity to buy him enough credibility with the labour unions, the kind of credibility that will see them accepting cuts in the federal workforce and reduction in pay and entitlements.
A small change like flying commercial instead of by private jet saved Britain a whopping £200,000 when the thrifty British Prime Minister, David Cameron, flew to America to meet President Barack Obama on a regular BA flight.
Nigeria is in for very desperate times if we do not tighten our belts while our major foreign exchange earner is facing global challenges.
Russia, a nation that many will say is more prepared than Nigeria for the shocks occasioned by the drop in the price of oil devalued its currency by 11 per cent in just one day. While Russia is taking these steps, the world is watching to see if Nigeria will continue to spend hundreds of billions annually sponsoring its elite on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem.
I mean, no economist will get why a nation with over 60 per cent of its people living in poverty at the best of times, will spend almost 1 per cent of its annual budget sponsoring pilgrimages for its elite who can afford to go to the Holy Land on their own dime. I for one do not get it. A pilgrimage is meant to be a sacrifice of a believer. How is a pilgrimage still a sacrifice when someone pays for you to go? The Nigerian government is sending people on holidays not pilgrimages!
I daresay that the money being spent by the Nigerian government to airlift pilgrims to both Holy Lands is enough to educate all the almajiri in Northern Nigeria. Wouldn’t God and humanity be better served if we looked after the less privileged in our midst? General Buhari has his work cut out for him and he does not have time to be bitter about who said what, when and where. He must let go of any desire to pay any of his traducers back whether they be from the last 16 years or as far back as 1985.
Four years is only enough time to fix Nigeria. Any time spent on other ventures is time taken from this most important of assignments. And let me say that General Buhari should not allow himself to be pigeon holed by people who dangle ideologies instead of realities. Yes, the APC may have styled itself as a progressive party, which in itself is a contradiction because Buhari is a conservative, but Buhari should not bother about that.
Whether the philosophy is progressive or conservative or liberal or free market, he should go with what works because as Deng Xiaoping once noted: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat.” And it is fitting for me to end with a mention of Xiaoping. No other contemporary world leader, in my opinion, closely mirrors Buhari as does Xiaoping.
In 1966, Xiaoping was dethroned from his powerful party positions by loyalists of Chairman Mao as was Buhari in 1985 by loyalists of his Chief of Army staff. Xiaoping suffered house arrest, loss of earned privileges and was consigned to political limbo for almost a decade as was Buhari.
But then Xiaoping bounced back into favour and became China’s leader in 1976 and thereafter jettisoned his life long belief in Mao’s Cultural Revolution and introduced the “one country, two systems” policy that allowed communism and capitalism to coexist in China. This is similar to Buhari’s conversion from an anti-democrat who believed power flowed from the barrel of a gun to a democrat who accepted democracy as the best form of governance and capitalism as the natural economic policy of a democracy.
But this is where Buhari has to learn from Xiaoping. Xiaoping refused to demonise Chairman Mao, his predecessor who had purged him from power and placed him under house arrest after stripping him off his privileges. Instead of bitterness, Xiaoping believed that Mao’s “accomplishments must be considered before his mistakes”.
This is how Buhari must treat his predecessors. He must not demonise everything that was done by previous administrations and mark those who served in those government as persona non grata. He must take the bitter with the sweet and make use of the best brains Nigeria has to offer, for as he said on December 31st, 1983, “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country than Nigeria”.
Murray-Bruce is the Chairman of Silverbird Group