President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has two mutually exclusive ends before him. He can be a great President. He can be the leader who vindicates our optimism. Or he can be a colossal heartbreak, a lost investment in trust: the villain who kissed a generation’s promise and betrayed it.
The good news is that Buhari’s fate is not predetermined. It’s neither fixed in the stars nor the lines of his palms. Buhari will leave a legacy of Buhari’s own choice and making.
The wretched of the earth cast their hope on Buhari. They cast their vote for him. And they did so because they considered him the ambassador of their cause. They believed that his modesty, simplicity and integrity would make Abuja work for them. They sowed in that expectation. Buhari owes them the debt of proving that they had sown in good soil.
There are also many who loathe him. They judge him as the same apparition of the past; a tyrant yesterday and today. Some doubt his capacity to bear the weight of the nation. A good number grade him as no better alternative to the incumbent. Others are souls won by the hate campaign. Buhari needs to earn credibility with them.
Buhari has already made a remarkable achievement. As the mascot of a surreal voters’ uprising, he has helped break Nigeria’s most awful jinx. He has shattered the curse that says the toughest job in the land will be offered on the cheapest platter to an apathetic conscript. Not claimed by a striving aspirant.
It was the fashion to ascribe this obnoxious phenomenon, recurrent and inscrutable, to the hand of God. The article of faith, as weird as the notion it purports to sanctify, holds that ‘’Divinity moves some conclave to pick a President in spite of the people.’’ Today, the paradigm has shifted: The people have become God’s oracle.
It took resilience and the compound interest of four successive Presidential contests, but Buhari ultimately wrecked that default setting.
We nearly missed this.
After his third defeat, Buhari announced his resolution to quit vying to lose. He wept. Before snappers and cameras and admirers, the man whose exterior always seemed to be hardwired against any open show of sentimentality dabbed his eyes with a white handkerchief: Dabbed them again and again, like fresh wounds. A hat-trick of failures had collapsed the General’s fortitude.
That farewell, a reluctant abandonment forced by unrequited love, immediately provoked a widespread flight of counterfactual imagining. What could Nigeria have missed out on in frustrating Buhari into retirement? What could we have forfeited by refusing to give him a chance? What could we have gained on the road not taken?
Did we not reject a man whose personal discipline exudes the power of a shepherd’s rod and staff? A man whose gravitas will foster the interrogation of our moral infrastructure? Did we not throw away the prospect of introducing hygiene to the highest level of government?
Buhari’s victory in this election means that reflections on the state of the nation will not automatically switch to those rueful conjectures. We will now experience his interpretation of the role of President and Commander-in-Chief.
Dim Chukwemeka Ojukwu penned a terse and loaded tribute to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo; ‘’the best President Nigeria never had’’. Similar ‘’might have been’’ trope, an appeal to the possible supplement to a biography, a speculative but immeasurable loss of potentiality, would have fitted Buhari.
Buhari has grasped the brass ring. He now has to show his bona fides. He will show whether his victory is an arrival or a point of departure. He would savor the euphoria briefly and start working. Or he will stretch his celebration and make his entire tenure some long-drawn-out jubilation. The span of his victory hangover will decide if/when he will be ready to begin duty.
General Buhari has earned the right to scoop honey out of the carcass of the lion. He pressed on even when the odds were against him. He set his face like a flint. He endured a vicious profiling that called him the devil on the ballot. His faith triumphed over experience. His elation is valid. But he cannot afford to be conquered by his own victory.
Buhari has apprehended the capstone of his life walk. Yet this crowning glory is only valuable to the extent it can serve as the foundation for his legacy.
He needs to start booting for his task. Like a pregnant woman, he needs to start bearing the burden that will ready him for his impending responsibility. This is the best time to start defining the parameters of his agenda. He needs to make the most of the transition period.
General Muhammadu Buhari has never walked this road before. Last time he managed a country was thirty years ago. And that stint in a junta context is very different from the democratic milieu he will have to operate in. He can’t lean back to the past. Because only very little of his experience in totalitarianism will be relevant at this moment. Nigeria and her people have changed since 1983: The country, in sensitivity of soul; the citizenry in permissible culture.
All Buhari needed to function as opposition leader were a pair of critical eyes and an accusing voice. His new part as head of government makes him responsible for championing the search for solutions for problems of the day. The transition days would be more profitably used in studying modern statecraft.
He must be in wonderment at his sudden change of fortune. He now spends the better part of his day hosting regimes of Magi from all the four cardinal points. In the twinkling of an eye, he has transfigured from an anathema into the celebrity everyone wants to court. He has officially become the most sought after personality in Nigeria today. He is the President in waiting. He is the man everyone wants to curry favor with because in a matter of weeks he will be the supreme patron and dispenser, the man with the yam and the knife.
The familiar Any Government In Power jobbers, extinction-proof dinosaurs, all the characters who are the common denominators in all cycles of the nation’s woes, are swarming to his residence. These are folks who can’t breathe outside the orbit of power. Their victory scavenger visits ‘’to pledge our unalloyed loyalty and support’’ is nothing more than the expression of intent to infuse themselves into the plot of the inchoate administration. Their visits constitute a larceny of time and attention.
The failure of many otherwise well meaning elected officials often begins earlier than their resumption of duty. The cause is loose permeability of their gate.
There is a place for audience with well wishers and associates. There is a time for friendly backslapping. However, Buhari needs to have a gate that is less broad than the road to hell. He needs to institute a mechanism that qualifies people for access.
The best use of a President-elect’s time is not tending to a surging stream of congratulators. A man who will soon assume the task of presiding over Nigeria should spend the days leading to his swearing in in more vital endeavors than feting wayfarers.
Buhari is not being advised to quarantine himself. The last thing he needs to do now is develop a carapace of insularity. He needs to be very hospitable to many people and many ideas.
However, the company Buhari needs to keep most now is those who can help him shape his agenda. Those who he sits with must be smart men and women who bring something to the table. They must come equipped with pragmatic proposals on how the tenure can deliver the deliverables that matter most.
Nigeria has a vast, inexhaustible talent pool. We have the best brains in different spheres of human endeavor. At home and in Diaspora, many of our gifted countrymen yearn for an opportunity to offer their know-how in the service of their homeland. Buhari needs to fill his quiver with them.
The tenet of federal character demands that he accommodates many identities to massage the sense of inclusion. Of course, like any product of our kind of politics, Buhari will also be under pressure to pencil down some names against certain ‘’juicy positions’’ as a token of gratitude or reward to donors and sponsors and others who laid hefty bets on his chance.
He needs the courage to give priority to merit. Only those with demonstrable capacity to function at the level of excellence should make his vetting list. His success or failure will depend on the quality of his hires and how prudently he deploys their competencies. If he makes his picks solely to appease election investors, he would have failed even before he begins.
A nation perennially shortchanged by delinquent leadership is in a hurry to see the sandal-wearing ascetic acquit himself.
Nigerian people have fulfilled Buhari’s dream. He must return the favor by alleviating their nightmare.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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