Not a few people believe that if they swapped places with President-elect Muhammud Buhari, they would know exactly what to do to fix Nigeria inside four years. They presume that Buhari may not have something commensurate to their breadth of wisdom, that he might be ‘’clueless’’. So they have taken on the philanthropic task of lending him a compass. And there is a surfeit of those hawking their ideas as national panacea.
Ben Murray Bruce, Chairman of Silverbird Group, a conglomerate whose concern span the gamut of radio and television, beauty pageantry and cinema, recently put himself in the loop. He wrote an op-ed in ThisDay on 29th April 2015, in which he detailed a laundry list of actions he would have President Buhari take. Bruce had prefaced his ” It Doesn’t Matter If The Cat Is White Or Black” treatise with a mention of Senator-elect credential, to establish his eligibility to contribute to the traffic of prescriptions. And yes, he disclosed that ”my candidate was President Goodluck Jonathan, a man to whom I will always be loyal and appreciative”. Then Bruce began serving his ‘’home truths’’.
Tough bold actions that translate the slogan of change into a tangible experience. Downsize the civil service workforce. Cut the wages of Abuja fat cats. Auction the Presidential fleet. Prune official motorcade. Wean Nigeria off crude oil revenue.
Bruce earns zilch mark for ingenuity on this count. He didn’t advance any novel remedy. He merely rehashed the needful but obvious set of actions President Jonathan and preceding administrations refused to take.
We all know Nigeria maintains a ridiculously outsized civil service workforce. But no President has ever dared to order a drastic pruning. President Jonathan, the man Bruce swears by, once empaneled a team of technocrats led by Stephen Orosanye and charged them to study the Nigerian bureaucracy and proffer measures to rid it of excess. The Orosanye team did a handsome job. They outlined the necessary sacks, mergers of departments and ministries, and outright scrapings that needed to be done to reconnect the civil service to efficiency and value addition. Jonathan received their report and discarded it. He buckled under the prospect of a potential clash with Labor.
The food budget of every administration has always given us food for thought. Every year brings a disgraceful improvement on the gluttony of the previous year. We haven’t had a helmsman with an appetite for discipline or thrift lately. President Jonathan covenanted 174.6 million naira to meals and drinks this 2015.
Paycut? That’s almost a forbidden subject to broach. It is the overarching conviction of the political class that the margin between their remuneration and the minimum wage must be large enough to distinguish between the purse of the lords and the slaves.
Leaders of more prosperous and developed countries board commercial flights. But we have had a profusion of small minded rulers who think it beneath their station in life to share space with commoners. Last time we checked, Allison Madueke, Jonathan’s Mistress of Petroleum, burnt 10 billion naira on flying private jets. President Jonathan maintains dozen plus two aircraft. They are available for errands of family and friends and for ferrying party chieftains to campaign rallies. They taxpayer underwrites the waste.
The Jonathan Ben Bruce supported for re-election preserved an over-bloated workforce, took outrageous allowances for himself and paid others same, maintained more aircraft than he needed to function, and shrunk from taking any serious step to cut the cost of governance. Was Bruce attracted by the anything other than the resolution and speed with which Jonathan was driving Nigeria towards insolvency?
Bruce is now volunteering his prescriptions to President-elect Buhari. Bruce is now posing like a patriot. Like a Senator-elect. But he made clear that his metric for scoring Buhari would be how well Buhari redeems Jonathan’s failure. Bruce hinted that he would find entertainment in watching Buhari struggle with the dilemma that Jonathan would bequeath to Buhari. And if Buhari does not do what Jonathan refused to do, Buhari would be marked a failure.
Now citizens have a right to set agenda for the President. They have a right to express their expectations of a performance benchmark. But Bruce declined to use that right to influence the direction of state policy under the Jonathan administration.
The question to ask is whether Bruce, who also has proximity to the President, has ever vouchsafed President Jonathan or the public domain similar suggestions? Did Bruce, a Bayelsan, tell Jonathan, his home boy, ‘’the home truths’’ he now feels obligated to share with Buhari? Did Bruce warn, in coy innuendos, that if the Jonathan failed to do this or that that there would be so and so inexorable tragedy?
Bruce did not: Because he was a Jonathan supporter. Bruce let the pundit in him lie quiescent. He refrained from interrogating the problems of the day. Bruce conflated loyalty with acquiescence.
We might have missed Bruce’s opinion if Jonathan had been re-elected. Bruce wouldn’t have found it a compelling obligation to identify areas of malfeasance and task the President to correct them. Bruce would have still remained the half-full-glass-of-water seer. But Buhari’s victory has relieved him of his blinkers.
It’s saddening that Senator-elect Bruce had to hoard his magical suggestions until now. He premised his advisory on Buhari’s change Nigeria. Jonathan also promised A Breath of Fresh Air. Jonathan made the Transformation Agenda the motto of his tenure. Bruce did not hold Jonathan accountable.
Bruce gives the impression that he has spent the past six years of the Jonathan Presidency boning up on how to write a critical op-ed. But that’s far from the truth. This is the coming out of the closet of a hypocrite.
Bruce’s ill will is not thinly clad. His manifest intent is to institute a false litmus test for the Buhari Presidency. If Buhari did not redeem Jonathan’s foibles, then Buhari would have failed. Buhari’s Presidential destiny is to be some kind of a born again Jonathan.
Well, Buhari knows what to do. He knows the priorities of the moment. That’s why he found the juice to run for President for the fourth time.
And Bruce knows what to do too. He knows he has to do penance for starving President Jonathan the beneficial critiques that may have helped Nigeria.
Bruce, like so many people, has a warped understanding of the meaning of support. He had thought supporting Jonathan meant withholding unpalatable perspective. He had felt obligated to remain silent, never to acknowledge symptoms of national malfunction.
Many Nigerians believe that to concede that there is something wrong in the present is tantamount to sabotaging the government of the day or indicting it for ineptitude. They consider it the duty of critical visioning the monopoly of the opposition party. They cast themselves as fans in the grandstands. They owe the incumbent the debt of applauding and cheering even when the player is executing a losing run.
That is not what supporting a leader entails. Supporting a leader is not practicing sycophancy. It is not deliberately desensitizing one’s ability to see evil, hear evil or speak evil. It is not being perennially defensive of the state of the country under a certain leader presides.
Supporting a leader is furnishing him with the goodwill and ideas that advantage his judgment. It is providing him all the sincere opinions he needs to have to have a fair appreciation of the reality he is expected to deal with.
Supporting the President is not abusing his critics. It is not about magnifying his token efforts. It is about telling truth to power. It is about representing the reality at the grassroots with no special effects.
Some supporters harm the politicians they profess to adore: They are too shy to query them, to task them, to rebuke them. They approach them with fear and trembling. They spook from sounding less like fawning courtiers. They speak with tongues dripping of honey. They dread to cause offense. They compliment everything, praise everything and celebrate everything.
And this places the politician in a Fool’s Paradise. They are out of touch. They assume the praise singing of the so-called supporters capture the mood of the entire populace. It often takes an election to separate them from their blissful ignorance.
Jonathan’s supporters proved to be his ultimate political undertakers.
Was it not a vanguard of Jonathan’s supposed supporters that contrived pages of 17 million ghost signatures to create the illusion of an overwhelming encore request? They organized rallies and pleaded that the majority of the Nigerian people were earnestly pleading that President Jonathan do them the favor of spoiling with goodies for another four years.
If Ben Bruce and his ilk had really supported President Jonathan, Jonathan would probably have recorded more success on the job. Nigeria may have been far better off. And Bruce would not have found himself feeling duty-bound to present the most conspicuous failings of Jonathan as Buhari’s most urgent task.