The substance of change By Segun Gbadegesin

buhariChange was the magic word that attracted Nigerians to the All Progressives Congress (APC) train and to its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari. They wanted change from the direction the country had been pushed in the last 16 years. They trusted the man from Daura because they saw him, not as a typical politician, but as a man of an uncommon disciplined approach to life and an unusual integrity. They rallied round him because they believed it was time to rescue the nation and this was the man who could make it happen.

Buhari himself noted with trepidation the burden of high expectations that he had to shoulder. He tried to play down his capability to deliver and do so especially in such a short run as the people apparently desired and expected. He didn’t find it amusing that all eyes will be on him within three months of his inauguration.

To be sure, there is still a lot of goodwill for President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) and there are numerous Nigerians willing to extend his period of honeymoon. The majority of these patient citizens are Buharists to the core. For them, PMB is still the answer and he can do no harm.

On the other side, however, there is a vocal minority, many of who have never hidden their disdain for the man and have been critical of his moves from the day he won the presidential election. “We told you so” has been the refrain from this circle. For them either Buhari has a northern agenda or he is on a jihadist mission.

Between the two groups, there is a third, the non-aligned, independent and neutral-minded willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Their first reaction to any “shocking” news from the second group is to find out the truth, then the rationale, before making a judgment. They refuse to jump to conclusions about motivation. So they ask questions and refrain from pronouncing any verdict until they are sure.

More importantly, the neutral independent-minded group is interested in how the President pursues the substance of change. But what do they understand by the substance of change and what does it matter? They certainly want concrete and material change as opposed the façade, periphery, or margin. For them, the change mantra can be more of the same, business as usual masquerading as change.

What this group craves cannot be achieved in a jiffy, and they know it. Therefore they are not among the crowd demanding the head of PMB because nothing has happened in 100 days out of at least 1,460 days that the President has to effect substantial change in the polity.

Take the case of appointments. The neutral group grants that Buhari cannot wait for four years before he finalises the appointment of the men and women who will help him achieve the substance of change that they desire. He will have to do this pretty soon; otherwise precious time is wasted. But they also grant him the benefit of the doubt. They are sympathetic with his cautious approach to get it right so he doesn’t simultaneously hire and fire.

Secondly, they are also willing to concede to him the prerogative of hiring those he knows and trusts into strategic positions that he requires to deliver on substantial change. Therefore they don’t grumble about the appointment of the Chief of Staff (CoS) or Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

The concern of some in the first group mentioned above with respect to the latest appointments is twofold. First, if the appointments are a reflection of the mind of PMB with respect to trust, then it follows that he trusts members of his ethnic nationality more than other groups. Second, they contend that the appointments come with enormous power, which has multiplier effects for the constituencies of the appointees.

To the first observation, members of the independent and neutral group are not impressed by the criticism. They know that the new President can jeopardise the goals and objectives of his promise of substantial change and thus alienate the electorate with a do-gooder approach to filling the most sensitive positions. They know that there is an enormous danger for the President and for the nation in a strategy that canvasses political correctness in matters of grave importance.

Surely, there is also a grave danger in the appearance of failing to respect the traditional approach of satisfying all constituencies in a democratic setting. After all, he or at least his party will have to come back to these same constituencies for their votes in short 48 months. The anti-Buharists are gleefully entertaining these prospects of a Buhari or an APC coming back cap in hand for votes and being shunned or worse by voters.

There is the prospect of a different outcome, however. Buhari’s trusted hands perform beyond anyone’s expectation. They succeed in stamping out corruption. They revive the comatose economy. They surprise us all with a thoughtful and effective agenda for restructuring the nation for optimal performance. And they bring back sanity and probity to governance. In this scenario, Buhari would have achieved the change that he promised, not marginally but substantially. Who in his or her right senses will then deny him or his party a second term on the parochial excuse that his uncle was not appointed SGF?

I am not even interested here in the certainly legitimate argument of the third neutral group that for 16 years PDP presidents religiously adhered to the mantra of spreading the goodies. They invited every ethnic nationality to the dinner table. But those invited only filled their pot bellies without even allowing crumbs to fall off the dinner table for their kith and kin to snatch. An eight-lane dual carriage Lagos-Ibadan Expressway would have benefitted everyone from every nationality. Didn’t we have Ministers of Works and Transport from the South? Is Benin-Ore Road the better for that?

There are two more considerations. First, some in the first group made reference to other climes, including the United States from where we copied our presidential system. But in those climes, no one cares where the president’s appointees come from as long as they are competent, accountable and trustworthy. If they don’t deliver, they are fired without any scruple, though the man who made the mistake of hiring them in the first place will have to eat the humble pie. He cannot blame anyone for his error of judgment.

Our system is not different. What is different is that when it is convenient we preach the gospel of one nation. However, when we look ourselves in the mirror, we see many nations. But our constitution already provides for this paradox of one and the many. Ministers must come from all states of the federation and in the matter of board appointments, it is also expected that the federal character of the nation is respected. Can we then just allow Caesar to take what is his, and God to have what belongs to Him?

Finally, while the first anti-Buhari group mocks the leaders of the ruling party, especially those from the South as if they have been used and dumped, the neutral group and, naturally the unrepentantBuharists, can only sympathise with the ignorance so unashamedly displayed. Does it really make sense that Buhari doesn’t confide in the leadership of his party before announcing his appointees? And does it make sense that party leaders would not scrutinise the record of those prospective appointees as well as his reasons for choosing them?

Take the case of the new SGF. His bio shows a man of great intellect and accomplishment. He is an achiever in his discipline. But he is also a strong and loyal party man. Combine these qualities with the fact that he is a Christian from a northern minority nationality. Why don’t Buhari’s critics see this appointment as a plus for him—for recognising and trusting a Christian for the position of SGF and acknowledging and correcting the marginalisation of a northern minority? Blowing in the wind—the answer is.

NATION

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