At the height of the campaign, the story was told of General Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to one of the northern states. I think it was Zamfara. After a couple of whistle stops, starting from Kano, he arrived at the palace of the traditional ruler in Gusau many hours behind schedule.
When he was leaving the palace, the last thing he expected was to find the huge, cheering crowd still waiting to catch a glimpse of his entourage, well after midnight.
As the horde pressed on his motorcade, Buhari leaned toward his running mate, Yemi Osinbajo, and said, “Can you see the faces of the people out there! Can you see the weight of expectation? They think that if we win, Nigeria will change the next day!”
The look on the faces of the Zamfara crowd is a portrayal of the national mood, a dilemma that has confronted leaders since Jesus first multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed a hungry crowd.
While the faithful have come to expect miracles, leaders have desperately tried to find a template – the 100-day period – for turning stone to bread.
It’s not that government is elected for 100 days or that late starters necessarily finish badly. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, modern governments and political marksmen seem to have agreed that a government that cannot perform in 100 days may as well reconcile with impotence for the rest of its days in office.
If it took Napoleon 100 days to escape from the Island of Elba, return to France, mobilise troops and launch one of his most historic wars in Europe (which ended in his defeat at Waterloo), why should any serious government fail to make a mark in three months?
Roosevelt came to office during the Great Depression, a desperate time for Americans and a tumultuous era for the world. The dollar was hardly worth the paper on which it was printed and the global financial system was rudimentary.
But Roosevelt had work to do and he knew it was a race against time. He offered Americans the New Deal, rescued the banking and financial system from collapse and created the Tennessee Valley Authority (which put federal resources at the disposal of weak and vulnerable states).
He passed 15 pieces of major legislations, and by the time his first 100 days were over, he had secured a place in the people’s hearts and minds which would eventually earn him a historic fourth term.
Barack Obama has also shown what is possible in the first 100 days. The Bush legacy, which Obama inherited, is similar to what Buhari will inherit from President Goodluck Jonathan, only without 9/11. If the self-inflicted wars did not drain America, the orgy of cronyism under Bush might have done just as much damage to America’s economy and standing as corruption and incompetence have done to Nigeria under Jonathan.
What did Obama do in 100 days? To rescue America from the economic crisis, he froze the salaries of White House staffers earning above $100,000, saving up to $443,000 a year. He signed the $830billion stimulus bill (part of which was to save the car industry in Detroit) and clamped down on lobbyists at the Capitol.
Obama provided a roadmap for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and shone the light on the abuses at Guantanamo Bay, an open sore on America’s conscience. Unlike the tenant in the White House before him, Obama even found a place for Bo, America’s First Dog.
And most of all, it was within Obama’s first 100 days in office that he announced his plan to make the US self-sufficient in energy, a plan whose accomplishment has substantially cured America of its chronic incapacity to think – or act – beyond oil.
David Cameron and Narendra Modi also offer useful lessons. In an article by Robert Hargroove entitled, “The Best Advice You’ll Ever Get,” the writer said of British Prime Minister Cameron, “One of the things I found interesting about the new British duo (Cameron and Nick Clegg) was their willingness to stand up for their beliefs and make unpopular budget decisions after being elected. Nick Clegg commenting on this said, ‘These are some of the hardest things we will ever have to do, but I assure you the alternative is worse.’”
Those hard choices included a freeze in ministerial pay that saved the UK £3million yearly, cut in perks and outright cancellation of many desirable but unnecessary projects.
As for India’s Modi, I’ve shared the example of his 100 days in office on this page before. It was a story of how Sayli, my Indian friend who desperately wanted a job at LEADERSHIP, suddenly changed her mind after Modi’s 100 days in office turned her night to day.
Modi brought back illegal money stashed away by rich Indians in tax havens and put in place measures to stem the tide. He cleared notorious bureaucratic red tape, reformed the judiciary, made the financial system more inclusive and focused the 2014 budget on infrastructure.
I have read Buhari’s 100-day covenant and it covers everything from corruption to insecurity, Niger Delta and agriculture, and from diversity to power and ICT. That’s a full plate. But as Buhari will soon find out, law, bureaucracy and vested interests will carefully preserve the demons in virtually all areas of his covenant.
Buhari has been out of power for 30 years. He’ll have to be benignly ruthless to be sane. To root out the vestiges that have held us down, he probably needs to keep in his corner – for a short time – one or two people in Jonathan’s government who know where the corpses are buried.
There are at least 2,500 political aides and appointees that the system can reasonably do without, and far fewer ministries and ministers – frankly not more than seven (justice, power, finance, education, health, infrastructure and foreign affairs) – that can justify their existence. The budgeting system is a sham that feeds the greed of rogue civil servants and their political allies.
As for the National Assembly, the members’ present allowances are obscene, indefensible and prime candidate for the axe.
Wages are lagging behind inflation and one way to keep labour on a leash is to set a public example in prudence.
Right now, most of the states are gasping for air, with 24 (two-thirds of the lot) owing salaries – a compelling testament to the need to cut excesses.
It may take Buhari 100 days or more to stamp his authority on his covenant, but a man who’s paying yesterday’s debt has no time to waste. If like the crowd in Gusau on that campaign night we expect him to turn stone to bread, it’s not because we’re tempting him to fail; it’s simply because we’ve seen this miracle happen elsewhere.