By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, thanks for the deluge of messages and phone calls last week after reading my memo to our dear President. I doubt if any article of mine ever generated such amazing interest from the rich and poor, educated and not so educated, alike. The closest to it would be the letter I wrote to our wonderful First Lady of yore, Dame Patience Jonathan at the peak of PDP rascality.
For the sake of those still wondering why I wrote so passionately, and objectively, in my last column, let me say it loud and clear, that memo was an apologia to Nigerians. I had promised to write whenever I’m finally convinced that the APC government has irredeemably flopped like its predecessor PDP. I wish to emphasise that as much as I wish that a miracle can still happen in the next 12 months or so to come before the general election, I’m sorry to inform you that the signs are ominous. The lackadaisical attitude of APC, and in particular, President Buhari, has become unbearably palpable. They are looking like a Party and President on a suicide mission. They keep making mistakes after mistakes, and blunders after blunders.
There was no better time to rescue itself from the kamikaze slide than during the mass funeral in Benue State two days ago. What should have been a special occasion for national rebirth and reformation was frittered away by the sheer arrogance of the ruling class. What should have been a day of national mourning was treated with such recalcitrance, and possible disdain. It is difficult not to see or feel that this government is a victim of some witchcraft and hypnotism. A government that rode into power on the supersonic jet of goodwill of the people is barely struggling to survive a swim in the gutter of ill-wind. It is more like it has embarked on a predictable slide down a giant abyss, as by its very demeanour and offhanded posture it insults and belittles those very same people that it relied upon for the much vaunted change it promised but has found difficult to deliver. In many, albeit different ways, we seem to have gone back to the arrant impunity of the Jonathan era. What exactly is wrong? Anyway.
Pardon my digression, but the recent devastating and sad events in Benue State in which some herdsmen went berserk and attacked innocent indigenes of that State deserves condemnation of these terrorists by every Nigerian. I join others in offering my condolences to the families of all those who died in the unfortunate incidents. May the souls of the departed rest in peace. I commiserate with those injured and affected by the dastardly rampage. The time has come for President Buhari to act swiftly and decisively to curb this menace which has the potential to tear our country apart, despite the strenuous and vociferous protestations by the President about our unity being non-negotiable.
Now to the matter at hand. A few people suggested last week that I was working for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, probably because of our recent meeting and also partly because he is the main candidate who has declared his interest, and that is why I wrote that memo to President Muhammadu Buhari. Let me say with all the emphasis at my command that I’m not working for anybody. I’m too independent to be used by anybody. The time has not come for me to jump into the game. I have my eyes on a few bright guys of Nigeria but what if they don’t get the ticket? And what happens if we have Buhari and Atiku as frontrunners in the next election? You may wish to know who between the two I will support. When I’m faced with such option, I will not shy away from declaring my position publicly. I’m not the kind that would hide my support. When Chief Olu Falae contested against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, I supported Falae, as a matter of personal principle. He did not have cash to throw around and I even spent my meagre income to travel to Vienna to try and persuade that cerebral gentleman, of blessed memories, Dr Rilwan Lukman, who was the kingpin at OPEC headquarters in Austria, to run as Falae’s Vice-President. Though the arrangement fell through, I still returned home to support Falae. Only one person can win at a time.
I never supported any PDP candidate in their sixteen years in power though I admired a few of their action-packed Governors. The last election that catapulted them out of power finally convinced me that behaviourally and ideologically, the difference between APC and PDP was between six and half dozen. There was no way APC would have emerged triumphantly without the epic support of the PDP dissenters. Anyone can say whatever they like today, I was an eye-witness, and active participant, in the making of that spellbinding, suspense movie. Amaechi, Saraki, Kwankwaso, Atiku, Wamako, Tambuwal, and others from the PDP made so much difference when they added their weight to those of the godfathers from the other Parties that formed the APC conglomerate.
My decision to support APC, though never a member of the Party till this day, was primarily to get rid of the PDP fiefdom that was stylishly manifesting and bourgeoning into a veritable catastrophe for the country. Two, to stop the profligacy that had characterised the government of the day. I have met some key actors who said President Goodluck Jonathan was never a corrupt man personally but he lacked the strong will to challenge his thieving acolytes. That was the major weakness that guillotined his regime. Most reluctantly for some of us, Buhari became an option and a stopgap. Anyone who followed my support for President Buhari would have seen how I regularly referred to him as the Mandela option. I didn’t expect him to become a permanent feature. I’ve always believed that anyone above the age of 65 is a high-risk option, and I said this about Buhari during our Presidential race in 2011.
However, since the last Presidential election was a straight fight between Jonathan and Buhari, the choice was totally limited. Many of those who supported Buhari also considered his anti-corruption credentials though, in retrospect, I believe we downplayed his anti-democratic records and proclivity. I still have no doubt that he’s one of the most honest Nigerians alive today, although like Jonathan he seems to be surrounded by people in respect of who that is difficult to say.
It is likely that age, as well as the reality and practicality of how he attained power, have jointly humbled and mellowed his almost sacramental vows against corruption. It would be tantamount to monumental hypocrisy and superlative ingratitude to bite the fingers that fed one in our hour of acute need. It has become critically obvious that what has confronted Buhari in power was never what he anticipated or bargained for. This is why I advised him last week to bow out with whatever honour he has left, instead of squandering everything away. If he stubbornly contests the next election, he would be forced to compromise and capitulate on a number of things. He would have no choice than to play the erstwhile PDP card, by opening the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria to political vultures who are not known to be patient or merciful in respect of primordial interests. That was my honest and candid appeal to Baba out of genuine concern for his future and legacy. Let us, at least, continue to dream that we have one selfless and incorruptible leader in Nigeria.
The truth, is that my preference would be for younger candidates in both major Parties and my criteria would be as follows. The candidate must be well educated. Nigeria has produced more than enough graduates from every part of the country for us to be continuously and endlessly led by near-illiterates. The candidate should have managed people and resources, whether in a private or public capacity or both. The candidate is expected to be seriously exposed to modern trends. Ability to communicate well would be appreciated since he would have to interact with world leaders. I want a Nigerian candidate and not a sectional leader. Anyone who cannot feel at home in any part of Nigeria is not fit to lead our otherwise great nation. Anyone still relying on zoning, quota and Federal character to become anything in Nigeria is certainly an enemy of progress. We must consider the brightest people from every part. There are enough people in Nigeria who fit this bill. We can’t simply say that we cannot find one such person. Our search should in reality be moving on to finding the very best of the best. Once we find our Leader and his deputy then we should not care too much about engaging others, including foreigners, who are the best at infrastructure and facility building of the type we so desire and need. Dubai is not solely managed by Emirati citizens. The UK allows foreigners to manage critical sectors, including the economy, a good example being the Bank of England (their Central Bank) headed by a Canadian, Mark Joseph Carney.
I will not totally disqualify exceptional elders who have distinguished themselves under most of my above criteria lest I fall victim of the same bigotry I’ve been preaching against. Some elders are more reasonable, less corrupt, more business-savvy, more exposed to international standards, more efficient, less cantankerous, more focussed, and more visionary than our so-called youths. We have since come full cycle by trying sinners and saints but we have not yet succeeded in having great and big thinkers. We cannot, and must not, continue to delude ourselves that we can find saints from anywhere to lead us. What we need, as a matter of urgency and desperation are competent performers from wherever we can seek and find them. By now, we should be tired of exchanging the baton of backwardness and mediocrity every four years. Like joke, like joke, nothing spectacular has happened to us for decades now while smaller countries across Africa are marching forward confidently and admirably. Our own leaders seem to be very comfortable in our squalid, desolate and unsavoury conditions. No qualms. No urgency. No new ideas to copy, borrow or buy. We are permanently stagnant and sanguine about our perpetual state of inertia.
The next election should be a turning point. We can no longer afford to play politics of ethnicity, money and religion. I reiterate that we must search frantically, extensively and productively for the best. The world would leave us very far behind at the rate we are going. We are already desperately behind and trying to play catch up. We do not need to lose more ground. I’m appealing to everyone who loves Nigeria to free Nigeria from the bondage of oppression, suppression, ethnic jingoism, religious fanaticism, terrorism, Satanism, and all forms of retrogression. 2019 cannot, and should not, be business as usual. It should be our year of true liberation and independence. Yes. The time has come to assemble our proven performers in a government of national unity. Nigeria cannot be handed over, or handled anymore by professional politicians who have no other business or job they do, and who merely see their stay in government as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement, and unashamed and unabashed looting of our collective wealth. Rather we want Nigerian leaders who are committed and passionate about their country.
Our chosen leaders must be willing to sacrifice their all to ensure and enhance the comfort of their fellow citizens by providing the simple basics of life. Nigerians have never been a demanding people. We merely want education for our children, decent wages for our hard labour, good health care, electricity, water, food, security and above all peace. For now, every single one of these matters evade and elude us notwithstanding our vote for change! The President and his Vice President must provide evidence of what they have done and accomplished in their lives. Merit, productivity, passion and vision must be our watchword. Irrelevant considerations, like religion, ethnicity or even gender, have no place in this equation.
May Nigeria be victorious.