17th September, 2021
By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
It is very refreshing to note that President Muhammadu Buhari is aware that he is flirting with failure. Posturing as a sanctimonious man living an aloof life and locked up in a small cocoon surrounded by sycophants, there was this fear that Buhari was incapable of introspective. But after yet another meeting with his service chiefs last week, Buhari’s own National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno acknowledged that the president did not want to end up a failure.
Some would say, too late.
But 645 days left before he leaves Abuja for retirement in his hometown of Daura is enough time still to stir the ship of Nigeria in a different direction. After all, that was all that was required of Buhari by Nigerians who voted for him in 2015. They wanted Buhari to place Nigeria on an irreversible path to progress, if not greatness. They voted for Buhari to stop the expanding erosion site, not ignore it, and construct roads and railways the erosion will eventually wipe away.
Even though Buhari promised to return Naira to an exchange rate of one Naira to one dollar, the people who voted for him knew deep down that Naira had nowhere else to go but down, against currencies of countries that produce things. However, they did not envisage that Buhari would print so much Naira and borrow so many dollars that the country would dedicate over 97 percent of Nigeria’s revenue to service debts.
Even though Buhari promised to defeat Boko Haram militants in six months, those who voted for him knew deep down that it would take more than that. However, they did not know that Buhari’s incompetence would open new insecurity war fronts in the North West and Middle-belt and move Nigeria to number one on the 2020 global terrorism index, below Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. Even though Buhari, propped up by the likes of Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, promised to fight corruption to a standstill, the people who voted for him knew deep down that corruption was as Nigerian as suya. However, they did not know that Buhari would open the floodgate for corruption to have safe heaven in his ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Having said that, 645 days is enough time for Buhari to do something to redeem a little bit of any worthiness associated with his name. He could still avoid the tag of being a complete failure in the eyes of history. He could rescue what is left of his long-touted and yet unproven integrity if he would do the following ten simple things. They would not solve all of Nigeria’s problems but lower the pressure at the headwaters from where Nigeria’s rivers of discord and destruction emanate.
1. Buhari must immediately declare publicly that for Nigeria to remain the same, Nigeria must change in very fundamental ways. He must immediately summon his class of old warriors like Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, and others and compel them to reverse their thinking that anything about Nigeria is non-negotiable. In concrete terms, he must pronounce it and set in motion steps to renegotiate everything. This will force fighters of ‘one Nigeria at all cost’ to pause and recalibrate the damage they are doing with their irrational dogmatic postures.
2. Buhari must announce on or before October 1, 2021, that the 2023 election would not happen under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. He would offer to spend what remains of his political capital to ensure a new liberating, robust and reasonable constitution is put in place. If a country like Kenya can do this peacefully in 2010, Nigerian can. He must be ready to pledge ‘his life, his honor, and his fortunes’ on that goal.
3. Buhari must acknowledge openly that Nigeria, as it is currently constituted, is unfair, unhealthy, and unsustainable. He must declare that he would sacrifice everything he has to establish a just nation where everyone would feel respected, feel a sense of ownership while still feeling safe, grounded, and not under any threat of being wiped out by any group. There is no mission greater than this for Buhari to pursue before he leaves office on May 29, 2023. His new slogan should be, “for Nigeria to survive, the ethnic groups that constitute Nigeria must thrive in all their glories.”
4. Buhari must declare the report of the 2014 National Conference as a foundation on which we would create a new Nigeria. With his party, which is the majority party in the National Assembly and states across the nation, he should start looking at the report of the imperfect National Conference of President Goodluck Jonathan to integrate some of its recommendations into a new constitution. His promise must be to free the constituting federating units in Nigeria to pursue their dreams without encumbrances from the federal.
5. Buhari must immediately fire all his ministers, service chiefs, and heads of strategic government agencies and establish a true interim government of national unity. This move would shake-up the stagnate and regressive political culture of today and announce his seriousness to change the tone and the mood of the nation for his final 645 days in office.
6. Buhari must get the National Assembly to codify into laws changes he is proposing. That would not be difficult since he has both the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in his armpit. If need be, get the National Assembly to approve laws that would abolish the National Assembly as it is currently constituted and make room for a new body that would take its place on May 29, 2023.
7. Buhari must publicly declare his assets and make all public officials do the same. He would also publish all salaries and allowances of public servants the same way all advanced societies do it. Everybody in the country should know what any public official makes each month and compare it to their lifestyle.
8. Upon making assets declarations, salaries, security votes, and allowances public, Buhari must set up a judiciary inquiry to review ongoing corruption cases with the EFCC, the ICPC, and other relevant agencies. The EFCC must strike a plea deal with former and current governors and other officials from 1999 to date. Using their assets declarations, salaries, allowances, security votes, and known and unknown loots, the government will reach a formula to determine the percentage of their wealth that would be forfeited for the cases to be closed. Those who have no cases yet but benefited from these humongous packages would voluntarily refund a certain percentage of the money.
9. All retirement benefits of past governors, lawmakers, and political office holders at local, state, and federal levels must be made public. Buhari must work with the National Assembly to establish a standard template of reasonable compensation for retired public servants using a harmonized system. Those who have benefited from excessive compensations, especially those who approved compensation they benefited from, must be made to refund what was unjustifiable.
10.Buhari must declare that Nigeria does not belong to anyone who walks in through the borders. Just as he said at his inauguration speech in 2015 that he belonged to everybody and nobody, Buhari must clarify that he had no special interest in the Fulanis of Nigeria or West Africa. He would publicly acknowledge that he would henceforth pursue modern policies that work for all Nigerians and not for some Nigerians. This means that his government will stop the pursuit of ancient grazing rights and grazing reserves and begin to act like a government that exists in this 21st century.
Knowing how self-righteous and stubborn Buhari is, the only way he can begin to attempt these courageous things is to acknowledge that he had fallen short of the expectations of most Nigerians.
Buhari must acknowledge that, out of ignorance or malice, he followed the desires of his heart without regard to its ramifications on the majority of the citizens of Nigeria. These are tough things to demand of Buhari.
But they have to be acknowledged to begin the process of saving him from the dreaded hole where history lumps together other complete failures that came before him.
– Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Contemporary Afrodiasporic Literature at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His latest book is “The Secret Letters of President Donald J. Trump, aged 73.”