Fellow Nigerians, this is not an easy time in our country. The period of every transition from an outgoing ruling government to an incoming opposition administration anywhere in the world is always replete with soaking tension. This is exactly what has been going on since General Muhammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. For a start, thousands of government and political operatives are about to lose their jobs. On the other hand, millions of applicants, qualified and unqualified, are anxious and eager to replace those thousands. It is only natural that it would become a do or die affair for those who see the political stage as the only way to sustain or enhance themselves.
This is the season of the godfathers. I do not know how General Buhari plans to handle his first major test as a civilian President in waiting. The burden he is carrying now cannot be easy to contend with. It will not get easier when he is sworn in and becomes President because the weight of expectation would have increased multiple fold. Those days are gone when Nigerians kept their distance from politicians or failed to show active interest in who governed them. The manner the last election was won has made it mandatory for Nigerian leaders to realise that their citizen now plan to show more than cursory interest and concern about the colour of change they expect.
The challenges would be daunting but not insurmountable. My appeal goes to the APC as the new governing party. They should not waste this opportunity of a lifetime. Nigeria has been kind to most of them. It is time to pay Nigeria back with love and selflessness. Buhari and Osinbajo will succeed if their party can relax its grip and help the President-elect search for a great team instead of harassing him into picking the worst of choices. It is impossible to appoint all who are qualified for the available jobs not to mention asking that unqualified people be given work on the basis of nepotism, greed or naked ambition. Our leaders should learn to take every situation as it comes. If you get the job, do it well, and if you don’t get it, there are many other ways you can be useful to your nation other than being in power or along the corridors of power.
We must discourage the idea of thinking there is no life outside of government. Or that you can only make money when you are in government. We must understand that government should not be an avenue for making money but a place where you are called to service. In other countries distinguishing yourself in government is what opens the door afterwards to social acclaim and economic advancement. But first, you must have been capable before being chosen and then you must excel at the task that you are given to execute.
There is one vital point which must constantly be at the back of the mind of our incoming President in everything he does. Nigerians did not vote him simply for the sake of change. They voted for him because they want to see a real change. A change for the better. Nigerians whether at home or in the diaspora need a breath of clean air and they see Buhari as the catalyst for the kind of new revolution that they desire. It will be tantamount to a waste of their time and effort at the polls for Buhari and his team to do otherwise.
It is understandable if the power sharing formula is proving difficult and chaotic at this point in time but it must still be resolved speedily and amicably. We can all have our say, which is the hallmark of democracy, but we cannot all have our way. Now is the time for the President-elect to demonstrate the steel for which he is renowned and which was his major selling point to the electorate. General Buhari cannot fold his arms in frustration because the political class are doing as they are wont to do by protecting their corner. As the generalissimo, he should encourage and listen to strategy and tactics. However as the Boss he must know that he is the umpire upon whom the final decision rests. Ultimately, the buck stops with the Commander-in-Chief and the success or failure of his administration will be judged by what he does and not what others did.
For starters, the President-elect must let Nigerians know that he means business by the way he conducts himself during the transition period. He must demonstrate that he is prepared to hit the ground running from the first day of his administration by leading from the front even now. He is expected to act with military precision albeit in a civilian environment. This does not make him a dictator. He should not be afraid to be tough because he has been so labelled in the past. Those who voted for him want to see that hard part of him reflected in the government he heads. They believe that is the only way he can stem the cankerworms of graft, waste, profligacy and impunity destroying Nigeria at this time.
In this regard, all the solidarity visits must be toned down. They are beginning to be an unnecessary distraction gaining him little credit in the eyes of the scrutinising Nigerians. That is the way of the past and what Nigerians hoped would be curtailed if not eliminated by the tough unassuming General. The time has come to end the wild jubilations and face the brass tacks.
Secondly, the President must be quick in assembling and announcing his transition team. I shall reiterate my past my past suggestions about the principles that should underlie the composition of that team shortly.
Thirdly, the President must act resolutely with respect to what is becoming the intractable problem his Party has with zoning positions in the National Assembly and by extension his cabinet and government. He must not let the political class frustrate him at this early stage. General Buhari is a fair and principled man. He should let that guide him in his role as arbiter on this issue. Nigerians are beginning to get jittery because of the rumours flying around about the difficulty the APC is having about sharing offices all around.
Yes, there is a motley crowd of politicians, strange bed-fellows, making up the Party but the generality of Nigerians voted for the Party largely because of the mature and tolerant way it handled its primaries without rancour or bitterness. Now is not the time for the APC to waste the goodwill and excitement generated by the clamour for change. Its failure to come to agreement on what should be a simple matter is denting its image and making outsiders think that indeed nothing may change. Those who never wished them well are already hoping things would fall apart sooner than later. God forbid.
In assembling a vibrant, skilled and visionary team to tackle the daunting challenges ahead, General Buhari must perform several balancing and dextrous acts akin to that of a deft ball juggler. He has successfully performed the first act in his choice of Vice-President. Prof Yemi Osinbajo is generally accepted as a perfect counter foil to the President’s age. In addition he is a celebrated and highly accomplished and acclaimed professional with the same stern, exacting, and disciplined outlook to life as President Buhari. The combination promised by that ticket endeared both to their teeming supporters. If their right or left eyes would make them to sin they might have to pluck it. When the chips are down, Nigerians are not going to listen to whimsical excuses.
The first balancing act that the President must now deal with in the medley of his frontline team is how to balance the age of his cabinet. It is only natural that the General will want to include some old hands in his cabinet. These are his contemporaries whom he has probably worked with in the past and knows that he can trust them. It is unnatural to expect him to work only with young men and women. He will only succeed if he has some people of his generation that he can turn to not just for the serious business of governance but also for the equally important down – time and relaxation mode. Besides those of his generation will have the added advantage that being in the twilight of their lives you can expect that they will not have the kind of inordinate aggrandizing spirit and greedy proclivity that younger folks may sometimes have. Also they will be able to look him in the eye and tell the truth which younger members of his team may not be able to do either out of respect or fear of stalling their career progression. The important thing is that the President-elect should know that such old hands should be in a tiny minority of his cabinet otherwise the younger generation may tune off.
It is beginning to look like APC is not gender friendly where women are concerned and this perception must be reversed immediately. Nigeria is blessed with enough competent, capable and honourable women who can wholly constitute a cabinet if given the chance. Several of such women graced the outgoing government at one time or another. It will be recalled that one of the positive spins during the election campaign was how the Government of President Jonathan was comprised of at least 30 per cent women. Being gender unfriendly in relation to women also raises the haunting spectre of religion which General Buhari must strenuously avoid. I would suggest that the President-elect ensures that he provides for significant representation of women in his cabinet not just because of their gender but because of their ability and credibility.
Just like I have advocated that there must be a small dose of old hands in President Buhari’s government, so also must President Buhari make provision for youth. President Buhari is in a prime position to know and appreciate what I am talking about because he was such a youth in the past who was given the opportunity of being in government and eventually leading this country. People of his generation served meritoriously as central figures in government in their twenties and thirties so what has gone wrong today? I am assured that the youth of today are certainly better equipped than those of that generation because of the technological advancements that have occurred since then and so should be equally if not better able to serve competently in any government .
The incoming President must also ensure that his government is not populated by the political elite alone. Any government which seeks to succeed anywhere in the world must create room for a lot of technocrats and specialists in their field to occupy cabinet positions and not merely act as advisers. I am confident that it is this kind of change that Nigerians desire to see in the composition of the new cabinet. Policy, strategy, vision and altruism are not the usual attributes of most politicians. They are frequently more self-centred and their excesses will need to be curbed by technocrats who are simply keen on seeing the successful outcome of what they envisioned and implemented. The political jobbers should understand from Buhari that the clime has changed and whilst they will be accommodated in the scheme of things it will not be at the expense of the Nation which is waiting on him to perform.
Finally, General Buhari must not make the mistake of the immediate past government by appearing to take on the mantle of President of only one section of Nigeria where he comes from. Notwithstanding that a particular part of Nigeria failed to support him in the election, he contested for and won the election as the President of a unified Nigeria. He should never forget this and must do everything to ensure that he is not seen as parochial either in terms of ethnicity or, equally importantly, on the basis of religion. The religious issue is probably even more important given the hate campaign mounted against him as a purported Islamic fundamentalist before the elections. His kinsmen and religious faithful must support him in this regard by not demanding of him any preferential treatment in his conduct of the affairs of the Nigerian State. What General Buhari must promote at all times is the secularity which is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. He must strive to douse the embers of distrust which has seemingly eaten deep into the social fabric.
Even if nobody expects a miracle from the General people are expecting a difference for the better. If that is all he achieves in the short run, Nigerians will be patient and reasonable. The accomplishments which he would work for, and that which the citizens ostensibly crave shall ultimately come in the fullness of time.
So help us God.