The late Mrs Imelda Marcos, she of 3,000 pairs of shoes, First Lady of Philippines, once said that the problem with her country was not her husband, Ferdinand. The people were the problem. They constituted destructive distractions because they made too much noise. It is an elementary fact that noise tends to distract all rulers from working hard for the people. The Filipinos did not even allow their president to listen to himself. How then did they expect him to do a good job?
It was a novel defence of failure or incompetence in government but she made an important point. Noise is bad news for all rulers in all countries and in all climes. All rulers, democrats as well as dictators, are self-contained in their own wisdom. Some people intrude on their wisdom and well-laid plans for the people by asking to be given the right to advise them. Now, it is a well-oiled fact that all rulers are fairly intolerant of unsolicited advice. They would rather not listen to the self-appointed advisers because the man who seeks to advise his ruler sets himself up as a man of superior knowledge and wisdom. Sacrilegious. After all, if he is that wise, the people would have elected him as their president.
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Nigerians are great noise-makers too. If Marcos had been our president, his wife would have complained even more loudly. Every single one of our rulers, military or civilian, had had to contend with too much noise in the land from individuals, groups of professionals and politicians waiting in the wings for crumbs of power now or in the future. I do find it deafening.
So far, I am pleasantly surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari has not complained of his being distracted by the armies of do-gooders, all of whom want to tell him what to do. I think he is too diplomatic to tell his fellow country men and women to shut up. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that like all democrats, born or converted, he is increasingly irritated by these do-gooders who appear not to appreciate the difficulties he faces in managing our diverse and contentious country full of contradictions. It seems to me however, that he knows what to do with them. He ignores them for what they are – noise-makers. That way he can get on with the important task of getting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty and laying a modern railway track to Maradi. Getting 100 million out of poverty would be the greatest feat any government anywhere in the world has performed. So, why would the do-gooders not mind their business and leave him alone to mind Nigeria?
The answer is called democracy, a form of government that acknowledges the right of the people to participate in their government. The constitution guarantees them that right. Their freedom to exercise it does not distract from governance; it enriches it because the diversity of views is the stuff of our collective wisdom. One man’s wisdom perfected in a kitchen cabinet can give us only limited wisdom, not least because the kitchen where the food engineers engineer the sumptuous dishes, is a confined space.
The real problem is that those who seek to tell the president what to do are the only ones who see problems where the president clearly sees national progress under his watch. Just think of what Buhari is bombarded with on a daily basis. There are those who insist that the future of Nigeria depends on something called restructuring; by which they mean that we have come to a dangerous fork on our road to nationhood that certain critical adjustments need to be made and made quickly too in our political administration to keep the country one and united.
President Goodluck Jonathan, confronted with the same agitation, convoked the national conference in 2014 and gathered eminent Nigerians from all walks of life to tell him what to do. They told him in clear terms what must be done but the time was against him. He lost his bid for a second term and the chance to give effect to the report and the recommendations of the conference. Buhari would not touch it with a foot-pole because he is convinced restructuring is not one of our problems, such as corruption. It is only an elite problem marketed by the elites for the elites. So, he ignores the cardinals of restructuring.
Those who think they know where our dear country is headed, given its myriads of social, economic, political challenges, have taken to using the tar brush to paint that in future in colours designed to frighten the faint-hearted. Their diagnosis is that this country of over two hundred million people with the largest economy in Africa, is marching down the abyss as a failed state; a failed state being a condition ascribed to countries that cannot meet their basic obligations of governance. The president does not think this house is about to fall.
Then, there are those who say that Buhari has shown a consistent capacity for poor management of our diversity. This could be a venal sin. We are a diverse nation held together by our diversity. Managing this diversity is not rocket science. It simply means that monkeys must not work only for the baboons to chop. All must work and all must chop; that is the wisdom of the federal character provision in the constitution.
Security is the number one constitutional duty imposed on the government. The noise-makers believe that this country has never been this unsafe in its history. Buhari thinks this is merely an elite propaganda to make his government look inept. Still, there is no denying that every part of the north has been turned into a killing field. As I write, 27 students of Kagara Science College in Niger State, kidnapped about a week ago, were yet to be rescued. On February 25, Abubakar Sani Bello, governor of the state, said the federal government had refused to help in the rescue of the students who are being starved by their captors. As I write, Boko Haram had reported kidnapped 300 girls from a secondary school in Zamfara State. Tall tales by noise-makers? You bet.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has been a real pain in you-know-where of the Buhari administration by occasionally telling the president what is known as the home truth. A few days ago, its president, Archbishop Augustine Akubueze, issued a statement on the state of the nation, telling Buhari “it’s our patriotic duty to point this out with all objectivity and sincerity.” He said that given the harsh sound of the drums of war, “The president can no longer delay rising to (his) obligation to govern the nation, not according to ethnic and religious biases but along the lines of objective and positive principles of fairness, equity and, above all, justice. We need to have the courage to admit there’s a lot wrong with our nation.”
I suppose the problem is that there is some deficit in our collective courage to admit that our country faces some serious existential threats. Some see the dangers; others prefer to live the lie if they believe that would make Buhari feel good about developments in the country under his watch.