C. Don Adinuba
The impending May 29 installation of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president is not seen by most Nigerians as representing just a change of government.
It is rather considered an inauguration of a new social order. Everyone remembers with nostalgia the values of order, discipline, honesty, honour, trust and commitment to the common good which Buhari made cardinal principles of state policy when he was the military head of state between 1983 and 1985. Ever since he was overthrown in a coup d’etat by a coterie of self serving army officers, Nigeria has become a quintessential low-trust society, to use the expression of two eminent American social scientists, Edward Banfield and Francis Fukuyama. In other words, Buhari is today the closest approximation to a messiah in the imagination of most citizens, particularly the downtrodden.
I have argued elsewhere that without the right social values, the national economy cannot recover. Long before Fukuyama published in 1997 Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Pius Okigbo, Africa’s most scintillating economist, had declared during Ibrahim Babangida’s regime that the cause of Nigeria’s debilitating development crisis was not economic but social. The reason why the refineries are not working, with all the concomitant problems, is social, and not the economic policy or programme.
It is poor social values like graft, nepotism and squander mania which led to the collapse of Nigeria Airways and other state-owned enterprises. So, Buhari had better get the values right from inception. Good enough that he has indicated that he is still the good, patriotic leader we have always known.
He has spoken passionately against the culture of waste and ostentation in public service. He has chosen to be known from May 29 simply as president, advising that he be spared such titles as general, Malam, Chief and Alhaji. Leadership is about service, and not titles. Here is a set of steps which he could consider taking the moment he assumes office to demonstrate that he has come to serve, and not to be served.
Do away with the feudalistic tradition of having a military or any security officer as an aide de camp (ADC). Have you ever seen any American president, the commander in chief of the world’s mightiest force, with a so-called ADC? Ever seen the leader of any of the developed or truly emerging economies with an ADC? Second, Buhari should end the practice of the State House chief protocol officer, often a career diplomat, holding the chair at a meeting for the president to sit down. Has any of us seen in pictures this feudalistic practice associated with a modern leader? The next step is the abolition of the protocol of addressing each of our leaders as “His Excellency”.
Maybe only the president and the vice president can be addressed as such only in diplomatic circles like when they are addressing the United Nations or in meetings with foreign diplomats. The new practice of addressing every senator officially as “Distinguished Senator” or even just “Distinguished” for short, is embarrassing. “Distinguished Senator” is no title anywhere in the world, but used informally by the American media to refer to eminently influential and knowledgeable people like John McCain who have been in the Senate for several years.
Embarrassing also is the practice of referring to state governors and local government chairmen as “Executive Governors” and “Executive Chairmen”. Why do we address ministers as “Honourable Ministers” when they are not elected legislators as in Britain? Buhari should also consider the kinds of vehicles which should serve as official cars. SUVs like Innosons and Nissan which are assembled in the country should do. From the later part of the 1970s to 1999, Peugeot was Nigeria’s official car because it was assembled here. The assembly plant provided thousands of jobs to Nigerian engineers, marketers, administrators, communication practitioners, etc.
But the firm is now a ghost of itself because the government , its principal customer, ceased to patronize it. When oil revenues spiked dramatically under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration, Peugeot was abandoned in favour of expensive Japanese SUVs imported mostly by a handful of Indian traders. The presidential fleet ballooned, and in no time state governments joined in the craze for executive jets.
Even a poor state like Taraba is not left out; its governor almost lost his life when its own crashed. Needless to say, private citizens began to compete with one another over the number, size and make of jets they possess. In his magnificent book, From The Third World To First: the Story of Singapore Since 1965, Singaporean founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew expressed shock at the sight of presidents of African nations like Nigeria and Kenya arriving at the Commonwealth summit in Canada in 1980 with presidential jets which were parked at the airport where they were accumulating high fees. Meanwhile, the British prime minister came by British Caledonia commercial airline. Yet, the rulers of the poor countries were asking leaders of rich countries with no presidential planes for aid! To repeat the obvious, the British prime minister has no presidential jets to this day.
Yet, the United Kingdom manufactures the Fokker plane series and is deeply involved in the production of Airbus planes; its globally famous engineering firm, Rolls Royce, manufactures plane engines. Singapore has the most profitable airline in the world, still its premier has no presidential plane to this day. Frankly, ostentatious lifestyle at the expense of the poor in our midst seems to be a cultural problem.
The pope, for instance, who leads the world’s largest and wealthiest church, does not have even a helicopter, but Nigerian evangelical pastors whose congregations are composed of Frantz Fanon’s the wretched of the earth have private jets, with someone like Bishop David Oyedepo of the Winners Church having as many as four! Nigerian state governors live large, to the extent that they make Hollywood stars green with envy. They move in long motorcades of state of the art SUVs, complete with sirens, ceremonial outriders and large batteries of police and state security officers as well as soldiers armed to the earth and looking like intimidating beings straight from the Mars.
Interestingly, the few governors who are going down in history as leaders worthy of their office like Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State and Donald Duke of Cross River State are a breed apart, defined by the simplicity of their lifestyle, a style shorn of showbiz razzmatazz. The number of security officers assigned to each inadehigh public officer has to be curtailed, so that there will be enough to serve the public. The practice of assigning police orderlies to permanent secretaries and chief executives of agencies who open doors for the “big men and women” and carry their files is ridiculous.
So also Is the new practice of providing policemen and even soldiers to wealthy civilians ostensibly for protection but in reality for self aggrandizement. It should be stopped. The only exception should be when there is a clear or likely threat to a person’s safety. Even so, officers attached to such a person should be in mufti. Also to be banned immediately is the use of sirens by unauthorized persons to intimidate citizens.
All manner of people have since 1985 been awarded national honours. They include convicts like erstwhile Police Inspector General Tafa Balogun and woefully failed public officers like Abia State governor Theodore Orji as well as controversial businessmen like Arthur Eze. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo brought the worth of the awards to an all-time low when he bestowed the nation’s highest honours in 2007 on incoming President Umaru Yar’Adua and incoming Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in the hopes, as he put it, that they would do well in office. The two recipients were soon to become the butt of Obasanjo’s vitriolic criticism for ineptitude.
Put succinctly, all the honours bestowed since 1985 should be reviewed. Those who should be rewarded are elements like Theresa Ugwu, the poor cleaner at Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos who recently found a whopping 12million naira in the toilet and returned it to the owner. Others who deserve national recognition are poorly paid traffic officers who work from morning till very late in the night every day, under the rain and scorching sun. Without them, movement in our cities will be impossible.
They are the authentic public servants, and not serving (thieving) governors, ministers, chief executives of wealthy government agencies and their ilk. Buhari has his job cut out for him. He must lead the nation to recover its values.
Robert Duncan Clarke, the South African economist and leading petroleum analyst, has in a recent work called our attention to the compelling arguments of Robert Calderisi, the veteran development economist and African development expert, to the effect that the principal cause of the continent’s economic woes which seem to defy all solutions is our propensity for pomposity, pillage and brigandage. As someone who has over the years watched government officials at close quarters, I can testify to the validity of Calderisi’s assertion. Nigeria has gone too far in the wrong direction. We need to be redirected.