2 Jun 2015

Can Buhari Seize The Moment? - by Bayo Olupohunda

As the inauguration ceremonies were taking place in Abuja and other parts of the country at the weekend, I was in a Rapid Transit Bus heading towards Ikeja in Lagos. The BRT bus was filled to capacity with Nigerians of every ethnic and religious background. As the country basked in the euphoria of the Democracy Day holiday which ushered in a new dispensation, Lagos was also gripped in the frenzy of the celebration. In the bus, I felt the excitement of the passengers. The mood was carnival-like. At a point, the driver even let some people board without issuing tickets.

As we progressed in our journey to Ikeja, the bus sped past the historical Tafawa Balewa Square where history was also being made. Within the confines of the TBS, the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, was also handing over to his successor, Akinwunmi Ambode. The event in Lagos held so much significance. It was the end of the enigmatic eight years of Fashola, a governor who has undoubtedly left his footprints in the sand of time in the state. But that is a story for another day.

Inside the bus, some passengers, gripped by the euphoria of the presidential inauguration watched the event on their mobile devices. Some held their iPads aloft for others to witness the unfolding history. But I was not amused. I had missed some parts of the events because I had to attend an important engagement. But I did not miss out on the inauguration totally. Apart from watching the event on the iPad of the lady I shared a seat with in the bus, I also had the rare privilege of listening to a wide range of opinions of Nigerians on their expectations of the Buhari Presidency.

It was interesting listening to those Nigerians who will directly be affected by the decisions and policies of the new administration. Many of them had lamented their plight under the outgone Jonathan administration especially in the twilight of his Presidency. Many of them lamented the lingering and debilitating fuel scarcity which has unfortunately spilled over into the Buhari government. They complained about the high cost of transport and also about corruption, the state of the economy, insecurity and the general difficulties of life in the country.

Many expressed disappointment that former President Goodluck Jonathan left the power situation worse than he met it. While others, mostly women, whined about the cost of foodstuffs in the market, but the preponderance of opinions was that the 2015 elections which ushered in the new administration were timely if not long overdue. Most of those educated among them expressed worry that the huge debt burden may make governance difficult for Buhari, who will have to grapple with the burden of paying huge local and foreign debts even as civil servants are owed a backlog of salary arrears with the unemployment figures rising.

One passenger was angry that Jonathan was leaving the country in a mess and had allowed his team to hoodwink him into believing that all was well with his government. “Jonathan is a good man but those who surrounded him deceived him”, he fumed. Many passengers nodded in agreement. The lady beside me called my attention to the last Federal Executive Council meeting where the former President blamed the fuel scarcity and many of the problems that confronted his government on sabotage. She hoped that the new President would also not engage in a blame game.

With the animated discussion in the bus, I noticed the groundswell of optimism and the hope invested in the Buhari Presidency. One elderly woman was so caught up in the euphoria that she offered prayer for the success of the new administration. Hopes were indeed high that Buhari would be able to steer the troubled ship of state to a more stable and prosperous future. By the time, I alighted from the bus, Buhari was taking his oath of office. As he rode in a motorcade round the venue, the people waved and cheered on animatedly.

The mood of the Nigerians in the bus corresponds with the expectations and optimism of Nigerians across the country. With the ascension of Buhari, Nigerians are again looking to the future with hope. They seem to believe that though the present may be difficult, the future holds a silver lining. The promised “change” by the Buhari government seems to have awakened in Nigerians the hope of a new beginning even in the face of the daunting challenges they are faced with.

But can Buhari seize the moment? Can he build on the optimism and the groundswell of support that brought him to power? There is no doubt that Nigerians understand the enormity of the challenges before the country today. With the state of the economy and other social crises inherited by the Buhari Presidency, it will take real leadership to surmount the problems. When one examines the hydra-headed problems confronting the country, they truly look insurmountable. Really, where does the new government begin? We know about the challenges already but getting round to solve them is where visionary and pragmatic leadership will play a critical role.

First, Buhari will have to convince Nigerians, who understand the enormity of the challenges but cannot wait long enough to start seeing changes of his good intentions and vision. On the other hand, Nigerians also must continue to have faith in the President as they did when they elected him to lead the country. No doubt, Nigerians are angry, frustrated and despondent. In the bus, I listened to those who do not believe the new President can change the country. To those set of Nigerians, the country is irredeemable. They did not believe that our problems could be solved by any leader – even Buhari.

But can we blame those Nigerians out there who have lost faith in their country? Having been around for too long, they have seen government come and go with no change or improvement in their lives or country. Look at, for example, how the promise of steady power supply has continued to elude Nigerians after 16 years of renascent democracy. As I write, many parts of the country are in darkness.

Consider how Nigerians have seen their standard of living depreciate to an abysmal level in this democracy. How do you convince such Nigerians that things will get better? Rekindling patriotism and hope of such Nigerians is the challenge before the Buhari administration. But Nigerians do not give up easily. They have, in spite of the present difficulties and disappointments of the last 16 years especially under the past administration, continued to cling on to the promise of change and a better future.

That is why Buhari has to seize the moment. But our new leaders must also set personal examples. Every promise made during the campaigns must be fulfilled. Nigerians must be carried along as decisions are made. The next 100 days will be critical. More importantly, Nigerians are watching closely to see the pedigree of appointments into Buhari’s cabinet. No doubt, the choice of cabinet members will be critical to the success of the new administration. Will Buhari seize the moment to launch our country on the path of greatness or bungle it entirely? Nigerians are waiting and are willing to be part of the change.

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