Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Next After The U.S Road Show?
By Abraham Ogbodo
Nigerian Guardian
July 26, 2015

I AM worried by the widespread optimism in the land following the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States of America. The mood belies the reality. It is being projected as if the President returned last Thursday from the US with a bag of solutions to all of Nigeria’s problems.

Corruption shall end, the huge social and physical infrastructure deficits shall even up and insecurity shall give way to peace and prosperity.

The visit was branded unique. They said it was the first time a Nigerian President who is less than two months old in office and has not even formed a government would be invited by an American President. It is a milestone and if things work out as programmed, there shall be even a bigger milestone.

PMB will go down the books as the first Nigerian president or any president for that matter to have walked into America and lifted home a sack-load of solutions to all domestic problems.

In fact, President Buhari is already setting hair-breaking records in his second coming. In the ongoing democracy, no president has had the courage to postpone the constitution of a government by more than 100 days after he had been sworn-in on May 29. The President has just announced his decision to wait till September to appoint a cabinet. This is precisely 36 days from today, given that the appointments will be made on the first day of September.

It is not as if PMB is converting Nigeria to a sole proprietorship. He is not a sole administrator. He has repeatedly made case for time and patience to serve Nigerians well. He has not stood still; he is moving gradually. Whatever disadvantages are being mitigated by the inherent benefits of the slow and steady approach. Even the Bible acknowledges in Ecclessiatics 9:11 that the race is not always for the swift-footed. The argument is that past presidents who ran like an endangered hare without deep thinking made very costly mistakes that brought Nigeria to where it is today. It is therefore in the interest of everybody to allow PMB to move slowly and steadily to win the race.

Back to the bag of solutions from America. Reports late last week that one law in the US statutes book, called the Leahy Act still stands between Buhari and the dream of sophisticated weapons delivery from the US to fight Boko Haram are not encouraging. The law forbids the US from selling weapons to countries with records of human rights abuse.

Global rights watch, Amnesty International said in its report in June that the Nigerian military in the course of prosecuting the war against the Boko Haram insurgents committed grave crimes, chief of which is the extra-judicial execution of 1200 people. Washington is holding on to this in spite of repeated denial by Abuja to frustrate the sales of weapons to Nigeria.

The same law stood between former President Goodluck Jonathan and arms delivery from the US. President Obama only promised Buhari to help fight Boko Haram amid the stalemate. He had also said the same thing to Jonathan. And so, Buhari re-entered Abuja without a deal more or less and to worrying news that Boko Haram had reclaimed five local government areas in Yobe and Borno States.

This is, however, unofficial. The official position is that the four-day tour was most successful and precisely what would push Buhari into an effective take off at home.

It is said, for instance, that the current liquidity squeeze would ease with an anticipated inflow of a staggering $150billion, being stolen Nigerian money stashed in bank vaults in the US and Europe and which President Obama has promised Buhari to recover for Nigeria.

Altogether, it was a good outing, the failed arms deal notwithstanding. Apart from Obama, Buhari also ran through his plans with Nigerians in the US. They promised to assist him in one way or the other to return Nigeria to winning paths, so that they themselves can come back home.

But there is still work to be done and it is mainly in the area of domestication of the American solutions. They look raw and need to be properly processed and adapted for home use. Take the point on corruption for instance. The American system which puts wealth generation in private hands and allows only the hard worker to harvest big encourages competition and not corruption.

“Therefore, America’s prescription on how to battle corruption cannot work as prescribed in Nigeria, where government, specifically the federal government or even the President, is about the sole custodian of wealth and distributes same among the people, using parameters such as, number of votes in the 2015 presidential elections, population, geographical space, backwardness, volatility, proximity and access to power, religion, gender and even age.”

In Nigeria, if a group or a man is able to skew these variables to advantage, wealth is automatically created without a corresponding volume of industry. Power is like the Kingdom of God, which people seek first at all costs and then wait, not for too long though, for all other things, including riches to be added unto them.

The starting point therefore, is not posturing about a stern determination to kill corruption because a tree is not truncated by merely cutting off the branches. What is needed is the courage to get to the tap root and do a good job.

The current approach of only hoping to safe-guard the treasury against looters appears too sanctimonious for serious business. Another man may come tomorrow and business may return. A system that ties consumption with production shall do so much to moderate the appetite of people to operate within their means.

If a state governor, for instance, understands that there is no money to share in Abuja, he will think twice before committing huge resources to sponsoring pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem. The executive arm at all levels spends in anticipation of a wind fall outside itself. This is the crux of the matter. But Buhari is not looking seriously at this, as he sticks to promises to manage very well other people’s money for the benefit of everybody. That is not a big thing to bring on board because just anybody can claim to be a better manager of the consolidated resources. It is why the centre is attractive and contest for its control usually cut-throat.

The contest for the centre stage is further heightened by a feeling among everybody that this model of federation of sharing money at the centre is unsustainable and shall fail some day. What is today manifesting as large scale corruption in Nigeria is actually the mad rush by all sides to take as much as possible from the national purse before the country dissolves to something more difficult to engage in that sense.

I had expected President Obama to tell Buhari to do something about this anomaly; and that in the American system, which we claim to practise, governors of the 50 states do not send their accountants-general to Washington DC every month end to bring home allocations with which they run their states. Obama did not note this vital point to Buhari. Instead, he presented Buhari as the embodiment of integrity and everything needed to rid Nigeria of corruption. That is like seeking to enthrone peace and progress in the absence of justice or even order.

I can’t see how it will happen. Where we are now requires more than integrity and associated virtues to move forward. It requires the courage to bring down the house and rebuild.

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