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Opinions of Monday, 29 February 2016

Columnist: Remi Oyeyemi

In search of a competent “Devil” as president

Opinion Opinion

One of the arguments of the more reasonable supporters of Mohammadu Buhari’s candidacy and presidency is that though they suspected that he might not have been very competent and might have some tinges of corruption in his trajectory, they had to choose between two evils. It was and still is often posited, (and this writer agrees), that Buhari was the better of the two evils between him and the hapless Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

They argued and still argue that Buhari is a man of “integrity,” (and this writer disagrees). They also insisted and still insist that Buhari is ascetic and reputed for self-denial, another point of view not shared by this writer, especially in the face of evidences available.

While President Buhari might not have been totally responsible for the padded figures in the scandalous 2016 Budget, he is not in the position to deny responsibility because the buck stops with him. The fact that he agreed to present that Budget presupposes that he was aware of and familiar with the driving principles of the budget which in his own estimations met his priorities and funding parameters. The fact that he was not able to do any comparable analysis of what were in the budget and correct any item or funding that did not meet his expectations before presenting it to the National Assembly showed that he did not know what he was doing.

It is very easy to blame those who work for him. But we all must remember that President Buhari told Nigerians that he has been choosing those he could trust when he was being accused of tribalism and sectionalism in his earlier appointments. He also took a lot of time to choose his cabinet. He said he was looking for the best. This is why President Buhari could not extricate himself or be extricated by his ardent supporters from culpability in the disaster that was and still is 2016 Budget. It is either he chose crooks or his judgment is terribly flawed. The whole exercise reeks of incompetence in all ramifications. No matter how much this incident is sliced and deodorized by his handlers and supporters, it was and still is a serious embarrassment to the propagated qualities of the “messiah” in Buhari.

It is not unknown to Nigerians across all spectra that the present array of politicians is corrupt. Starting from President Buhari himself who has a record of egregious corrupt acts in his past, to several others one would not need to mention, all of them are corrupt. And imperfect too. It does not matter whether they are members of All Progressive Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party or what have you. They are all corrupt. They are all imperfect. This much Nigerians know. But if all these politicians are corrupt and imperfect, does it necessarily mean that they are all incompetent? Are they all plagued with concentrated incompetence the type being manifested by President Buhari right now?

Is this Buhari experience instructive enough for Nigerians to start considering the possibility of a corrupt and imperfect president but who is competent to move the country forward? Since all these politicians are corrupt, is it possible to find a competent hand amongst them? If all of them are corrupt and imperfect, as they evidently are across all the political parties, why could they not give us someone from amongst their rank that is at least competent to a certain degree; someone who knows what he is doing and who would be able to checkmate the downward spiral of the country?

Following through with the arguments of the Buhari’s followers that we should go with the least evil of all the political “devil”s on our landscape, maybe it is time to start looking for an imperfect but competent leadership among the present field of politicians. It seems that Nigerians may not have many options available on the table given the context of Nigerian political landscape, especially if the present spiral towards abyss must be stopped. We all must agree that Nigeria is not a country of saints. But if we must be governed by a “devil”, he or she must be a competent “devil” and a “devil” with a heart.

But the questions remain - what are the implications of this kind of option for the morality and the virtues we seek to espouse in the country? What message would this kind of option send to the youths? What kind of future would this portend for the children? What message would this send to the comity of Nations? Could a populace being pummeled by poverty be able to continue to tolerate an incompetent and corrupt leader as we have in President Buhari, if they could have a corrupt and imperfect but competent leader that could make things better? Could a populace dying of hunger not gladly have their president corrupt and imperfect in a limited way if such a president could turn things around and make their lives better?

For the political godfathers who put together the coalition that threw up Buhari, their calculations were hypnagogic. It was not essentially for and about Nigeria, but it was sold to the populace as being about the interest of Nigeria. The plan was to put in Buhari whose outward demeanor and physiognomy suggested a pliable and “manipulatable” figure that could serve their diabolical ends. They believed that Buhari could be used for them to achieve their ambitions. It was not about Buhari’s competence or know-how, it was about his assumed docility and how easy it would be to play him around their fingers.

But as it is turning out right now, Buhari has proved to be his own man. He had insisted “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Despite his very limited knowledge, Buhari is determined to trudge on. He is marching on, even though he has no idea of where he is going or has any definite directions.

Where he is marching to is unclear and indeterminate. Given where the country is right now - the confusion of purpose, the absence of plan, the increasing hunger in the land and the pervasive hopelessness, there are jitters across the land. President Buhari is coming across as Lord Denning’s “blind man in a dark room, looking for a black hat that is not there.” Yes, he is determined to do it his own way and refuse to “belong to nobody.” But from indications, his way does not appear to be of any benefit to average Nigerians.

This is what has been brought to bear on Nigeria by the clique that propelled Buhari to power. The godfathers, in their self-assuredness were not able to understand that the physiognomy of Buhari was a misleading barometer of his inner estimations and by extension, calculations. His outward meekness bellies the cocooned strength and determination within him that is seriously undermined by lack of know-how. It confirms the theory that the physiognomy of a man is not directly proportional to his intelligence. The best intentions of President Buhari could not make for the lack of knowledge and know-how that have been self evident.

President Buhari’s lack of know-how may be functionally related to his lack of literacy, his lack of literacy may also be functionally related to his lack of education. But his lack of education may not be functionally related to his lack of know-how. Literacy or no literacy, education or no education, if you don’t know, you just don’t know. And if you know, it shows. There are several examples of persons in leadership positions who are not really literate but are properly educated and competent.

So, the question remains, should Nigerians opt for a corrupt or fairly corrupt, and imperfect but competent President next time around? Should the primary objective remain the saving of the country and the peoples first or it should not matter? Should Nigerians insist on the so-called “not corrupt”, “perfect messiah” as President while he continues and would probably continue to lead Nigeria down the abyss? Is it time to look for someone who has some acumen, some ability and some leadership ability regardless of his flaws? Why can’t this be an option?

It is time for Nigerians to start thinking out of the box about the way out of the present crisis. We are not looking for a self-proclaimed “Evil Genius” like Ibrahim Babangida who reveled in the tragedy of his fellow Nigerians and reportedly bombed journalists out of existence on top of his deliberate mismanagement of the country. But the search must commence for an imperfect but competent man to save this country. Nigeria probably needs a “devil” with heart, competent, patriotic and with some modicum of basic knowledge of how to run things.

So far, “Saint” Buhari has failed us. The “messiah” in Buhari has failed to save the country. “Sai Buhari” has further deepened the hole in which the country has found itself. “Sai Baba” has remained nothing but a bumper sticker slogan that could not feed hungry Nigerians or solve the myriad of Nigeria’s problems. It is time to jettison the romanticized idea of a “saintly” president that is acutely incompetent and seek out an imperfect but competent president, because evidently, from the look of things, a competent “devil” is far better than an incompetent “saint.”

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”

- John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address January 20, 1961

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