President Muhammadu Buhari with security heads
Going by the general expectations of what a leader should be and do and in specific respect to the task of nation-building under the 1999 Constitution, the verdict on the outgoing President, Muhammadu Buhari, cannot be difficult to decide: he has not done well at all. Many would simply and directly say that he failed. Eight years of his presidency may be described as a period of the ‘un-building’ of Nigeria; this was, indeed ‘one country divided under Buhari.’ But, as it is popularly said, the road traveled – or not traveled – is a personal choice, and with commensurate consequences.
Nation-building is defined variously as ‘constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state’ as ‘the unification of the people within [a] state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run’. Andreas Wimmer of the University of Columbia is quoted to say that one of the factors that determine the success of nation-building is a state ‘capable of providing goods evenly across a territory.’ Because nation-building is a process, a continuous work-in-progress, it requires, to begin and sustain it, a special type of leader who is imbued with the ‘Five Cs’ of character, conviction, competence, commitment, and courage. Any leader who lacks these personal qualities –and even more – cannot give to the State and its people what he does not have.
In the context of Nigeria’s representative democracy anchored by a written constitution, the Nigerian leader is the President who, as stipulated in Section 130 (2) of the extant law ‘shall be the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.’ It is noteworthy that the president of Nigeria is so by popular election in which the whole of the Federation is taken as his constituency as stated in Section 132 (4).
The primary duty of Nigeria’s chief executive is unambiguously defined in Section 14 of the constitution to wit: ‘The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’ But his job description goes further to include obligations such as that ‘the composition of the Government of the federation or any of its agencies, and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command
national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies.
Section 15 (4) demands of the State headed by the President to ‘foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties’. The President is also to ensure that the ‘State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.’
The Constitution is not unmindful of human weakness to do the wrong things. So, the Nigerian leader is put under oath before God, Nigerians, and a watching global community, to abide by the provisions of the document irrespective of personal, sectional, or any other interest that is at variance with the national interest. This is to say that President Buhari swore, among other promises, that ‘I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution…and the law…that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions.’ These were public commitments on his honor and honor is supposed to be an even harder taskmaster than law.
Chapter II on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution is replete with clauses that, if faithfully and transparently implemented by an honest and competent president, can put Nigeria on the path of nationhood. Besides the provisions quoted above, Section 15 (2) enjoins that ‘national integration shall be actively encouraged…’ including, as listed in subsection 3, ‘intermarriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic, or linguistic associations or ties…’ and ‘formation of associations that cut across ethnic, linguistic, religious or other sectional barriers.’ It must be quickly said though that these unitive obligations are urged upon not only the president but every citizen. Section 24(c) says: ‘It shall be the duty of every citizen to respect the dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interests of others and live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood.’
The leader needed to forge Nigeria into a nation of nations must possess, demonstrably, the integrity to be trusted with his intentions; he must be integrated in thought, words, and deed; he must, to borrow from leadership trainer J.C. Maxwell, know the way, show the way, and go the way. The leader as a nation-builder must walk his talk, consistently. These are attributes of moral stature.
A nation is built on the character of its people. This is a truism. But the quality of the followership is defined by the character of the leadership. It is said that as the prince, so are the people. This is why Chief Obafemi Awolowo once said: ‘Those of us placed in a position of leadership must be prepared to grasp the nettle [for] if we unite in doing so, and if in addition, we set a worthy example… in probity, unselfishness, and self-sacrifice, the people will follow all too readily in our footsteps.’ The sage is right. U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt is quoted to say that the Presidency is far more than an administrative office, ‘it is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership’. On his part, George W. Bush declared that his ‘vision’ of leadership is someone who brings people together.’
President Buhari said in Port Harcourt during his 2015 campaign that ‘the fundamental issue facing this country is insecurity and the problem of the economy, which was made worse by corruption. I assure you that we are going to finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage the country’. Almost eight years after, in his New Year message, he promised that ‘the year 2023 would indeed be a time when we would work to solidify on delivering key strategic priorities under “SEA” — (Security, Economy, and Anti-Corruption) Agenda.’
Under the two-term presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, hardly can any objective observer of the Nigerian state argue that he brought the Nigerian people together; hardly can anyone honestly say that he ruled his country with the much-vaunted integrity on which he rode to power; hardly can any analytical student of the past eight years assert that all things considered, this outgoing president is leaving Nigeria and its people more united, more secure, and in generally better condition than he met it.
Is Nigeria more politically stable, more industrially productive, more economically strong, and safer to live, work and travel? Is the quality of life of Nigerians better than in 2015? Is systemic corruption less prevalent now than before Buhari? The answers are certainly ‘No!’. The facts and the figures are out there for anyone who cares to see rather than live in denial. Above all, in a country that is supposed to be governed by a written constitution, the disdain for the rule of law by ‘the high and the mighty’ has become so prevalent it is no exaggeration to suggest it has become a culture.
The multi-cultural, multi-nation country that is Nigeria cannot be built into one nation on killings in north and south, east and west, rising foreign and domestic debts, rising unemployment among the young, strong and able youths, falling industrial output, weakening value of its currency, and above all, corruption in every aspect of national life.
This diverse country cannot be forged into a nation of common vision, focus, and values where and when the leaders, who do not walk their talk, and the rule of law that is fundamental to an ordered society, is breached with impunity, and corruption of personal and institutional values is rife. Indeed, hydra-headed corruption is antithetical to national unity; it breeds cronyism, nepotism, greed, and tribalism, and it erodes trust in the leadership. All these are the marks of the Buhari years.
The prevalent moral anarchy in this polity can be blamed squarely on its leadership. It may not have started under Buhari, but his tenure has vastly enlarged the fault lines of the country; have encouraged that self-seeking thinking that every man must look out for himself and his section. With a leader like this, nation-building as a necessary good for all has largely receded from public focus. Alas, in the words of Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran, ‘Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.’
All these are not to say that Buhari has done nothing to build Nigeria. No! In his tenure, the Second Niger Bridge has been completed to facilitate efficient transportation of people and goods and services across Nigeria, the railway system has also been noticeably improved, and the Dangote petrochemical plant is soon coming into production. These will of course have multiplier effects on the fortunes of citizens and the national economy. And yet, the point is that in his eight years, far more are left undone than done.
Evidentially, he failed to deliver on the ‘key strategic priorities under the Security, Economy, and Anti-Corruption (SEA) Agenda’ that he committed to in 2015 and again in 2023. The Nigerian poverty index, the cost of doing business, the outrageously low supply of electricity, and the continued drain of the best brains out of our country are proof of this. Certainly, a nation meant to develop and make progress cannot be built on these ‘nothings’.
Mr. Buhari was reported to say at an event in Washington recently that he has done his best for a Nigeria that is facing many challenges. It must be said directly that his best has not been good enough for his country.