igerians have widespread, though incorrect, perception that, President Muhammadu Buhari, is the epitome of the country’s many issues. This notion has grown in power and even taken on mythic proportions.
It has taken on a cult-like following among its numerous followers, and any attempt to point in a different direction to explain the country’s catastrophic predicament is violently resisted and denounced as insincerity or sycophancy. However, it lacks a factual foundation, as with many myths.
This is not to imply that Buhari is blameless for the country’s current downward spiral. He is the President and Commander-in-Chief, and the buck stops at his desk, as the saying goes. While every objective observer will agree that Buhari took over a sick country from Jonathan – a country that was suffering with and failing on even basic tasks such as paying salaries – he was expected to come in with remedies – solutions that he promised.
Leadership is not for the faint of heart; it is intended to be challenging. In truth, leadership is put to the test at times of struggle and crisis. Individuals whose leadership credentials were developed by the difficulties of their time and how they handled those problems can be found throughout history. Franklin D. Roosevelt is remembered for successfully steering the USA out of the Great Depression with his New Deal agenda and for leading the Allied Forces to victory in WWII (World War 2) following the Japanese audacious, absolutely devastating, but misguided attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lee Kuan Yew won the title of “Father of Modern Singapore” by transforming the country from a third-world to a first-world country under challenging circumstances. Deng Xiaoping made his name eternal by rescuing China from economic stagnation and putting it on a path of rapid and steady economic growth while keeping a modest international profile. Barack Obama’s success in the White House, despite his oratory and charm, was defined by the challenges he tackled, particularly his successful handling of the Great Recession, not by his personality.
It is safe to say that the numerous challenges that Buhari inherited acted as both a blessing and a curse. As a result, I will not seek to defend his government; instead, I will focus on the oft-overlooked fact that, with all of his powers and responsibilities as President – and all of his flaws – Buhari is not a personification of Nigeria’s problems; he is a fraction of our problems.
This truth-telling is critical, in my opinion, since our fixation on Buhari’s flaws has distracted our focus away from others who are equally responsible for the country’s dire situation. With anti-Buhari rhetoric, some of the men and women who share equal or even greater blame for the ill system easily gain popularity in the eyes of Nigerians. Nigerians accept these pretenders’ excuses and even regard some of them as role models for democracy and good administration. And, of course, this gullibility is taken advantage of to the most extent possible.
Nigeria does not have a unitary government with centralized power. We have a federal government with Federal, State, and Local governments sharing government powers (the fact that whether ours is truly a Federal System remains a question). While the scope and quality of these authorities vary by government levels, they are all essential to the country’s general and correct functioning.
I am not deaf to claims that the distribution of powers in Nigeria is tilted in favor of the Federal Government, and that state governments are prevented from properly delivering the fruits of good governance because of this uneven distribution of powers. This argument proponents blame our issues on the 1999 Constitution. According to them, the Exclusive Legislative List gave the Federal Government far too many powers while depriving State Governments of essential functions. However, Nigerians appear to have swallowed this lie wholeheartedly and have refused to investigate further.
Under the Concurrent Legislative List of the Constitution, State governments have tremendous authority and control over crucial areas such as health, education, taxation, and agriculture. Furthermore, state governments have residual authority over topics not covered by the Constitution’s Exclusive and Concurrent Lists, allowing them to creatively explore possibilities and opportunities in areas where the Federal Government has no jurisdiction.
As a result, the story concerning the lack of power is a fabrication. It is not a question of whether or not there are enough powers; it is a question of how the various State Governments use those authorities. It is also worth noting that State Governments have complete control over their financial (as opposed to natural or mineral) resources. This means that the Federal Government does not have the authority to tell states how to spend their money. This effectively neutralizes the excuse of power inadequacy.
One would think that our State Governors, who are so quick to blame the Federal Government and the President, would at least strive to be different, even if just on the surface. Our state governors, on the other hand, rarely make apparent attempts to provide excellent governance to the people of their states. Our state leaders’ failure to take responsibility is substantially to blame for (or at the very least has aggravated) our current difficulties.
Insecurity, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, and other negative consequences of weak governance are all bi-products of bad governance. Thus, our state governors have the opportunity and the capacity to bring prosperity, reduce crime, enhance education, offer great health care, create jobs, and increase internally produced revenue by attracting investments via the use of the correct incentives and regulations.
But what do we get in return? Neglect at its finest! Plundering without thought! Cluelessness!
In Nigeria, there are very few states that can claim to have some sort of effective government (This is not to discredit the impact some governors, past or present have made in their respective states). In every state of the federation, the benefits of good governance are in low supply (if they exist at all). Poverty, a lack of safe drinking water, a lack of adequate public schools and hospitals, unemployment, and a lack of adequate housing can be found in every state of the union (even though not evenly).
Every state in the union is a breeding ground for terrorists, armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and other types of violent criminals who, in some circumstances, are motivated by a sense of neglect, a lack of resources, and a need to survive. This helps to explain why insecurity exists in every state of the union. Our State Governors, on the other hand, are on a perpetual honeymoon while their states are engulfed in one crisis or another. Buhari, on the other hand, is there to shoulder the burden of their collective sins.
Again, State Governors are the most egregious abusers of power. They are largely to blame for our democratic process’s stifled growth. Our Governors are hypersensitive to any type of opposition. They appear to have a neurotic fear of any significant resistance, therefore they use state resources, instruments, and institutions to muzzle and smother criticism.
These men have kidnapped our democratic institutions and are holding them hostage. Our State Governors have a stranglehold on the rule of law, free, fair, and credible elections, judicial independence, legislative and local government autonomy, freedom of expression, and other essential parts of our democratic system of government. They urge that the Independent National Electoral Commission hold free, fair, and credible elections, yet local government elections are nearly always shams intended to legitimize the Governors’ selection of Local Government Chairmen and Councilors.
Party members and supporters populate State Electoral Commissions. State-sanctioned violence is used against peaceful protests, and opponents are imprisoned at the Governors’ discretion. Governors have complete control over the state judiciaries. They treat local government statutory appropriations as personal funds, depriving that important tier of government of the authority and resources to govern. These individuals control their region like emperors, doling out favors to loyalists from state coffers and using state instruments to subdue the opposition.
Our Governors are completely unaccountable when it comes to managing state cash. But, possibly because mismanagement occurs in smaller geographic areas and appears to be compartmentalized, we seem to gloss over the kind of damage our State Governors are causing our democratic system. However, the culture of impunity that has spread throughout our thirty-six states has now become the norm in our country.
Buhari’s or any other President’s failings would have been insignificant if Nigeria’s thirty-six states were well-governed. Our issues, however, have been geometrically magnified by our State Governors’ ineptitude, lack of probity, and opposition to the rule of law. Nigeria is fixable if the states are fixable. On the other hand, even if we have a saint as President, we will not make any progress unless there is a state-level reform.
The State Governors’ opposition to Buhari’s efforts to provide the judiciary and local governments’ financial autonomy is proof that even the best Federal programmes may be effectively thwarted by the Governors. If we truly want change, we must put an end to our fixation on Buhari and focus part of our energy on holding our State Governors accountable. Otherwise, our desire for change will remain a mirage for the rest of our lives.