Straight talk express
It is apparent that McCain wanted Americans to know that if elected he would be a president that would say it as it is. Such unvarnished honesty is great but it seems to have deficit credentials in politics and politics, as it is often said, is the art of the possible. I have no idea if his straight-shooting strategy contributed to his failure.
President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be the Nigerian McCain. He has made a few remarks that leave his supporters astounded. Even though Nigerians knew he was having a fierce battle with the god of longevity, they still voted for him only for him to regret that he didn’t get to the coveted seat at a younger age. His spin doctors tried to revise the import of his Freudian slip. It didn’t quite wash.
When he was peppered with questions about the delay in naming his ministers he said that ministers were noise-makers, and that the people who actually do the job are the civil servants, the technocrats. Again, his spin doctors rose to the occasion with accustomed alacrity claiming that it was the comedian in him that was struggling to come alive. That itself was great comedy.
The latest “straight talk” from the President is that “Nigeria is broke.” And when some people expressed shock at the obvious hyperbole he retorted that he needed to tell the investors the truth about the state of the Nigerian economy. What makes the President think that potential investors are zombies who would just bring their money here without researching into the state of the Nigerian economy? In any case, the world has become what is known as a global village and information can be sourced by the tap of a button. Secondly, is it the role of our President to tell the world how bad our situation is? Wouldn’t it be better for him to tell the world that, like most countries, we have difficulties but we are grappling with them?
A former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, emphasised the role of proper communication in governance when he said: “With words we rule men.” Governments all over the world use words advisedly, euphemistically. Even when they shoot down an enemy’s aircraft they prefer to say that they “brought it down,” making it seem like some kind of benign or benevolent act. Over the years government has developed its own jargon. Some call it bureaucratese, officialese or governmentese. Even America’s Pentagon has its own: Pentagonese.
It is true that a lot had gone wrong with our government some of which were revealed during the last campaign. The NNPC was able to withhold N3.7 trillion oil revenue without any budgetary provision. Also, out of N8.1 trillion generated only N4.3 trillion was remitted to the federation account. It was also revealed that the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the lady with the trademark gele that always perched perilously on her forehead, spent $2 billion dollars from the Excess Crude Account between November 2014 and May 2015 “without approval.” She says the expenditure was approved by the President. All of these were known to us before now. But it is possible that the President has found more holes that have been punched in our wallet. So is Nigeria broke?
Broke is an extreme word which means “we have no money at all.” Another lousy way of saying it is to say “we met an empty treasury.” This is the height of terminological inexactitude. We are not broke because we make money everyday from crude oil, non-oil exports, customs, gas, VAT and other taxes including company and education tax etc. No country can be broke and still stay alive. If this is a sermon Buhari must know that he is preaching to the converted. We have been feeling the pangs of poverty in our bones for years so we know the country is sick, very sick but it is not in the emergency ward.
I am sure that Buhari did not expect that each day would be like the unwrapping of a gift. Obviously, knowing what he knew before the election, namely that the economy was plummeting like a crashing comet, he did not expect the gift of serendipity or a stroll in the park, or the easy plucking of low hanging fruits.
Some critics say that the President is looking for excuses for being unable to keep some of his election promises: N5,000 per month per unemployed person and free meals for school children among others. This is a common phenomenon in Nigerian politics: making fabulous promises at campaigns only to renege on them after securing the people’s mandate based on those sugar-coated promises. I hope Buhari will redeem his promises.
It is obvious that we had a bad deal with the past which is why we thought Buhari might be a breath of fresh air. We don’t need to be reminded about yesterday. Yesterday is gone; today is here, tomorrow is nearly here. Let us worry about today and tomorrow. They represent the new reality, the running norm. Many states have not been able to pay their staff salaries; they are rescheduling debts and mortgaging the future of their children. This represents the new reality.
The situation is bad, but not hopeless. We do not need to take embellishment to the level of an art form, or head scratching as a solution or hand wringing as an answer otherwise the totality of these exertions will be a humourless jeremiad. This would not be the symbol of change but the symbol of chicanery. Let us bury yesterday’s ghost and move on.
Nigerians expect him to take tough decisions to bring back our country from the brink. He said 150 billion dollars have been squirreled away by corrupt people. We are waiting for him to do what he has to do to bring back the money. We do not expect him to be Mr. Nice Guy and play the politics of pacification. According to the baseball manager of Brooklyn Dodger, Leo Durocher, nice guys finish last. We don’t want him to finish last because that will be an unmitigated disaster.
Nigerians want the President to raise the bar and rescue the country. We have too much to be poor or to be broke: Agriculture, solid minerals, oil and gas, coal, sunlight, wind, water, land and the people. Our problem is our inability to manage our wealth for the good of all. The needs of the millions are gobbled up by the greed of the few. If he and his team work at breakneck speed there will be a breakthrough and we all will have a breather, and there will be no need to say, truthfully or untruthfully, that we are broke.