Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Citizen’s letter to General Buhari

By Olu Akanmu

Dear General Buhari,

Congratulations on your well earned election victory. You were dogged and stayed the course over the last sixteen years from the ballot box to the court room and back to the ballot box. As our incoming President, who I believe will like to be in touch with the citizens, please allow me to share a citizen’s perspective of the challenges ahead.

First, it is important to recognize that while it has been tough to win the elections, it might be actually tougher to govern. Winning the elections might be a far, more easier task than governing and fulfilling the expectations of the people. Your victory has been near euphoric, at least for a broad section of the population. Some have even said that it feels like a new Nigeria Independence. Expectations of the dividends of democracy are high yet you are taking the rein of governance of the country at a very difficult time, where the treasury is nearly empty, the reserve have fallen below USD30b, an all- time low that can barely cover few months of imports. Oil prices remain down, excess crude account is nearly depleted; states and even the federal government occasionally are unable to pay salaries.  Unemployment, underemployment and social inequalities are at an all time high. Our young people want jobs, they seek a country that will truly liberate their great potential with good education and skills training and a buoyant industrial sector that will employ them.  The infrastructure deficit of power and transportation to support small and big business and aid a good healthy living of the people are very huge. Essentially, the resources of the state at this time may be fall far short of what is required to fulfill the expectation of the people.
The first task of governance may therefore be to manage the expectation of the people, to present the reality of government revenues to them with honesty and integrity, ensuring that government expenditure profile places the people above the self-interest of narrow elites who I am sure are gathering quickly around you as the new locus of power and resources.  You may need to ask the people to make sacrifice and trade-offs. Your government will however succeed in doing so only if it can maintain the high moral credibility with which you are coming into office.  If you must ask the people to sacrifice, the people will need to see that you have applied the same rule to yourself, to the members of your government including using your presidential leverage to stretch this sacrifice to the legislature.  A prudent government under the current situation is critical. You will need to resist the tendency to blow up the size of government. Rather, you will need to rein-in the diverse ethnic, political and business interests that are gathering around you to ensure a small and prudent government.  We do not need forty ministers and hundreds of special advisers and assistants. If you run a prudent executive, you will have the moral credibility to publicly ask the legislature to act responsibly by cutting its unjustified over-bloated allowances. As the President and leader of the majority party, you should also ask your state governors to follow your example of a prudent and small government at the centre and cut down their commissioners and hundreds of special assistants.  Whatever is saved from government prudence can then be ploughed into social services that will improve the health and well being of our people.

A small and prudent government does not imply a state that abandons its social obligations to the people. It is rather a state with an efficient government that encourages and incentivizes the private provision of social services to cover its resource gaps but provide a safety net for the poor and socially vulnerable in public provision.  It ensures that no citizen is left out of social and economic progress.  To this extent, the privatization program in sectors like power must be continued but it must be made far more transparent, ensuring that we do not replace public monopolies with private monopolies, and that the people get real market value for the sale of public assets.  Policies that subsidize the economic cost of few hundred oligarchs in the privatization program at the expense of the state and the people need to be reviewed. Putting a break on the privatization program will imply a return to a big and non-prudent government which we cannot afford.
Some of our Niger Delta brothers may feel a sense of emotional loss of state control with your coming to power. It is important to specially address them and assure them that more of them rather than a few narrow Niger Delta elites with access to Abuja, will prosper under your national leadership. Dear General Buhari, you cannot be uninterested in the governorship elections coming in the next few days in the Niger Delta.  With the relative huge resources including derivation, of the states of the South-South, the quality of life of our Niger Delta people could be much better. We need governors in the South-South who will recognize that good governance is not about building Las Vegas type stadia and swimming pools that have little impact on the lives of the people.  We need governors in the South-South who will invest massively in the people, in world-class education and vocational skills program that will make thousands of our South-South youths employable or start their own business in construction and the oil industry value chain.  Without truly responsible and accountable governments in the South-South, where corruption is massively tamed, even special Federal schemes like the Amnesty program will make little enduring difference in improving quality of life of our Niger Delta brothers. 

You said it so brilliantly in your acceptance speech on corruption, that when huge funds meant for  public use finds its way into private hands through corruption, it creates an illegitimate group of super-wealthy who undermine  our democracy because they think they can buy government or buy the elections.  You assured that this corruption will no longer stand as a respected monument in the nation.  As you will not fight corruption alone, law enforcement and anti-corruption institution building will be very critical. You will need to be on guard against the self interest of narrow elites who will seek to capture institutions meant to fight corruption through the appointment of their lackeys.  No-one should be above the law irrespective of their status or relationship to power. Impunity must be tackled to the ground permanently. There must be real consequences for those who break the law through strong institutional enforcement of the law and sanctions against crime, to act as detriments to others.  Where wealth has been acquired illegally by corruption, the state should not shy away from recovering it to communicate to society that sooner than later, the law will catch up with those who commit crime. Finally, dear General, you will need to lead the nation to set new value standard of ethics and morality which has been debased by corruption. Just as debased words like “settlement” crept into our national lingo from the top, let’s have new ethical words like character, integrity and selflessness creep back and ossify firmly into our national value standard. You have an historic opportunity to make this happen and lead the nation back to more pervasive prosperity. Best wishes.
Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on