“When all think alike; No one thinks very much.”
Walter Lippmann, 1889-1974. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, P 245.
Walter Lippmann, New York Times, was the dean of all journalists/columnists in his day – which coincided with my ten years sojourn in the United States of America. He was an incredibly gifted writer; and together with James Reston, 1909-1995, also of New York Times, and Mike Royko, 1932-1997, Chicago Sun Times gripped my attention. They were influential and helped to shape public policy in a country where governments listen to their media practitioners. But, then, it must be said that no established journalist in the US will condescend to accept a job as a Secretary in the cabinet of a President, or go even lower, to work for a State Government. Reaching the top in their profession already guaranteed them immortality. And, they discipline Presidents and Governors!!!
But, among the dozens of columnists I read regularly without thought of ever becoming a columnist myself, my three icons stood out for one characteristic – independence of thought. They generally rose above group-think; which is a fatal disease afflicting the media in every country – especially at a time of great crises when the unity of the nation is imperilled. On such occasions, there is always a central opinion; which becomes prevalent; and which is the safe position to take. Then, the men get separated from the boys. Then, it is time to stand up and be counted – and not necessarily on the side of the majority.
“Our lives begin to end; the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, 1929-1968.
Perhaps the most important matter in Nigeria today is whether or not Buhari should resign. To judge by the noise of the vocal minority, disgruntled elite, political opponents, opportunists and well-meaning but misguided youth, the answer would be yes. He should go. But, will that result in the changes we want? Wisdom, which is never popular, will dictate that the answer is NO! I strongly feel we should stick with Buhari to the end; and pray he does not die till then. Before the reader starts to wonder if he is reading the right paper and the right column, let me provide three short and solid reasons why. Then we can move on.
First, we missed the boat. The time to get rid of Buhari was on Election Day 2019. Now, with less than two and a half years to go, either getting rid of him – even if we can – or forcing him to resign will get us into deeper trouble. Second, the handover to Osinbajo, even if voluntarily, is fraught with serious dangers. Third, just as “a man alone hasn’t got a chance” (Ernest Hemingway,1899-1961), a President without at least a good chunk of the National Assembly behind him hasn’t got any chance of survival. We will be wasting our time and losing the opportunity to milk whatever good and lasting legacy we can obtain from Buharism – which is a distinct political religion. Without Buhari, the ruling party will disintegrate – virtually in one day. Osinbajo cannot save it.
Still, it is vital to restate that I have not suddenly become a member of the Buhari Solidarity Organisation; neither have the President’s spokespersons persuaded me with their puerile arguments. But, just as the Catholic Church and the Muslims found a common ground in opposing proposals for population control during Babangida administration, I have arrived at the same conclusion with Buhari’s paid supporters from a different point of view.
For the record, despite being a Buhari advocate since 2010, I parted ways with him after he made the first twenty lopsided appointments in 2015. Nothing he did since then has convinced me that he is irredeemably nepotistic. And in February 2019, the following was published on this page.
So, if I wanted to be a “food is ready” columnist, I should have remained a fan of the President and lobbied for appointment or contract. In fact, I got a contract from a Minister performing badly. I turned my back on it. So, nobody should go about thinking this advocacy is for gain. At close to 77, I have very little energy left for hard and serious work except mental. This advocacy is for Nigerians not to succumb to the noise for Buhari to resign. It is the wrong time for that. We should be helping him to do what we want done before 2023 and before the country becomes really a failed state. We have not failed totally; and there is redemption in sight if we can manage Buhari better.
MANAGING OUR BOSS – BUHARI
Back in the early 1990s, as a Senior Lecturer/Consultant at the Nigerian Institute of Management, Victoria Island, I introduced, prepared the Notes and taught a course titled HOW TO MANAGE YOUR BOSS. It became instantly popular with course participants – for obvious reasons. Who among our readers has not been saddled with a boss who is over-bearing, highly opinionated, exhibits ethnic, religious, state and gender biases, lazy, slow to take simple decisions etc, etc? By 1991, twenty-three years after taking my first job in 1968 in Boston, USA, I have had nothing less than 15 – no two were alike in every respect. I had changed jobs three times because I could not stomach my bosses.
Finding myself in an academic setting, I have stumbled across an article written in the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW in the NIM library. The title was How To Manage Your Boss. At the end, there were several references to other articles on related subjects. I read nothing else for six weeks. And, I learnt how great opportunities had eluded me in the past by fighting my boss and quitting. So, I decided to share my experience. But, first my immediate boss, very difficult, had to be persuaded before the proposal would be approved by the Institute. It was my first opportunity to practice what I was going to teach others – if allowed.
Permit me to shorten the story. My boss approved and NIM introduced the Course and I was the first and only Lecturer until I left to join Vanguard in 1994. Before NIM, I had eleven jobs in 23 years. After NIM I worked with VANGUARD from 1994 to 2008 – 14 years until retirement. My boss was/is Uncle Sam – the Publisher. I got to know him so well and conduct myself in a way that produced very little conflict and I was still able to bring changes to the paper’s operations till today. Twelve years after retirement from VANGUARD, Uncle Sam remains my boss; I manage the situation as best as possible.
My point then is this: Nigerians should change our approach to managing our collective boss – Buhari. Insults, maledictions and abuses won’t help. He is coated with mental Teflon – a material which ensures those words don’t stick. Veiled or blunt threats – even from Boko Haram, but especially political opponents – only make him angry; and disinclined to accept the proposal being made. Painstaking persuasion works better; the feeling that the measure taken was his own idea and he was not forced or pushed to do it. We also need to be patient with Buhari. At 76+ myself, I know that the old brain box is not as agile as it was when I left Igbobi College in 1962. Finally, we should reduce out demands. Baba Buhari has only two years and five months more to go. He cannot fix power, roads, housing, education, economy, security and food security in that period – even if we desire them and he wants. Let us be realistic. He is President not God.
WHAT THEN SHOULD HE DO FOR ALL OF US?
“The old order changes; yielding way to the new…”
First he should confront restructuring head-on by sending Obasanjo’s presidential system packing; we can no longer afford it. He will enter history on the right side for once if he did that. As an Economist, I know of no Nigerian economist who does not share the view that our cost of governance is too high on account of the presidential system. If Obasanjo can influence the outcome of the Constitutional Conference of 1978 and get presidential system accepted, Buhari will receive standing ovations everywhere he goes after that achievement – helping Nigeria to return to the parliamentary system. The Age of Oil is over. We can no longer afford the presidential system.
To be continued….