The Game-Changer Is Upon Us


Muhammad Al-Ghazali


Are you a serial looter of public funds? Are you a member of the oil subsidy cabal that is currently holding the nation to ransom as Nigerians moan and groan from the avoidable paucity of petroleum product? Have you, by any chance, benefitted from dubious import duty waivers at the expense of the collective health of the national economy, and also intend to do the same any time soon?


Are you in the habit of sabotaging oil pipelines for profit? Do you make a living on proceeds from stolen crude oil? Are you a pot-bellied senior public servant waiting for December and another opportunity to divert unspent capital votes by awarding dubious contracts to yourself and cronies? Are you into kidnapping? Do you rustle cows? Are you a smuggler of goods or human beings?


If you indulge in any of the above, then I have bad news for you: you have precisely three days, after today, to go underground, change your ways, or to high-tail it out of town completely - using the old slang from the American West. Muhammadu Buhari, the game-changer, is upon us. On Friday, just three days from today, he will be sworn into office as the nest President of the federation.


Like a new Sheriff, Buhari will be riding into town in a blaze of glory to make his appointment with destiny. After the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and, of course, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, he  will be only the fifth democratically elected Chief Executive Officer of the under-performing Nigerian enterprise, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, merely being the ceremonial president in our then parliamentary system.


Overall, there is a general impression that Buhari has his work cut-out for him. Due to the challenges confronting the nation, his honeymoon period is also promises to be extremely brief. Never before in the history of the nation has any elected president assumed the mantle of leadership under so much pressure, and colossal expectations.


The only other instance that comes close, in terms of public expectations, was when Nigeria transited back to democratic governance in 1999, under the leadership of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, after close to two decades of military dictatorship.


Back then, Nigerians could do anything to see the back of the military. They believed the return of democracy would defeat corruption and enthrone accountability and fiscal discipline. All these in turn were expected to unlock Nigeria's enormous economic potentials. How wrong they were!


By the time Obasanjo took over from General Abdulsallami Abubakar in 1999, the Nigerian economy was in a relatively stable condition. It had defied low prices of crude oil and numerous sanctions from Western nations against the Abacha-led junta in particular.


The dark-goggled infantry General may have serially raided the Nigerian treasury as the well-documented court cases between his family and the authorities have since proven, but when he eventually died, the nation was not bankrupt! The inflation rate was at a tolerable 9.5 percent. The dollar exchanged for 84 Naira, while its total debt profile was just over 30 billion dollars.


By contrast, Buhari will not only inherit a nation in pitch darkness - no thanks to the pathetic energy situation, but also an economy that is almost a basket case with a total debt overhang of over 60 billion dollars! If anyone thought there was a direct correlation between democratic rule, and economic prosperity, especially for emerging nations, the past sixteen years of the PDP government in Nigeria has certainly exploded that myth without a shadow of doubt.


The outgoing President Jonathan may have made the statement partly in jest; but he was spot-on when he said Buhari will need even more prayers than himself at the inaugural church service over the weekend. The incoming president may not have all the solutions to the mountain of socio-economic problems the nation is confronted with presently; but what he has, in abundance, is the capacity to decisively with corruption in all its manifestations. And I pity any public officer who intends to test his resolve in these troubling times.


In 1984, I got a personal dose of that resolve when the strict foreign exchange regulations his administration introduced made it impossible for me to pay my tuition fees while still a student in the USA. It took the intervention of my late friend Ahmed Yakudima who took me before the equally deceased former Governor of the CBN Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed, before my fees were eventually paid.


But by then, I had lost almost two semesters. Still, I hold no grudges against the General because I knew the extra measures taken to halt capital flight at the time. It was for patriotic reasons. When he assumes office I also expect bold new economic measures to ensure that the value of the Naira does not depreciate further.


But there's nothing patriotic about the current stance our spoilt and buccaneering oil marketers even in the face of untold hardship their hoarding of petroleum products has caused Nigerians. One of the greatest mistakes they can make would be for them to assume that Buhari will remain impassive as they continue to hold the nation to ransom. 


The way I see it, if their intransigence persists, nothing stops Buhari declaring a state of emergency in the sector to arrests the drift. It will then remain only for him to seek the appropriate endorsements that will be required from the APC dominated National Assembly to address the rot.


The NASS, in turn, would be compelled to back the president for the simple reasons that what is happening before our very eyes is tantamount to economic sabotage with all its attendant consequences for survival of the nation. In previous climes, it would have amounted to a coup-detate.


One thing that is certain is that the General will also bank on the support of the general public since the jury is still out on the actual validity of the outstanding claims of the marketers. Had Farouk Lawan not allowed himself to be messed up by greed, perhaps they would be singing a different tune today even if it is obvious that the outgoing President lacked the political will to prosecute them.


But taming the menace of the oil marketers will only be the first battle the new president will face. Corruption will have to be uprooted from its foundations for the new government to have a hope of reforming the polity, and in Buhari, corruption will be up against its greatest adversary to date.


I pity the people who consciously looted public funds and believe they can get away with it under Buhari's leadership. My honest advice is for them to quietly return the loot and slip out of town as fast as they can. One thing that is also certain is that they can perish the thought of the sort of dubious plea-bargaining that will entitle them to retain even a fraction of their loot like we have become accustomed to under the out-going Attorney-General of the Federation.


When the Americans introduced plea-bargaining and witness protection programs in their criminal justice system, it was to deal with the perpetrators of the most intricate crimes and crime syndicates. A perfect example was the Mafia. It was to encourage the small-timers or foot soldiers to turn against crime overlords by given valuable evidence leading to their conviction in exchange for lighter sentences. Our own version contrives to free our biggest criminals, and treasury looters, in spite of the abundant evidence against them!


I can see Buhari embracing the logic that to deal decisively with corruption, a few public examples need to be set from the onset. I don't see him seeking for laws to execute corrupt public officers like they do in China, but I pity anyone foolish enough to test his resolve to halt the drift.


As a new dawn beckons for the nation on Friday, let us not be under any foolish illusions that Buhari has the magic wand to cure all our societal ills. A lot will also depend on how Nigerians, as a collective, react to his reforms. Nigerians must improve on their self discipline irrespective of their status or occupation. In the end, though, it always takes the leadership, and personal examples of a single individual, to reform and move nations from the brink.


Buhari possesses the tenacity, individual discipline and integrity to lead Nigeria towards the greatness that it has always promised. He is certainly one leader who will never be caught with his hands in the till. I pity the public servant who will dare the general and his resolve to rid the polity of corruption.  The game-changer is upon us!