Present Realities and Optics of Nigerian Politics Are Not Comforting
Remarks by Oseloka H. Obaze, At the Public Presentation of the Book
Prime Witness -Change and Policy Challenges in Buhari’s Nigeria,
At the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs,
Victoria Island, Lagos, 2 May, 2018
I thank you all, our distinguished guests, who have taken time off on a working day to be with us this morning. I salute the Chairman, Chief Chris Ezeh, my publisher, Chief Joop Berkhout of Safari Books, my dear wife and siblings and my staff.
This is not your typical book launch. We have tweaked the format, since this is for me, purely a literary event; the presentation of a public policy book, despite the evident political undertone. The timing of the release of the book is also coincidental, even if considered propitious by some.
In Prime Witness, I have rendered an account on the first two years of President Buhari’s administration and his presidency as I witnessed and assessed them. The book addresses policy making as it relates to governance and politics, foreign policy, security concerns, constitutional questions, economic and fiscal policies, and the change mantra. Specifically it interrogates topical issues including corruption, herdsmen conflict, gender, budgetary matters, and value of the Naira, restructuring and fiscal bailouts and oil subsidy. In all, it assesses how well Buhari as an Executive President has delivered on his change promise.
I have undertaken this task, because of my firm conviction that it is our task and duty as citizens to find solutions and to speak truth to power. Public policy discussion is too important to left only to elected or appointed policy makers. The contribution of an informed citizenry to public policy making is the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy. For the record, upon the publication of this book, I availed the Presidency a copy. It is now for the readers, students, analysts and posterity to judge.
The present day security, governance and political challenges, compel one to ask whether Nigerians still have faith in Nigeria and the incumbent leadership. As I’ve said elsewhere, our dear country is extremely challenged. From where I stand, the present realities and optics of Nigerian politics are not comforting. The forthcoming general elections will only exacerbate the challenges and conflicts confronting Nigeria relative to our retarded governance and developmental standards.
Though the attendees have heard the magisterial book review rendered by Prof. B.A.C. Obiefuna, and other remarks, and read the preview in the programme, the crux of its validity rests on views and questions posed by my dear friend, and public policy colleague, Ambassador Eloho Otobo, who wrote the foreword. His words:
“Effective political leadership is generally perceived as one that delivers on its promises. Statesmanship, on the other hand, entails employing great tact in steering the affair of state and in better management of unanticipated crisis that other leaders would have in similar circumstances. The collection of articles in this Book turns critically on three questions: Has the Buhari administration delivered on what it promised during the electoral campaign? Has Buhari demonstrated the qualities of responsive and responsible leadership? And has he displayed the necessary statesmanship in the governance of National affairs?”
These are heady and critical national interest questions. But there are more questions being asked by Nigerians everyday; “How’s your President doing today”? Or “How is your choice for change doing?” I will leave it to the readers to answer, and decide if each of the three questions were fully answered or if in deference to diplomacy and political correctness this author was “too charitable” in his assessment.
The Buhari government, which was popularly elected, has many ardent supporters, some are closet supporters. Yet, many claim that those of them who “supported Buhari, and voted for him in 2015, are now totally disillusioned and ashamed that events have exposed their naivety.” Their concern is that they have become the butt of the joke, at the mercy of their mockers especially, the so-called five-percenters who supposedly knew better and thus voted otherwise.
Conventional wisdom informs that any book assessing evolving policy and politics often become obsolete from the date of its publication. If so, the state of affairs in Nigeria today and the way things have evolved – for good or bad – since 2015 under Buhari, may have rendered this book obsolete.
Yet the redeeming value of Prime Witness is that Nigeria’s posterity and mankind will have a record of what transpired. Indeed, the Buhari presidency, have some lessons to learn from past mistakes and missed opportunities. The Presidency will glean from this book, even if belatedly, some of the change and policy challenges confronting the Buhari presidency, even as I speak. Prime Witness will also serve as a tool for assessing the strength of government.
As Nigerians we cannot shy away from confronting our failings, or celebrating our successes. We must also tackle heady questions. So, given what we know, I have severally been asked, “How does it make you feel when it is said that Buhari intends to stand for re-election for another term of four years come 2019?” My response is that the beauty of democracy, including ours, is the guarantee of periodic, genuine and credible elections. We witnessed that in 2015 elections – a historical landmark. President Buhari was elected then because he was a plausible and credible alternative. As I surmised in the closing chapter of this book, President Buhari “is a Nigerian and fate has thrust him into Nigeria’s leadership position; not once but twice. How he will fare eventually and be considered by posterity is best left to historians.”
Yet I must acknowledge the increasing expressed opposing view; “that Buhari represents every vice which militates against good governance in Nigeria; tribalism, nepotism, impunity, corruption, religious bigotry and hubris.” Furthermore, as Nigeria heads into 2019 elections, there are Nigerians who firmly believe that “removing Buhari from power is the first step towards positive restructuring of Nigeria.” Public expressions of such divergent views reflect the growing strength of our democracy. For my part, I will vote my conscience as will each man and woman. In the end, the Nigerian voters must make a choice. And they will live with the consequences of their individual choice at the polls.
In closing, let me emphasize that Prime Witness, remains essentially an academic work aimed at bettering our understanding of the nexus between public policy and purposeful leadership and good governance. Inevitably, its publication cannot ignore Nigeria’s realpolitik. That is an inescapable reality.
I thank you.