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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Columnist: Tope Fasua

On 2,890 days and other thoughts

The other day I made some postings on Facebook, ruing the very flimsiness and unpredictability of life, and admonishing friends to reflect deeply so as to prioritize what is truly important; more like making a ‘bucket list’ of the things you would want to achieve before you die. I guess a few friends were a bit alarmed, because those are not the thoughts that people like to entertain, much less voice out. But it is one of my own defense mechanisms; to be able to contemplate such eventualities as I try to live a better, more consequential life. I have personally boiled down life to the amount of positive impact one is able to have on one’s fellow men, or the larger society or humanity, how much laughter, reprieve, guidance and happiness one can bring to those around us, and of course it is down to how much joy we derive doing what we do on a daily basis.

I have seen too many unhappy but stinkingly rich people, who are still scared they may lose it all, who live a lie based on bank loans and other swindles, who have sold their souls to the devil just to be famous, and who ensure that those working with and around them live in constant fear and sadness. It is evident that that is a wrong choice of life.

The Holy Books urge us to count our days. In fact, if it was possible to count every second it may not be a bad idea. Human beings have achieved great feats, but at the end, all our achievements on this earth is nothing but vanity. I believe that human beings should not attach much to their own vainglory on earth. But if we can ensure this world is a better place because of us as we depart, then great. Way to go.

I write on the subject of 2,890 days, because of two recent news items in the press from our First Family. The first is a video clip from President Muhammadu Buhari himself, where he stated that he recently realized that leadership in Nigeria is all about ‘trying’. Well, he cut a picture of someone who had given up. The point is whether he contemplated the leadership of Nigeria in that light while he struggled for 12 years to be the number 1 man (again) having been in that same position in 1984 and 1985. Was Buhari driven simply by ego, a bloated sense of self-importance, delusion of grandeur or did all his dreams for Nigeria simply fail to come true under his watch because they were easier said than done? And has he now come to his senses, effectively one year to the end of his tenure? I say one year, because by 2021, the gladiators for the inheritance of the bag of problems that is Nigeria’s presidency may have emerged. Buhari has said he is not thinking of a 3rd Term, and I believe him. But will he be happy leaving that seat – having ‘tried’ and many will say, failed? Is anyone learning from this?

The second reason for this write-up is the news widely credited to Mrs. Aisha Buhari, the First Lady, where she said ‘We (perhaps the first family) are scared of leaving this place without meeting up to some of the expectations”. She went further to admonish other occupiers of positions in Nigeria to try and ensure they meet their promises even though it is impossible to achieve all. This is quite revealing and instructive, because the history of sit-tight leadership – especially in Africa – is the history of people who realize towards the tail end of their tenures that they hadn’t delivered on their many promises, or that they were saddled with many half-done projects, especially those upon whom they had borrowed countless billions from abroad. Africa is thus littered with thousands of white elephant projects and monstrosities. Will this end here, especially now that it is fairly obvious that Citizen Buhari is not the real president but some other guys more sinister, more calculating who may fall into the same trap as Mubarak, Sese-Seko, Abacha, the Gnasingbes, and even of late, Paul Kagame of Rwanda?

Well, we shall wait to see how the Buharis manage their transition but I need to share my thoughts on counting our days in government. Can you see that February is already over and we are in March 2020? When was it that we celebrated Christmas 2019 and the New Year? Seems like yesterday. It’s as if the days are now shorter because we are in digital times right? Think again, when was that that you were a teenager, or a toddler, running around without a care in the world? For the much I’ve lived I know life is generally too short for most people to find fulfilment. It is often a rat race to nowhere until the owner of time comes calling. The same operates for those who say they are interested in governance. You have to count your days. You have to boil it down to the seconds. What are you achieving with the trust invested by the people?

So, 365 days make a year except it is a leap year such as the one we are in. With one leap year every four years, a full mandate for a single term is a mere 1,445 days. Sleep and wake up 1,445 times and it’s all over. What is more, for at least one and a half years out of this (or from 548 days to the end of a term of 4 years), it is all about politicking for the next term. Sometimes a clear two years (730 days) is devoted to the politics of the next term. If you catch 4 hours sleep daily, that is 240 days spent just sleeping out of 1,445 days, or 480 days in an eight-year double tenure. Where the incumbent is interested in running again (which is all the time), all tools are downed, projects stopped and there will be an overdrive of populist programs which may just be about wasting loads of money trying to provide palliatives for the metastasizing cancer that the country has become. Why won’t our leaders be scared about their failures to achieve electoral promises? I have always repeated that there is probably no former governor in Nigeria since 1999 who can move freely in the state they governed today. Most of them are scared stiff because the people can mob them at any time. This is partly because they really messed up. But it is also because our people have remained poor, ignorant, and illiterate such that their minds are tuned only to any current ruling order who supply their little everyday needs. Once you are done, you become a bad person and they shift to the incumbent. Anyone who is irrelevant to providing our people’s needs is a bad person. Simple. It is also the Nigeria that our leaders have created over time; something that has become much worse under our politicians since 1999 what with their Machiavellian strategies.

So, even if we max out to two terms; the entire 2,890 days that any government can validly stay on in Nigeria, there is no consolation. That is a mere 2,890 days ( less 480 days of sleep) with which to transform the nation, change our thinking, boost productivity, transform infrastructure, reform the educational, health, security and environmental systems and attitudes around them, unite the country, east, north, south and west, promote innovation, encourage the youths, connect with other countries of like minds, reestablish the nation as a voice to listen to in global geopolitics, source finance, generate internal revenue, get cooperation from elites, attract local and foreign investment, start and complete projects, evaluate and complete abandoned projects, fix electricity and water systems, think about jobs for the youths in public and private sectors, reform the public sector away from indolence and corruption, fix corruption in the police and military services and indeed everywhere, fight your detractors who may want to torpedo your progress (some of whom may be foreign and very powerful), get your local politics right, ensure there is progress all over the country, put the governors under immense pressure to ensure they deliver in their abodes, put your own ministers under pressure by monitoring their activities in real time, conduct scheduled and impromptu visits to thousands of projects around the country, and so on and so forth. That is if you are a serious leader.

Imagine the kind of energy you need to do this job? Imagine the massive structures you need to run; the number of reports you need to read; the number of meetings and travels; the energy level you need; the well of inspiration you need to possess, to impact those you meet, the communication skills; diplomatic prowess; street smarts; political acumen; large heart and love for humanity which cancels nepotism, tribalism and religious bigotry? Imagine the knowledge you have to possess about everything; how versatile you need to be; your knowledge of risk management, project management and new technology; and the resilience and thick skin you have to possess given that at the end of the day, leadership is a thankless job and you will be shocked at who will blame and hate you over issues you thought you handled right? Most people, like Buhari, simply strive to grab the power and have no contemplation of these hard realities. This country should be begging people to lead it if we had the kind of contemplation and depth people possess in places such as Japan where Prime Ministers once resigned every 6 months. The problem here is way too much. Leadership is a suicide mission – first to your reputation, then to your happiness, then to God-knows-what else.

2,890 days only at most. But what we have seen with successive governments is that the leader gives up way to early. This results in them taking too many foreign travels, attending too many summits and conferences where they somehow find some peace and belonging as they run away from their own people. Escapism and a dollop of recklessness takes over. Quality time that could be spent here ensuring tangibles gets achieved at home, gets frittered away on photo ops abroad especially in places where Nigerians are accorded scant regard. The energies of most of our civilian leaders have been incredibly low, save for Obasanjo, but even he spent way too much time traveling. The reason why it is important for Nigerian leaders to keep their feet on the ground is simply because in our clime, what you don’t see and do yourself often never gets done. Performance management systems fitted to government work will be very useful if we had some, but nothing compares with leadership by example, visible, authentic leadership that energizes the nation and causes everyone’s productivity to double, for attitudes and destinies of individuals, groups, communities and nations to alter radically, for good.

2,890 days at most…. To do a thankless job that must be done urgently nonetheless. It doesn’t look like we have serious people on the horizon who see the urgency and sheer scale of the problem. And indeed the futility of it all.