Mr. President, You Can Do It!

I FIRST visited the then Federal Republic of Germany as a student in 1974. I went there for an eight weeklong German language program at the Goethe Institute.

During my time in Germany, I passed through the cities of Frankfurt, Cologne, Bonn, Dortmund, Kassel and a number of others. However, I spent the bulk of my time living in two tiny communities, Brilon and Arolsen. The latter was, and perhaps still is, so small and insignificant that I have never since met even one German native who has ever heard about it.

Everywhere I went in Germany was a picture of orderliness, efficiency and beauty. The streets were paved, the buildings decent and well kept, while the institutions were functional and efficient. You saw signs everywhere that all of this was the result of the discipline, hard work and productivity of ordinary citizens, who had a common philosophy and a common purpose.

Yet, 1974 was only 29 years after the Second World War, which ended in 1945! At the end of that war, Germany was in complete devastation and ruin. Almost every city, every bit of infrastructure, every factory, every institution had been bombed into near inexistence. In 29 short years, Germany had emerged from ruin and become one of the best run and most developed countries in the world!

In 1974, the only Chinese product I had seen on sale in Nigeria was a mosquito coil. From pictures we saw of China in those days, it looked like a poor and sorry place. All the people wore the same kind of clothes. Not many Nigerians cared to visit China then, probably because there was hardly anything that we found attractive about the country at the time. This was at a time that Nigeria had begun assembling motor vehicles and exporting some to our neighbouring countries.

Then, along came Deng Hsiao Ping, a man barely the height of an average 12-year-old Nigerian boy. The new leader of the Chinese people was indeed small in stature, but he had a big belief in China’s potential for greatness. Deng overturned China’s existing economic system, introduced bold new policies, mobilized the Chinese people and unleashed their energy. By 2003 (29 years later), China had joined the league of the world’s great economic powers and well on her way to becoming the second largest economy in the world!

China and Germany are just two examples to prove that a country, with the right kind of leadership, can grow from zero to zenith in one generation!

In Nigeria, it has taken more than 30 years, and counting, and we have not finished building the Ajaokuta Steel Plant! For more than 40 years, we have been complaining about NEPA, PHCN, DISCO or whatever name we have chosen to call the entity responsible for delivering electric power to our homes and factories! Sixty years after independence, 80 percent of the roads in our communities remain unpaved and over half of those communities do not have potable water!

Mr. President, you have inherited a country in ruins. Perhaps not of exactly the same type as Germany after the war, but ruins of the moral and philosophical variety. Our infrastructure is broken or, even, non-existent; our social services are poor, our finances are in dire straits, our youths are jobless and our parents in the states are working but receiving no pay. Worse still, there are many, who would like the system to continue, while an entire generation does not even know what it is like to live in a society founded on ethics and values.

Many of those who brought us to this sorry impasse are still around and want us to believe that it is not possible to change Nigeria. They say the system has come to stay and that your survival depends on accommodating it. They say you are surrounded by corrupt people and that corruption is bound to continue. They are selling the people a message of despair and hopelessness.

Sir, do not buy into this message and betray the hopes of millions of our unfortunate countrymen and women. We wanted a new country. We voted for you because we looked around and believed that you were the only one who could do it. We know you can do it and we are demanding that you do it. You must go to the National Assembly, where they have spent the past two months fighting over “juicy posts”, and lay out your vision for a new Nigeria, in which the purpose of political leadership is the well being of the people and not the struggle for unfettered access to their resources.

You must go out to the country and spend days and nights with the people of Ahoada, Ikom, Abagana, Ihiala, Sobe, Ipetumodu, Bida, Pankshin, Damaturu and Zuru. You must make us feel in Benin City, my hometown, that you are OUR President. Since being elected President more than four months ago, you have been to England, Germany, USA, Benin, Cameroon, Niger and South Africa. As important as those visits may have been, you must remember that it was the people of Nigeria that elected you. You must ask your handlers to remember this fact and to schedule your travels accordingly.

The Nigerian President is perhaps the most powerful President in the world. We have seen the vast powers of the Presidency in this country deployed to reckless and delinquent ends. We do not suggest that you, as our new President, emulate this trend. Those powers must now be fully harnessed to propel the country forward and transform the people’s lives.

You have made a good start, by telling our all-powerful Governors that while they are free to choose their State’s commissioners, they must leave you free to choose your Ministers at the Federal level. We hope that this will be the first step towards trimming the Governors; undue powers. The Governors of Nigeria’s States have become virtual emperors. They have awarded to themselves the powers to appoint local government Chairmen and Councilors, state Commissioners and Assemblymen, Federal Ministers, Senators and Representatives. They may soon begin to believe that they should decide who goes to heaven.

You must lead the fight to break the Governors’ stranglehold on our local government councils and loosen their grip on the latter’s resources. The councils must be allowed to function as intended by our constitution. They are meant to bring true governance and development to our local communities. Under the present system, the sole activity of local government councils appears to be the monthly bazaar, where they share allocation or whatever crumbs are allowed to fall from the Governors’ tables. If allowed to continue, our local communities would only continue to rot.

Your appointees must be dedicated and mission-focused from day one. They must identify with your values and be ready to deliver on your promises to the people. They should be able to think outside the box in order to develop common sense solutions to our problems.

You must instruct your appointees to discourage and avoid “civic receptions” that are rolled out in their honour once they are appointed. Remind them all that they have been appointed to serve the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not narrow sectional interests. As you are aware, these civic receptions are usually organized by some interests with covetous designs on our national resources.

Mr. President, You can put an immediate stop to the practice of senior government officials haunting our streets with screaming sirens and screeching convoys of multiple SUVs and so-called pilot cars that are totally uncalled for. No Minister, Service Chief, Permanent Secretary or Chief Executive needs to move about in more than one vehicle. You must order the immediate disposal of these symbols of callous leadership and waste, while the proceeds are diverted to serve the real needs of our people.

You must order the EFCC Chairman to immediately put an end to the current, revolving circus of permanently inviting all manner of people to answer questions in their offices without results in the end. Task him to show seriousness by swiftly prosecuting glaring cases of bribery, corruption, theft and fraud. Under your watch, we should not have cases of people, caught on camera, stuffing dollar bribe money into their babanriga, passing through unending adjournments in our courts.

Since your inauguration, Nigerians have begun to learn the extent to which our treasury was despoiled and our nation raped. We thank you for bringing this about. Those who have looted our commonwealth must face justice and pay the penalty if found guilty. You must make our public servants realize that the days of impunity are gone forever.

You must direct the Head of the National Orientation Agency to come up with clear blueprints and programs aimed at transforming our citizens from partisans to patriots, from wreckers to builders. The agency itself must cease to be a mere tool of government propaganda and revert to its core mission of enshrining in our society, a new set of ethics, morals, values and standards, on which the future Nigeria shall be built.

You must focus immediate attention on the country’s power sector. For too long our people have been yearning for constant and stable electricity. For too long the Government has promised to give us light, only to deliver excuses. They have blamed vandals and demons for their inability to deliver even after so much money has taken wing. We trust you to now cage the vandals and slay the demons. You must define clear targets in the power sector and resolve to meet those targets. Only by doing so can we achieve our ambitions in other sectors such as manufacturing, mining and agriculture.

Mr. President, you have the powers to do these things and bring real change to Nigeria sooner rather than later. You must give the signal that the ground rules have changed and make us believe that we have begun the journey towards making our nation as we want it to be. Nigeria can indeed also rise from zero to zenith in thirty years and now is the time to begin.

• Ambassador Kayode Garrick wrote from Asokoro, Abuja

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