Leadership in Nigeria:Between theorists and pragmatists, by Umar Faruk Said


Sometime early 2019 I lay in bed in an Abuja hotel room, proofreading a concept note due for presentation the following morning. Even though I knew I prepared very well for the presentation, I had to read the paper repeatedly for possible improvements. The time was a few minutes past 8:30pm, and on my cell phone I was listening to a political programme being aired by one FM radio station. There were two guests on the programme: one of them an APC diehard supporter and the other of the PDP. Apart from vocal appeal and in-depth analyses by the guests, eloquence and agility of the presenter in throwing the rights questions, the phone-in contributions from listeners made quite an admixture of education and fun. All these kept me glued to the programme despite the urgency to tie loose ends in my presentation paper.

If I would be asked to pass a decision on who of the two men won the debate, I would certainly call it a tie because of the men’s exchanges of calculated, effective attacks on each other’s points, and wise defences. But towards the end of the programme the APC man was asked: if the presidential debate were to hold today (that day), do you think President Buhari would honour it? The man, seemingly without reflecting on the question, responded: Buhari will not engage in that because he is a man of action, not a theorist. With this response, even the dumbest of listeners would hardly fail to understand the innuendo and imputation; that all other presidential aspirants (especially that of PDP) were ideologues immersed in conjectures, whose thoughts and ideas were at variance with the political realities of Nigeria.

To me, the APC man burst his own bubbles. He did not realise that having no interest in theories is, according to great thinkers, the dearth of intellect in a human being. Besides, one cannot even claim to be a pragmatist without first being a theorist. This is because to understand any situation or problem, solution to which one seeks to pragmatically find, one has to study it, synthesise it, and form hypotheses.

These systematic processes of enquiry are themselves the by-products of a theory. It may therefore be posited that we are all theorists in one way or another. But plausibility, efficacy or fatality of a theory is a function of the theorist’s mindset, worldview and intellectual pedigree. In any case, we must accept that one’s preference for pragmatism over theories or the other way round should not be faulted in haste, provided the nature and complexities of the issues are understood, the right approach is applied, and the results prove positive.

Given the foregoing, we need to examine Buhari the politician as he was before his celebrated 2015 election victory vis-à-vis Buhari the Nigerian president he is today. Let us forget that Buhari the politician and his party vociferously explained told us the woes of Nigeria under the PDP government, and made lofty promises to remedy the damage done and to reform the vandalised Nigeria. Hence, we took their promises hook, line and sinker. How were Buhari and his party able to understand the political cancer Nigeria was dying of and the proper cure they proposed? They perhaps pondered on the issues, observed, analysed and re-observed them. This is more or less theorizing.

Or perhaps still, they only used sugar-coatery in total ignorance of our situation. I am by no means trying to judge; just to arouse our curiosity, to look at what Buhari’s administration has brought to bear on the country.

Have the very gees that lay the golden eggs tasted the eggs? In other words, have those enticing promises been fulfilled? If one should be very objective, a simplex affirmative or negative is far from being a sufficient answer to this question. This is because the question requires a thorough, beyond a cursory look, analyses of what Nigeria’s situations before Buhari mounted the saddle and now that he is in the saddle.

To begin with, now that terrorists (or I should use the official euphemism, bandits) have assumed forced reign over many of our rural communities in Katsina, Niger, Sokoto and Zamfara States, forcefully raped women and girls, illegally imposed heavy taxes on the locals, openly proved their might and dominion as they dethroned traditional rulers and replaced them with their own, we may celebrate that today the grim realities of the past are no more with us.

We may also be happy in this new dawn, as press freedom and liberty to express our views are more guaranteed than ever before, even with several incidents of clampdown on media houses across the country. Perhaps that might not be press suppression or gag. Come to think of it, consider it an ethical watchdog job done to safeguard the sanctity of information dissemination against distortion and abuse.

The twitter ban, the controversial social media bill, too, elicited divergent views. Opinions were inclined to different angles. But if, with regard to the vitality of information dissemination in this digital age, all we desire from our leaders is regression to the dark ages, we can stand akimbo with our heads tilted to the shoulders and put a kind of I-told-you-so confidence and say that our choice has indeed been a sure bet.

Again, now that the naira to dollar exchange rate is close to hitting N600-$1, we are happily enjoying the new reality, the so much anticipated change; if that is what we initially hoped to get in return for giving Buhari our popular votes. Even in the bondage and servitude of foreign loans, we may still say that today the new glamour worn by Nigeria as a nation is, as the Hausas would say, worth the cost of the cosmetics.