Disclosure is important: I have been part of a team that worked for the new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari — from building the cache of photos that defined his image to getting fliers across the country in all of our languages.
I have gone from grudgingly voting for him in 2011 (I made up my mind an hour before voting) to enthusiastically putting relationships and business on the line for what seemed like a quixotic quest.
But long after Muhammadu Buhari is President of Nigeria’s Federal Republic, I will still be a citizen. And as a citizen, I know, that by this evening, the honeymoon will be over.
He knows this more than anyone else, and he certainly doesn’t need advice to do what he does best — work hard, and fast.
Still, these would be my suggestions for his top five priorities.
Set an example:
The cult of personality that led President Buhari to victory was built on a simple premise — Nigeria, for once, needs a man shorn of greed; who owns less in terms of material, and covets even less. There are those who insist that the fate of a nation cannot lie solely on Buhari’s personality, and perhaps they are right. But the ‘lau lau’ (Nigerian slang for wasteful) lifestyle of the president who is leaving office led to unprecedented waste, and turned corruption into art.
Now, because of Buhari’s reputation, governments and corporate Nigeria have begun to tighten their belts. Oil marketers are suspended in terror; people even expect the cost of land in Nigeria to drop. If he steps into power, and changes; then nothing he says and nothing he does will matter. It will ruin everything. And what a darn shame that will be.
Subsidy has to go
There has long been a media and elite consensus that Nigeria’s labyrinth of petro-politics — which swallows at least $4.2 billion yearly in the name of subsidy — is a scam. Unfortunately, because he lacked both the credibility and the vision to overhaul that system, Nigerians rightly railed against President Goodluck Jonathan when he tried to remove the subsidy in 2012. The argument was simple — why force us to tighten our belts when you continue to buy new presidential jets? Thankfully, President Buhari has the competence (as former oil minister) and the personal credibility to make that decision now. It will be a bloody billion-dollar fight. But he, frankly, has no choice.
The President-Elect has said he cannot know if the 219 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year will be found, and he is right.
Still, Boko Haram has ravaged this country in many ways, but above all it has stolen our faith in government. The girls stand as a symbol of our hopelessness — that despite a world unified in horror and haste, our government has yet failed.
To re-inspire a nation to reconnect with its strength and its will, there is no stronger message than for those girls to be found.
Cost of government
The cost of running Nigeria is obscene. The federal wage bill, at $9 billion, currently outstrips the expected revenue from crude oil sales and Nigeria’s current budget deficit stands at $5 billion, despite more than three years of crude oil prices averaging over $100 a barrel.
The salary for 469 federal legislators stands at $750 million. It sounds like a cliche, but it is no less true — simply cutting the obscene amounts we spend on ‘public service’ will help Nigeria with more money for the things that truly matter — regenerating industry, creating jobs, unloading the power sector, social security, saving.
I am an entrepreneur, and I know that it’s incredibly hard to be one in this country. There is no access to finance, there’s multiple-taxation and a crippling patronage system that relies on endorsements and kickbacks.
We lack systems that enable us to truly unlock wealth and sustain growth for entrepreneurs. Nigeria is lucky to have a proven entrepreneurial energy proven in new-industry addition (over $552 billion) to our GDP, and a massive influx of foreign direct investment.
It is time for our government to actually connect with the aspiration of an eager youth population that’s fired up and ready to go.
As we say in Nigeria, time is going.
Chude Jideonwo is managing partner of Red Media Africa, which runs Africa’s largest portfolio of youth media brands. One of the brands, StateCraft Inc was official communication agency to the Buhari Presidential Campaign and spent the past six months working to get him elected. The opinions expressed are solely those of Chude Jideonwo’s.