Winning an election, like that of Buhari, sets forth a series of theatrics. The easiest is the first act. He looks like a kid, who just won a prize or is celebrating a birthday. Everyone comes with a smile. They shove and tumble over each other with a congratulatory message.
They pop bottles, except Buhari would not drink given his teetotaler ways and detached dignity. No cakes will he cut either. Music flows, but not of the owambe variety but drums roll and throats are let loose with political party chants and songs.
The second act is the loyalty play. Everyone wants to remind the winner how close they were. They want to show how they fought for him, and spent their resources, sold their houses, secured loans and nearly died in accidents.
After all, one of the loyalists will say he (Buhari) can see the scar beneath his knee (he rolls up his trousers). They visited the hospital many times. The winner cannot forget when they just started out two decades ago. Others will start speaking the same language in deep and effervescent accents. They will spin yarns about village life or when they were only two together one hot afternoon drinking kunu.
Loyalty naturally gives way to intrigues. The other guy was always undermining the party and spoke one or two unkind words about him as candidate. That short fellow was seen once or twice in furtive shadows dining with the opposing candidate. No, don’t mind that other guy in white top, he does not know anything about holding an office. Others do the work for him. Or it is time to pay back our tribe after many years in oblivion, etc.
The sober act is the rare one, and that concerns me today. It is the phase of ideas. Few do anything in this area. But that is a crucial part. GMB has said he will use technocrats. That is fine. But technocrats alone cannot make a great team. Some people fought the way to Aso Rock, and if he runs a government of technocrats, he will need politicians to keep the government from falling.
Technocrats perform; politicians connect. If you don’t connect with the people, your performance will come away like a baby that is still born. You see the baby but cannot hear it. The cry is shrieking not from the little wonder in the mother’s arm but from the one carrying the little wonder. He will find a few “technoticians” – those who inhabit both virtues – and they will be invaluable. He should remember that the primary task of a leader is to raise leaders.
What concerns me in the realm of ideas is not to parrot the clichés about infrastructure, or education or power or health care. GMB said all these during the campaigns, although the details of implementation are another. What bothers me is the nature of what the British call the exchequer. Our purse is lean, and the revenue generator is atrophying. States cannot pay salaries, and some people are angry with governors for their impotence.
They forget that all the resources of states are government controlled, and the absence of fiscal federalism has paralysed states in many ways as revenue drivers. They rely primarily on taxes. To generate taxes we have to animate the private sector. But the economy of the real sector has come to its knees and relies on the federal purse. Banks wait for the money from the federal and state governments.
States that have gold or have capacity to generate income from power cannot make money. If you have limestone, it belongs to the Federal Government. Oil states are entitled to only 13 percent. We are witnessing the chokehold of a federal leviathan. When the federal fails, everyone fails.
While we wait for the liberation of states as semi-independent engines of growth, the fulcrum of any economy is the private sector. Humans are the best resource. They are the nucleus of productivity.
I focus on two areas of creativity. The first is the technology area. The second is textile. The other day I visited Umuahia and my cell phone ran out of power. I sent for a replacement. But it worked only for two days enough for me to return home to my original one. My first thought was to rile at the phony genius. But I have had to rethink this opinion. Those who make counterfeit cell phone, televisions, etc, betray a fundamental talent. They know how to make things. Many of them do not have formal training on these but they are products of enthusiasm.
Abia State Governor Theodore Orji had set out a modest effort to work on formalising the skills and turning their talent into gems for the country. But it is a good start.
The Buhari administration should take a special look at these young men who do these things we call “fake.” If they know the technology, they should be encouraged to strike out on their own, and create new ones. These men are idealists. As D.H. Lawrence said the most idealist nations make the most machines.
The United States has led the world in this regard because the society enables the environment for individuals to develop stuff and later puts the infrastructure and resources of state at their disposals. Buhari can borrow a leaf from Lincoln’s words in this regard, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”
A new book on the Wright Brothers written by historian David McCullough is making waves in the west today and it celebrates the rigour, dedication and enterprise of two brothers, Wilbur and Orville, who revolutionised how we move.
It is a pity that the Southeast states have not jumped at the inspiration of Governor Orji to pool their resources to turn the enterprising élan of the young technologists. In them sleeps the germ of an industrial giant. Isreal today leads the world in semiconductors and they have their equivalent of the Silicon Valley near Jerusalem. It began when the Defence Ministry laid off workers and enabled them to produce chips for their armoury. Many companies sprang up, and the United States encourages them with billions of dollars of free money every year.
The textile industry is another instance. Nigeria was the capital of textile in West Africa, and Kaduna and Lagos were two of the mainstays before they gradually collapsed. The talent is still here and the genius is coy in dormant minds of many Nigerians.
The Buhari regime needs to look that way, as well as other areas like furniture, food processing, etc. where, to quote the poet Dryden, lies “God’s plenty.”