Tuesday, July 16, 2019 3:50 pm
By Lasisi Olagunju
A young man walked into a buka with a swag and placed his orders. He asked for pounded yam, egusi soup with two Yar’Aduas. The attendant was lost. Yes, the president of the republic was Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, so what brought his name into this cuisine matter?
She looked straight at her customer and asked: “What is Yar’Adua? We don’t sell human beings here.” The young man grinned and pointed at grilled snails in a pot on the table: “That is my delicacy.” Oh! As slow as a snail! It was the turn of the attendant to laugh and share the joke with others around her.
Snails, of all species, are slow –very slow, deliberate, wandering creatures; and that is basically in fulfillment of their maker’s purpose. They are very awful, not inspiring, metaphors for leaders anywhere. Presidents are not elected to reduce their countries to a snail’s visceral hump and shell which move only when the occupier thinks they should move. A people blessed with snails as presidents cannot become champions; they can’t be race winners. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ exists only in Tortoise and Hare fables; not in today’s fast-paced development struggle. You have it worse when you are slow and steady facing the wrong direction. Presidents are not enthroned to hold down their nations and put developments on hold – or even in reverse gear. We saw it once with Yar’Adua. We are seeing its worst form now with Muhammadu Buhari.
President Yar’Adua was generally regarded as extremely slow. He was our president from May 29, 2007 to May 5, 2010 when he died. He was called Baba Go Slow, a human snail. And he acknowledged it more than once. Yar’Adua waited nearly two months before announcing his cabinet late July 2007. Nigerians were not used to such poisonous lethargy. Yar’Adua’s predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, who started this 4th Republic as our president, was sworn in on May 29, 1999. Within three weeks, he submitted his first cabinet to the Senate for approval. The 42-member cabinet was sworn in in the last week of June, 1999. His 2003 cabinet presentation followed a similar timeline.
Four years later came Yar’Adua who was not in a hurry to do anything. And he said so. He stressed that he was slow because “I simply like to think before I act.” The Economist said then that “Yar’Adua’s nickname, Baba Go-Slow, compared his sluggish pace of governance to the grinding traffic jams of Lagos, Nigeria’s financial capital.” Today’s Baba Go Slow, President Muhammadu Buhari, like the late Yar’Adua, is also from Katsina State. Less than two months after he took over in 2015, Buhari told an audience in the United States that “from ‘Baba Buhari,’ I am now being called ‘Baba Go Slow.’” That was on July 22, 2015. It took him months before he assembled a colour-riot team as his ministers.
In April this year, our president said he was “going slow so that I can survive.” However, shortly before he was sworn in again last May, Buhari was on a Nigerian Television Authority interview programme promising he would stop being the crawling dawdler he was during his first term: “Those who call me ‘Baba go slow’ will see whether I am slow or fast,” he boasted. We have waited to see his sprint for almost two months. We are still waiting – for his vision and the ministers who will help him drive the vision.
Nigerians have suffered so much in this democracy. And they will continue to suffer unless there is a tectonic shift in the way they recruit their leaders and in the manner their lives are run by the choices they make. Now, the highways are infested with felons who kill with glee because the law has been made to lose its teeth. A country cannot ever be better than the vision – and move faster than the pace – of its leaders. Unlike the hugely successful President Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who said he “systematically scanned the top echelons of all sectors in Singapore – the professions, commerce, manufacturing, and trade unions…” in picking his team, our president last week said he was slow in setting up his government because he wanted to pick as ministers only persons he knows ‘personally.’ And who do you think seventy-something-year-old Major-General Muhammadu Buhari knows ‘personally’? Check who our ambassador to the United States is. That should give you a clue on what to expect.
But I owe Umaru Yar’Adua propitious apologies. Why? He deserves profuse apology from me for comparing him so casually with our Buhari. Yar’Adua’s ministerial list came late, but it was not a list of ancestors nor was it compiled in cemeteries across Nigeria. The nation too must ask for his forgiveness for not giving him enough credit for blazing the trail in promise keeping. He might be very slow in taking decisions, but that is where all comparisons with Baba Buhari should stop. He inherited a very violently restive Niger Delta which he pacified to the glory of God and benefit of the nation’s threatened purse. Yar’Adua made a number of other promises and, despite his ill-health, he fulfilled quite a number of them without insulting us with disclaimers on his party’s manifestoes.
He was sworn in on May 29, 2007 and on June 28, 2007, he released to the public “photocopies of his duly and honestly completed assets declaration form.” He was the first and the only president, since independence, to do so. A summary of the details in the form released to journalists by Yar’Adua’s Special Adviser on Communications, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, showed that he had a total assets value of N856,452,892, including a total of N19 million owned by his wife, the then First Lady, Turai.
In 2015, Buhari, like his kinsman, promised to also release his assets declaration forms if elected. He was elected and the nation waited and waited and grumbled. He retorted that we should apply to the Code of Conduct Bureau if we were so much in love with his forms. Then, one day, we got something from him. We got what the Yoruba call Gba, je n sinmi. Instead of the “duly completed assets declaration form,” what he released was a press statement, a pleasant shut-up gesture. And we all shut up, since then, forever. Maybe, tomorrow, Buhari will release the forms along with the names of his ministers. Maybe, tomorrow he will see the very urgent need to defeat killer herdsmen and their banditry same way Yar’Adua brought peace to the Niger Delta. We wait to see him do all these, so that we can know that, truly, he is like his kinsman, Yar’Adua, in everything.
We are praying – and waiting.