By Dele Momodu
Your Excellency, please permit me to commiserate with you on the unfortunate and untimely death of your dearly beloved brother. I sincerely join other Nigerians in mourning what must have been a sad loss for you and your family in particular. As you travel back home to your tranquil village to pay your last respects, I pray you ponder on the free advice I’m about to offer you in good faith. Even if you’ve already returned to the gilded cage of Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, I wish to plead that you find the time to read this open letter which I would have communicated directly if I had the privilege of a private meeting with you.
Perhaps, I should quickly introduce myself as a journalist and politician. Though I have seen you a few times at functions, we have never properly met. The only time we ever shook hands was when I joined others to mourn the death of, and celebrate, your father in Otueke village of Bayelsa State when you were still Vice President. I also saw you briefly in South Africa in 2009 but did not approach your table because your bodyguards didn’t look like they would appreciate any lesser mortal disturbing your peace.
I was amazed because I had just left the official residence of President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria and did not see more than a few guards in the house. I had spent quality time with him without any other soul than my South African friend I went with. I had gone there in a rented taxi but no one had asked us to go through metal/bomb detectors; or to drop our phones with members of the secret service. I did not see any ADC, CSO, CSD or any other security aide with similar nomenclature only known to, and made in, Nigeria. I think we just love big titles.
Anyway, I saw you again when you invited Presidential candidates, of which I was one, to Aso Rock, last year to brief us on the need for peace during the elections. I doubt if you saw me, though the invitation came from your office. Most of the candidates snubbed you but I chose to attend out of respect for your person and office. I remember seeing Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who sat close to me, and Mr John Dara and so many politicians who I believed came because it was Aso Rock but really had no roles to play. Unfortunately, that meeting was nothing but a waste of time. You came and without even shaking hands with your co-contestants delivered your homily, answered a few questions and disappeared. There were no banters or interactions with us to cement a bond of friendship even if we wanted to take over your office.
I was surprised that you or your aides could not persuade most of the candidates to attend. Yet you went ahead to host an event that was obviously doomed before it began. I can only imagine how much was charged Nigeria for such hogwash. Ghana held a similar peace conference about two weeks ago and it was a star studded event. Part of great leadership quality is the ability to attract certified enemies and convince them to rise above prejudices and pettiness. I believe you have not reached out enough. Your aides have also not helped matters by their paranoia and neurotic approach to issues. They see enemies where none exist and fire all guns blazing at shadows. That is not how to build a nation.
One more example should suffice. You went on an official visit to Ghana. I was invited by the then Nigeria High Commissioner to Ghana, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, to attend the brief reception held for you at our High Commission in Accra. Again, it was impossible for most of us to have a simple handshake with you as your security aides practically treated us like common criminals unworthy of communion with the Almighty. I finally gave up.
Sir, let me say emphatically that the biggest problem with Nigerian leaders is that once they attain power, they vacate this earth and migrate to another planet far away from fellow citizens. Leaders are elected to serve the people but in Nigeria we are compelled to serve our leaders and if possible starve to death in the process. We are not allowed to ask questions about how we are led or in reality, misled. This is the reason it is difficult for most of you to know what goes on in the real world. I suggest you borrow a leaf from Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola whose style fascinates me to no end. He drives through Lagos with no disruption to the lives of the people.
He responds promptly to reasonable text messages and emails. I know you’re very busy, but take time to see how President Obama jogs down or sprints up the Air Force One. It demonstrates a man on a mission. Feel free to drive on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and see things for yourself. Go into a pub and mix with the boys like President Clinton once did in Ireland. Refrain from blocking the house of God because you are attending a church service. Sir, no evil shall befall you. You are too distant from the people you lead. Show them love and you shall reap bountiful adoration. No massive security is necessary, once you make God first and suffer not his people. Conversely total security is no security where there is no Godliness. The love and prayers of Nigerians will keep you going.
I have decided to adopt a new approach in my column. I will take it upon myself to write this open letter as regularly as necessary and proffer solutions to different issues, in the hope that you will get to read it. I will tell you what your aides will never tell you. It is up to you to carefully read what I write and take your own decision. Let it be said that we told you but did nothing about it. I would have freed myself from the burden of “siddon-look.” I’m reasonably convinced that if you know the magnitude of problems confronting Nigerians you will work harder and change your style of governance unless you’re determined to fail spectacularly like others before you. I pray this will not be your portion.
Let me state categorically that I write this letter without any malice. More importantly I expect no personal gratification other than to see change in the lives of our people. I needed to make that clear since it is now in our culture to read motives to every good intention.
I have no other reason than out of patriotic fervour. I have not been to Abuja since last year because I’m dutifully engaged at home and abroad, and really have no reason to run up and down the corridors of power like the proverbial yo-yo. Every man must determine his needs in life. I know mine and I am happy and content to manage whatever God in his infinite kindness has given to me. We all have friends and families who have nowhere to go. If Nigeria becomes the country of our dream and there is a level playground for all of us, most citizens would thrive without living like pathological beggars. You’re in a position to leave Nigeria better than you met it. Look at most of the politicians and businessmen around you today. They were the same faces you saw with your predecessors. You are their new god today because of your position. Tomorrow, when you have departed, as you surely must do, they will move on again to the next person, without any qualms.
I have studied men and women of power at home and abroad and have sympathy for their tragic flaws . My discovery is that most leaders often fail to remember that whatever has a beginning must have an end. Time also flies. And it waits for nobody. Who could have imagined PDP in power since 1999 with nothing tangible to show for all the trillions of naira spent by various administrations? Who would believe that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s two terms came and disappeared within a twinkle of an eye? Or that even you have spent two years already as President and Commander-in-Chief? The question that will later haunt you, as it is haunting others before you, for the rest of time is: what did you do with all your time in office and all the resources under your control?
I will say without any fear of contradiction that the money at your disposal right now is enough to transform Nigeria into a true giant if frugally managed. I will now go on to demonstrate what I mean.
Sir, for every one billion naira we waste on frivolous projects, the dream of a fresh thousand millionaires would have perished. If you hand me the N2.2 billion naira you are about to spend on building a new banquet suite in Aso Rock, I will instantly create 2,200 brand-new millionaire farmers from our large army of brilliant but unemployed youths. Each of them would be able to employ 10 to 20 people in production, preservation, processing and distribution. If you think I’m joking, please hand me the money and I will urgently invite applications from potential beneficiaries. I and my team pledge not to earn a kobo from the project.
If I may ask, what is wrong with the banquet suite you presently have? Is it not better to spend money on providing jobs than trying to show off to visitors that we are prosperous in the midst of wanton poverty? I’m writing this letter from Cambridge University, one of the oldest surviving institutions of learning. The buildings of most Colleges here are as ancient as history, yet there is no plan to demolish them and build new ones. The problem with us is lack of a maintenance culture. You can rehabilitate the old banquet suite with less than N100 million and turn it into an architectural masterpiece. I’m sure you won’t spend your personal money the way ours is being poured away like rain water. Do you know how old Buckingham Palace is? If it was in Nigeria, we would have demolished it many times over in order to award some horrendous contracts.
I gather you want to build a new home for the Vice President at over N6 billion. This is sinful in a nation with over 12 generations of unemployed, and unemployable, graduates. What is wrong with the current Vice President’s home, Akinola Aguda House and wherever Alhaji Atiku Abubakar once lived? It smacks of gross insensitivity to waste resources in this manner. Please, give us that N6 billion and I will give you 6,000 productive millionaire entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Imagine each of them employing 10 people within the first year or two, we would have taken more than 60,000 youths off the streets. We’ve done it several times through Goke Dokun’s creative Entrepreneur Series on television and can do it even bigger in real life. As President, I would rather do this than build a home for a family of less than 50 people.
Mr President, Nigerians are not difficult to lead. In fact, we get carried away by little mercies. I know you have your sight on contesting elections in 2015. Let me assure you that you won’t have to campaign much, or spend billions to get re-elected if you listen to me. All you have to do is demonstrate to Nigerians that you can resist those carpetbaggers who see power only in terms of enjoyment. The world is building monuments and creating new inventions everywhere but we are busy wasting ours on flights of fancy like super jets, palaces, women and champagnes. We can do a lot better because God has endowed us with all we need to be among the greatest of the world. All it takes a little bit of vision and discipline.
Sir, there is nothing you want in life that God has not given you on a platter of gold. It is time for you to reciprocate by humbling yourself like all Saints. I will tell you about them and great names in history when I write my next epistle to you. If you hearken to the voice of reason, you will etch your name in gold.
Truly, like Jesus Christ (apologies to Christians), you will ride triumphantly into your own