THE first casualty of war is the truth.” This statement has been attributed to so many philosophers, politicians, and writers, including one-time United States Senator, Hiram Johnson, in 1918, Dr Samuel Johnson in 1758, or even the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus around 550 BC. But the concern here is not who said what and when, it is simply about the quote’s striking poignancy to war as well as to politics, especially Nigeria’s.
Specifically, a good number of writers have been referring to the divergence between what the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, promised on the soapbox and the policy measures his government is churning out now. The recent criticism, among many, was the statement credited to him promising to crash the prices of petrol once elected to office. Instead of a crash, the prices have been galloping to only God knows where.
If we agree with Carl Clausewitz’s most famous saying about war, that it is the continuation of politics (policy) by other means, it follows immediately that the first casualty of politics, as it is of war, is the truth. War, Clausewitz says, is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.
Though without a shooting war, that was exactly what happened when Candidate Tinubu was fighting arguably the fiercest battle of his life to become president. Of course, most politicians believe what they don’t say and promise what they don’t believe. Now that the war is over and he has got the job, especially against the will of the array of forces lined up against him, he should come clean with us. Is he truly for us or deceptively against us?
In 1999, we set out with a retired general and a one-time military ruler, Olusegun Obasanjo, who thought and acted as if Nigeria began and ended with him. He ended up in failure. Umaru Yar’Adua, though did not last long in office, the few policy measures, especially in preposterously revoking the sale of three of the refineries and reversing the unbundling of state-run NEPA, sent a dangerous signal about where he stood on the economy. Later, we were burdened with the clueless five-year rule of Goodluck Jonathan and another eight-year feckless regime of Muhammadu Buhari. Between them, they share the inglorious record of turning most Nigerians into hewers of wood and drawers of water amid abundant national wealth.
It follows immediately whether Tinubu’s pledge of renewed hope will not also end in despair like his two most irritable predecessors, Jonathan and Buhari.
Again, Nigerians appear to be facing an uncertain future. Let’s forgive him for his soap-box rhetoric and his mesmerising promises. But let’s take him up on the Tinubu that we know.
Tinubu, we know strongly, believes in true federalism where the centre is not overbearing on the constituent units. It is on record that Tinubu’s David as Lagos State governor faced Obasanjo’s Goliath as Nigeria’s president between 1999 and 2007 on some basic elements of federalism and never blinked. He believes, too, in a free-market economy where supply and demand regulate production and labour as opposed to government intervention. On these scores, we both speak the same language.
But Tinubu is setting out on sail in an arrogant manner, which could end in disaster. Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron says “arrogance and hubris” led to disaster for both the RMS Titanic and the submersible heading to tour the wreckage of the doomed ocean liner. The other ghastly fault of the RMS Titanic was the communication error. A recent Irish Times revelation says that the Titanic hitting the iceberg could be down to a misunderstanding because of two confusing steering systems. Arrogance and communication gap are two dangerous elements of bad leadership. Tinubu should purge his government of both.
I wrote recently that the problems facing the country are well known. They include the rapid depreciation of the currency Naira; sinking economy; rising inflation; worsening insecurity; debilitating and collapsing public infrastructure; poor public facilities, especially in education and health. But solving most of these challenges of nation-building is not rocket science. It simply involves the emergence of a leader with courage and productive knowledge. I’m choosing my words very carefully: productive knowledge not just any academic knowledge. If such a leader emerges or has emerged, these are the minimum imperative decisions he must implement quickly.
First, he should accelerate the process of returning Nigeria to functioning federalism. The type of pseudo-federal system we practise could be likened to a six-plug engine vehicle that its owner insists on driving with three plugs! There are other low-hanging fruits that the Tinubu government could work on to bring immediate relief to the economy and the people.
He should take drastic actions to end the dollarisation of the Nigerian economy and through executive orders, compel Ministries, Departments and Agencies to patronise Nigeria’s made goods and services. Other measures that call for immediate attention are the need to sell off some loss-making public enterprises, especially the four obsolete government refineries with speed and the imperativeness of encouraging and promoting private refineries towards local sufficiency in petroleum products.
Effective communication equally suffers a huge deficiency in this government. It is improbable to assign your public communication to the same set of people you went to war with after victory. The mentality and strategy of going to and waging a war are quite different from the mentality and strategy of making peace and building a nation: one is destructive while the other is constructive. Destructive bullying should replace constructive engagement in the presidential communication machine by now. We want to see humility instead of arrogance; we want to feel the rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace, and we want to experience the indicators of crisis turning into signs of renewed hope.
I hope the Tinubu administration will be concerned about how to curb the inflation rate and boost the value of the currency as the first line of attack. He also appears to have the courage to step on big toes. Tough decisions taken so far include the stoppage of petrol subsidy, CBN’s revoking of Bureau de Change licences, effective orders to security chiefs in dealing with terrorists and the CBN’s floating of the naira. These are the courageous and right things to do. But he should refrain from putting the cart before the horse. Petrol subsidy was tainted with monumental corruption and resource distortion: it should go. But there are a few things he could have done before ending the petrol subsidy. Government palliatives can’t resolve the adverse effects of that, sound public policy measures will. I perfectly understand the argument that if he didn’t do it immediately, he might be overwhelmed with the sentiments surrounding the subsidy removal. But a man of courage should not entertain undue sentimentalism.
Is Tinubu, therefore, birthing a renewed hope for the thoroughly abused and mindlessly impoverished people of Nigeria? My take for now: let’s give him a chance.