How do you fit all the things you want the president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to hear and understand in an extremely short speech? The Legit.ng columnist Japheth Omojuwa had a unique opportunity of meeting Buhari and delivering an important message to him.
A lot has been made out of one telling the president-elect that, should he fail to deliver, those of us who worked hard to have him become the president will work hard to have him replaced. I’d think that it is easy to task a leader on one’s expectations, to forget praise-singing and sycophancy and just let them know how much the business and job of fixing Nigeria is not a tea party. I think that it's harder to get a Nigerian leader who does not just understand this, but owns the mentality, that this is an opportunity to serve the people, a chance to make change happen and to make a commitment to deliver on both counts. That is why for me, the high point of meeting president-elect Muhammadu Buhari was not what one said to him, it was how he took it and, indeed, owned it!
The president-elect’s media team had reached out a day earlier to ask if I’d be available to meet with him. You are not thinking I told them no. One had at least four opportunities to meet the outgoing president but the invitations came at a point where one felt the administration was beyond redemption. A meeting with the incoming president offered a genuine chance to contribute to the next government, no matter how little it would seem.
By the time one got to the Defense House, the official residence of the president-elect, it did look like the meeting would never happen. There were a lot of people seemingly waiting to see the general, too. But our time did come. I met the president-elect alongside other media practitioners.
I’d have been satisfied to just be in attendance and watch proceedings completely as an observer, but chance played a fast one on me. One was privileged to be nominated to speak on behalf of the delegation. At that point, I realized my observer status was dead on arrival: one was going to be a participant. Then the questions started in my mind. I was conscious of the president-elect’s busy schedule so I made up my mind my speech had to be as short as possible. This essentially meant that I had to choose what I was going to focus on and then emphasize that as much as possible.
There were many issues begging for attention on mind: how he needed to know that Nigerians would not be ready for excuses when the time comes to go after those who have effectively rendered us a penniless nation, despite unprecedented foreign exchange earnings over the last half a decade. One was also interested in letting the president-elect know he had to commit to a small government and work out ways of having the salaries and allowances of government officials reduced through the official channels. One also thought about the need to get the Nigerian diaspora involved in the developmental agenda of Nigeria, the needed reforms in the system, the Nigerian embassies and high commissions, Nigerian visas, the out-of-school children in Nigeria, the maternal mortality rate that needed to go down, the child mortality rate, etc. All the problems kept begging for one’s attention.
How do you say all these in a short speech? Sweep them all together, place them under one umbrella, and then hand them over to the president-elect. Basically, remind him of why Nigerians voted the APC in and voted the PDP out. It was based on one word: change!
Now that one was done with what to say, the next challenge was how to say it. It was important to let the general know that one was not an enemy, that one, like others, worked hard for his mandate, and that one was not voicing one’s opinion alone but indeed the expectations of millions. That sorted, the speech was ready.
Then the president-elect General Muhammadu Buhari stepped in. Mallam Garba Shehu, coordinator of the APC presidential campaign media team made the introductions. Mr Shehu ran a clean effective campaign and took the time to highlight why the APC was successful with the media. It was all about building synergy across the board, within and outside the party. He identified one Mr Tunde Thompson in the audience. Mr Thompson had been jailed by General Muhammadu Buhari during GMB’s first stint as head of state. It was inspiring to watch both men. Forgiveness. Progress. The focus on why the fact they were in that room at that point in time was a sign of progress for Nigeria.
Then it was one's turn to speak. I told the general that I wasn’t there speaking for myself alone or the physical audience in attendance; I told him I was speaking for millions of Nigerians, especially those online. I told him how I dreaded the next four years for Nigeria had the alternative happened and the general didn’t win the election. I said I was still very much excited about Nigeria’s prospects. I emphasized the fact that we trust the general as our leader. Then it was time to deliver the real message.
One stated without mincing words that one would work against him if he failed to deliver the change after having been elected on the promise of bringing that change to Nigeria. Then it was time to remind him that it was true many good and bad people helped to make him president-elect, but it was important not to let the bad people influence his government.
He started out saying: "I appreciate the subtle threat. I will either perform or I will be shown the way out!" At that point, it felt like a job done for me. Words are not enough to judge a leader, actions are everything. What a leader says is not as important as what he does. But we know that the words convey the intention. This one gives a damn! And one was not left in doubt about the fact that Nigeria’s incoming president, General Muhammadu Buhari understands the task at hand and he has owned that responsibility.
Nigerians must now help him deliver by keeping him on his toes. It will be tough. We must all make sacrifices. But with a leader who genuinely cares and a people willing to play their part in the development agenda, change will indeed be delivered.
Japheth Omojuwa is a renowned Nigerian social media expert, columnist and Legit.ng contributor.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.