For this holiday season, my recommendation is to read this short and interesting novel by Ibrahim Buhari. It is a didactic and prescriptive book which is a formula that often produces a boring narrative but the author is able to retain the interest of the reader by imagining solutions to the myriad of problems one encounters on Nigeria’s political and governance terrain.
The novel opens with a familiar story. A state governor in “imaginary” Albarka State has finished his second term in office and proceeded to the Senate. In his place, he has installed a successor, his loyal Deputy Governor, Alhaji Muhammad Adamu Yankaba. As is the usual practice, the former Governor instructs his successor to retain members of his cabal in key lucrative posts so that governance as usual can continue.
The narrative paints the normal story about the character of members of the cabal. They are extremely rich and multi-billionaires in the dollar currency. Their values are those associated with crass materialism and self centered bohemian culture. Listen to one of them talking about his self-satisfaction. “Of all my belongings, nothing pleases me as my wives. They are always young and paragons of beauty. Gowns stayed longer in my wardrobe than wives stayed in my harem.”
The newly inaugurated Governor however turns a new leaf. He refuses to appoint the members of the corrupt cabal into key positions in his administration. He listens carefully to the prayers by the chief imam during his inauguration. “Leadership is a very serious matter that if treated seriously can lead one to the pleasure of Allah but if negligently held or blatantly abused shall lead one to His wrath. The Prophet (SAW) said the most blessed is the powerful among the weak. He also said Allah hates an unjust leader.”
What the author does therefore is to use his deep knowledge of Islam to question the quality of governance in many of our Northern States. He demonstrates that governance based on mega-corruption, self centeredness, the purchase of huge mansions in London, Dubai and New York is very distant from the teachings of Islam and contrary to popular expectations as well as our laws. He questions many practices that have been legitimated on religious grounds. He for example questions the ferrying of people to the Hajj as the activity is only targeted at adults how are healthy and wealthy and God, he reminds us, accepts the prayers of only those whose wealth has been acquired legitimately. The author did not forget to demonstrate the shallowness of the religious piety of members of the cabal who lost so much of their stolen money to charlatans who were purportedly praying without success to have them returned to the cabinet.
The book is required reading because it is focused on practical steps that can be taken in a state that has had many years of bad governance to reorient both the political class and the citizens to the straight and narrow path of the production of public goods that deliver the dividends of democracy. The newly sworn in Governor sets himself an agenda of producing jobs, especially for the youth, of increasing the tempo of economic activities through massive programmes of public works and revival of industries, addressing environmental challenges and combating the menace of malaria through cleanliness, good drainage and flood control. The new Governor was above all focused on transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs. New mechanisms such as weekly addresses to the people of the state and a response mechanism for email letters to the Governor are introduced to create feedback mechanisms between government and the governed.
Much of the narrative is about the key challenges to governance in a typical Northern state. One challenge that is addressed is that of developing a plan that would lead to 100% enrolment of children in basic education. This would require concerted efforts in producing quality teachers and expanding facilities in the schools. Another challenge is significant public investments to revive industries especially in the textile sector. The book is written with nationalist zeal and the author sets out to promote local textile production and local foods. The great nutritious Hausa food “zogale”, (wrongly spelt as jogale), Moringa in English is always served on the Governors table with the popular Hausa soup – “miyan taushe”, again wrongly spelt as “miyan daushe” in addition to fura da nono.
One important message that comes out clearly is that the people know what good governance is and they desire it. However, they have become accustomed to poor, corrupt and inept governance and therefore get used to the idea that nothing good could come out of government. It is necessary to challenge this apathy and unlock the potential within the people to be active participants and contributors to a participatory development process.
Government itself must develop the self belief that things can work in Nigeria with good governance. When the Minister representing the President at the launching of a newly constructed dam in Albarka develops a heart ailment, the immediate instruction from Aso, Rock, the Health Minister and his family was to fly him to Germany. The President’s representative was however pleasantly surprised to find out that in three years, Albarka Specialist Hospital has acquired state of the art equipment and trained skilled specialists fit to treat a minister or a commoner. Yes indeed, yes we can.
I recommend “A Quiet Revolution” as a novel which is above all a call to action, that Northern Nigeria must return to the path of good governance to save itself from rising poverty, misery and insecurity. The message is that if the leadership does not engage in a quiet revolution to start delivering good governance to the people locked into a grid lock of poverty and misery, they will be opening themselves up the a destructive revolution that would consume the leadership and the people. The choice of the correct path to take should be clear to all. Happy reading.