By Mohammed Kabir
The title of this piece was adapted from “A Physician’s Diary,” a Daily Trust’s column written by my friend Dr. Fatima Damagum. Titled “First, Do No Harm”, Dr. Damagum counselled her fellow medical practitioners to do no harm to patients with chronic and complicated illness when they are not so sure the prescribed treatments would improve the patients’ conditions. I am myself a victim of harmful decisions taken by medical personnel when I first lost my hearing at the age of 9.
The same principle applies to the newly sworn-in President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. If his predecessor, former President Buhari, had done no harm after carrying out exhaustive analysis of the underlying challenges facing Nigeria when he assumed office in 2015, he would not probably have left the country worse than he met it. I know some people may argue that Buhari had left Nigeria better than he met it. That’s their opinion and they are certainly entitled to it.
Tinubu has achieved his lifelong ambition to become Nigeria’s President. He admitted it is the proudest moment of his life. However, he was quick to add that the proud moment is not for himself but for all the people of Nigeria. I sincerely pray and hope so. Nigerian leaders have penchant for making insincere political statements. Former President Buhari’s (in)famous “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” is still vivid in our memories.
President Tinubu must quickly assemble his team and hit the ground running. There is no time to waste. Nigeria is currently in an ICU. It needs urgent diagnosis and quite possibly multiple surgeries. Sectors that need immediate priority attention include security, economy, power and national unity. This is not to say that other sectors like education, health, agriculture and foreign policy are insignificant.
On security, the President should sack the present crop of service chiefs he has inherited from his predecessor and replace them with more competent ones. If he and his team cannot identify qualified high ranking officers in the military and police to fill the top positions and drive his national security agenda, he should just manage with the current ones. The new President should please do no harm. Any thoughtless attempts to replace the service chiefs with indolent or incompetent ones will spell greater disaster for our country and worsen the prevailing security situation.
On the economy, the President needs to rescind his ambiguous statement regarding fuel subsidy removal. I am not sure it was a carefully thought-out policy statement. A first-hand and
more painstaking analysis is necessary to decide whether or not the fuel subsidy should be sustained. Former President Buhari who repeatedly called the fuel subsidy a scam before his ascension to power could not do away with it for eight long years. I am sure there is more to it than what the anti-subsidy elements are telling us.
It may be absolutely true that the fuel subsidy has been benefiting the affluent class. However, the reckless and ill-timed removal has translated to exponential rise in fuel price and caused a general galloping inflation. Nigerians are already fed up with the incoherent policies of the ruling party under former President Buhari and any attempts by President Tinubu to push for policies that will further aggravate the already precarious situation of the masses is likely to trigger nationwide anger and discontent.
President Tinubu should focus on blocking leakages in the oil sector, place a total ban on smuggling of petroleum products through our ever-porous borders and impose severe penalties on smugglers. The new administration should liaise with the Dangote Refinery to ensure availability of petroleum products, support the completion of the ongoing BUA Refinery, encourage the development and operational efficiency of modular refineries, and make concentrated efforts to revive our ailing refineries. Otherwise, President Tinubu should retain the subsidy payments and do no harm.
Still on the national economy, the President’s order for sacking the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the directives given to the relevant law enforcement agencies to immediately arrest and prosecute him for economic crimes and sabotage is a timely idea. No apex bank governor in the history of Nigeria has done so much harm and caused chaos and suffering to the unsuspecting citizens of Nigeria like Mr. Godwin Emefiele. The President’s statement on the unification of exchange rates is a good move but should be done with caution. His economic management team must come together and help him make informed decisions. Otherwise, he should just maintain the status quo and do no harm.
On power, the new President should declare state of emergency, set up a high-powered committee to review the current arrangements pertaining to the generation and distribution of electricity nationwide. The recent dispute between market operator and distribution companies caused avoidable intermittent blackouts across the country and crippled businesses worth billions of Naira. It is becoming quite obvious that a cabal has hijacked the power sector and it is fraudulently profiting from the present generation and distribution arrangements. The President should maintain status quo and do no harm if he cannot implement urgent reforms needed to guarantee uninterrupted power supply and foster the growth of SMEs.
On national unity, the country has never been so polarized. The Muslim-Muslim ticket generated enormous anger and pitted so many millions of Nigerians against one another. The new President should initiate people-oriented policies and programs that foster harmonious coexistence among Nigerias from diverse backgrounds. President Tinubu should work with the national assembly to enact relevant legislations that will transform the present six geo-political zones into six regional development agencies and foster inter-regional cooperation, as well as healthy inter-regional competition. If the president has no interest in prioritizing national integration and harmony, he should do no harm by allowing his belligerent supporters and overzealous political associates to calumniate and disparage members of the opposition and anyone who criticizes his policies.
On a final note, it appears the president is someone who is so eager to make statements. He should be made aware that the office he now occupies demands the highest level of restraint. His words must be carefully chosen in order not to jeopardize our staggering economy or the already fragile national unity. However, still President Tinubu needs to speak regularly to Nigerians about his policies and programs but also avoid making statements that are open to unnecessary speculations and allusions. Once again, president Tinubu, please do no harm. If you are not so sure about the feasibility, workability and sincerity of any proposed policy or action, just maintain the status quo ante bellum. So many millions of Nigerians, including those who did not vote for you are sincerely rooting for you and praying that you succeed.
Mohammed Kabir sent this article from Kaduna and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org