It was the standout phrase from President Muhammadu Buhari’s Inauguration Day speech on May 29, 2015: “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody”. The phrase went viral, triggering an output of comical expressions.
In one of them, the presidential spouse was shown asking Buhari if he meant that he doesn’t belong to the wife anymore, to which the President answered that he merely joked. In another more politically mischievous interpretation, APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu, was facing an imaginary reporter, who accosted him in a court.
Asked what he was doing there, Bola Tinubu answered that he came to change his name to”Everybody Bola Tinubu”! It seemed clear that Buhari was underlining the fact that as Nigerian president, he would endeavour to be president of all, but would at the same time not be hostage to individuals. It is a courageous statement coming from a president who was elected on the platform of a political party that was at best, an amalgam of disparate interests. It is never easy to stay aloof from the currents of the mass and the individual, given the pitiless tides of politics.
But more poignantly for me, is how to extrapolate the thought which midwifed such phrase into the realities of contemporary Nigerian society. Despite what many might think, Nigeria today is a class society with expressions of some of the most vicious levels of inequalities and injustice in the world today. While a tiny band of our national bourgeoisie creams off some of the greatest levels of luxurious existence comparable to ruling classes elsewhere, we also have some of the greatest and most frightening levels of deprivation in equal measure.
So the issues that face the new president today are directly related to the change slogan which encapsulated why he got the vote of the majority of Nigerians in the first place. This is a country in need of reformation at levels that might be more than the President himself either realises or could be too frightened to head towards. Nigeria sits atop a volcano of potentially dire social discontent and the slogan of change must sooner than later, begin to take a concrete outline in terms of positive impact on social being of the mass of our people.
Unfortunately, ruling class politicians are practically the same everywhere; they never seem to be in a hurry to look at the problems of society in the face. What is central to their political existence is the posturing for advantages that consumes critical time and resource, but in the long run leads to the sidestepping of the vital issues that trouble the people. Buhari went to the Nigerian people canvassing a strong security posture, a definitive onslaught against corruption as well as finding ways and means on the economy. Nigerians also trusted his personal integrity as a major factor in the process of change. The issue that must be worrisome is how slow things are shaping up in the effort to build momentum for the process of change.
The elections were won in March, and it is incredible that the two months before inauguration were not used to make the choice of personnel to assist the commencement of work. Yet the clock has started ticking and the days passing. Things must take shape early in order to convince the Nigerian people that our president belongs to them, and they can actually take possession of their country through a determined onslaught against the hydra-headed monsters of underdevelopment.
What Nigerians want is a country that works for them through an incremental improvement on the quality of their lives.This was the reason why Buhari became for many of our people, but especially our young, a symbol of the change that will make them own their country. And it won’t be easy for the President to lead such a process because there are too many interests, even within his own political party and related economic interests that will lose a lot, if and when the change process kicks into gear.
And it is within that crucible of change, that President Buhari will be able to live his statement that he belongs to all and he belongs to on one. He would have to look at so many individuals and social groups in the face and be man enough to say that he would not be held hostage. He has vowed to work for the Nigerian people and the interest of the majority would be the most important for him. Again, we must remind that the young people of our country are its majority today.
So when President Buhari stated emphatically that he belonged to everybody and to nobody, the indications were clear to us that he would place our people at the heart of governance because in truth, it was the people that democratically voted him into power. They alone he can be answerable to, not a set of individuals whose class interests privileges their material comfort above those of our country and the mass of the people who stayed patiently on long queues to cast votes and stayed to protect those votes that brought Buhari to power, at the fourth attempt.
Yes, Buhari belongs to all Nigerians, but we suspect that he chose not to belong to anybody in order to have the freedom of action that can lead to the betterment of lives in our country! This president has signaled that he will not be hostage to the interests of a few and our duty as citizens will be to help him keep his words: belong to all; belong to nobody!