By the time you read this, you should have seen President Muhammadu Buhari’s list of ministerial and Special Advisers nominations. If not, then welcome to the painful reality of a President that squandered local and international goodwill just weeks into the job. This President was the one haranguing Goodluck Jonathan for not cooperating enough with his transition committee. Now that he is in the saddle, he has hit the ground groaning rather than running, Nigerians who voted for change did so because the previous government vacillated, prevaricated and pussyfooted on many important things to the point where the country was basically running on autopilot. A vote for Buhari was sold to them as a vote for change. Change? More than six weeks after his election, Buhari still has not named any Minister. He still has not named any new Service Chief. He still has not named new heads of the intelligence apparatuses, anti-corruption agencies, petroleum, energy and finance ministries. In essence, Goodluck Jonathan’s structures and templates are still what we have. There has been no change at all!
Irredeemable and unrepentant Buhari apologists will tell you that the man is an experienced old man who understands the need to navigate gingerly the mined political landscape of Nigeria; that he needs to install his own men in the National Assembly (NASS) in order to guarantee smooth sailing for his nominees; that he needs to clip the wings of those in his party (read Bola Tinubu) who might be growing too much influence; that he needs to carefully vet his appointees before announcing them and that he needs to satisfy the requests of his northern constituency because he is their man and it is their turn.
Does any of these sound familiar to you? Didn’t we criticize Jonathan ad infinitum and ad nauseam for over-consulting and over-reliance on committees? Didn’t we criticize him for loading key government positions with cronies and kinsmen? Didn’t we criticize him for allowing ethnic jingoists reduce his presidency to the South-South region? Didn’t he start having problems when he began to rubbish the people that got him elected? This is eerily looking like the same movie we have been watching since 2011.
Buhari didn’t have to personally go to Chad, Niger and Britain at the times he did, did he? It was a waste of critical time in the life of his nascent presidency. He could have sent senior military officials - his potential Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Air Staff – to Chad and Niger. He didn’t have to go see the British Prime Minister if he knew he would be at the G7 meeting in Germany. He could have sent his potential Foreign Affairs Minister. Even if he didn’t know he would be invited to the G7 meeting, he still could have chosen a better time – a time when his government would have gotten off the ground. By the way, didn’t he have the opportunity to chat with some of these leaders when they came for his inauguration? He could have used the time spent gallivanting all over those places to screen, interview and get to know his potential appointees, refine and fine-tune the policies and projects he promised Nigerians. So far, I have not seen any change anywhere. Rather, I see motion (or commotion) without movement. I see a President moving like pond water which does not flow anywhere.
Nigerians had high hopes; and deservedly so. They had been miss-governed and under-governed for so long and they earned their right to expect miracles; if not miracles, at least purposeful government delivered on time. They walked long distances…the aged and the frail…to stand in those long INEC queues to vote for change. Some were maimed in the process and some even lost their lives. The least Buhari can do is hit the ground running like someone who truly spent the last 12 years preparing for the job. By waiting so long before forming a government when the country is in dire need of leadership on all fronts, Buhari has lost some momentum. His administration is suffering badly from an arterial hemorrhaging of goodwill, respect and support. By seeking perfection in an imperfect environment, he is sacrificing “good-enough” at the altar of “perfect.”
Rather than announce key, earth-shaking appointments that will energize his support base and galvanize the country behind him, he is basking in the ephemeral euphoria of the appointment of a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity and that of Senior Special Assistant on, you guessed it, Media and Publicity. Why does Buhari need Femi Adesina as Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) - a post used to be occupied by Reuben Abati and then appoint Garba Shehu as Senior Special Assistant to the same Media and Publicity - a post used to be occupied by Doyin Okupe? What dirty linen does the President need to wash so thoroughly that he needs two full-time competing and potentially conflicting spokesmen, along with their own staff, salaries, offices, perks and emoluments? How is this different from the Jonathan era of waste and job-for-the-boys? When Nigerians start to wish they had Jonathan back, you know the honeymoon is over.
Indecisive leadership leads to vacuums in government (or in business) allowing selfish, opportunistic, over-ambitious and power-hungry individuals to latch onto the weakness and occupy the vacuum. It is highjack. If Buhari thought he belonged to nobody, those he allowed to define him and his policies will highjack him and his presidency…if they have not already done so.
As a former leader, and military one at that, Buhari has (or should have) a complete list of all Nigeria’s military officers from the rank of Colonel (or its equivalent in the Navy and Air Force) all the way to Lieutenant General. And he should have the complete dossier on all flag officers. He should also have been in contact with many of those key military officers and civilians before becoming President and since. Therefore, he must have a list ready. Why is he sitting on it? Some have opined that he wanted to have his preferred Senate leadership in place so that his nominees would have smooth sailing during confirmation hearings. I don’t buy that. Buhari had led us to believe he would only appoint people of impeccable characters. If those are the kinds of people he nominates, who in the Senate would have the temerity to oppose their nominations? Are we talking about the same Senate that confirmed Musiliu Obanikoro for Minister in spite of the Ekitigate audiotape? Give me a break please.
I think that in his quest to prove he belongs to nobody, Buhari is trying to govern Nigeria like a one-man decision-making presidency. Some call that dictatorship (Oops, the “D” word again). He has told governors they can’t nominate Ministers for him…those same governors whose foot soldiers helped elect him now aren’t good enough to nominate Ministers for him. Could he, at least, allow them to recommend…put people in front of him and let him determine their competence? Could those potential nominees have been the same foot soldiers used by the governors to win his election?
And to compound his problems, he now has a tempest in his party’s teapot with the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President. The President of a democratically governed country is de-factor party leader, regardless of who is the party’s official Chairperson. That President holds the power of appointment and, by extension, the purse of every party member. If Buhari cannot wield that power or is reluctant to wield that power effectively, his government will become pedestrian; unable to embark on revolutionary or visionary ideas out of fear of being toppled. And Buhari does know one or two things about being toppled. This President needs to get moving quickly.
By Abiodun Ladepo
Ibadan, Oyo State