It took a gentleman named Hassan Idris Alkali to trigger my awareness and to bring me to this moment of self-confession, self–denigration, and introspection I’d like to share with all the fans of this column.
The man whose name should obviously make him a northerner and therefore a Muslim could jolly well be a Yoruba man or an Igbo man who makes his comments using a fictitious name like many of us do when we hide under cover of anonymity so we can say some things or make some comments we aren’t proud to be identified with. In his Facebook comments, Hassan Idris forcefully argued that Buhari has in fact, within his first 4 weeks, accomplished a lot more than what can be credited to his predecessors who held the same position, especially Goodluck Jonathan, Umaru Yar’Adua, and even Olusegun Obasanjo.
That confession has forced me to go back to the drawing board to check if what Mr. Hassan Idris has alleged is either right or wrong. I discovered that all three civilian presidents mentioned have at least named their cabinet within one or two weeks of their inauguration, if not sooner. But I was also pleasantly surprised that Buhari has done a lot more things than some have given him credit for. Some of us, myself included, have actually accused Buhari of being too slow to start bringing about some of the change we elected him to carry out on March 28th, 2015. We expected him to have used the interval between March 28th and May 29th to do what he alone is able to do without any consultation with the Legislature and the Judiciary and to be able to articulate this, like Nasir El Rufai did in Kaduna State, within his inaugural address.
That he failed to do so close to 4 weeks after his inauguration has rightly frustrated many of us who argued that the man who was Head of State before under military rule cannot be viewed as a complete novice who’s stepping into the presidency for the first time in his life.
We forcefully argued that the man who waited 12 years to be elected the civilian President of Nigeria should have hit the ground running. We also argued that the opposition had waited for 55 years to be voted into power in Nigeria and that we therefore expected a more coherent agenda and delivery instead of the Tower of Babel or the total disarray we have all witnessed in the legislative arm of Government under the APC. Some have argued that Saraki was doing what he he did in order to clip the wings of Ahmed Asiwaju Tinubu and to stop him from claiming he owns the APC. If that’s true, Saraki is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and disgracing both the APC and President Buhari.
Under the separation of powers mandated by the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, some of us have argued that Buhari is right to forgo violating that separation. On the other hand, when you realize that Buhari has come to power under the APC platform, there is no way he could have separated himself from the fumbling disarray of his Party in the Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives. He remains the leader of APC and he bears some vicarious responsibility for whatever is happening to his Party and how the Party has demonstrated total incompetence and weakness in the way it has so far managed the Legislative arm of Government.
That Bukola Saraki, a decampee to the APC Party from PDP has stolen all the oxygen in the room from the APC and has, so to speak, rained on the parade of the APC and President Buhari is a serious cause for alarm in Nigeria. Saraki has managed to completely embarrass the APC by refusing to cooperate with the 59 APC majority in the Senate and by also conspiring with all 49 PDP senators to put the APC in total disarray. He has snatched 8 out of the 59 APC senators to form a majority in a Senate of 109 senators. The 59 APC senators would have been sufficient to keep PDP defeated as the minority in the Senate, but because Bukola Saraki has created an alternate government in the Senate, he has used PDP’s 49 members to appoint himself as the Senate President in a quid pro quo contract that forces Saraki to make PDP member, Ekweremadu, his Senate Deputy President and David Mark of the PDP the majority leader even though he belongs to the minority Party in the Senate.
APC had a choice to seek redress in the Court of Law. However, the APC Party is reluctant to start its governance of Nigeria by taking Saraki to Court. Such a move would have sent the wrong message to the whole country about the APC as the new Party in power in Nigeria. Because Saraki’s gang or the APC Party would have dragged the case to the Supreme Court if either of them lost in the Lower Court, the suit would have put the new Government on hold till the verdict of the Court was known.
For the APC that would have been a sure recipe for disaster. If it had happened that way, the APC and President Buhari would have realized that they committed an unpardonable blunder by refusing “ab initio” to closely monitor and supervise what is going on in the legislative branch of their Government. As we speak, confusion galore is going on in the Senate and the House of Representative. All the new President can do is to stay out of the fray and to start hoping that the problem goes away. It is not the best way for any new President to start his Administration. That would have been the quintessential “jiggery pokery” that Justice Scalia spoke about in reference to Obama Care when he delivered his own minority verdict at the US Supreme Court.
Above all, Buhari lacks the gift of the garb and the eloquence to explain to Nigerians what’s happening to his Party and what he is doing about it. Even though Mr. Hassan Idris thinks President Buhari has done pretty well in his first 4 weeks, nobody who saw what happened to his Party in the Legislature would be willing to give the President a pass mark even though he has done a few things and has achieved a few things.
Like me, most Nigerians who voted for him have now come to the painful conclusion that the first 4 weeks of Buhari’s presidency have been less than satisfactory.
I repeat that on his short post on Facebook, Mr. Alakali reminded Nigerians about all the things and steps the President has taken in Nigeria between May 29th and today. The presentation style made the list was quite impressive. But to most Nigerians, it is as if President has been sleep-walking since May 29th.
There wasn’t an achievement that Mr. Hassan listed that I could easily dismiss with the wave of my hand, but what was missing is the fact that the if placed in front of television cameras the President himself can not articulate in a persuasive order what he has done. It is true that he wasn’t able to name a cabinet or do some of the dramatic things he had the power to do under the cover of the 1999 Constitution without engaging in any picayune consultation with either the Legislative or the Judiciary arm of Government.
APC’s Nasir El Rufai, the new Governor of Kaduna State followed by PDP’s Ayo Fayose have unilaterally reduced their salaries and allowances and those of their kitchen cabinet by 50 percent until further notice. They have significantly cut down the number of ministries in their States using the comatose nature of the Nigerian economy as their excuse. They both know that the goose that lays the golden egg meaning the Federal Government is right now in a financial quagmire that calls for such drastic steps in Nigeria.
The two Governors both know that Nigeria is totally bankrupt and that conclusion has been confirmed by Ahmed Joda of the Transition Committee which says corruption has eaten deep into the very fabric of Nigeria anywhere you look. President Buhari should have known that before he was elected on March 28th. He gave Nigerians the impression that the knew exactly what to do if voted into power. If he knew what to do, an announcement of a cut in his salary and allowances and that of his Vice President should have been the first thing he did, if not with his inaugural address at least within a day or two of his coming to power.
That would have convinced his ardent supporters that he truly means business. He failed to do so and by keeping Nigerians guessing about what he’s up to he lost the momentum right there and then. Because he lacks the ability to quickly define himself, he has left his friends and political enemies with no other choice than to define him the way they like.
That is why I have no regret calling him President “Go Slow.” The man has not articulated a strategy or named a few members of his cabinet.
It would have made a lot more sense for Buhari who has waited 12 years to be elected President to have formed a firm opinion of what is wrong with Nigeria and what he intends to do about it and how he intends to do it? When the Buhari/Idiagbon regime ransacked the Apapa Mansion of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1983/84, they carried away documents and dossiers that Awolowo had already compiled on what he was planning to do if he was elected President.
Among those documents was a list of Nigerian technocrats and professionals which included those in Diaspora that Awolowo was going to bring back to Nigeria in the same way Obasanjo had brought back Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the World Bank on a platter of gold. That is what great leaders do. You don’t wait until you get the power before you start thinking about what to do with it.
It is now crystal clear to most Nigerians that Buhari lacked those star qualities. As a matter of fact, many are now beginning to believe that Tunde Idiagbon, his number two man from August 1983 to September 1985, was the reason his regime was able to achieve most of the legacies credited to Buhari during the 20 odd months that Buhari’s regime was in power. Tunde Idiagbon was in Saudi Arabia performing the Hadj when his regime was toppled in Nigeria. He knew his boss Buhari had been arrested and put in detention, but that did not stop Idiagbon from returning home. He did not go into exile from there like Yakubu Gowon did.
The man got into a plane and flew back to Lagos ready to confront the regime that had just torpedoed his own regime. If you don’t call that bravery, I don’t know what else to call it. Idiagbon returned to Nigeria not because he thought he had 9 lives like a cat, he returned because he had a very clear conscience about the few bold steps his regime had taken to restore order and discipline in Nigeria. He returned to Nigeria fully prepared to defend himself. He was retired and he went into retirement very sure of himself and what he had done for Nigeria. I was in Government at the time and I followed what happened very closely.
I am bold to say that Buhari was a good man because I knew him very well from 1968 and for all of my 3 years in the Ministry of Defense as Assistant Secretary (Army) under permanent secretary Damcida and later on under late permanent secretary Yusuf Gobir, the dapper don lawyer from Ilorin. I still maintain that Buhari is incorruptible. There is no doubt about that, but I have my doubts about his readiness for prime time. I do not have cause to doubt his administrative capacity and his ability to set and execute the order of priorities to bring change to Nigeria, and to do it in a way that inspires confidence in the people like Murtala Mohammed did and like Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana both as a military dictator and as a civilian President. They both knew how to bring the people along with them like Presidents and Governors and even Mayors in times of national crisis.
Just imagine how Ruddy Guilliani handled the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. His was a virtuoso performance that the whole world acknowledged. The performance would have catapulted him to the presidency of America were it not for his other character flaws as a politician and the negative agenda of his Party concerning the poor and the disadvantaged in the American society. Just think about how Barack Obama relentlessly pursued the killing and the burial of Osama Bin Laden, the restoration and restructure of the American economy, and the passing of the Affordable Health Care Reform which none of his predecessors had been able to achieve for more than 50 years.
Obama will go down in history as one of the best Presidents of America which include, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Ike Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama, the first black President.
June 22 to 27 has been a spectacular week in the Obama presidency that history will never forget. His signature achievements as President are going to pave the way for the first female President of America. Obama’s presidency has broken all the known frontiers of what a good President must look like. I listened to the young man deliver his eulogy at the funeral service for a black pastor and 8 other members of his Church who were gunned down by a home-grown terrorist. The Obama eulogy was one of the greatest funeral orations I have ever heard in my life.
It was delivered with a candor and passion that only Winston Churchill or a Mario Cuomo could have conjured. I could not control my tears of joy as I watched the first black President of America deliver one of the greatest eulogies in human history. Obama completely mesmerized his audience. He covered all the basics in that speech touching upon all that is wrong about America what he has done about it and what still remains to be done and how it should be done or accomplished.
All I could do as I listened to that speech is reflect on how our own President Buhari would have handled the rare opportunity if he found himself in the shoes of a Barack Obama. I wept because in Obama I saw what I could have been, but which I could never be, because I was not born in America. But I was pleased that no less than 9 out of my 12 grandchildren have a chance to be like Barack Obama, a product of Columbia and Harvard. I wept because I did not have the education and the background that made Obama a great President of the greatest country on Earth and the leader of the Free World. I wept as my mind went back to his white mother who fell in love with a black man from one of the most despised tribes in Kenya. I am talking of the Luo tribe in Kenya. Obama’s father was not born with the silver spoon in his mouth, but that did not stop the lucky man from earning a PhD in Economics from Harvard University. By some luck, the man met Obama’s mother a white lady from Kansas who took a big risk by falling in love with a black man from Africa at such a time in American history. I can tell you that Obama’s father was very daring to have dated Obama’s mother at that time. I guess he was able to do that because of his academic laurels as an alumnus of Harvard. I have to believe that Harvard has transformed his life and self- esteem to have been able to even date a white lady, not to even talk of sleeping with her in order to produce the future leader of the free world.
I see that the amazing grace that Barack Obama spoke so eloquently about in his once-in-a-life eulogy for a “good man” to quote the President verbatim. I would not trade my life in America with any gold and silver elsewhere around the world. I have travelled the world quite a bit in my career. I am yet to find any other country better than America despite some of her imperfections as a nation. I wept listening to that speech from an attorney and a community organizer like Obama and I regret not reading Law and missing a chance to add Harvard University to my resume. I got admitted to an Arthur D. Little program in Harvard in 1979 but could not go due to circumstances beyond my control.
I wept when I saw the female Attorney named Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney in the same sex marriage litigation that the US Supreme Court has just decided. I wept as I saw to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy side with the 4 liberal judges at the Supreme Court uphold Obama care just like I predicted more than 4 years ago that Obama care, like Social Security and Medicare Laws, was here to stay and that Americans could only mend it and not end it. I am not a lawyer. I am a historian, an administrator, a social worker, and a clinical psychologist by training but I could clearly see what the Supreme Court had seen in that Law by upholding it and making it irreversible for generations of Americans yet unborn. You don’t take what is good from people if you don’t have something better to replace it. That is the big problem for the Republicans who are going to pay a political price for opposing the Law.
I also predicted years ago that same sex marriage is going to become the law of the land sooner than later and it has happened yesterday. The gays and lesbians asked for equal dignity in the eyes of the law and the Supreme Court judges in a vote of 5 to 4 has again granted their request. It is the right thing to do even though the ruling defies the biblical injunction that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. If God did not want humanity to make its own laws as needed the 10 Commandments should have been the only laws that humanity is supposed to follow. I am a Christian by persuasion and I believe in the Bible but I also believe that everything done by man and even things done by God Almighty can be infinitely improved. I therefore support the Supreme Court ruling albeit reluctantly.
I cite these 2 cases as a digression only to draw a comparison between what Obama did yesterday at the Emmanuel Church at Charleston, in South Carolina and how our own President Buhari would have handled the same situation were it to happen in Nigeria. I am saying that Buhari still lacks the ability to articulate the same kind of logic that has convinced the Supreme Court to come up with the great verdict on Obama Care. Buhari lacks the oratorical flourish to make a case for anything he strongly believed in. I love his speech at Chatham House in London but that was only a fluke or an accident.
How I wish Buhari had the eloquence of an Obama to explain and articulate what he has already done for Nigeria in the last 4 weeks as deposed by Hassan Idris.
My conclusion is that Buhari has very good intentions like Obama, but his greatest problem is that he lacks the ability to articulate what is it he has been doing in the last 4 weeks because he is just not up to it. I can tell you loud and clear with this write-up that the problem of Buhari could also be his inability to persuasively articulate what he has done and to let the people appreciate that there is some method to his slow speed in executing and explaining his change agenda.
It is as if the man is scared to death to even come before television cameras to express himself. He does not feel comfortable addressing a press conference in English. He might do a better job in Hausa but protocol would not allow him to do that as the President of Nigeria where English is our Lingua Franca.
I use myself as an example. I once suggested in one of my recent articles that Buhari might be exhibiting some early symptoms of Alzheimer's. I still maintain that, but there could be more to Buhari’s silence and sloppiness, than Alzheimer's. He could also be suffering from what many of go thru with our heavy accent and the way we speak English.
When I briefly attended the Center for Management Development of Cambridge for a diploma course in Management under one Professor Daniels, I did suffer from some inferiority complex in the way I spoke English. I felt the same pressure when in 1972 to ‘73 I attended the Royal Institute of Public Administration at Mabledon Place in London near Euston Station and St Pancreas Hall in London with some of my classmates like Omolorun Modupe now an Immigration lawyer in New York. Modupe came from the Western Region Civil Service to attend the program with some of us who came from the Federal Civil Service. The same Modupe retired from Ondo State Public Service where he rose to the position of Secretary to Government before going to Ekpoma University to read law and before relocating to America to be called to the American Bar.
Modupe Omo Olorun is my good friend till tomorrow. He is a very brilliant man who was not even a graduate before coming to the Institute of Public Administration. That limitation did not stop him from graduating at the top of our class as I recall. I was at the time a graduate of the great University of Ife. I was among the class of 1966 which was the second set of the University which started in 1963. The first set which started in 1962 included Itse now Professor Sagay of the University of Benin. Mr. Itse Sagay who is now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria was the first student to make a first class in Law in that University in 1965 as I vividly recall.
I also recall my own brother –in-law Mr. now Dr. S.O Omobomi who came top of his class in 1965 with a Second Class Upper in Economics before going to New York University to complete his Ph.D in Econometrics. Dr. Omobomi later became the Secretary to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and later Chairman of Wema Bank Nigeria PLC. I mention all these distinguished Nigerians to say you could be the best students in your University days and still come to some of these overseas institutions to be embarrassed because you speak with an accent. I am not suggesting that Itse Sagay and Dr. Omobomi spoke with an accent. All am saying is that we all have accent and are embarrassed by it when we speak and some of our listeners do not clearly and quickly understand us.
I recall Professor Emeritus of Food Science at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, late Professor Joseph Bandele Fashakin telling me at one point in his brilliant career that he once faced that embarrassment when he attended MCGill University in Canada, the MIT and Harvard University. The learned Professor graduated with a magna cum laude at McGill in and top of his class at MIT for his Master’s in 1976 a his Ph.D in Biochemistry from Harvard University in 1979. We all go through that experience due to our very heavy accents.
I recall experiencing the same inferiority complex at the State University of Connecticut and later on at the Yeshiva Jewish University of Connecticut from 1991 to 1993. Because of my accent even though I was a good student, I was always afraid to sit on the front row to avoid being called to speak by the professor because I felt embarrassed when some of my classmates asked me to repeat myself or come again on few occasions when I was bold enough to speak. We all instinctively know we have that deficit or challenge, just like Buhari should have known by now he is a very good orator or public speaker.
I have a strong feeling that Buhari may be suffering from the same inferiority complex as a public speaker. He may be scared or intimidated to call and address a press conference to explain what he is doing. I encourage him to get over it. Public speaking is a must for anybody who will be President and he can learn it. He must learn it fairly quickly by calling more press conferences at home. I recall Goodluck Jonathan our first Ph.D holder President from the University of Port Harcourt also suffering the same inferiority complex every time he had to speak in the public. Public speaking is not one of his strong suits. That is why the man was always shooting for the back row at most international summits of Heads of State he has attended because he was scared to speak in the Public or be put on the spot.
If a Ph.D holder like Goodluck feels that way you can imagine how much more a Muhammadu Buhari with his heavy Hausa/Fulani accent is likely to feel.
Buhari appears to me to be scared to talk in public. He probably feels more comfortable speaking in Hausa than English. That does not mean he is not brilliant. I recall the War College in the US giving him high grades when he was their student. The man should have called many more press conferences to explain what he is doing and why he may appear a bit slow to some of us.
Governance by silence is an aberration in a Democracy. You have got to be eloquent up to a point and you should not feel intimidated to express yourself. There are things that nobody but yourself can only do when you are a Head of Government. I am not so sure he feels confident enough to trust all of his civilian aides to articulate for him what he is not able to do. He therefore keeps quiet hoping and praying that the problems would go away with time. Problems don’t go away like that you have to address them.
If a President does not like public speaking, he is going to be at a great disadvantage to let the people understand where he is leading them. If Buhari is not able to define himself other people are going to define him the way they like and he is not going to like it.
If Buhari were to be an American President he would be subjected to taking some reading lessons and to learn how to read fast and carry the people with himself on anything he is doing. When you are President of Nigeria, you are also like the President of the whole of Africa because Nigeria is among the leading nations of Africa because one out of every 4 Africans is a Nigerian the last time I checked. Buhari has to be very knowledgeable and quick to grasp what is in front of him. I am not saying this to criticize or run him down. I am saying it because I care, and because he is of the same age group with me and I want him to succeed. The more you exercise your brains the sharper it becomes and practice makes perfect.
I agree with Hassan Idris that Buhari is doing a few things right and getting some results, but he must learn how to better articulate what he is doing. He has to take many more Nigerians along. He must never leave Nigerians guessing about what he is up to.
The media like Sahara Reporters and other social media outlets are offering many useful suggestions that President Buhari would be well advised to pay attention to. If he does, he cannot go wrong. There is an urgent need for him to cure or stop the hemorrhage currently going on in the Legislative arm of his Government.
I rest my case.