By Rotimi Fasan
ONE of the most cherished qualities of a good leader, one who stands apart from the middling dabbler that confuses opportunity with competence, is the ability to think on their feet and arrive at a quick decision. It is on the basis of this important quality that I wish to examine the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari.
And my unambiguous answer to the conditional title of the piece you’re right now reading is this: we will all be dead or something close to that if every Nigerian leader arrive at the decision making point like President Buhari. Something very bad will be the lot of many of us as is presently the case with many victims of the terror attacks that have become a daily occurrence in many parts of this country especially those under the withering watch of murderous cattle herders.
After the first mass killings across Benue and Taraba states that ushered Nigerians into the year 2018, Buhari’s reaction was neither as prompt nor empathetic as many would have loved. The reason for this obvious failure was that the president needed to study the situation before making a statement. Which is not saying that the president has been quick to react to issues in the past.
His typical response to undesirable situations is not to react- go into a rigidly silent mode. One would imagine that a president who is alive to his responsibility of ensuring the security of life and property didn’t need so much briefing to show concern about the welfare of those he leads by way of visiting or sending condolences to the bereaved.
Certainly the president didn’t need to have a full dossier of both the immediate and remote causes of the grim events in the affected places for him to condemn the loss of lives and careless shedding of blood on such a scale. But Buhari needed time to study the situation his minders said. And it took them all of three months after the event for the president to pay a visit, which turned out to be an opportunity for politicking, specifically to position him to campaign for his re-election, to Benue and Taraba states.
What does this tell us about the president? That he is either incapable of human emotions or he lacks the capacity for quick decision. The first option does not seem to be the case for while the president might not have been prompt in reacting to the killings that have increasingly blighted many parts of the country (and no one is asking him to take the lead role in a sloppy drama of national grieving), he needed no prompting to visit his own son when he crashed a powerful bike while taking a risky ride with a friend on the streets of our nation’s capital. On that score, if no other, Buhari passes the human emotion test.
This is far more than we can say for the competency or ability test. Here Buhari failed royally to demonstrate that he is a leader in charge, for while he would not move an inch from Abuja, his self-appointed Inspector General of Police who he sent to appraise the situation in Benue failed to execute the president’s instruction. He visited Benue quite all right but more like a traveller on the hop.
He paid the state a whistle stop visit, then moved on to his next port of call. The president was no wiser to his IG’s willful flouting of his instructions, which again makes one wonder if the IG had not realized from the president’s standoffish stance and coldly phlegmatic reaction all along that the president couldn’t be too bothered if the people of Benue became suya for the rampaging terrorist misnamed herders.
But it would not surface until three months after the killings, before the president would know that his IG had not stayed in Benue as he had been instructed. Even though the president appeared to have taken umbrage at the IG’s conduct nothing has come out of it all, contrary to the expectations of many who probably thought that was the last straw and the IG would be booted out of office.
Which brings me back to the major quality of Buhari’s leadership style, namely, his inability to change track or what his critics call his rigidity. Nigerians might recall this was one point of criticism levelled against Buhari by Ibrahim Babangida and the coupists of 1985 that sent him away from office. Surely these individuals knew things then, having known Buhari for a very long time, Nigerians are only getting to understand now. Being rigid is not by itself a bad or undesirable quality. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was famed for his rigid stance on some issues.
But these were issues he would have thoroughly studied before arriving at a position which he would only vacate on presentation of a superior argument. To his credit many of these positions which Nigerians are getting to embrace more than three decades after his passing are as valid today as they had been when they were first touted by Awolowo well before independence. Not even Awolowo’s worst critic could therefore accuse him of failure to act or take quick decisions. It took him just hours to announce the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, after the ban on party politics was lifted in 1978. This was the outcome of prior preparation.
But what does Buhari, the proverbial old dog that can’t learn new tricks do? He takes forever to arrive at a decision, as with his appointment of ministers, and holds on to a position for eternity even without real or apparent merits. He has refused to change his security chiefs in spite of their proven collective and individual inadequacies, even becoming something of an albatross on his administration. But Buhari has stuck by them like a hump on a Fulani cow. What is the point in sticking to a failed formula? Loyalty to some primordial principles that would not bear scrutiny or a fear of what to do thereafter?
Perhaps, Buhari’s refusal to change his appointees despite obvious failures is a reflection of his confusion about what to do after that. And if it took him six months to appoint his ministers, it would probably take him the entire time left of his presidency to find replacements for his present crop of surrogates in the event they are sacked. There is no way he would survive physically the criticism that would follow any policy or administrative missteps that could happen thereafter. Surrounded by his non-performing appointees Buhari’s failures can either be shared among many or covered. This is why many will always hold him personally responsible for the mass killings across the country.