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Being Baba Buhari, not President Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has not only embraced his Baba Go-slow moniker with the evident pleasure of an old man in retirement and now enjoying his evening years, he insists on wearing it on his sleeves like a badge of honour. That image of Baba Go-slow gives the impression of a grandfatherly character who does nothing but wait for the regular visits of his children and grandchildren during family vacations and reunions.

Buhari, senate
President Muhammadu Buhari

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The truth, however, is that the man being called Baba Buhari, aka Baba Go-slow, is the president of a country of about 200 million people. He makes decisions that are fundamental to the existence of the people of Nigeria, the largest in Africa and one of the largest in the world.

Thus, while he may enjoy the grandpa image and moniker, he cannot have the pleasure of acting like a grandfather while in the office of president. But Buhari insists on being Baba Buhari in action and President Buhari in name. A few of the things he can do with any measure of competence, it appears, is to chair meetings, probably append signatures to documents and embarks on periodic state visits outside those that take him to see his doctors abroad.

Nigeria has had leaders who are intellectuals. Buhari does not belong among them. It is highly improbable this president engages in any activity that could keep him awake at any time of the day, thinking of how to get Nigeria to “the next level”, to say nothing of being great again.

Being Baba Buhari, it took the president five full months after he won the contested election that returned him to office and two full months after his inauguration for a second four-year term as president, to send the names of his nominees for ministerial appointments to the Senate. It took both veiled and open threats from members of the upper chamber who were poised to begin their two months annual recess for Baba Buhari to send the names of his nominees to the Senate. Even at that, the names were sent without any indication of the office each nominee would occupy. Nominees were screened on mere assumptions of what office they would hold.

Somebody could have spoken eloquently and demonstrated competence in a particular area only to find himself or herself shunted into a different office. A Sunday Dare who many assume might be occupying the Communications Ministry going by the example of Adebayo Shittu, a nominee from Oyo State like Dare and Dare’s own antecedents at the National Communications Commission, and his astute demonstration during screening before the Senate might end up somewhere different.

While this may not pose any trouble for Mr. Dare who it appears would perform equally well in any other office, this may not be the case for many others who were “grilled” without reference to their areas of competence or hint of what office they would occupy. The entire exercise was like a blind-man’s-buff, a gamble executed in the dark, where, for want of better things to say, nominees either rhapsodised about their friendship with certain members of the Senate, while some spoke of the kind of supporters that accompanied them to the screening session or recount their educational and family history (all information that is available in their CV or by a mere google search once their nomination is confirmed).

Yet others were merely asked to “take a bow” and leave or required to perform the onerous task of reciting the second stanza of the national anthem – no doubt as evidence of both their patriotism and intellectual sagacity. Obviously, the nominees were screened based on their state of origin not competence. Tomorrow we would all wake up to condemn “tribalism” and self-project as “detribalised” patriots while we emphasise and make indigeneity the basis of appointments.

Yet, the executive has been repeatedly admonished to attach portfolios to names of nominees sent for Senate screening. Such action, it seems, is a learning curve for Baba Buhari and his minders who insist on repeating the same mistakes over and again.  What would it have taken the president to attach portfolios to each ministerial nomination? Was that too much to ask or expect of the president of a country?

While it took Baba Buhari five months to name his ministerial nominees, his new British counterpart, Boris Johnson, announced his cabinet within hours of his taking over from Theresa May as prime minister. While Johnson’s cabinet was a complete overhaul of the cabinet left by Theresa May, a third of Baba Buhari’s nominees, the largest in the history of the country, were old faces from his first four years as president, not counting the “recycled” faces like Pauline Tallen and company from previous administrations.

One wonders how long it would have taken him to form his cabinet had he taken the required step he obviously loathes of constituting an entirely new one. We have only moved without making progress on Baba Buhari’s cabinet. We are probably in for another long wait of knowing the portfolios of each nominee while the country ails. When a president finds it so hard to appoint 43 competent Nigerians into office without returning to old hands, is he saying Nigeria is that bereft of talents? Or is he the one in need of a reality check? Are Baba Buhari’s recycled faces the only competent and honest Nigerians available in a country of 200 million people?

Under previous administrations when the economy performed better and Nigeria was better governed, none of Baba Buhari’s over patronised hands was part of the federal cabinet. What then is this business of making it look like there are only a few Nigerians capable of making Nigeria a better place? Where opportunities are limited to the same set of people and their promoters, how is the next generation being grown? Baba Buhari’s cabinet is in the main a conclave of power blocs and power brokers. We are better than this and the country can do far better than what Buhari wants us to believe. His slow, worse than mediocre performance is killing this country.

This is exactly where I was going when I started out drawing a portrait of a Baba Buhari who rules and a President Muhammadu Buhari who ought to govern. Nigeria cannot afford a leader who moves at Baba Buhari’s pace. But we have gambled on him being a changed man, a reconditioned soldier, and lost. What we must now do is ensure that we do not create a situation that allows certain Nigerians to misrule us so much that we would prefer anybody else in their place. We must begin to work to create avenues for the truly competent not the merely convenient or available to emerge as leaders.

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