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Buhari’s go-slow as pitfall of a rotating presidency

By Rotimi Fasan

THIS week makes it the sixth since President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated for his second term of four years in office. It is fast approaching the sixth month since the disputed election that returned him to office held. President Buhari and his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, have been the face of the administration and operated a two-man government since their inauguration on May 29, 2019. The other known faces of this government have been the President’s spokespersons, Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina.

Buhari

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Last week, the president reappointed members of his erstwhile personal staff, led by Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff, back into office. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was also reappointed. The reappointment of these old hands are among the few indicators that President Buhari’s second term is already running. Which is to say that it took President Buhari all of five weeks to reappoint into their former positions men that had worked with him during his first term in office.

Had the president set his gaze on new hands, how long would such an apparently onerous task have taken him? At a time when some other leaders would be getting set to mark their first one hundred days in office, Buhari is yet to determine in what direction his government would go by his failure to constitute a cabinet. How can the fate of a nation be left hanging in this manner? Surely, we are back all too painfully to familiar territory. Buhari needed five full months after his inauguration in May 2015 to put together a cabinet.

While his minders partly attributed this unprecedented delay in executing a very mundane task to the failure of the Goodluck Jonathan team to cooperate with the new occupants of Aso Villa and thus ensuring a smooth transition, other sympathetic Nigerians thought the president could take all the time he needed to constitute his cabinet. We thought the strange delay was a one-off thing and that soon Buhari would get into his groove. That was, however, not to be as a clearly aberrant act was soon to become the defining feature of an administration that appeared as almost entirely disconnected from reality as its sequestered leader.

In all of his first four years, now going on his fifth in office, Buhari has demonstrated an ill-digested comprehension of the adage: Time is money. For this president, time is nothing and for all he cares time could forever be suspended. There is no sense of urgency, not in the least. Buhari is content to wear his Baba-go-slow moniker like another pip on his general’s epaulette, the ultimate jewel in his collection of execrable diadems.

Thus, when the presidency announced the reappointment of the president’s erstwhile personal staff that did not even require the confirmation of the Senate, it seemed for his supporters a time to celebrate, and the rest of Nigerians had an option worse than joining in sending warm congratulations to the president’s favourites. The reappointments told everyone that the president was up and doing. Everything looked normal. The bar has been raised that low. Except for the discerning horde of ‘wailers’ who, according to the president’s people, could never see anything commendable in any of the president’s actions.

Yet we need to ask ourselves if this is the way governance should be conducted- in a sheer state of somnambulism? What does the president do when he goes to office in Aso Rock? How does he spend his time? Not even Sani Abacha, with his alleged notoriety for late night carousing which upended temporal reality and normal order of doing things, needed so much time to accomplish so little. What does Buhari really spend his time in office doing? Everything points to the fact that the president is poised to reprise his first term in office with all the dangers and sense of alarm that this portends. This is certainly lamentable.

That after four years Nigerians could be saddled with a leader that has apparently heard nothing of their complaints, to say nothing of changing anything about his ways, is both a terrible failure and disrespectful conduct.

Buhari does not make much effort to be worthy of the office he occupies. He is simply basking in the awareness that it is the “time” of the North to occupy the presidency. He owes his place to his ethnicity and his position as a member of the Northern political elite. This is one of the affordances of a perverse political system, namely: a rotating presidency that is underwritten by everything but merit. Otherwise, there is no way a Buhari, like virtually all of Nigeria’s past presidents and heads of state, could have emerged as president.

That it took the Buhari-led administration five months to constitute a cabinet was one reason Nigeria’s economic growth slowed down and the economy ultimately went into recession in 2016. Late presentation of budget proposals, among other types of executive bills, compounded the already frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature that rejected blames for delays in consideration of appropriation bills.

Like in 2015 and every year since, legislators are again anxious about executive delays, that the late constitution of the president’s cabinet could affect plans for their planned recess next month. Should they alter their legislative calendar and agenda to accommodate the failures of a geriatric presidency? Are we to understand that Buhari cannot see the implications of his disregard of time for activities in other arms of government as well as the national economy? What excuse can he offer for his present lack of initiative?

For Nigeria to evolve a rotating presidency (until that time when merit would be all that matters) that would be less aggravating and acceptable to most of our people, each region would do well to put their best foot forward by ensuring that only the best emerges from among them. It is not enough to claim the right or privilege to present one of their own as president. Extra effort should be expended on making it easy for some of the best possible persons to emerge.

Buhari was certainly not one of the best available Northerners in 2015 or even now (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, for example, would have made a far better president). But it would appear that the only thing that qualified him for that office in 2015 was his history as a serial contestant and former military leader. This, aside from the fact that his opponent’s administration had outstayed its welcome, cannot be sufficient qualification for the high office of the Nigerian president.

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