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How Buhari Has Lowered the Bar of Governance

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi People who say I am too hard on President Buhari like to point out that I am expect...

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

People who say I am too hard on President Buhari like to point out that I am expecting too much from him and that I haven’t come to terms with the fact that he isn’t perfect since he is only human. That’s wrong.

The very first paragraph of my May 16, 2015 column titled “6 Reasons Why Incoming Buhari Government Fills Me with Hope” reads: “The incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration won’t be perfect by any means. It will disappoint us in some areas, betray us in others, even annoy us sometimes, but I am confident that, after all is said and done, this incoming government will represent a qualitative departure from the legalized banditry that has passed for governance in Nigeria for so long.”

So I never cherished the illusion that Buhari would be perfect, although I was guilty of naïve, misplaced confidence and optimism about him based on his symbolic, pre-inauguration moves. I had hoped that even if Buhari wasn’t a stellar president, he would at least not lower the bar. But that is precisely what he has done. He has set the bar of governance so low that all it would take for any president who comes after him to impress us is to:

1. Constitute his cabinet within a few days of being sworn in. It took Buhari nearly six months to appoint his cabinet, which is the worst record in Nigeria’s entire history. It slowed the country and hurt the economy. On September 17, 2015 when France 24’s François Picard asked him why he hadn’t named his ministers months after being sworn in, he said ministers are worthless and just “make a lot of noise.” That was a low point. And the cabinet he took months to put together turned out to be one of the most colorless and lackluster in Nigeria’s history.

2. Appoint members of governing boards of government agencies in the first few months of being in power. It took Buhari nearly three years to do this. Since government agencies can’t legally function without governing boards, governance basically halted for more than half of Buhari’s first term. That’s why I once observed that while previous administrations were guilty of misgovernance, Buhari is, for the most part, guilty of “ungovernance,” which is worse.

3. Not be so incompetent as to appoint dead people into government—and living people without first consulting them.

4. Periodically speak to Nigerians through the domestic media, not when he is abroad.

5. Personally visit sites of national tragedy, show emotion, and make national broadcasts to reassure a grieving nation. In my March 18, 2017 column titled, “Why Buhari Should Learn from Osinbajo,” I wrote:

“In a tragic irony, it took Buhari’s sickness for Nigeria to get a chance at some health. It also took his absence for the country to feel some presence of leadership. Why did it take the ascendancy of Osinbajo to the acting presidency for this to happen? The answer is simple: symbolic presence. Buhari lacked symbolic presence in the 20 months he was in charge.”

6. Have an economic team made up of economists and not, as Buhari has done, appoint a diplomat as an economic adviser and then push him to the gaunt fringes of the Vice President’s office.

7. Reflect token religious, regional, and national diversity in appointments. Buhari won a national mandate, but his appointments are, as I’ve pointed out in previous columns, undisguisedly Arewacentric. His personal example shows that he doesn’t believe in one Nigeria, yet he often insists that Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable.” That’s unreasonable.

8. Not lie shamelessly about self-evident facts.

9. Not budget billions for Aso Rock Clinic and yet starve it of basic medicines (so much so that his own wife and daughter would complain openly) and then fly to London for medical treatment at the drop of a hat even for “ear infections” and “breathing difficulties.”

10. Not have a compulsive runawayist impulse that ensures that he travels out of the country at the slightest opportunity and for the silliest reasons.

11. Even pretend that the whole of Nigeria is his constituency—including those who gave him “97%” of their votes and those who gave him only “5%” of their votes.

12. Add to the list

Sadly, these are really basic things that shouldn’t attract any praise. There is no greater evidence that Nigeria has regressed really badly in almost every index in Buhari’s less than 3 years of being in power than the reality of these grim facts.

And he wants you to extend this national tragedy for another 4 years in 2019? Well, it’s up to you. If that's what Nigerians want, who am I to deny them the "luxury" to inflict self-violence on themselves?

But what I won’t take is the narrative being promoted by apologists and beneficiaries of the government that there is no one better than Buhari at this time. On the contrary, it’s actually practically impossible to be worse than Buhari because he has brought Nigeria to the ground zero of incompetence, so almost anybody would be better than him. He descended from the zenith of “Sai Baba” to the slope of “Baba Go-slow” and finally to the nadir of “Baba Standstill.” It can’t get worse than that.

Crybabyism as Governance
Buhari and his administration interminably gripe about how much Jonathan bankrupted the nation (never mind that Buhari and his administration are actually doing worse now) and how the hurt Jonathan inflicted on the nation is still responsible for our woes.

But Buhari is president today precisely because the vast majority of Nigerians thought Jonathan was incompetent and that it would take a Buhari to redress the harm Jonathan brought to the economy. If Nigerians thought—or knew—that Buhari was not capable of turning our fortunes around, they would have stuck with Jonathan.

Buhari’s endless crybabyism about Jonathan’s damage to the economy reminds me of my days as news editor of the Daily Trust. During one of our editors’ meetings in 2001, many editors expressed concerns about the painfully poor quality of the grammar and reportorial skills of some of our reporters and correspondents. But amid our self-righteous angst, our business editor, Aliyu Ma’aji said, “Let’s realize that we wouldn’t have had our jobs if there were no reporters with terrible grammar and less than perfect reporting skills. So stop complaining!” We all laughed at his creative humor, but he was right.

Buhari got the job of being president because Jonathan sucked at it. If Jonathan was a great president, Buhari won’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell to be elected. In any case, he had tried to be president many times in the past and failed because the depth of hopelessness that Jonathan instigated in Nigerians in 2015 didn’t exist in 2003, 2007, and 2011. Although Obasanjo wasn’t exactly the archetype of a great leader, his policies birthed Nigeria’s robust middle class.

Buhari should quit the crybabyism and self-pitying lamentation and correct the wrongs that Jonathan did. If he can’t do the job, he should be honorable enough to resign. Ceaselessly reminding us that he inherited a bad economy (while making it infinitely worse than he met it) is now unbearably trite and tired. He wouldn’t be president if everything was great under Jonathan.

We elected a commander-in-chief to solve problems, not a complainer-in-chief to wail in self-pity about problems.

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