It is now over three weeks since Buhari was sworn in as President. Given the euphoria that trailed his election, what are the general impressions of him and his regime so far?
Slow take-off of the government
Buhari is the first President of the country to have really hungered for the job. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s President in the Second Republic, said he only wanted to be a Senator. Similarly, Obasanjo was in prison in apparently contrived charges that he co-plotted to overthrow the regime of General Abacha when he was brought out from the gulag and made the President of the country at the beginning of this democratic dispensation. In the same vein, Umaru Yaradua who succeeded Obasanjo after the failure of the latter’s tenure elongation project was gravely ill but was selected and foisted on the PDP as its presidential candidate by Obasanjo. He subsequently became the President via a massively rigged election, with Goodluck Jonathan, who was also equally handpicked by Obasanjo as the Vice President. Yaradua’s death in 2010 led to the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as the President.
In essence we can argue that all our previous presidents had been unprepared for the job. Buhari is the exception – to the extent that he has been a perennial presidential candidate since 2003. He became lucky on his fourth attempt and was sworn in on May 29 as the President and Commander in chief of the Armed Forces. Given this situation, many expected that he would come to office with a template to hit the ground running. In fact, the highexpectations of the citizens were captured in what could well be sarcasm by a blogger: “It is now 30 minutes since Buhari was sworn in as President and yet nothing has changed”. The online medium Sahara Reporters, which leaned heavily towards the Buhari candidacy during the election, recently had the cartoon of a snail with Buhari’s head – to indicate how slowly it felt the regime was moving. More than three weeks after being sworn in, the President has only three key functionaries – two media aides and the Accountant-General of the Federation. It still has no Secretary to the Federal Government, no Ministers and the names of the 15 advisers approved for him by the Senate remain wrapped in secrecy.
How has the pace at which the regime has been moving been interpreted?
There are four perspectives on this:
One perspective is that he is being excessively cautious, partly because this often comes with age and partly because he is conscious of his dictatorial military antecedents. According to this view, because of the lingering suspicion on whether Buhari has truly cultivated a democratic temperament and has learnt to be a team player, he needed to take his time to prove his critics wrong.
Another perspective being promoted by PDP apparatchiks is that his sluggish pace conclusively proves that he, rather than Jonathan, is really the clueless one. According to this view, Buhari has no clue what to do with the power he now has and has apparently been running for the office for its sake – withonly vague promises to fight corruption.
Another view on this is that President Buhari is deliberately slow in order to enable the key gladiators in his party to fight and weaken one another and themselves. This tactic, it is argued, will strengthen his hands when dealing with the various power groups in the party.
A fourth perspective is that the President is deliberately slow as a way of reducing the high expectations of his regime. According to this view, given that many believe he would fix all the ills of the country over night or jail all corrupt people in the country once he came to power, Buhari is tactically trying to lower public expectations to enable him govern on his own terms.
Emergence of Saraki and Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of HOR respectively
There are also various perspectives on whether Buhari played any role in the emergence of Bukoloa Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives on June 9 – against the directives of their party, the APC, and when most of the elected members were reportedly waiting at the International Conference Centre Abuja, to be addressed by the President.
One viewpoint is that Buhari really did not want to get involved in the election of officers of the National Assembly as a way of burnishing his credentials as a new born democrat.
Another perspective believes that Buhari was actually involved or on the know about the plot and that the agenda was not just to whittle Tinubu’s alleged overbearing influence but also to ensure that the North controls both the executive and the National Assembly. In a widely circulated article on Opinion.com entitled ‘Fulani Solidarity And The Betrayal Of Bola Tinubu’, Remi Oyeyemi strongly canvassed this view. Segun Senbanjo in an article ‘Three Peas in a Pod” (ThisDay, June 21), supported this view and asked rhetorically: “Is it a mere coincidence that President Muhammadu Buhari is from the North-West Geo-Political Zone, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki from the North-Central Geo-Political Zone and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Honourable Yakubu Dogara from the North-East Geo-Political Zone? I have my doubts.”
A third major viewpoint on this holds that even though the President had publicly said he would work together with the new leadership of the National Assembly that emerged through a ‘coup’, behind the public glare, he is actually livid that they disrespected the party and the office he occupies. Those who argue from this viewpoint note that Buhari’s refusal to meet the new leadership of the National Assembly is the first time since the advent of the Fourth Republic that the president of the country has not met physically with the leaders of the National Assembly at the commencement of a presidential cycle
A fourth major view here is that Saraki emerged the Senate President because he is more sagacious and understands the political terrain more than his party and his rivals. This view, advanced strongly by Senator Ben Obi in an interview with the Vanguard (June 21, 2015), more or less exonerates the President from any complicity in the plot that led to the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Does the country need ministers anyway?
Given that Buhari has been ruling the country for well over three weeks with three advisers, and within that period, electricity supply is generally believed to have improved (even before he reported formally for work in the Villa), many people are beginning to ask, rather cynically, if we really need ministers?
One perspective on this is that like what happened in Somalia (where the collapse of the Somali state actually led to improved economic performances in some parts of the country), some are arguing that if the country could run successfully on ‘autopilot’it means we really have no need for Ministers and Advisers.
A contrary viewpoint is that if things (power supply and access to fuel at petrol stations) appear to have improved when the country is more or less on auto-pilot, much more could be accomplished if the President can select competent ministers and advisers to help him translate his visions for the country into reality.
Buhari to Replace Dame Patience Jonathan?
President Buhari is increasingly becoming the butt of jokes in the social and mainstream media for a number of his recent gaffes – the way Dame Patience Jonathan was.
In a very hilarious piece in the Leadership newspaper of June 16, 2015 entitled ‘Conversations with Baba’, JaafarJaafar articulated these gaffes – calling Vice President Osinbajo ‘Osubande’, ‘Germany’ ‘West Germany’ and ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel’, ‘German President Angella Michelle’. Jaafar contrived other ‘Buhari-speaks’ that would certainly enrage Buhari’s cultic supporters but provide political entertainment as parodies are meant to do.
Several of Buhari’s cultic supporters see any attempt to make jokes out of Buhari’s gaffes as an insult to Buhari – or even a manifestation of ethnic prejudice if the person dishing out the joke is not from the North.
Another view on this – very popular with PDP sympathizers – is that it is a clear evidence that Buhari is too old to govern.
A third perspective argues that as we age, we become prone to temporary loss of memory – or what Americans would call a ‘senior moment’ – and that no one should be ashamed of it. In a very important contribution on the topic entitled ‘Criticising Buhari over “President Michelle of West Germany” gaffe is ignorant’ (Weekly Trust, June 20 2015), Farooq Kperogi argued that even though President Reagan, who became president of the US at 69, had record breaking ‘senior moments’, it did not prevent him from being regarded as one of the greatest American Presidents of all times. He noted that Reagan often joked about his ‘senior moments’ and called on Buhari’s ardent supporters to learn to laugh off such.