In his last incarnation as Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari and his second-in- command, Tunde Idiagbon, were a couple of all-action soldiers who took an unruly nation by the scruff of the neck and set it straight.
The impact of their short reign remains branded in the nation’s psyche such that many anticipated another action-packed crack at governing Nigeria. The opening 30 days of the new All Progressives Congress (APC) have been anything but that – leading to the resurrection of the less than flattering “Baba Go Slow” tag that was last hung around the neck of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. A recent Bloomberg article by Daniel Magnowski titled ‘Buhari Goes From Nigeria’s Change Champion to ‘Baba Go Slow’ aptly captured the frustration of people who expected him to come out with guns blazing.
Aside from those who are interested in Buhari’s appointments because they hope to be beneficiaries, there are others for whom politics is spectator sport. For them the whole business of hiring and firing is entertainment. On that front very little is happening. Many who had expected that Buhari would send the remnants of the Goodluck Jonathan era – everyone from service chiefs to hastily appointed agency heads – packing once installed in office, are mystified that he’s taking his sweet time getting rid of them. In fact so frustrated have some Nigerians become that since Buhari would not name his aides and ministers they have taken to appointing them for him.
In the course of a meeting a little over a week ago a colleague excitedly announced that the president had just ‘named’ long-time associate Col. Hamid Ali as Chief of Staff. News of the ‘appointment’ soon went viral online. Three hours later the Presidency was denying that such an appointment had been made. While Buhari keeps his list of cabinet nominees in a bomb-proof safe in Aso Rock, journalists and other stakeholders entertain themselves with speculations, or vent their anger at the lack of action by reminding us of how everyone from Barack Obama to Olusegun Obasanjo had – to use their favourite cliché – ‘hit the ground running.’ The leisurely take-off of the new administration has inspired Nigerians who are past masters at gallows humour to offload a few jokes. I saw an online comment the other day asking Jonathan to quickly send ‘Patience’ back to Aso Villa because Buhari keeps asking for her! Although six weeks have passed I still refuse to join the chorus line that’s already writing the obituary of the new administration.
My position is simple: If Buhari received a ‘change’ mandate doesn’t he deserve breathing space to do things differently – even if it’s not at the pace some would like? Those who keep reminding us of what Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan did in their first few days in office are actually saying – yes we voted ‘change’ but what we actually want is for you to do things the exact way these former leaders did. Pace is important given that the last administration left Nigeria prostrate. But in the current situation haste just for the sake of appearing busy has dubious benefits. What is important in a race is not how fast the take-off is but how well you end. Jonathan et alpresumably ‘hit the ground running’ but ended up running the country aground.
That said, we must concede that not everyone who has criticized Buhari’s tardiness in naming a team has done so with base motives. Many have made very strong points that the president and whoever has his ears need to take on board. We have heard excuses about the lack of cooperation from the last administration with regards to hand over notes. But that doesn’t explain the fact that between when the presidential election results were declared and May 29 the incoming crew had a clear two months to put together some sort of skeletal structure. We’ve been told that Buhari is busy doing mysterious things to make the governing environment pristine for his new team to operate in. The upshot is that the earliest a cabinet would be constituted could be September.
No matter how reasonable the reasons are the longer the president takes to cobble together a governing team, the more uncertainty would shroud the government and its intentions within the country and without. People have mentioned the impact of this uncertainty on the financial markets. It is also critically important in a country where much of the activity revolves around what the government does or doesn’t do. It has also been argued that one of the reasons there seems to be an upswing in the spate of insurgents attacks in the North-East is the sense that the new administration is still feeling its way – trying to put in place its own strategies. Somehow the military momentum that swept Boko Haram out of the villages and towns they had hitherto occupied appears to have dissipated.
In the intervening period when one government gave way to another, the insurgents have gotten second wind, retooled their strategy and returned with multiple suicide attacks in different locations. It is hard to argue with the statistics. There has been an upsurge in suicide attacks in recent weeks. Every few days now there’s a new one. Last weekend in Borno State six female suicide bombers wreaked havoc. The killers have visited Kaduna and Kano States and have been to one of their old stomping grounds – Buni Yadi. Something is definitely going on here. It may or may not be down to the fact that those tasked with leading the fight against the insurgents are unsettled because they are uncertain about their future. Whatever it is, that feelgood factor that was so evident in the days following APC’s stunning electoral victory is slowly ebbing away.
The new regime would be making a costly mistake if it dismisses this view out of hand. The delay in constituting a team may have conveyed a sense of ennui, but the bungled National Assembly leadership selection process added a picture of disarray so early in the life of the administration – leaving its foes to crow ‘morning shows the day.’ Buhari may have been forced to calibrate his speed by the shock of what he met on the ground, but he must understand that his stock of goodwill with an impatient population cannot last forever. It is in his interest to constitute a team as soon as possible. There’s too much pressure when one man is the focus of all, and he definitely doesn’t need the air of uncertainty generated by his ad-hoc arrangement.