By Ayo Olukotun
“If the President has to be out of the country for things to be done right, this suggests that the system moves forward only by accidents and randomness, and no country can make genuine progress on those terms”
–Former Deputy Governor. Central Bank of Nigeria and presidential aspirant, Prof Kingsley Moghalu, Sunrise Daily Programme, Channels TV, August 15 2018.
Creating ripples still is the recent removal by acting President Yemi Osinbajo, of the Director-General of the Department of State Services, Mr Lawal Daura, for deploying hooded personnel to forcibly lock down the National Assembly complex last week. Early this week, in what appears to be a well-received move, Osinbajo gave orders to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, for the overhaul of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which had been put on the spot several times for its poor human rights record and for operating above the law.
These policy steps, the much-talked about, but not implemented overhaul of national security, the rejigging of the federal cabinet, among several others had been on the cards for over a year. Yet, like the metaphoric pipeline that the Niger Delta militants once humorously claimed that they had to break open, to force out social dividends that gestated too long “in the pipelines”, the policies languished on the burner, without action. Similarly, in the aftermath of Daura’s sacking, a bill of offences, some of them approaching treason, was attributed to Daura, by his critics, in justification for his dismissal. These range from a defiance of court orders through carrying out raids of the houses of Supreme Court judges, scuttling the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to virtually running a parallel administration.
Criminalisation of fallen political figures, and the adulation of those in the saddle are deeply embedded in our political psyche and practice, and so, we must take with more than a pinch of salt, some of these after-the-fact narratives. That said, it must still baffle and confuse anyone, how, in what was perceived as the administration of a resolute and upright strong leader, another strongman could arise in the interstices of power, sometimes, if not often, overriding the writ of President Muhammadu Buhari himself.
Nature, it is often said, abhors a vacuum, and so as Buhari’s imprimatur retreated to a barely audible whisper, strongmen of various hues and disposition crawled into that vacuum. Others, seeing that seizing the main chance, depended on exploiting or invoking Buhari’s name, opportunistically projected themselves in a shadowy and opaque context, in which the health of Buhari is a significant factor. What this also means is that there is a devaluation of purpose and executive energy, because there are no definite or transparent cues coming from the helmsman, whose direction is guessed or assumed, rather than clearly known. Another way of putting this is that when not much is happening at the level of governance, any small stride, any casual twitch, will appear miraculous and liberatory. Hence, even the sacking of a security chief, who had imperilled our democracy, is hailed as a magnificent victory, in view of the fallen standard of governance.
In future, when the razzmatazz of election is over and nerves are calmer, the nation may well introspect how it got itself into the bind of what is fast becoming governance by proxy and of the current rank frustration with the two major parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. For now, however, and as the opening quote suggests, there is vigorous public discussion of the governance style of Buhari, featuring puzzles about how it takes Buhari’s medical leave to create a governance space for long-hanging policies to be actualised. As presidential aspirant, Prof Kingsley Moghalu, quoted above, suggests, unhappy is that nation whose progress depends on the absence of its Chief Executive. Moghalu argues that this means that forward strides depend on the accident of medical tourism. This certainly is not a compliment to a President who is seeking a second term, considering that this should normally have been a consequence of hefty and spirited performance in the first term.
Moghalu is not the only one raising these issues. The PUNCH columnist, Prof Niyi Akinnaso, in ‘Buhari and cost of aloofness’ (The PUNCH, July 31, 2018) made the argument that the nation has lost much time, and the APC, a lot of diminution because of the failure of Buhari to take timely action on festering sores. Several commentators have also suggested that Buhari’s current governance style, consisting of postponement of action on burning issues, will extend well into his second term should he be lucky enough to be re-elected. According to the insightful and pseudonymous Tatalo Alamu, “in the subsisting circumstances, it simply means that even if Gen Buhari were to win the next presidential election, he will be forced to govern under a condition of ethical, intellectual and political siege” (The Nation, Sunday, August 12, 2018).
This was the Professor’s way of raising the alarm about a situation which suggests that Buhari has indeed become a hostage to a much talked about cabal within his administration, Daura’s illegal and pompous excesses being a metaphorical example. Along the same lines is the suggestion made by some journalists that were Buhari to have been in the country, it would have been impossible to sanction Daura, who is believed to wield influence disproportionate to his title. Sunday PUNCH columnist, Sonala Olumhense, put it this way: “President Muhammadu Buhari was on vacation when the event unfolded, but it was quite clear that he would not have fired Daura, a kinsman he appointed in 2015 (Sunday, August 12, 2018). Another way of understanding what is going on is to see it through the lenses of the recent statement of Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, that Buhari is incapacitated by ill-health, and on that account has been taken captive by a cabal within his government. This harks back somewhat to the situation under former President Umaru Yar’Adua when appointed officials took advantage of his health to perpetrate several illegalities.
Mercifully, however, Buhari is alive and until his recent medical leave abroad, appeared in public to have been well. Nonetheless, the puzzle persists concerning the role of strong men of Buhari’s ethnic extraction under his watch, and the failure or tardiness to deal with accumulating cases, even of corruption, which is the administration’s flagship programme.
What then is to be done? It is obviously too late for anyone within or outside the APC to convince Buhari to step down for, let us say, a younger successor or one who can be more in charge than he is. The APC primaries will be little more than a ratification of Buhari’s candidature. Even at that, the party, if it can overcome its current fixation with removing the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, which appears to be bringing Saraki more sympathy than he probably deserves, can insist on some ground rules. This should include a rejigging of governance to deal with several pending issues, some of which would have made life better for Nigerians. The PDP may be a lame duck, on account of its corrupt past, but it cannot be ruled out of the race totally. At any rate, Nigerians could get a better deal if there is a revitalised Buhari Presidency.
Ayo Olukotun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07055841236