President Buhari: Grounds For Anxiety

President Buhari: Grounds For Anxiety

Editor’s note: "President Buhari assumed office ready for power, but woefully unprepared for governance,” the columnist Ebenezer Obadare says. Has Buhari already shown reasons for concern, after barely twenty days in government?  

This article expresses the author’s opinion only. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of or its editors.

For any number of Nigerians who had their doubts about President Buhari’s preparedness for the nation’s highest office, events since he took the oath can only have deepened such skepticism. True, a month or less into the life of a new administration is hardly enough time to pass any critical judgment, and that is clearly not the intention here. That being said, even this early, one can begin to construct a portrait by putting various pieces together, and the picture that emerges, tentative as it is, is quite troubling. The emerging scenario can be summarized as follows: President Buhari assumed office ready for power, but woefully unprepared for governance.

This might seem a strange thing to say regarding a man who campaigned for the presidency over four electoral cycles, showing an uncommon, almost Lincoln-esque fortitude in picking himself up after every loss. But after a critical review of the events of the past three weeks, one struggles to come to any other kind of conclusion.

The overall heaviness, seen in the failure to put together a team of advisers and a ministerial list has been well remarked, so I won’t belabor it. So too has been the ‘mistake’ of appending the Cold War era prefix ‘West’ before Germany, an error committed in the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel no less. But we’ll also let that one pass, even though the mind boggles at the sheer egregiousness. West Germany? In 2015? Where has the president been living? Inside a cave?

What we shouldn’t let slide, and as a matter of fact what should give every right-thinking Nigerian cause for profound agitation, is the president’s statement in an extempore address to Nigerians resident in South Africa during his recent trip to that country. Said the president: "I wish I became a head of state when I was a governor … Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do." In other words: "Sorry to disappoint you, my fellow Nigerians, but don’t expect too much from me."

Which raises the question: why run for office in the first instance? And why run on this last occasion, on the cusp of 72? Didn’t the president realize his age and the significant encumbrance it was likely to constitute as he proceeded to autograph the INEC forms?

Defenders of the president will, just as they did right after the ‘West Germany’ faux pas, insist that this is nothing more than a storm in a tea cup, and that if the president is guilty of anything at all, it is straying from his prepared script – just as he did in Berlin. Perhaps. But they would be disingenuous if they failed to admit that there is something rather unsettling about a newly sworn-in president who (prepared speech or no prepared speech), freely admits to the people who have just elected him and have put all their hopes in him, that his best years, physical and otherwise, are in the past.

The president’s remark is all the more troubling because, unlike his predecessor, who was a mere beneficiary of a series of (at least for him) fortunate events, he, i.e. President Buhari, had ample time to prepare himself for office and its normal rigors, having run for the same office on the previous three occasions. In fact, unlike his predecessor, he can even boast of previous experience, having been military head of state between December 1983 and August 1985. Yet, from the way he has comported himself since his inauguration, it is difficult to believe that this is the same man who wanted presidential power so badly, and having secured it, now suddenly realizes that he needs an injection of political Viagra, failing which, well, we are in for a limp four years.

At this point, an outsider to Nigerian politics may rightly ask: why wasn’t the matter of his age brought up in the course of the campaigns? If it was, it was never in any serious manner, unless of course one considers Ekiti state governor Ayo Fayose’s fearmongering poster about a President Buhari possibly sharing the fate that befell Sani Abacha and Musa Yar’Adua respectively. All in all, no one asked serious questions about the APC candidate’s age and how it might affect his ability to govern. Come to think of it, there weren’t too many pointed questions about Buhari’s vision, partly because electioneering in Nigeria has never been issues-driven; partly because many people were just too sick and tired of President Jonathan that any alternative was automatically thought to be better; and partly because candidate Buhari’s famed personal austerity signaled a break from the frightening corruption of the Jonathan era.

All that is well and good, but having become president, PMB must now govern, and in order to govern well, he needs to elaborate a vision. On the same occasion in South Africa, the president repeated – for the umpteenth time – his desire to “kill” corruption in Nigeria. First, this is impossible to achieve within four years, if ever. Second, a determination to root out corruption is not an agenda for governance. Worryingly, its repetition may be masking the absence of one.

On a different note, didn’t President Buhari, 76 in four years, just rule himself out of running for a second term?

Ebenezer Obadare is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA.


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