In DepthColumnsClock ticking for Nigeria's Buhari

Mon,11Dec2017

Posted on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 10:42

Clock ticking for Nigeria's Buhari

altThere was no blitz. The days of waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari extended into weeks.

 Apart from three appointments – two spokesmen and a chief of protocol – there were no new hirings. It was a puzzling departure from tradition. Since 1999, every new president makes a cluster of top appointments – including national security adviser, chief of staff and military chiefs – within the first 24 hours in office.

On day 30, the Buharimeter showed four promises being “worked towards”

Nigerians
 were expecting the rip-roaring pace of a Hollywood thriller from Buhari, who had swept to office on 29 May on a heady wind of change. Instead, they got something something closer to the rough cut of a Nollywood soap opera.

Take the hullabaloo about asset declaration. During the campaign, Buhari promised to declare and disclose his assets. A law is already in place that requires public officials to file an asset declaration form. Buhari later appeared to backtrack, and many Nigerians marked it down as a promise broken.

Presidential security is also proving contentious. Traditionally, the department of state security (DSS) provides security for the president and the presidential residence at Aso Rock. In June, a Buhari aide de camp issued a memo transferring the authority for guarding the president from the DSS to the military. Tempers rose, and reports emerged of a showdown between the two camps on the grounds of the presidential residence. A few weeks later, Buhari weighed in and ordered the replacement of his chief security officer, who was from the DSS.

This confirmed the impression that Buhari was unimpressed by the DSS. That may have a political cause. In the months leading up to the March election, the organisation had acted like the security wing of the old ruling party, the People's Democratic Party.

The most disturbing news has been the melée in parliament as the various factions of the victorious All Progressives Congress (APC) – united until now
by the common desire to evict President Goodluck Jonathan from office – have been bitterly squabbling over the top jobs. Although Buhari tried to stay above the fray, he did not completely avoid all of the flying mud.

It is now clear that such wrangling has cost the APC a great deal of goodwill. None of this means our new president has not been busy governing. In his first week in office, Buhari travelled to Niger and Chad to rally support for the war against the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents.

In Abuja, he summoned security chiefs and ordered them to fulfil his inauguration speech vow to move the command centre of the war on Boko Haram from there to Maiduguri. Buhari attended the G7 summit in Germany in June, signalling that Nigeria was back at the diplomatic table.

His military bearing, babban riga and cap stood out among the grey suits. On his return home, Buhari invited the heads of state from neighbouring countries to Abuja and ordered the release of funds for the multinational task force created to rout Boko Haram. He also met with state governors and with the senior bureaucrats running the ministries in the absence of ministers.

Buhari has since sacked the board of the national oil company, opened investigations into its imponderable affairs and started plugging the holes through which billions of dollars in revenue used to vanish.

At the same time, he approved a multibillion-dollar bailout package for cash-strapped state governments, which is allowing them to pay off salary arrears. "Why didn't you sound the alarm under the previous government?" he asked the governors. And six weeks into his tenure, Buhari replaced the army, airforce and navy chiefs, and the national security adviser. All good appointments, say the experts. But that leaves questions about the length of the wait and all the other appointments yet to be made.

Critically, Buhari has not yet named the secretary to the federal government or his chief of staff. The secretary, who does everything from issuing appointment letters to ministers and advisers to coordinating between the presidency and the national assembly, is a kingpin. Political gossips in Abuja say candidates have been proposed but have failed Buhari's vetting process.

Many Nigerians hope there is some grand plan playing out slowly but surely. Buhari's image as a hardline and arbitrary military leader three decades ago has come to define him amongst friends and foes. Yet back then Buhari encouraged voting in his cabinet and did not hesitate to concede defeat if a proposal he backed was voted down. And when he and his military allies seized power in December 1983, The Christian Science Monitor described him as having "a reputation as a cautious manager".

Again, Buhari took his time to appoint a cabinet, to the disappointment of those expecting a military ruler to settle everything "with immediate effect". It also took four months for Buhari's military government to revise the budget inherited from the ousted civilian government of Shehu Shagari.

In the wake of the national elections, civil society groups came together to launch the 'Buharimeter,' a website that tracks the progress of the president's campaign promises. It was inspired by the Obameter and Rouhani Meter.

To mark Buhari's first 30 days in office, the Buharimeter noted that of the 172 promises being tracked, the President promised to fulfil 58 in his first 100 days in office. As of day 30, the report said, only four of those are being "worked towards".

The new president is operating in his own time zone – let's call it Buhari Mean Time (BMT). Optimistically, this should prevent him from being stampeded down the slippery slope of ineffectual populism. BMT also allows the president to surprise Nigerians: he did that with his replacement on 13 July of the military and intelligence chiefs.

The downside is that BMT may alienate people. Leadership is not only about taking the lead with conviction but also about the occasional backward glance to see if one's followers are still on board.

In Buhari's case, those followers are eagerly expecting the full unveiling of the "change" team as soon as possible.

As head of state in 1984, General Buhari said: "The appointment of ministers has taken us some time because we had to undertake a deep search for competent Nigerians of proven integrity, a high sense of discipline, public probity and trans- parent honesty."

Today, the same impulse is at work. Great qualifications and experience are important but not enough, especially given the scandalous impunity that marked the Jonathan years. Still, a sense of urgency would be a welcome bonus.



Tolu Ogunlesi

Tolu Ogunlesi

Tolu Ogunlesi is a journalist and writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is The Africa Report's west Africa editor. Tolu has twice been awarded the CNN Multichoice African Journalism Awards. He is an avid user of social media, especially Twitter (@toluogunlesi)

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