A year ago, Muhammadu Buhari was Nigeria’s Rorschach test, upon whom Nigerians could project their disparate yearnings, following widespread disenchantment with the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
To govern, however, is to choose, and the choices the leader of this diverse entity called Nigeria makes in a 12-month period, are what has largely revealed his personality.
Like any new leader, especially one dogged by security threats and plummeting economic indices, President Buhari wishes he could have had it less tough.
Mr. Buhari stated earlier this year that he wished he hadn’t been elected president at a time Nigeria was grappling with severe insecurity and low crude oil prices at the international markets.
“But I say why me? Why is it that it is when they have spent all the money, when they made the country insecure that I returned?” Mr. Buhari lamented in a February 5 interview with Al-Jazeera. “Why didn’t I come when the treasury was full? Oil price was over $140 per barrel and when I came, it slipped down to $30. Why me?”
Although Mr. Buhari still frequently blames his predecessor for running the country aground, bequeathing only a “virtually empty” treasury to him, he also committed ample embarrassing gaffes in terms of policy pronouncements and his deliberate indifference to the public mood.
Since Mr. Buhari did not participate in any debate during the campaign–and the number of times he made stump speeches for himself could be counted on fingertips—it is hard to suggest that the president would, in hindsight, wish he had not pit an ardent campaign against his major challenger, Mr. Jonathan.
Juxtaposing the current state of his presidency with the euphoria that greeted his emergence as winner of the historic 2015 elections, here are some low-hanging fruits that require no legislation that Mr. Buhari should have plucked to assert himself clearly as a leader who has both the moral and intellectual astuteness to effect the fundamental changes Nigerians have long craved.
Disclosure of Asset
Mr. Buhari is arguably the first-ever Nigerian leader that was elected into office on the perceived strength of his character as a conviction politician that could decisively deal with corruption —Nigeria’s worst bane.
To further convince Nigerians that he was, indeed, a frugal and incorruptible man, Mr. Buhari, in one of his speeches, said he would publicly declare his assets upon assumption of office. He also said he would prevail on his appointees to do the same.
Shortly after his swearing in, Nigerians began demanding copies of Mr. Buhari’s assets declaration documents as submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau. And the president began prevaricating about the matter immediately.
At first, he released a statement claiming to have fulfilled his public assets declaration vow on June 6, 2015. That turned out to be misleading. Mr. Buhari only submitted his assets declaration form to the CCB as every government official is mandated to do.
Under intense public pressure, the president released a statement enumerating his assets and those of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The statement was at best imprecise, with no clear details of listed assets. It failed to provide addresses of landed of properties, vehicle models, assets of spouse and children as required by law, and more. The presidency assured those details would be available to every Nigerian once they were verified by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The bureau has since done so, but Mr. Buhari still refuses to come entirely clean on how much he is worth, even though the Ahmed Joda transition committee advised that immediate public declaration of assets would be a “quick win” for Messrs. Buhari and Osinbajo.
Questioned during a presidential media chat in 2015, a visibly itchy president questioned why he was singled out, from amongst the governors and other political leaders.
Till date, a day away from the government’s first birthday, the president has failed to disclose his assets by sending the photocopies of what he submitted to CCB to the media, as former President Umaru Yar’Adua did.
Reap as you vote
The ethnic and tribal sentiments that have for long been a feature of Nigeria’s elections were palpable in the outcome of the 2015 general elections. The results showed that while the people of the north embraced Mr. Buhari in large numbers, those in the south-south and south-east overwhelmingly voted to keep “their own” in office.
Notwithstanding, a plurality of Nigerians had expected that the president would govern fairly and inclusively in order to heal whatever wound the election may have left behind.
Alas, there’s little evidence to show that Mr. Buhari did this. Instead, he began by appointing mainly northerners to the consternation of even those who were amongst his staunchest allies. Mr. Buhari appointed dozens of aides in the first weeks of his administration without ceding any of the positions to the southeast.
Asked how he intended to implement an inclusive development of the south-south, Mr. Buhari delved into the results of the elections, speaking of how the limited support he received from the area would certainly reflect in his government’s policies and programmes to them.
When pressed on the consistent complaints of marginalisation by the South-East,, a visibly irritated president asked in his maiden media chat on December 30, 2015: “What do the Igbos want?”
Public mood and local media
Upon assumption of office, President Buhari was met with incessant and devastating attacks by suspected Boko Haram members. It took intense public criticisms for him to issue a single statement condemning the attacks. He was quiet most times. He showed similar reluctance with the herdsmen crisis across the country. The killings in Agatu and other southern communities were not condemned by the president for weeks. Most went without a single statement of condolence from his office.
But the president was swift in condemning terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Grand-Bassam and elsewhere.
Similarly, Mr. Buhari hardly speaks to local media. From when he would name his ministers (in U.S.) to how he won’t let the central bank devalue (in Paris) the president has made most of the key pronouncements abroad. Talking to local media would have helped him better understand and gauge public opinion.
Presidential Air Fleet
From a Boeing 737 to choppers, those who should know said there are about 11 aircraft in the presidential air fleet. His campaign assured Nigerians that some of those aircraft would be disposed of if the president won the elections. Not one has gone yet. Why Mr. Buhari has not sold any of them or even addressed Nigerians on why he couldn’t sell remained unclear.
Appointment of ministers
Mr. Buhari failed to appoint his ministers early. From the moment he took over on May 29, 2015, till October ending when he finally released names of his prospective ministers, Mr. Buhari claimed he was taking his time to appoint the best.
In hindsight, very few people believe the president’s appointment was worth the time he spent shopping for them. Some analysts have blamed the late appointments partly for the declining state of the economy.
Given the prolonged fall in oil prices even before the elections, they argue, appointing a top economic team early enough could have helped stabilise the system and assure investors. The president missed that opportunity.
With budget, it’s business as usual in Abuja.
Given that one of Mr. Buhari’s rallying cries during the campaign was a promise to eliminate waste within his administration and streamline state agencies and parastatals, history has recorded that Mr. Buhari’s first budget was marred by irregularities–embarrassing and administrative irregularities. It failed to send the much-needed signal to unscrupulous civil servants that a new sheriff was indeed in town. It was a disaster.
Being Nigeria’s most effective salesman.
Of the 30 foreign trips Mr. Buhari made in his first year, hardly did he return from any without dropping a “bombshell”. While some were inadvertent gaffes, too many others were as deliberate as they were damaging.
Nigeria’s president has travelled to distant lands to castigate his people as “criminals”, “corrupt” and “unruly” and even urged foreign investors to be wary.
Although a plurality of Nigerian foreign policy analysts have condemned the president for his outbursts, some of his supporters say he was being honest. That could seem an afterthought. If the president does not want to sell Nigeria–which is actually part of his job– he should, at least, not de-market it.