Now that we are done with the perfidy called ‘inauguration’, there is the urgency to address the matter of competence in governance. For a country atrophied by weak economy, for some states that still owe backlog of wages and pensions, the event of May 29 was a perfidy; a parody of logic; an affront on commonsense and a vexatious assault on the sensibilities of sane Nigerians.
The owambe-like celebrations, bunting and banners were needless. What really are we celebrating? The inglorious and some still very contentious triumph at the polls? The wasted lives and sacrifices of human blood during the elections or the ‘good’ governance of the last four years? I look forward to the day Nigerian leaders would take the sober path: cut expenses at inauguration by reducing it to sane, reflective exercise of holding the inauguration in a small room with the Chief Judge (or any other judicial officer as may be applicable) administer the Oath of Office on the elected officials. And pronto, everybody goes to work.
In a nation that is failing with rising insecurity, growing number of the unemployed and the unemployable, with legion committing suicide, and much more taking the exit route including submitting themselves to be trafficked through dangerous routes to other lands, we should be worried. We should be worried at the perilously tense atmosphere, the ubiquity of idle youths yielding to the promptings of crime and the prodding of vile life on cyberspace.
We really should cut down on the excesses of Government Houses, on vain ostentation of leadership, public and private. It is imperative, especially now, to examine the march of leadership these past four years. The stark, blunt truth is that leadership failed. Except in a few states, there is really nothing to cheer; nothing to celebrate. But there is so much to ponder. The failure of leadership of yesterday should not kill our zeal for tomorrow’s success. We can if we will. And this is why I will beam my searchlight on President Muhammadu Buhari. So much was expected of this austere man from Daura.
A retired Army General, ruthless soldier of peerless ascetic lifestyle. He was thought to be the much-awaited salvation. He came into power promising so much. He rode to office on overwhelming goodwill. A friend of the poor and the oppressed, he came. But four years after, even the same poor loathe him; away with Buhari, they chant. They are disappointed at the grand failure of a Buhari government that promised so much. The poor, the raw rabble, now cringe and cry at the mention of Buhari.
The poor cry because Buhari has worsened their problems. The artisans, low income earners and those surviving on the fringes who vociferously voiced their support for Buhari at his first coming seem to have lost their voices. They speak in muted mumble; they whisper in varnishing valour. Even the rich and mighty also cry. They whimper in their marbled homes; griping at what has befallen the nation. The President’s wife, Aisha (an outspoken Amazon who refused to limit herself to the confines of the kitchen and the other room) has aforetime raged at the feast of the beasts in Aso Rock who have reduced her husband to a powerless, spineless incompetent leader. She was not taken in by the anti-corruption chants and the insipid hymnal of a battle won against corruption and the corrupt. Aisha insisted that the President was surrounded by hyenas and tigers; that Buhari’s cabinet was a conclave of the selfish, the incompetent and the self-serving demons masquerading as men. The First Lady was right. Buhari’s previous cabinet was more a gathering of vultures baying for the carcass of a dismembered nation; or to dignify them a bit, a conclave of the skilled and the unskilled; a mix of both the bungling and the maladroit with a sprinkling of just a few competent hands. And that’s the tragedy of Buhari’s first four years. Without a doubt, Buhari came to right the wrongs of the past; the wrongs that he too was a part of their scripting. But he was overwhelmed by the caprices of the modern era. As Commander-in-Chief in the military era, he could decree things into existence. It was all in the power of the jackboot. But this is democratic Nigeria. The jackboot has lost its allure, power and lustre. Buhari has to contend with the legislature; he has to learn to work with ministers and through ministers; he has to comb through a heap of briefs from advisers and sundry operatives of government. It’s an unwieldy and burdensome minefield. An entirely new challenge and experience for a man used to the power of whims and command.
But it’s unfair to blame only Buhari for the failure of his first four years. The buck stops on his table, but just that. Beyond this, the platoon of ministers must share in the tragedy of the past four years. The incompetence of some of the ministers was so profound that even the concerned ministers knew they were misfits in their stations. Perhaps, some could have fared better elsewhere but some simply cannot fit into any position of leadership in the modern era. Pray why did Buhari retain Solomon Dalung (Minister of Sports and Youth Development) and Barrister Adebayo Shittu (Communication minister) for as long as he did in his cabinet? Both men were horrendously incompetent and unfit for the positions they held. They remain a blight in Buhari’s first term. Again, why assign three critical ministries: Power, Works and Housing to one man?
Babatunde Raji Fashola is a brilliant lawyer. But he was overwhelmed by the burden of managing three key ministries. The result is there for all to see. Fashola, in spite of his brilliance and governance experience right from Lagos, failed in his three-pronged assignment. He could not deliver power. He failed in housing and much more infrastructure remained in deficit under his watch as in previous years.
As he steels himself to name his cabinet this second term, President Buhari must avoid the booby-trap of dancing to the drumbeat of incompetence just to satiate party men. He must avoid the temptation of appointing one man to manage three ministries. It’s an experiment not worthy of replication.
If the president ever cares to know the truth, it is that he created a crisis of expectation in his first term. He promised much but delivered little. And this is not down to the fact that, that’s all he can do. Buhari can do more but he must first handpick a smart cabinet. He must appoint smart ministers, knowledgeable men and women who should not be afraid to disagree with him; he must look beyond the geriatrics in appointing ambassadors, special advisers, heads of parastatals and agencies. The political economy of nations in the modern era is driven by innovative and disruptive young minds, not by grumpy old men who still mull the idea of manufacturing pencils at a time our contemporaries are building satellites and androids.
This time round, Buhari must rise and be his own man. He danced to a strange beat first term, he must beat his own drum this term.