Buhari and the job of building Nigeria
The new administration has constantly sought public understanding of its slow pace in putting in place a full cabinet in the spirit of steadying the ship before setting it in full sail. Indeed, the enormity of the challenges facing the nation fuels a desire for quicker pace, sharper focus and a clearer direction.
The President cannot be accused of not moving at all, of course. He has appointed the armed services’ chiefs and has been on a shuttle diplomacy within West Africa to rally support for the fight against Boko Haram insurgents. He has been to Europe and the United States of America where he has won the hearts of many leaders. He is in France this week on the same diplomatic round. Key government institutions, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are also being repositioned. The return to the statutory Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the setting up of anti-graft committees and location of military headquarters in Maiduguri are significant steps that should be acknowledged. Nevertheless, the direction of the economy, apart from tokenistic fiddling with monetary policy, is so far imprecise to the extent that the point is being emphasised to Nigeria that no business wants to dare in an uncertain environment.
Indeed, it must be emphasised too, a government succeeds on the basis of plans put in place long before assuming office. But the signal from this government is that its plans must have the benefit of some secrets it is unearthing from the vantage point of office, so that it is now that the plans are being drawn up or being thought through. Nigerians are, of course, in love with Buhari today and are giving him the benefit of the doubt.
However, the appointment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, Comptroller-Generals of the Customs and Immigration Services, viewed with the previous appointment of service chiefs has sparked off a controversy over a seeming lop-sidedness. Those appointments are perceived as weighted against the southern part of the country with obvious implication for national unity. Not a few people see nothing wrong with the appointment as they concede to the president the right to choose his personal staff. And, of course, the president has come out in defence of himself in a media interview, saying all the complaints are in “the nature of Nigerian politics.” “If they will do justice to me, as an elected Nigerian president, let them look at the Constitution a Nigerian president works with, there are people who will closely work with me that don’t need to be taken to the Senate. If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from the APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong?”
Beyond the choice of personal staff, an aggregation of appointments so far made tends to prove the case of the sceptics even as many may want to easily dismiss such complaints as nothing more than the raving of ethnic jingoists. But the historical trajectory of this country would necessarily assume prominence in overall consideration of such matters. Nigeria is a multinational country. Both nature and colonial contrivances have made it so and the governance formula that easily lends itself to Nigeria’s survival in the face of its diversity is federalism. In which case, the sensitivity of the constituent units cannot be ignored. Such sensitivities must indeed be consciously watched and assuaged at all times. That is what builds respect. That is what engenders unity.
Perception, it is often said, is somewhat reality. Perceptions become facts because people believe and act on them. It is, therefore, imperative to guide the president on this issue by saying it is simplistic to dismiss even the appointment of a kitchen cabinet as exclusively a matter of his personal preference. The composition of the conclave is the starting point of good governance. Men of integrity and unimpeachable character or loyalty exist everywhere in this country and President Buhari needs not advertise himself unnecessarily as a man who does not really know too many people or too many parts of his own country to the extent that he is cocooned in a little box and sees through a narrow prism. His appointments and gestures should unify the peoples of this country and make them happy. Buhari and his government have enormous goodwill today and this should not be squandered on the altar of indiscretion. The perception of the president as a virtuous man has endeared him to all tribes and tongues, people who genuinely claim him as their son, father, leader and President. He should stay, in substance and in symbols, in the position of a man who belongs to all.
Meanwhile, the president must discountenance the idea of solidarity protests in his support, such as happened the other day over the controversy on the way the president should conduct the fight against corruption. It is wrong-headed and Nigeria has seen enough of rent-a-crowd governance style. Such sycophantic protests were organised for Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan by their hirelings or mere sycophants seeking to render eye service to the man in power. Yet history would not remember those Presidents for the crowds that shouted the loudest in their favour but for the deeds they performed to the favour or disfavour of Nigerians.
The danger for Buhari especially lies not only in the sycophancy of such protests but their potential for reducing a revered President to another self-seeking politician. What, for instance, would be the position of his administration when those who are opposed to his policies launch their own protests at the gates of the Presidential Villa?
Nigeria needs Buhari to maintain his current status on the high ground of integrity and personal decency, but he needs to be wise and sensitive on key policies, appointments as well as the way they are communicated to the public.