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Buhari and the system, who slows who?

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

In an apparent reaction to the widespread criticism over the slow pace of his administration in the course of implementing programmes and projects, especially with respect to the anti-graft war, President Muhamadu Buhari passed the blame on to the country’s ‘system’. While speaking to the representatives of the Federal Capital Territory community who paid him a Christmas day courtesy call, Buhari was reported to have said that “Fighting corruption – yes, we are slow because the system is slow”. He went on to expatiate as follows that “It is not Baba that is slow but it is the system, so I am going by this system and I hope we will make it”. Not done with the foregoing he had proceeded to compare his style of administration during his days as a military ruler of the country (1983 – ’85) and the present where he is serving as a democratically elected President, and nostalgically expressing his preference for the former.

Expectedly, his take attracted reactions from not a few commentators, with the majority questioning the rationale for his prognosis. If nothing else, by his submission, he has expanded the threshold for his critics to exploit another angle for attacking him – this time by hitting a raw nerve which is the basis of his democratic credentials, and therefore preparedness for leading a democratic Nigeria. Also, by blaming the country’s democratic system, he was expanding the complement of culprits which the administration had fingered for causing it headaches. Until recently he had fingered the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan for handing over to him a battered economy which he and his team are struggling to fix. Now it is no longer Jonathan‘s administration alone. Even the country’s hard earned democracy as a whole, which was restored at a huge price in material terms, time and even lives of compatriots, is now an incubus which denies President Buhari traction, in executing his administration’s agenda.

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To say the least, such should place the country on red alert. The bone of contention here is multi-faceted and comprises several elements including a seeming dose of deep seated aversion in the President, for the present democratic order. Contrary to the fundamental tenets of democracy such as accountability of leadership to followership, the President is revealing his preference for the military era, when he ruled without any attempt to question his authority. Yet, if after three failed attempts at the polls to be elected President – with tortuous litigations in court in between the failed attempts, and eventual electoral success at the fourth try, followed by over three years in office as a democratically elected leader he can make such a submission, then Buhari has wittingly placed himself for public scrutiny of his commitment to the country’s democracy. Ordinarily, the least that should be expected of him is an aspiration towards refining the country’s democratic project – having been provided the privilege to lead the country from the two sides of the political divide – one as a military ruler and the other as a democratically elected leader. Nigerians, even in their wide threshold of tolerance for leaders of all shades, have not forgotten that it was in that context that when his party the All Progressives Congress (APC) came with the mantra of effecting change in the country’s system, the same Nigerians voted him into office and power.

Still, President Muhamadu Buhari deserves commendation for deploying his characteristic frankness to remind the country of the lack of convergence of perspectives and hence cohesion in the country’s political conversation by the various shades of opinion. Seen in the context of the political miasma that beclouds Nigeria’s leadership landscape, many of our leaders speak about the country with as much appreciation of its complexities as the legendary ‘Twelve blind men of Hindustan’, who went to see the elephant. Some who felt the legs called the animal a tree. Others who felt the body called it a wall. Yet others who held on to the tail called the elephant a rope! Unfortunately, the elephant remains a far cry from any of these references.

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With the benefit of hindsight, leadership’s misreading of the country’s complexities did not start with the Buhari era – whether during his military days nor the current civilian dispensation. This is even as it was most acute with all military dictators who ever served one political office or the other, across the country. Democratic dispensations always fared better as at least they captured such complexities with the presence of the legislature, which even in its worst state, provided the framework for dialogue and consensus building. The presence of the legislature offered the county the key success factors of accountability and transparency through its three functions of constituency representation, law making and oversight of government business. Such is the least the public expects from any democratic government in the country including the present Buhari administration. Hence any government that fails to offer such in a democratic era, qualifies automatically as a failure, and a reducing agent that mitigates   progress of the country, even if it still holds on to the reins of office and power by means including the inordinate.

From evidence of the life of the present administration, the lethargy in its machinery lies in its serial futility in adopting a reductionist perspective of the country, as one that can be amenable for manipulation outside the complement of rules of engagement, which fall within the threshold of tolerance by Nigerians. Much of the government’s initiatives do not enjoy the public buy-in, while its claims are in Many cases unverifiable by the citizens. Public perception of his government is inclined to seeing it as operating in the ambience of benefitting a few privileged, and spreading pain to the wider cross section of the society. The pained majority had been crying for attention for so long, to have attracted his recent populist stance only because their lament can no longer be suppressed.

That is why the President needs to review his prognosis of the incontinences of his administration and seek to identify the fault lines that lie outside the system he is blaming. The present political system which he volunteered to be elected to administer, was not his creation but the product of a long interplay of political and historical factors that were Nigeria-specific, as the country marched through time. Sustainable changes to it have to be effected through the process of fostering consensus, not by the reign of one man’s vision and infallible proclivities as he may assume to possess in exclusivity, and is  fixated on with his camp.

The problems of Buhari’s administration lie in his team and administrative style, not the country’s democracy. After all, it is a common fact in public administration circles that the style of a leader determines the administrative culture of any organisation. To accentuate the dilemma of Buhari’s administration are two parables – one from the English and the other from Africa. The English say that “a poor workman quarrels with his tools”. The Africans have it that “a childless woman blames her husband’s other partner(s) for her childlessness”.


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