The ‘Diverted Mandate’ and the Essential Buhari Conundrum
President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to end his nearly two week vacation in the United Kingdom and return to Nigeria today. While he was away, a number of developments took place, two of which must be the organised rumour of his death and the rumoured civilian coup against his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Though all two developments are rumours, they are revealing of the deterioration of the Nigerian crisis to a level where the death of the incumbent could be simulated. That simulation is further evidence that Nigeria is a completely broken down country, lawless in the extreme. For, baby factories not only exist, mass killing is also permitted. That is to the extent that nobody is ever found and punished for that. Religion and ethnicity are ready excuses for such, having been turned into bastions of resistance to the Other. The state itself is helpless about divisive resistance.
There are other manifestations of the breakdown, such as the level and brazenness of corruption. Then, of course, the Nigerians have so imagined themselves into enemy images that a total breakdown of law and order would shock no one. Against this background, the much feared break-up of the country might only not have happened because Nigeria is so huge and so endowed it can internalise and absorb the scale of brazenness and abnormality. But how long can this go on?
In truth, there are many who, in frustration, think that break-up is a foregone reality, just a matter of time. Relying exclusively and excessively on coercion, the state is left behind, actually turned into an apology in the management of complexity and diffusion involved in all these. It is the gap between the ancien regime and the enormity of the challenges of managing complexity that forms the basis of the fear of actual break-up among many.
To think that the president of this same country is someone who cried for Nigeria a few years ago is to think of no better case study of an anti-climax. There is all round disappointment with the Buhari presidency. Virtually everyone else is up against the president, in utter disapproval of a regime considered lacklustre. Nearly two years from take-off point in May 2015 and the regime is still to be located in the kind of prognosis, programming or implementation that fire popular imagination. Rather, it is locked in counter factualism – the politics of quarrelling statistically. With just a year or so before formal political criss-crossing overwhelms everything else, there is a real risk of another four years lost. How did things come to this? Could something have distorted the essential Buhari and what might that be? Or was there no essential Buhari in the first place?
Most critics would insist that the following are some of the key areas of failure against which the audience is damning the president and the government:
The Quality of Cabinet Crisis
Suspecting his individuality as a closet operator, some interests advised President Muhammadu Buhari quite early in the day to borrow a leaf from the Obasanjo, Abacha and the Babangida in constituting his cabinet. They argued that in that regard, Obasanjo, for instance, had a cabinet in which there was a Bola Ige, the Cicero himself with substantial roots in politics; a TY Danjuma who was part of the quartet that informally ran Nigeria in a much more inspiring manner in the late 1970s; an Adamu Ciroma, a former editor, technocrat’s technocrat and one time governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Hassan Adamu, (Wakilin Adamawa) who had strong roots in the politics of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, (MAN) and Atiku Abubakar, a Vice-President who nearly won a presidential primary several years earlier. The Chief of Staff and the National Security Adviser were not only practiced in their lines but as nearly exposed as the president. Obasanjo equally put together a think tank that could quarrel among themselves to come up with something.
Before Obasanjo, Abacha ran a cabinet made up of almost all the members of the first layer of Nigerian politicians from all the tendencies. He recruited some of the best experts available. Professor Sam Aluko who headed the economic intelligence outfit was the best anyone could get, an academic with antecedents in Awoist politics. S G Ikoku was his counterpart on the politics front. Even those who had any reservations about Ikoku were bound to recognise that he was a graduate of Winneba, Kwame Nkrumah’s ideological school in those days. He had also taught the most integrated Development Studies module at the University of Lagos many years before.
When this analysis was extended to Babangida, it was pointed out how he absorbed all the most advanced academics in the country. Every major realm of governance was headed by an expert: Akinyemi in foreign policy, Olukoye Ransome Kuti in Health, Isawa Elaigwu in Inter-governmental relationship and federalism; Sam Oyovbaire in Information; Ikenna Nzimiro in Industrial Relations; Omo Omoruyi in Democratisation and so on.
But when the president went to his ministerial recruitment laboratory, spending six months there, he came up with anything that matched these three samples. Nobody knew if, by that, he meant to communicate how minimal his network in the country is, especially as far as issues of pedigree, track record, integrity, exposure in public service and overall experience of his field workers (ministers) was concerned. It was an unbelievable certainty because it has been long asserted that governments don’t perform in Nigeria not because they don’t know what is most appropriate at any one time on every given issue. Rather, that is attributed to the relative weakness of governments to take on certain vested interests.
Allison Ayida, the veteran technocrat wrote on how each and every Nigerian Head of State he worked with, seven of them in all at a stretch, endlessly bemoaned their powerlessness to do the right thing. So, when Obasanjo, for instance, came up with certain individuals who were adequate in themselves, he was instantly making a statement in terms of rooting government in people who could hold the country together.
It is not that IBB, Abacha and Obasanjo regimes achieved the Nigerian revolution. No. It is that the Buhari regime is not seen to match the standards they have set with their own cabinet. Public opinion could be wide off the mark but it could also be the source of the most important nugget of truth. Because people were still looking at Buhari’s own political personality as the source of the hope more than that of any ministers and even the party, many still chuckled and still went back into hoping that, along the line, the president would make amends.
Exclusionary Composition of Government
However, as the regime made more and more appointments, a pattern of ethno-religious concentration was constantly being observed and pointed out by critics. This has remained a minus in popular perception for the president because Nigeria is not an equal and just society as Cuba, to cite an example. There, Raul Castro can succeed Fidel Castro without any eyebrows, Raul having established his ranking order on the field of the battle for the soul of the Cuban nation, independent of his brother. There has been nothing close to that in Nigeria. Is it possible that the president has certain compelling information to warrant his perceived selectivity? Is it possible the regime doesn’t care? Or is it bidding its time to make amends? It remains a puzzle why this would have happened, going by the standard set by previous governments as mentioned above.
Not only is the cabinet contested on quality, very senior people in government have spoken about a cabal that has seized and exercises presidential powers. And this has been given further credence by the president’s wife. Cabals are real in power everywhere, every time. The big question is the nature of this cabal this time which is not behaving typically of any known tendency in northern Nigerian politics, assuming it handled the appointments made so far, for example.
The Super Tragedy
The regime came without any publicly known development strategy aside from its often stated listing of security, economy and corruption which are just black boxes. Without such a fulcrum of governance, development was going to be another round of throwing projects around and about without any of them having been determined by how it fits into achieving a grand deliverable. The risk in having no such grand strategy as far as social change is concerned is that government is building roads, hospitals, schools, infrastructure and so on that have, however, no connection with each other in relation to a grand deliverable. The lack of grand deliverable in the Buhari regime is not peculiar to it. Apart from the Second National Development Plan, national development in Nigeria has been reduced to projects rather than grand deliverable. But Buhari makes it more painful because he is supposed to be a critique of the past. He doesn’t have to have gone to a top university to do this. Every leader is a product of the challenges s/he came to confront and they become his or her top university in a way. The crisis in Nigeria today would favour an agrarian transformation strategy because it responds to all dimensions of the crisis better than all other plausible alternatives.
Tragic Romance With Neoliberalism
This is the most suggestive evidence of the belief that something fundamental has happened to the essential Buhari. He still says that he was removed from power in 1985 because he rejected IMF/World Bank prescriptions. “When I was Head of State, I rejected similar advice of the IMF and the World Bank to devalue the Naira. I refused and gave my reasons and the next thing I knew I was removed and detained for three and half years”. This is what the president said not quite two months ago. Perhaps, unknown to him, this is the only reason that accounts for much of his admirers. In June 2016 when he also told Aljazeera a similar thing, it reverberated. However, the question being asked today is why has he now accepted the same prescriptions in the management of the economy, particularly in the energy sector? Did ‘they’ eventually and successfully convince him or he saw ‘reason’ to embrace the IMF prescriptions on his own? Or, is it the cabal?
The No Show in a ‘New Beginning’
The No Show in a ‘New Beginning’ is a natural, necessary follow up of the Super Tragedy. The Catholic Bishops Conference has the credit in terms of bringing this up as being at the heart of the Buhari presidency’s perceived failure. For a country that had experienced the level of degeneration and trauma that preceded Buhari but then invested its hope in one man, there was no better balm than the articulation of a ‘New Beginning’, a Social Charter that offers something for everyone. The logic would have been to renew hope, to re-establish faith in country and government through both certain tangible and intangible commitments as may have been determined by a rigorous social analysis of the moment. The spectre of hardship that has terrorised the poorest segment of this society since late 2015 is irreconcilable with the image of the president’s political personality as has been carefully constructed over time. That this is the reality and the president is not even able to deal with it at the level of rhetoric is the other evidence that the president has experienced the ideological equivalent of what Christians know as the Pauline conversion.
Why Do These Failures Matter?
One major argument is that they, collectively, signify a government that hasn’t got a contextual analysis of Nigeria. Nigeria is basically a pre-industrial society. The image of people crying to the government in such instances mirrors that political economy. It is aggravated in the Nigerian case where the economy remains substantially in the hands of the state. Presidential power in this circumstance cannot escape responsibility for a much more systematic redistributive as well as allocative justice. This is what all of President Buhari’s problems are reducible to. True as interests and forces are certainly involved in some of the adversities of this government, there can still be no escaping understanding and responding to the crisis in terms of a redistributive and allocative justice system that stops people from dying on the current scale. For, people are, indeed, dying.
Even the adversities the government can plead may be described as a case of self-inflicted injury and bad judgment. If the president had such a cabinet, would it have been possible for any interests to sustain some of the assaults on the regime? Would a government that is popular be vulnerable to corruption fighting back? And now, where is the corruption that is fighting back? Is it inside or outside the government? In that case, the question people are posing is, what might have happened to the president who embodies governmental power the most? Or, is it the case that there was no essential Buhari in the first place?
What Might be the Buhari Problem and Would the President Reinvent Himself?
Buhari is certainly not an expert in the management of the economy as former President Obasanjo once said. But it is the same Buhari whose economic blueprint Professor David West says the Financial Times described as extra-ordinary in May 1984. Let us assume that someone crafted that blueprint, it is still Buhari’s because it is not required that the Head of State writes his or her blueprints personally. What this suggests is that there was an essential Buhari as problematic as essentialism can be. And if an essential Buhari can be argued, then it can also be argued that there is something which cannot be explained about the Buhari person this time around. Yet, it is from that something all the above gaps can be located. So, what was it that then distorted the essential Buhari this time? Could it be Buhari’s economic illiteracy? The above example on Buhari blueprint in 1984 does not support a case of economic illiteracy.
Could it be a health problem? What sort of health problem would shatter a 74 year old whom God gave the opportunity of ruling his country of nearly 200 million twice? Certain health conditions could be debilitating but most Muslims have a cure for such a life’s test in the theology of predestination. In any case, if it is health conditions, it should attract sympathy rather than alienation from some of his harshest critics today. At 74, the body of the average human being is far gone and no news of one part or the other malfunctioning would be such a strange news. Could it then be the president’s age? What we have now is certainly not the Buhari of 1984. Age has taken its toll but age, like health, would not explain the alienation of the regime.
Could it be an ideological shift and the normal post shift confusion? That cannot be since he still stands by statism as in the earlier quotes of his on the issue.
It Must be cabalistic entrapment, Right?
In the circumstance, that appears the only one plausible explanation for the performance crisis the Buhari regime is going through. That is, a crisis of a ‘Diverted Mandate’ whereby the president is compelled by a combination of factors to depend almost completely on a cycle of aides without thinking of and getting a second opinion. If this is true, then it means the cabal must be absolutely powerful and in total grip. Even then, this framework can only be discussed in interrogative terms. Is it that he trusts the aides or the aides have holed him up such as to be able to act on his behalf but always in a manner that creates an executive lacuna, as in the case of two recent developments? Is it the case that, not being a voracious reader, a technocrat nor a high tech player, the president is unable to delink from the ‘aides’ easily in this circumstance? Is it that, alone with his limited knowledge of the scheming going on around him, the essential Buhari could be subdued and submerged? What sort of cabal might this be as to be such a complete critique of the extant key tendencies in the north – the oligarchy, the ‘Kaduna Mafia’ and the radicals vis-a-vis the above listing of the signifiers of the Buhari crisis of political power. Questions! Questions! Questions that makes presidential self-reinvention inevitable, desirable and urgent but unlikely!