In the first few months, following the election of Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2011, two main topics dominated discussion in the public domain. The first topic was the interminably long time it took Jonathan to release the names of his ministerial nominees. The second topic that drew sustained public commentary about Jonathan was the threat posed to national security by Boko Haram terrorists, who mounted ceaseless campaigns of bombings and bloodbath in various parts of the north.
Coincidentally, these two topics have coalesced to dominate again public discussion in the first few weeks of Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure as elected president. It is now more than two weeks since Buhari was sworn into office as president and still the nation has no idea about the people who will serve in the new government. This is not good enough, given that the presidential election was conducted on Saturday, 28 March, 2015, more than eight weeks ago. Even if Buhari releases the names of his ministers today, public expectation about the swiftness with which the government would carry out business has been diluted.
Anyone who is wondering why the fuss over Buhari’s delay in releasing his ministerial nominees should understand a basic fact. Releasing the names of people nominated as ministers is a significant step in any government because it suggests the president is moving quickly to set up the framework for the government. Without ministers, Buhari’s government cannot function effectively.
No president can run a government alone. There are crucial matters of state that require ministerial approval. Without ministers appointed to serve in the government, the task of governing will be more complicated and daunting for the president. No country can expect to make progress without the valuable contributions of ministers. If Buhari continues to delay the nomination of his ministers, he would realise sooner than later that he has placed his government in reverse gear.
Another reason Buhari’s delay in releasing his ministerial nominees has disappointed a lot of people is that the nation provided him with unprecedented goodwill and support and, therefore, placed high hopes on him as a symbol of change, good government, and economic progress.
With regard to the second topic of discussion that dominated the public space, following his election (i.e. the threat posed by Boko Haram terrorists), Buhari has responded vigorously by directing that the military high command should be relocated to Maiduguri, which is seen as contiguous to the evil forests that have been used by Boko Haram as a launching pad.
In his acceptance speech on 1 April 2015 soon after he was pronounced winner of the presidential election, Buhari made it clear that Boko Haram’s rebellion remained a serious challenge to national cohesion and integration. He said: “No doubt, this nation has suffered greatly in the recent past, and its staying power has been tested to its limits by crises, chief among which is insurgency of the Boko Haram. There is no doubt that in tackling the insurgency we have a tough and urgent job to do. But I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror, and bring back peace and normalcy to all the affected areas. We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”
While debate persists on the appropriateness of moving the military headquarters closer to the base of Boko Haram to confront the terrorists on their own turf, the nation is still numbed by Buhari’s inability to quickly constitute a strong team of ministers, advisers and assistants who will serve in his government.
In the manner of a man who is in a hurry to effect change in his country, Buhari hit the right notes in his acceptance speech. He spoke of the challenges confronting the nation but he also spoke about his iron will to overcome all those problems that have undercut national development. He said he was aware of the general expectation that his government would take little or no time to commence the difficult task of rebuilding a country battered economically, socially, culturally, politically, educationally, and psychologically. Buhari raised the hopes of the nation when he said: “We shall correct that which does not work and improve that which does. We shall not stop, stand or idle. We shall, if necessary crawl, walk and run to do the job you have elected us to do.”
Everyone is in a hurry for change. The nation has suffered irreparably in the past 16 years owing to rampant corruption, disregard for the rule of law, and a culture of entitlement that has encouraged massive looting of government property and national wealth. So, when the public expresses impatience and serious concerns that it has taken Buhari too long to get his acts together and set his government in motion, everyone should understand the context that informs that behaviour.
What Buhari may not understand is that many people see him not only as president but also as a miracle worker. People believe a president can make things appear and disappear like magic. Some people imagine the enormous resources that a president controls and wonder why anyone in such a platform cannot afford to transform the lives of citizens so quickly and provide for the welfare, wellbeing, security, and safety needs of the citizens.
While we must be realistic about what we expect Buhari to achieve, we must also scrutinise critically the loose statements and explanations that are emerging from the president’s men in their eagerness to defend Buhari when he is right and when he is wrong. Surely, Buhari has been too slow to form a government since he was sworn into office. To douse uneasiness in the public, a presidential assistant attempted last weekend to rationalise Buhari’s slow start in government. Consider this.
Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu, offered last week a somewhat preposterous explanation why the president has been unable to put together the names of people who will serve in his government. According to the Punch of Sunday, 14 June, 2015, Shehu told a local television channel last Saturday that, “The President did say he would hit the ground running, but he has not been given the chance to hit the ground running because the administration that he succeeded – the Jonathan administration – did not deliver the handover notes until two or three days to the inauguration, meaning that these handover notes were submitted at a time when everyone had been consumed by (inauguration) activities.”
This explanation lacks logical flow. How could delay in the handover notes obstruct Buhari from raising his ministerial team? What a self-serving, vain, and groundless comment designed to make the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan look bad, culpable and responsible for Buhari’s slow start.
Jonathan might signify all things bad for the way he governed the country during his tenure but he cannot be held liable for Buhari’s inability to hit the ground sprinting. Nigerians are not simpletons, you know. We are not so gullible that we consume everything we are told. It is sheer folly for Garba Shehu to attempt to hold Jonathan responsible for Buhari’s inadequacies and lack of preparedness. Manufacturing excuses, deflecting blames and refusing to take responsibility for the president’s lack of action are no smart ways to defend a president who started off by aping the lethargic approach to state matters adopted by his predecessors.
Following his election more than two months ago, Buhari was expected to constitute his government and start to implement major reforms. The programme of change that everyone wanted very much has not commenced because the ministers who will midwife that change are yet to assume office. How can Buhari begin the much expected swift transformation through his slow, unremarkable and uninspiring style of leadership by indecision? Buhari cannot afford to be drawing on the irritating tradition of slowness established by his much maligned predecessors Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
During his time, Jonathan pledged to change the nation by changing the speed with which he would conduct government business. He also said he would change the nation by implementing a distinctively different system of government. By that declaration, everyone thought Jonathan would increase the speed with which government business was handled. Not so, we later realised. In Buhari’s case, all the promises about change that preceded the election or followed the swearing in ceremony suggested that he would get on promptly with the business of governing. The nation is still waiting for the change Buhari promised.
Buhari’s delay in releasing the list of his ministers, advisers and assistants could well signal the failure to uphold his pledge to the nation. If, after four weeks, we do not see any significant change in Buhari’s style of administration, we might as well conclude that nothing ground-breaking might emerge from the president.
The longer it takes Buhari to configure his ministers and advisers, the longer it will take the government (whenever it is firmly set up) to address critical matters of national importance, particularly serious matters of state that require ministerial approval. This is why no one, including presidential spokespersons, should dismiss criticisms of Buhari’s delay in nominating his ministers.
It is not good that government business is being delayed simply because Buhari is still shopping for the right combination of men and women who will serve as his ministers, advisers, and special assistants. While it is important for Buhari to ensure that he has assembled a team of highly motivated ministers who will implement his programme of change, it is also important to avoid further delays in drawing up the list of ministers. Anything else is not good enough.
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