Policy Briefs

Tweaking the Buhari Presidency

It’s a tribute to democratic values and governance elsewhere, to think that elected leaders in Nigeria will govern well.  Insentiently, Nigerians know that is not the case, since Nigerian politics is fraught with imponderables. Yet such understanding ought not to provide excuses for poor governance. Any prescriptions about remaking governance style come usually at the end of the first year or mid-term of any administration.  However, certain realities compel this prescription that President Buhari needs to tweak his governance trajectory now.

Great possibilities exist in governance, where there is vision, policy direction, defined short-to-long-term goals, and the political will to deliver good governance dividends. Besides, public policies are not matters of expediency: they are choices; hard-headed or weak. The Nigeria political sphere is decidedly far more complicated and challenging as evidenced by the failings of successive leaders since Nigeria’s independence. Thus, managing Nigeria is a complex task; but one that can be simplified by carrying the nation along. Hence, as Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed is telling Nigerians that the Buhari Administration will soon be “firing on all cylinders”; Nigerians read his lips differently and with bemused skepticism. We behold a groundswell of skepticism anchored on growing reproaches about propaganda-in-place-of-policies and contrived governance deliberateness. For many Nigerians, Buhari’s promises of change have worn thin and no star has emerged from his slate of ministerial appointees to pick up the slack.

In an op-ed piece on the incoming Buhari administration titled, “Reforming The Presidency” (The Guardian, 29/05/15), Eloho Otobo asserts that “Imperial presidencies are [also] marked by a coherence deficit reflected in many overlaps in functions of its constituent offices or departments” resulting “in a wide gap between the popular perception of the effectiveness and agility of the presidency and those ensconced in it”. How prescient?  Despite the reduction-cum-merging of ministries, dichotomies already abound on critical national policies; defeat of Boko Haram, high electricity tariffs, the 2016 Budget, vexatious presidential policy pronouncements from aboard, the excoriation of the judiciary, reneging on the unemployment payment, pummeling of the Naira and the handling of the anti-corruption campaign.

As hope dwindles, criticisms and disaffection rise discernibly.  President Buhari even attested to this by asking the ‘why me’ question recently. In democracies, divergent views and opposite thinking are common. Yet no leadership can pit itself against the people, even with the best intention of improving their lot.  As Jose Mujica averred, “development cannot go against happiness.”  While President Buhari has expended three of the twelve quarters of his first-term, not much has happened to cause celebration. For now, governance is a conundrum mired in quagmire.  Thus, he must rethink how to add governance value in the remaining nine quarters by engendering economic policies that create wealth, stability and broad acceptance.

It’s utterly needless debating if Buhari was dealt a bad hand, akin to a poker player being dealt a bad hand. The Jonathan government is passé.  It’s needless to dwell on it. President Buhari campaigned for the presidency, spending sixteen agonizing years to get there.  That fact alone erases any excuses. While unlike Obasanjo, Buhari did not publicly lay claim to Messianic abilities of turning the nation around; he built a leadership redemption myth, which has since gone burst.  Regrettably, his aides haven’t helped him. Their tonality and strategic advisory capacity is increasingly shrill, if not totally absent. Similarly, the national intelligentsia has grown mute, safe for Balarabe Musa and a few rabble-rousers masking as ‘change agents’ or the opposition. In the interim, the nation wobbles; and as variants of political agitation spike, worried foreign interests are sending out their research personnel to feel the pulse of Nigerians.

Paradoxically, fiscal measures put in place as deterrence against repeat malfeasance are strangulating the economy.  The economy is tanking and Nigerians are suffering. As Charles Solodu warned against possible ill-effects of Buharinomics, external observers knocked such policies openly. Emir Lamido Sanusi of Kano joined the fray in noting that Buhari’s foreign exchange policy encourages corruption.  But who are those driving Buhari’s economic policies?  Are they able to take ownership of such policies for good or bad?  Are they able to defend or explain such policies publicly?

Extant fiscal policies present only confusion, considering that Buhari promised to par up the Naira and Dollar. For years, diaspora remittances now at $22 billion annually, shored up our foreign exchange needs, supported free enterprise and guaranteed measured domestic currency floatation. The remittances reduced pressure on government. With domiciliary accounts in place the external reserves stabilized; then in a kneejerk, the CBN shuttered domiciliary accounts. That foreign exchange legerdemain was aimed not at public interest, but at obscuring intra-bank and intra-bureaucracy sharp practices. Regardless of what the President thinks, Nigeria cannot leave its nationals studying abroad stranded. The contentious 2016 Budget with all its hovels remains a metaphor for poor policy planning and skewed focus, thus worthy of resultant strictures. To underfund the judiciary only to accuse it of smugness is doublespeak. Meanwhile, shrieks by Nigerians about extortionate electricity tariffs have fallen on deaf ears. In sum, our public policy mosaic is replete with disquieting dissonance.

Why is the Buhari Presidency perceived as being in trouble? President Buhari’s problem is twofold: party induced and personal.  It’s not all about perception. Even with the prevailing challenges, the nation seems willing to fudge ahead. Sadly, policy outcomes remain perverse.  First, APC the ruling party has no ideology and their ‘change’ mantra that once transcended ideology is now flat. ‘Change’ as a promise, concept and deliverable have flat-lined, affirming that when change does not amount to visible convulsion, the people demur. Second, absence of a national dialogue on the way forward compounds the challenge. Trouble looms when thinking and talk becomes subterranean in a democracy. While many Nigerians support the anti-graft efforts, it’s always with a codicil: governance must be felt. But governance is stalled. And there seem to be no clear intent in any quarter — establishment, media, academia and think-tanks — to ask the heady and critical policy direction questions.  As Rueben Abati asked, “Where Are the Public Intellectuals?”

On the personal front, during Buhari’s first coming, the national reorientation process was emotive with WAI, the identikit of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, despite the drawbacks of military anti-politics. Thirty years later, there is no treatise reflecting Buhari’s personal views on his successes and failings in 1984. Also missing is any treatise conveying his vision, aspirations and policy mindset for Nigeria in the next four years.  Nigerians yearn for such insights by asking the near-irreverent question: How does one seek to lead, and indeed, get to lead a complex country like Nigeria without a well-grounded thought process of what is; what could be; and what he intends to do?  Had Buhari written or commissioned one such book, Nigerians will better understand him.  Today, they don’t. And that’s a problem for his presidency. I’m convinced he means well, but he is still misunderstood, and for that, deserves our empathy and support.

Apropos his campaign promises, President Buhari must pursue policy outcomes that are measurable and can be benchmarked.  If the four pillars are agriculture, unemployment, corruption, and insecurity, then focus on those.  If burnishing Nigeria’s image and making her an accepted global player is priority, then let’s add foreign policy to the pillars.  As a farmer, where does he stand? Is there affinity with the farmers, who expect understanding and compassion from one of their own? How will he ensure wealth creation? In response, he needs to tweak his presidency.  Three simple approaches, hopefully, should turn things around and better define the trajectory of his presidency.

First, the President and his core minders should disappear for forty-eight hours to a closed door strategic retreat.  The President should be in a listening mode.   He should bring in a few outsiders: mostly those not beholden to government or at its beck and call, to tell him what Nigerians think and need. And what Nigerians expect. Thereafter, he should present to Nigeria the Buhari’s Governance Compact (BGC).

Second, the Presidency should calculate the ratio of the President’s foreign travel to his visits to the 36 States, including those States that gave him 95% votes.  Has he gone back to thank them?  Has he visited those who gave him 5% votes to say, “You did not vote for me, but I come to you not by chance, but because I’m your President.”  Those are qualities we look for in our leaders.  Based on that, the Presidency should map out a schedule of one-day official visits that should put the President in every state of the federation before he marks his first anniversary in office.  As a General, he goes to the field to see the boys. As President, he should go to small hamlets to see the people.  He should have a feel of the people in Abak, Brinin Kebbi, Odogbolu, Nembe, Abiriba, Funtua, Okija, Ipaja, and Gusau, as he does of the people Abuja or Kaduna.  After all, these people are his fellow Nigerians.  Such acts are endearing and true hallmarks of leadership.

Finally, the President should stop making policy pronouncements abroad. It’s most ill-advised, even when inadvertent. Nigerians will better understand and remember Buhari’s Oshogbo Doctrine, Kuru Doctrine, Bende Doctrine, Okirika Doctrine, Zungeru Doctrine or Duste Declaration, if any of these venues are the President’s choice for announcing the removal of fuel subsidy, devaluing the Naira, granting full the autonomy of to the Judiciary; or the tenets of his national social welfare scheme. This is the global democratic practice. The Presidency may add other variables of its choice. But certainly, the Presidency needs to come alive and the tweaking should start from within.


Obaze, MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult, is a strategic public policy adviser and immediate past Secretary to the Anambra State Government.

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.


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