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Buhari’s time to start running

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THIS week makes it the fourth since the Muhammadu Buhari administration was inaugurated amid much hope and high expectations. But while the new president has taken a few significant steps locally and internationally in his personal capacity, not much has been heard concerning those he would be working with and depending on to drive his government’s agenda.

This has got Nigerians worried, and they’ve been left wondering what reasons there are for the apparent slow pace in the appointment of ministers and other key administrative staff. The president cannot see what the anxiety might be about in spite of speculations, some of them wild and apparently unfounded, about who might make his ministerial list or otherwise.Buhari-tasks

He had cause to address these concerns during a meeting with Nigerians in South Africa in the course of his attendance of the African Union summit in that country. That visit itself gave birth to yet another controversy that nobody could have envisaged concerning the president’s age. The president, it was reported, had played down the high expectations of Nigerians about his administration, warning that his age was bound to curtail his performance level. This report which might not be unconnected to what Nigerians might have begun to perceive as relative lethargy in the pace of governmental activity since Buhari took office could be another way of registering their worry at the slow pace of event in the Buhari administration.

The explanation from both the president and the few people so far speaking in his name for this state of affairs and, perhaps, the general ‘go-slow’ that has entered governance has been that the Ahmed Joda committee was yet to wind up its assignment. The committee had been raised to study the handover report submitted by the Jonathan administration. According to the APC-led government, its attempt to set up a transition committee to work with the former PDP-led government was rebuffed by the former administration. This was the reason, they say, for the delay in taking quick strides forward. They needed to study the Jonathan handover report closely in order to, so to speak, know the lay of the land. In short, Buhari wanted full appraisal of the Jonathan administration it gets down to business.

Nigerians must surely recall a statement credited to members of the Jonathan administration that the administration would tolerate no interference from the Buhari group detailed to work with it to ensure a smooth transition in the wake of its defeat at the polls. The former president’s people warned his successor’s team its input in the transition process would not be welcomed before May 29, the day the mandate given Jonathan by Nigerians was expected to expire. Its generosity in conceding victory rather than roughing things up in the typical Nigerian fashion, the warning seems to be saying, should not be taken for weakness. It was for this reason that the Buhari team laid off to wait until the former administration was ready to hand over its report. The disagreement between the then outgoing and incoming teams was widely reported in the media in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of Buhari.

Thus, Mohammadu Buhari would seem to have a good reason for not naming his administrative team immediately Jonathan returned to Otuoke and he took over as the new tenant of Aso Rock Villa (although he was not keen to move into the Villa weeks after he was sworn into office). Yes, Buhari really needs to have a clear idea of what he is up against as the president of a Nigeria virtually run aground by the PDP-led administration. But he would now need to begin to move fast on this. In the weeks after he was declared winner of the 2015 presidential election, he ought to have set up something of a shadow cabinet that could take over from the Jonathan cabinet at the shortest notice. Jonathan has been praised for his graceful concession of victory immediately it was clear that his opponent had more popular vote than him. He made no attempt to prolong the waiting process leading to the declaration of a winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission before calling Buhari and conceding victory.

Buhari and his team ought to have seized this opportune gesture, and should have started moving immediately after, even while I concede that the demands of the nature of the coalition that brought him into office could have affected his ability in this regard. Yet, a few policy pronouncements could have been made and actual steps taken to signal the direction in which the administration was headed. Buhari’s directive to the military on Boko Haram was intended to have this effect. That is what change ought to mean. It is certainly what being prepared means. The Obafemi Awolowo-led Unity Party of Nigeria needed no more than twenty four hours after the ban on politics was lifted by the military in 1978 to announce its return to politics, setting up and running its political machinery nationwide. Buhari and his team had several weeks to plan and prepare before May 29.

Thankfully, the much-awaited Ahmed Joda Committee report has been submitted last week. Perhaps, Nigerians can now hope to see some vigour injected into governance. There may in this case be such a thing as ‘over preparation’, that is planning so much that any single step forward becomes a matter of much contemplation for fear of making mistakes. Given what went before and the fact that expectations are many and have been driven high, moving forward may be daunting for Buhari. He is much older than the brash soldier of 1984. He now has to operate in an environment where his words will not necessarily have the effect of a law. All of this may lead to genuine trepidation. But it should not be reason to be afraid to move forward.

It may be too early in the life of this administration to begin to criticize it for being too slow. But Buhari must be careful not to fall into the lethargic pit that swallowed the Umar Yar’Adua administration which took over from Obasanjo in 2007. That administration’s excuse for being slow in many areas of its activities was the necessity to follow ‘due process’ and ‘the rule of law’. It was for this reason both slow and indecisive in its approach to governance. Where it stirred itself into action, it took no time to reverse itself. Matters remained this way until its terminal exit some two years later. Mohammadu Buhari cannot afford to be the authoritarian soldier of 1984. But he also cannot afford to be the over cautious and tentative democrat of 2015.

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