Op-ed: How to Save Buhari’s Fledgling Leadership


Umar Ardo, Ph.D

(Written and published in 2016)

The nearly one and half years in office has seen President Buhari’s leadership considerably fledging. The president is been continually challenged from all directions, even by members of his governing party and cabinet. Over this period, his popularity has visibly ebbed and waned; and public support for his government has correspondingly dwindled and crumbled significantly. He has greatly demoralized his supporters who are daily growing disappointed and frustrated, and compatibly energized his opponents who are increasingly becoming vindicated and emboldened. The reason for this unpleasant trend is that his regime has so far failed to make appreciable impact in the dire developmental needs of the country; itself evidently because of his leadership style.

Like President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States 80 years before him, President Buhari ran for office and was elected president on a set of principles and not policies. The overriding factor in his campaign was Buhari himself; his assumed integrity, incorruptibility and forthrightness! The entire 2015 presidential campaign was about Buhari; it was Buhari the person – not his policies, nor his programmes, nor even his political party, but Buhari the man – that had received the drumming endorsement of the Nigerian people, particularly the northerners. That is why a sagacious political strategist would draw up for him a sophisticated electoral blueprint after his 3-failed attempts without asking for something in return. That is why an old woman of over 80 years would sit out in the scorching sun of the northern desert for a whole day just to see Buhari the person and donate her life-long savings towards his election bid without expecting anything back from him. That is why poor wheel barrow pushers, nail cutters, shoe shiners, hewers of woods and fetchers of water, literally the wretched of the earth, would starve themselves to buy cards and donate their meager earnings towards his election without any hope of ever meeting him. And that is why someone would trek from Lagos to Abuja in joyous celebration of Buhari’s electoral victory without a price tag.

So when Buhari won the contest and sworn-in as president, it was expected he would solve the numerous problems of the country: to better the lot of the over 40 million unemployed Nigerians; solve the problems of those whose wages cannot feed them through the days of the month; solve the problems of abject poverty across the land, of those who go to bed on empty stomachs; solve the problem of parents who stay awake late into the night thinking of how to feed the family the next day, how to pay the children’s school fees already due and how to settle the landlords their housing rents; solve the problems of those who are frightened by the mere thought of illness either of themselves or members of their families for reason that they cannot afford to pay hospital bills; solve the issue of those people to whom electricity, good roads and portable water are unaffordable luxuries; of children who drop out of schools or go without school all together merely because their parents cannot afford to pay their school fees; of youth who have gone wayward, left their homes, turned to thuggery, crime and drugs, killed or sent to jail while their parents and relatives looked on helplessly; of young girls who, forced by social difficulties, go astray just to earn the extra kobo to help in the upkeep of their households, and parents and relatives look the other way; solve the problems of corruption, terrorism and insurgency in our towns and villages. One can go on and on as the issues are uncountable. And these are a mere fraction of the numerous difficulties, agonies and frustrations being faced daily by the vast majority of Nigerians.

Other than these problems of individual survivals President Buhari is been expected to resolve, there are also along with them daunting challenges threatening the very survival of the nation. In his campaigns, Buhari summed these concerns up into three – insecurity, corruption and economy. In other words, the resolution of these three would resolve both the individuals’ and collective developmental challenges of the nation; to create sense of belonging and forge functional unity to a desperate and despairing nation torn apart by cries of marginalization, agitations and separatist tendencies. These are the problems President Buhari was expected to solve. And he could very well have done so if he had adopted the right approach of running an all-inclusive government. This means he would solve problems not as a person but as a leader of a government. But when Buhari took over power and astonishingly refused to set up a governing team of any sort to formulate and channel solutions to these daunting problems, his actions – or inactions – tended to reinforce a viewpoint that he wanted to solve the problems not as a government but as a person – that he could do it alone even without any set of policies and governing teams in place. Hence, his refusal to appoint key advisers, political and economic; and it took him over six months before he was pressured by public outcry to form even a constitutionally required ministerial cabinet.

Yet, it is a standard universal norm that no leader leads without a team of advisers. A consultative body representing different viewpoints exposes errors, debunks assumptions and gives alternative policy options, perspectives and strategies. Time has not only ascertained that the collaboration of several minds is more illuminating than the insights of a single man, but history has also proven that a leader who acts solely on his own judgment is sure to fail. That is why governance has always been a collective project and never a one-man-show in any clime. Consultations and taking of advice are therefore composite foundational elements of good leadership. Institutional offices and their functions are therefore vital in the due discharge of governance. Underscoring this point, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) creates at the federal level the Council of Ministers and Offices of Special Advisers for the good purpose of executing the powers and functions due to the Office of the President. The capacity for good and effective leadership therefore starts with the ability of the leader identifying and selecting competent persons to form a governing team. Indeed, the success or failure of a regime rests as much on the ability of the leader as on the competence or otherwise of his team. Whosoever fails in this is doomed to fail in leadership.

This invariably means that the stability and good governance of the country are dependent on the sound character, right practice and good judgment of the president; while the well-being and quality judgment of the president depend on the knowledge, skill and honesty of his officials. Blessed therefore is the president with truthful, knowledgeable, intelligent and right-doing officials to remind him if he forgets, to assist him if he remembers, to correct him if he is wrong, and to always lay before him the complete facts, circumstances and implications of every issue that may come to him to decide. If the president is able to appoint suitable men, then he is most likely going to succeed, for a good official is like the ornament of the leader; but if he is unable and appoints unsuitable men, or refuses to appoint any at all, then his regime is most likely going to fail. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, said that when a leader has unsuitable [ignorant] officials, ‘his reign will be like a cloud which passes on without dropping rain’, warning that since what is most important in the polity is the leadership institution, no effort must be spared in getting the right officials to help protect it. Aristotle then compared a leader without ‘competent advisers’ to a man leading a regime in his sleep. The president may well need to heed to Aristotle’s admonition, as ‘good advisers are needed to help the King spare his reign’.

Instructively, in our presidential system of government, all officials are solely appointed by the president. This means that the quality of advice is also solely dependent on the kind of advisers the president assembles to himself. In appointing advisers, the president’s skill or lack of it to distinguish the great disparity that exists between men who are suitable and men who are not itself can decide the ultimate destiny of his regime. To this extent, therefore, President Buhari must necessarily think deeply, consult widely and select carefully in matters regarding the appointment of his officials; and thus when ultimately making these appointments to ensure that only competent and very skillful ones are chosen. So far we have not seen that happening in this regime and that, to me, is the explanation of why President Buhari’s leadership is fledging. And, undoubtedly, it will continue to fledge till it collapses if the necessary changes in approach, attitude and personnel are not immediately effected. Again, to me, this is the only way to save Buhari’s leadership from an inevitable complete collapse.

●Dr Umar Ardo writes from Abuja

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