In a previous column, I argued that President Muhammadu Buhari has so lowered the bar of governance that it won’t take a lot for any person who succeeds him to impress Nigerians. So the best campaign against Buhari is to promise not to be like him, which is really sad because there is much more at stake in the task of governing Nigeria than just transcending Buhari’s incompetence and mediocrity.
Atiku Abubakar has started to excite voters by promising to not be like Buhari. On October 12, for instance, Atiku’s statement on Twitter that he won’t take six months to name his ministers resonated wildly with a lot of Nigerians. It reminded people that Buhari took six months to assemble the least impressive cabinet in Nigeria’s recent history, which is peopled by NYSC dodgers, certificate forgers, malefactors, liars, etc.
I extensively researched to see which other country in the world in recent memory elected a president who took six months to name his or her cabinet. There was none. So promising to name a cabinet shortly after inauguration ordinarily shouldn’t be a campaign promise because that’s what every elected president is expected to do. But you can’t fault Atiku because Buhari has lowered the bar to an unprecedented degree.
Atiku also promised that 40 percent of his cabinet would be composed of women and young people. Again, ordinarily, that would have been uninspiring, even condemnable, because the promise implies that 60 percent of his cabinet would be composed of old men, which is unfair, unbalanced, and regressive. However, look at Buhari’s cabinet, which he has failed to rejig in more than three years, and you will see why such an unimpressive pledge would strike a chord with Nigerian voters.
See below an excerpt from my February 3, 2018 column titled “How Buhari Has Lowered the Bar of Governance” to gain an insight into why Atiku’s popularity has been soaring in the last few days. Buhari’s unexampled incompetence is propelling Atiku to heights he is unworthy of:
“I had hoped that even if Buhari wasn’t a stellar president, he would at least not lower the bar. But that is precisely what he has done. He has set the bar of governance so low that all it would take for any president who comes after him to impress us is to:
1. Constitute his cabinet within a few days of being sworn in. It took Buhari nearly six months to appoint his cabinet, which is the worst record in Nigeria’s entire history. It slowed the country and hurt the economy. On September 17, 2015 when France 24’s François Picard asked him why he hadn’t named his ministers months after being sworn in, he said ministers were worthless and just “make a lot of noise.” That was a low point. And the cabinet he took months to put together turned out to be one of the most colorless and lackluster in Nigeria’s history.
2. Appoint members of governing boards of government agencies in the first few months of being in power. It took Buhari nearly three years to do this. Since government agencies can’t legally function without governing boards, governance basically halted for more than half of Buhari’s first term. That’s why I once observed that while previous administrations were guilty of misgovernance, Buhari is, for the most part, guilty of “ungovernance,” which is worse.
3. Not be so incompetent as to appoint dead people into government-and living people without first consulting them.
4. Periodically speak to Nigerians through the domestic media, not when he is abroad.
5. Personally visit sites of national tragedy, show emotion, and make national broadcasts to reassure a grieving nation. In my March 18, 2017 column titled, “Why Buhari should learn from Osinbajo,” I wrote:
“In a tragic irony, it took Buhari’s sickness for Nigeria to get a chance at some health. It also took his absence for the country to feel some presence of leadership. Why did it take the ascendancy of Osinbajo to the acting presidency for this to happen? The answer is simple: symbolic presence. Buhari lacked symbolic presence in the 20 months he was in charge.”
6. Have an economic team made up of economists and not, as Buhari has done, appoint a diplomat as an economic adviser and then push him to the gaunt fringes of the Vice President’s office.
7. Reflect token religious, regional, and national diversity in appointments. Buhari won a national mandate, but his appointments are, as I’ve pointed out in previous columns, undisguisedly Arewacentric. His personal example shows that he doesn’t believe in one Nigeria, yet he often insists that Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable.” That’s unreasonable.
8. Not lie shamelessly about self-evident facts.
9. Not budget billions for Aso Rock Clinic and yet starve it of basic medicines (so much so that his own wife and daughter would complain openly) and then fly to London for medical treatment at the drop of a hat even for “ear infections” and “breathing difficulties.”
10. Not have a compulsive run awayist impulse that ensures that he travels out of the country at the slightest opportunity and for the silliest reasons.
11. Even pretend that the whole of Nigeria is his constituency-including those who gave him “97%” of their votes and those who gave him only “5%” of their votes.
12. Add to the list
Sadly, these are really basic things that shouldn’t attract any praise. There is no greater evidence that Nigeria has regressed really badly in almost every index in Buhari’s less than 3 years of being in power than the reality of these grim facts.
And he wants you to extend this national tragedy for another 4 years in 2019? Well, it’s up to you. If that’s what Nigerians want, who am I to deny them the “luxury” to inflict self-violence on themselves?
Butwhat I won’t take is the narrative being promoted by apologists and beneficiaries of the government that there is no one better than Buhari at this time. On the contrary, it’s actually practically impossible to be worse than Buhari because he has brought Nigeria to the ground zero of incompetence, so almost anybody would be better than him. He descended from the zenith of “Sai Baba” to the slope of “Baba Go-slow” and finally to the nadir of “Baba Standstill.” It can’t get worse than that.”