Buhari, Disconnect Between Politics, Policy and the Disruption Agenda, By Simbo Olorunfemi
Now, we are at a point where many yesterday’s believers are beginning to yawn in frustration, not knowing what to believe any longer. A reservoir of goodwill has been blown away on account of lethargy in balancing appropriate policy with the right politics. On account of this and reasons beyond the scope of this interrogation, politics has become a cog in the wheel of policy.
“Win the victory before you declare the war.” – Ninon de l’Enclos
Donald Trump, American president-elect, within days of winning the elections, announced two key appointments – Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and Stephen Bannon as Senior Adviser/Chief Strategist. One to his left and the other to the right speak to politics and policy. On the face of it, while the Chief of Staff ought to drive policy and the Chief Strategist, with an eye on the politics of governance, nothing can be that clear-cut in at the highest level of leadership. At that level, the relationship between politics and policy is more pronounced. As intertwined as politics and policy is, in theory they differ. One is a propeller, the other the engine. Policy and politics might be Siamese twins, but they are of different parentage. Yet, they only differ to the extent that both sit at opposite ends of the same spectrum, often inching towards an embrace in the hands of the astute political leader.
Politics might be the vehicle through which the leader gets a hold of the steering-wheel of power to be able to formulate and implement policy, but because the ideal is for politics to ride on the back of clearly laid out agenda, it is policy that will define the leader and what he makes of the office, as policy is the handiwork for building an enduring legacy. So, if politics is about who gets what, when and how, as Harold Lasswell says, then, even in the authoritative allocation of resources, the extent to which the leader is able to marry politics and policy will determine the extent of his success. A marriage of politics and policy in such a way that policy drives politics and policies are strategically–framed, pursued and executed, with not only policy objectives realised, but with the political end in mind, is a key ingredient for success in political leadership.
Different leaders, being products of different experiences, persuasions and orientations see things differently. President Buhari does not come across as one positively disposed towards the understanding canvassed here of a necessary intersection between politics and policy, which the leader (leadership) ought to modulate. The understanding of the role of the Chief of Staff as s/he functions in other realms might not be as held by our President Buhari anyway. That office was only imported into the Nigerian political organogram by Governor Bola Tinubu in 1999. Yet even his decision to opt for a dye-in-the-wool PDP man as his go-between with the National Assembly caught many flat-footed in reading President Buhari.
On assumption of office, President Buhari further distanced himself from the politics of not just the office, but surprisingly, the party itself. While an ascetic approach to the hustle and bustle of politics might have served well for a military Head of State, that template cannot serve well on a turf where the game is defined by deftness in juggling politics and policy, standing on one foot and whistling through the crowd in the market. But it was more of a disinterested and a reluctant President Buhari we had in the early days. He might have mistaken the political turf for the barracks of days of yonder, taking it for granted that espirit de corps will be the norm, whereas in party politics, the currency is denominated in intrigues and power tussle. As he displayed more of indecision and left many points unmanned, he created grounds for the erosion of his power-base and those who risked much to get him into office. Whereas time is everything in politics, he wasted it. Not only did he lose time, he also lost ‘control’ of the legislative arm – one he needed to have in his pocket, if the agenda of disruption will have to succeed.
Indeed, even if a good reputation and silence can exaggerate one’s strengths, power can easily be dissipated when the leader does not act timeously and decisively. Once the legislature was lost, a recovery mode seemed to have kicked in but that seems to have been half-hearted, giving those on the other side enough time to recoup, re-strategise and mount a counter-offensive. Yet in an offensive of this nature, one must proceed speedily with a scorched-earth approach or never bother at all. If the time is not right, it is better to retreat and wait for the right time and not let the impression of ambivalence hang over it. You lose time and initiative and power is lost. There is really no middle ground – as what might appear to be one is someone’s portion of the land.
Too soon after his success at the polls, he withdrew himself from the politics that brought him into office, expecting the party to take care of itself and somehow put its house in order. But he was mistaken, quick to forget that the party was not one and had never been one at any point.
For a fact, President Buhari has never been keen on the nuts and bolts of party politics. He easily recoils from it. What he has always had is a fanatical following, even without any well-oiled party machinery, which made him a bride for the Tinubu tendency for power at the centre. Too soon after his success at the polls, he withdrew himself from the politics that brought him into office, expecting the party to take care of itself and somehow put its house in order. But he was mistaken, quick to forget that the party was not one and had never been one at any point. Like every other party, the APC was an aggregation of varied people, groups and interests. But its situation was peculiarly precarious on account of the age of the party, personalities involved in patching it together and the circumstances under which they came together.
There was also the question of allocation of positions that had to be decided upon. It was not a matter to be left to the party Executive to take care of seeing that the EXCO was so in name only. All the members represented different interest groups and leaders with stake in the party. What was needed, at that time, was a firm, decisive and deliberate leader with a clear mandate to lead the way, manage conflicts, settle disputes and superintend over party affairs. Only the president or someone with a clear mandate from him could have played that role. Having decided for a hands-off approach for that very important assignment, President Buhari needed to fully empower another authority-figure to take charge.
Within the party, many tried to read the president’s body language. They suspected that his sympathy was for one of the leaders and was leaning more towards that particular direction, but they needed him to put his foot down firmly on whom he had out-sourced the party leadership to. This would not have to be a guess-work or a rumble in the jungle for a leader to emerge. The political organogram had to be clearly laid out, with everyone in the kitchen, the party and the other room knowing clearly where the clearing house resides.
There are different models that could have been considered. The most popular one in Nigeria is the Fatherhood Model where the elected leader attains the status of fatherhood. He becomes the father of the party and stuffs the party machinery in his pocket. At the level of the state, the governor automatically becomes the leader of the party. He decides who becomes what, where, when and how. He becomes a favour-dispenser and everyone must come with a disposable cup to curry his favour and fetch a little water for the sake of political career and financial stability.
In a case where the party is national in name only, perhaps, with one state governor as the most senior elected member of the party, the control of the party at the national level is taken over by the governor, with the National Headquarters of the party relocated to the Government House. Labour Party largely resided in in the left pocket of Dr. Mimiko’s trousers, while APGA has now taken its place in the breast pocket of Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State.
Where politics is not strategically embraced and managed to help with the realisation of policy objectives, it can come back to bite. To seek to pursue a disruptive policy without taking charge of the politics, ab initio, is to clutch at straw that might lead to loss in both realms of politics and policy.
There is also the Lagos Model, where governance process is separated from the political, even where there is a robust link between the two at the back-end. The structure generously accommodates the wholesale and retail tendencies with policies often funnelled through the political filtering process to ensure buy-in at the grassroots and also serve as a feedback mechanism. The governor is not in charge of the party and is somewhat insulated from the demands and intricacies of retail politics. The Clearing House for everything political resides outside the government house. There, the bargaining takes place and political IOUs are redeemed.
Perhaps, a variant of the Lagos Model might have been best suited for the APC at the centre. But it would have had to be instituted by a superior force, at the point where its legitimacy was beyond question. That opportunity was lost almost immediately. So with an unsettled political ship, there has been unrest in the camp, with politics standing in the way of policy, and policy lacking the right nutrients and support to be able to translate into political gains. Yet, this government came into being on the sentiment that it would be an agent of disruption in different respects – in the sense that it would be business unusual and it would push policies such as the social investment programmes that are disruptive and tackle corruption in a manner never before seen, akin to bringing about disruption in the area of law and order.
Leadership is about fashioning the strategy – the appropriate formula and tactics for interlocking politics with policy that will not only achieve desired objectives of impacting lives and enable development but one that will resonate with the target publics. There is a tone and energy expected of a disruptive leadership and where that is either not there or perceived not to be there, the battle is half-lost. Where little or no thought is paid to optics and the signification of words, silence, presence, absence, action and body language, foot-soldiers are left in disarray. There seems to be a lack of understanding on the ‘how’ and ‘when’ to share the ‘what’, in such rare cases where it is deemed necessary to tell the ‘what’. Silence is embraced where a few words will gain mileage. Time is needlessly lost in addressing issues and making much-needed clarification, giving wings to falsehood to thrive, letting one layer of lie reinforce multiple layers being deliberately churned out to sell a false, yet easy-to-believe narrative. Even in this information age where tools for mobilisation for good or bad are easily available, leadership seems unable to plug in to take charge and drive the narrative to its own advantage.
Now, we are at a point where many yesterday’s believers are beginning to yawn in frustration, not knowing what to believe any longer. A reservoir of goodwill has been blown away on account of lethargy in balancing appropriate policy with the right politics. On account of this and reasons beyond the scope of this interrogation, politics has become a cog in the wheel of policy. Where politics is not strategically embraced and managed to help with the realisation of policy objectives, it can come back to bite. To seek to pursue a disruptive policy without taking charge of the politics, ab initio, is to clutch at straw that might lead to loss in both realms of politics and policy.
When politics does not speak to policy and there is a yawning lack of sagacity behind policy formulation and salesmanship, an important intersection that is supposed to paper over cracks is missed. Yet, we cannot sustainably bring about the much needed disruption in governance if we do not sharpen our tools from both sides. It might not be what Albert Einstein had in mind, but in his words, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is important for the Buhari presidency to take on board. He needs to know too that in the pursuit of a disruptive agenda, once you lose the politics, getting the policy right is bound to be difficult. Success as an elected leader, especially one with a mind-set and mandate to be disruptive, will be determined largely by his ability to find the balance and right intersection between politics and policy.