President-Muhammadu-Buhari

The Buhari presidency began to unravel almost immediately after the presidential election. It has to be one of the most stunning developments in the history of modern politics that he has appeared bereft of ideas about what to do with political power.


Rather than rehash the well known issues involved in President Buhari’s nightmarish “change”, my focus is on the lessons that may be drawn from the experiences of the last one year as a way of repositioning the country for 2019 and beyond.

The first lesson is that there is no substitute for rigorous, systematic and scientific planning. Therefore, it is wishful thinking to expect a leader to implement plans that he or she neither properly conceived nor laid out. As presidential candidate, Buhari rarely spoke for more than a few minutes at a time. We all simply seemed to have a telepathic understanding of what he would do with power. We projected our ideals for a prosperous Nigeria on a man who did not understand the rigours of 21st century governance. Very little was concretely laid out by the candidate and he quickly dismissed his party’s manifesto once he got to power. What this suggests is the need for a painstaking process in which every major candidate for office lays out his or her plans. Had we done that, we would have been able to assess the candidates’ level of preparedness. Consequently, we must be wary of presidential candidates who run away from debates.

Things may yet improve within the next three years but that would not invalidate the argument that the president was not well-prepared for office. How do you run for office for 12 years, get installed in the 13th year and yet be ill-prepared for office?

I have always maintained that there are clear methodologies for fighting corruption, reforming the civil service, cleaning up the police, among other institutions. Therefore, my worry about Nigeria is none of those factors. My major concern is that there is something about the system that seems to abhor excellence. President Shehu Shagari notes in his autobiography Beckoned to Serve that Chief Obafemi Awolowo seemed too keen to lay hands on power. He was critical of Awolowo’s level of preparation. Shagari’s life ambition was to be a senator but he ended up being president. We all know the outcome.

Nasir El-Rufai notes in his book The Accidental Public Servant that those in President Umaru Yar’Adua’s inner circle had given up on Nigeria within three months of being in power. They realised very quickly that they did not have the capacity to run Nigeria. I hope that this is not already happening to President Buhari. To be clear, this is not an ethnic matter (and I get the sensitivity and subjectivity of ethnic politics in Nigeria). El-Rufai or Nuhu Ribadu — both Fulanis — would do a better job than the current president.

The implications of all the above and much more is this: We must make Muhammadu Buhari a one-term president. President Buhari is already doing his best to ensure that he is a one-term president. We must now begin the process of shopping for candidates for the 2019 elections.


This leads me to the second lesson: There is no substitute for competence. I have often wondered what President Buhari engaged in between 1985 and 2015. Granted that he was Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chair. Former Heads of States often get invited to give lectures; chair various boards and are part of various humanitarian causes and peace-related endeavours. But what was the full spectrum of activities of the president prior to 2015? Contesting elections is not a particularly specialised vocation.

In addition, we must elect leaders who believe in merit. One of the major issues at the heart of the failing democratic change in Nigeria is the spectacular levels of ethnic consideration in making appointments. A former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, was quoted in an interview in Punch on June 23, 2016 regarding Buhari’s appointments. He analysed how several political appointees — the Chief of Staff, the personal assistant, the ADC, and a minister from Sokoto state, among others — were in one form or the other related to the president. Junaid argued that the appointments were “enough to prove to you that this is shamelessly the worst form of nepotism in the history of government in Nigeria. In fact, in the history of Africa, let me make bold to assert that I have never seen any level of nepotism that has equalled or surpassed this in my entire life – I am now in my 67th year.”

I do not know if this is the most nepotistic government in Africa. What I do know is that the president’s inner circle is dangerously myopic, highly sectionalised and is the perfect example of how to fail in governance. By surrounding himself with family members, the president ensures that there is little to no rigorous debate over serious issues; very few new ideas, and over time, complacency, intellectual laziness, and ossification or internal decadence would set in. When you combine that with the president’s limited capacity, his authoritarian nature and penchant to be unteachable, you have the recipe for systemic paralysis.

What is important to note is that Northern leaders are politically savvy. They know that Buhari’s disbursement of appointments works against the long term interest of the North. Most Northerners I know personally are embarrassed at the appointments. Like the rest of the country, they are stunned at the narrow-mindedness of the president. Fellow Nigerians should note that for the sake of our country it is necessary to be objective in our assessment. President Buhari is making appointments based on his worldview; the North has not asked him to be so stunningly small-minded.

Another lesson is that we must develop a long social and institutional memory. People’s antecedents matter. We must ensure that people are held to account for their past conduct in office. Nigerians should dig into the past of people they wish to elect. The Americans have perfected the art and science of digging up the past of their leaders. Every joint smoked, every failed business, and every fling come to public view in many political contests. We must stop celebrating corrupt people as Nuhu Ribadu recently advised and hold people to account for their actions in government.

Nigerians have not acted in a concerted and sustained way to make demands on the government. Some have for years been outsourcing these demands to otherworldly powers.


We must also ensure that competent people get involved in politics or they might become permanently consigned to arm-chair analytics and theorising. The political system in Nigeria does not yet attract the most competent people among us. That has to change. Buffoonery currently masquerades as leadership and basic blunders are being made by individuals who have no business leading a country as complex as Nigeria in a globalising world.

The Buhari presidency began to unravel almost immediately after the presidential election. It has to be one of the most stunning developments in the history of modern politics that he has appeared bereft of ideas about what to do with political power.

Nigerians have not acted in a concerted and sustained way to make demands on the government. Some have for years been outsourcing these demands to otherworldly powers. People often claim that prayers have sustained Nigeria so far. I do not disagree. However, those asking people to fast and pray for electricity and other basic duties of the government, should kindly note that there is a direct link between the religiosity of countries like Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan and their low level of development. The most underdeveloped countries are the most religious while the most developed countries are highly irreligious. The US is the only exception to that unwritten rule. A balance can be struck between religious beliefs and our quest for development. What that means is that government subsidies on pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mecca is the definition of idiocy. It makes for good politics but it is ultimately senseless.

The implications of all the above and much more is this: We must make Muhammadu Buhari a one-term president. President Buhari is already doing his best to ensure that he is a one-term president. We must now begin the process of shopping for candidates for the 2019 elections.

To the government worker who has not received a salary in over six months; the retiree whose pension has gone missing; the woman whose husband has been murdered by Boko Haram; the young children orphaned by herdsmen who prioritise cattle over human lives; the youth frustrated by a system that seems to specialise in ruining dreams; the student in diaspora, who feels the pains of his or her fellow citizens; I say to you, this season shall pass.

‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Twitter: @topeoriola

This is an abridged version of the Keynote Speech at the Nigerian 56th Independence Anniversary organised by the Nigerian Students Association of the University of Alberta.