There’s the popular fable of a CEO who was fired for poor performance. In his handover notes to his successor, he advised him to check for three envelopes in his desk. In the envelopes were written time-tested solutions to whatever problem he would face in office. As expected, after few months, he encountered his first crisis. It was so turbulent he was going to be consumed. Then he remembered his predecessor’s notes. Quickly, he dashed for the desk drawer, and reached out for the first envelope. He opened it, and found written there: “Blame your predecessor”. It looked simple enough, but he tried it anyway. It worked!. He was left off the hook. Problem solved. Free as a bird, he went on with his job. Again, after few months, he encountered another crisis. As he was about to be consumed, he dashed for the desk. Picking the second envelope, he found written there: “Blame the system”. Again, he did, and he was left off the hook. Life couldn’t get any easier, he thought. Then he ran into a third crisis afterwards. When the call for his head got too loud, he dashed for the drawer. With excitement he flipped it open for his salvation pill. And boldly written on a note in the envelope was “PREPARE THREE ENVELOPES!”
The moral of the story is clear. An administration that thrives on excuses can never succeed.
One of the basic principles of leadership is to own and take responsibility. It’s not unusual for leaders in this part of the world to blame every other person but themselves for their own failure. In advanced democracies, leaders even take responsibilities for natural disasters. And they resign often, for “failing to do enough to prevent or cushioning effects”. We are used to unreasonable excuses by our leaders. But we didn’t expect excuses from Mr Buhari. And, not so soon!
Maybe because of his age, or his toga of integrity and forthrightness, Buhari’s campaign brought a lot of huge expectations, many of which were obviously high. But there was something about him. Nigerians expected change, and that, very fast. In Buhari, they saw a no-nonsense man who would change the status quo at once, whose body language would restore total sanity in the polity, and who would more appropriately, be, the breath of fresh air. In close to four weeks of his presidency, Buhari, meanwhile, has neither been putrid, nor fresh air. It’s just been still air. Air, that is motionless and unable to inspire even a feather to lift itself.
Going by the funfair with which Buhari’s APC ran its campaign and clinched the grand price of the presidency, minds must have fathomed what Nigeria would look like after 25 days of their ascendancy. I doubt any optimist would have though it would have been like this. Or that, so soon, Buhari would be singing a new song.
Buhari hasn’t inspired any change yet. If anything at all, by his utterances and body language, he has consistently inspired doubts, and fears about his capabilities. In twenty five days, Buhari has succeeded in changing our mindset about him, to the point that we now wonder whether the job was forced on him, or, he was forced on the job. To make matters worse, the brilliant media team that ran an awe-inspiring campaign seem to have exchanged sense for nonsense as they now sound like a ramshackle guitar: incoherent, poor, directionless. Gaffe after gaffe, they watch as their principal’s spotless image is plunged into ridicule time and again. In effect, the Buhari we voted for, has CHANGED.
Buhari for example hasn’t made his assets public. It was one of the first things he promised to do. His media aide struggled to put words together to offer explanations for that. Eventually, they claimed he would soon publish it. We are still waiting. His early visits to Chad and Niger, months after he called our partnership with those neighbours in the bid to defeat Boko Haram, “a shame”, showed that he may be very quick to say something, and do another. And despite campaigning hugely on the mantra of defeating Boko Haram, the group has, in the last couple of weeks struck at will, albeit at soft targets. Yet, they’ve been able to also spread their tentacles to Chad and Niger, where they have dealt deadly blows. Moving the command centre of the military to Maiduguri is good, but more is expected.
One thing however, that Buhari has done lavishly since assuming power, is giving excuses. Perhaps, realizing soon enough that Nigerians were likely to hold him to account of all the sweet promises he made while campaigning, he has promptly attempted to lower the expectations. In a coordinated and well calculated attempt to achieve that, he has repeatedly made it clear he won’t be able to meet our expectations. If his media team advised him to make those statements, they deserve to mark some time behind bars, because it’s close to treason! If Buhari himself made those statements, then it only shows he wasn’t really ready for the job.
In South Africa, meeting with Nigerians, he lamented that he laid his hands on the presidency too late. At 72, he claimed, he can only be limited by (old) age. I’m not sure his audience must have been that bewildered by those comments. Probably because they were actually more than excited to meet him. But on a second thought, I believe they must have been actually bemused. Because the stories they heard about Buhari was one of a superman, an anti-corruption workaholic who was all the solution to Nigeria’s problems rolled into one. Hearing such lamentable and depressing words from the man they expected so much from must have hit them hard.
It’s quite strange because Buhari’s age had always been a factor. The PDP tried to score cheap points through it, but it was firmly rebuffed by Buhari himself. If anything, he should have done everything to show that his age wouldn’t slow him down. But, maybe he was overwhelmed by loads of expectations and felt he could draw sympathy by playing the age card. Well, it didn’t fly. His adviser on media, in series of disjointed tweets, tried explaining it away in the famous “old wine tastes better” mantra. But quietly, Buhari did well to douse our expectations. Subconsciously, we are forced to demand less from him. Subconsciously, we even expect much less from him. At 72, he mustn’t be pushed too hard.
Then on his very first day in OFFICE, twenty three three days after being sworn in, he met with State House press Corp, where he appealed for more understanding. He informed them, in case they were unaware, that Goodluck Jonathan left absolutely nothing in the treasury. He reminded them that workers nationwide hadn’t been paid, and that the country has practically collapsed and is on life support. He smartly shifted the blame on his media adviser on how his image would be perceived publicly regardless of how his performance is, and pleaded with them not to expect anything in his first hundred days, as he would by then, still be struggling with rescucitating the nation, that’s if it’s not dead by then. He regarded the 100 days stewardship accountability exercise as too much “pressure”.
It’s sad Buhari has felt this much pressure in just three weeks. It’s more worrisome because Buhari actually hasn’t even been put on the spotlight yet. No one is yet calling for his head after Boko Haram attacks. Rumours haven’t started flying about his private life. He isn’t on any hot seat yet. We haven’t started scrutinizing his campaign promises one by one, because it’s not yet time for that. And he doesn’t need to remind us he met a dysfunctional economy. Why the h**l did we employ him in the first place? His honeymoon hasn’t been fantastic, but in principle, it is not over yet.
In appealing for more understanding, meanwhile, he erred. He claimed federal and state government workers are owed salaries! Truth is no federal government employee is being owed. The last administration paid all workers salaries before it exited. And it’s not that bad in all the states. The states that can’t pay, are also fully responsible due to extreme mismanagement and failed policies. It’s ironic that APC and Buhari ran their campaign on a template that ran, or is running most of its states, aground. The nonsensical policies in Osun were trumpeted throughout the presidential campaign: free school meals, free job seeker’s allowance, free education, free this, free that! Osun is almost dead now for their governor’s folly. Is that what we should expect from Buhari’s government too? Or, is Buhari, like a seer, is only fore telling what we should expect, for which he is seriously appealing that we stop our wishful fantasies about a great Nigeria under him?
In his first three weeks, Buhari has shown that he knows little about leadership and responsibility. He has shown he lacks ability to lead mass inspiration and popular belief. Leaders, even in times of difficulties, by their utterances and actions, cause people to hope. Leaders through their words, help their people snatch victory even from the jaws of defeat. Buhari, on March 28 met a nation in hope, bright hope in him. But Buhari is collecting the hope from them, and giving them doubts.
If he continues this way, and he refuses to show interest, as typified in his naive aloofness as his party tore itself apart during NASS elections, or his unbelievable sluggishness in giving his administration any direction or policy in terms of appointments or interventions; then President Buhari would ultimately kill our enthusiasm, and reduce his government to another train which we are merely waiting patiently for, to reach its destination, before we hope to board a better one. Till then, except he jerks to life, he will remain an anticlimax, an underwhelming man, who collectively deceived us with sweet words, got what he wanted, and shortchanged us thereafter, blaming his age, and everyone else, for the fraud that took place.
Olufemi Oluwaseye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @olufemisp on twitter