HOW AND WHY PRESIDENT BUHARI FAILED IN LEADERSHIP
UMAR ARDO, Ph.D
Judging by the high spate of insecurity, collapsed economy, endemic corruption in public affairs, among several other vices pervading the country at the time President Mohammadu Buhari left office on May 29, 2023, Nigeria can be rightly said to have drifted inexorably into a failed state. All over the country, especially in the North and the Southeast, kidnappings, killings and bloodlettings of horrifyingly unimaginable proportions had become standard daily occurrences of communities. While internecine genocide, communal killings and banditry were going on in villages and towns unabated, highways had been taken over by armed robbers and kidnappers. Almost on daily basis villages were raided and people abducted even when the previously kidnapped ones were still in captivity. Since there were no federal or state authorities to turn to, citizens were left with no option but to negotiate with the new rulers of the day – kidnapers, bandits and unknown gunmen – to secure the release of the abducted. In the Southeast, for about three years, IPOB, commanding ‘Unknown Gunmen’, became so strong it declared and enforced a sit-at-home order on Mondays throughout the region. In the South-south, pirates were seizing oil installations and siphoning national oil at will. In the Southwest cultism and harvesting of human organs for ritual purposes had been standardized.
To all intents and purposes, therefore, adding to the Boko Haram insurgents which he inherited from the previous PDP regimes, under him insurgents, bandits, kidnapers, unknown gunmen, pirates, cultists and ritualists had been added as de facto governments of the day in many communities of Nigeria. In such communities, citizens either obeyed the rules of the outlaws or lost their lives. The point being made here is that nowhere and no one was safe under the Buhari government, except probably the heavily guarded so-called public officials. And when the president’s convoy was itself attacked by bandits lawlessness became complete. In consequence, traveling, trading, farming and such other necessary daily lifestyle activities of ordinary citizens were either halted altogether or carried out in dread by those who were compelled to undertake them.
Eight years of his leadership had not improved the national economy either; rather, it actually collapsed. The national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), representing the total value of all economic activities in the country, had nosed-dived and remained down, pushing the country into almost a state of permanent recession throughout his regime. Depletion of our foreign reserve and humongous debts with no productivity combined to send the value of the naira plummeting to an exchange rate of N650 to $1 by the time he left office, and the resulting inflation sent many Nigerians below poverty line into state of deprivation and destitution. In 2018 Nigeria was pronounced the poverty capital of the world.
The same failure was as well evident in the fight against corruption. With the appointment of Ibrahim Magu as the head of the EFCC, the key anti-corruption agency, in contravention of the law, the fight against corruption started on a wrong footing under Buhari. On account of security reports accusing Magu of corruption, thus denting his moral standing to prosecute the war, the senate declined to confirm his nomination as required by law. Still, President Buhari put him in office for about five years, thus calling to question the sincerity of the administration’s commitment to fight corruption. Not surprisingly, Magu himself ended up being further accused by his supervising minister, Abubakar Malami, of relooting recovered corruption loots and ignominiously removed from office. In effect, the twin evils of bribery and corruption continued having a field-day under the Buhari-led APC regime. Hence, all over the country, persons on corruption charges were roaming about free. Many had even bribed themselves back into public offices either in elective or appointive capacities. There were also widespread outrageous opened displays of stupendous wealth by several serving public officers, hitherto living from hand to mouth, suggesting corrupt enrichments in the Buhari government. Less than two years before he left office, Nigeria was ranked amongst the top most corrupt counties on earth. As it is, Magu’s successor at EFCC, AbdulRasheed Bawa, is currently under detention for more than two months on allegations of impropriety.
Aside from these core issues, there were also many other aspects of our national life that similarly deteriorated under the Buhari administration, principal of which is ethical decay. What was morally wrong, had become politically right. But one needs not list instances, for they were endless! Right under our noses, we helplessly watched Nigeria drift into a failed state. This is the stark reality that must be admitted of the Buhari regime.
Buhari ran for office and was elected president on a set of principles of trust and hope. In 2015, the overriding factor in his campaign was Buhari himself, on his assumed integrity, incorruptibility, forthrightness and the magic ward to deliver! The presidential campaign was mainly about Buhari the person – not his policies, nor his programmes, nor even his political party, but Buhari the man and his promises – that had received the drumming endorsement of the Nigerian people, particularly northerners. To virtually everyone in the North, Buhari was the only man, and therefore the only hope, for the people. That was why sagacious political strategist would draw up for him sophisticated strategic blueprint after his 3-failed attempts without asking for something in return. That was 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 the man Buhari and donate her life-long savings towards his election bid without expecting anything back from him. That was 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 meagre earnings towards his election without any hope of ever meeting him. And that was 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. Other than solving problems of individuals’ survival, there were also along with them daunting challenges threatening the very survival of the nation itself that President Buhari was equally expected to resolve. 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.
Given that President Buhari came to office with the confidence and goodwill of Nigerians behind him, it was sad that, as seen above, he woefully failed in his leadership and lost the peoples’ confidence and goodwill till he left office. So how and why did he fail as president? To me, the simple and truthful answer to this twin question is that President Buhari just lacked leadership acumen, which he displayed in seven discernible ways.
First, as president, he was deficient in the effective acquisition, control and utilization of state authority to deliver valuable leadership. After being sworn-in to office he failed to immediately appoint officials who would take control and charge in the utilization of state power, ensuing a period of lull in the polity and creating doubts in people’s minds to his leadership ability. It was after petulant whispers started becoming loud reproaches that a handful of Advisers, Secretary to Government and a couple of personal aids were appointment. Then followed a much longer period of sloth; dragging to nearly six months before government cabinet was at last grudgingly constituted. Consequently, when at last he constituted his cabinet, he ended up with a kakistocratic team that further plummeted the situation. Thus, from the beginning, Buhari had sown the first seed of leadership failure by neglecting this critical aspect in the exercise of state power as important element of governance. Since then he lost the momentum and never regained it till he left office.
Second, there was incapacity to provide strong and decisive leadership by President Buhari. Even though the regime’s apologists always blamed his failings on the enormity of the misdeeds of past regimes, or the dislocated structures of our society, the real reason was lack of leadership’s firmness, confidence and direction from the president himself. Almost any problem can be successfully resolved if there is effective leadership at the top. All that is required is the force of personal leadership, and this was manifestly lacking in President Buhari. To all intents and purposes, he was a passive leader – one who allowed problems to solve themselves, refusing to intervene even when it was absolutely necessary! Given that the resolution of the country’s problems is the responsibility of government, it therefore ultimately required direction and prodding of the leadership at the Villa. That entailed the president taking full charge and responsibility for all acts and outcome of whatever events government set in motion. Where this is lacking then there is a problem. And this is simply absent in President Buhari’s leadership.
Third, even in organizing for collective decisions, President Buhari exhibited other serious deficits. Throughout his reign, there was lack of harmony and coordination among the various segments and agencies of the executive organ he headed. There were conflicts and acrimony among members of the government that affected the regime’s general output. In all these the president abandoned his appointees to thrash out issues and settle differences and disagreements themselves, with minimum or no intervention from him. This was a wrong approach to leadership, as harmony and cooperation are benchmarks for successful government, and the role of the leader in ensuring these conditions is essential.
Fourth, throughout his reign, President Buhari had little value for ideas and innovations. The essence of collective decision-making in a government is to aggregate various ideas from cabinet members with a view to evolving the best policy option for the problem at hand. As we all know, there are plenty of good ideas out there if only they were listened to and harnessed into use by the leadership. But the president was a non-listening leader. This explains his rebuffing of all genuine and well-meaning calls on him to amend his ways on certain national issues. He even alienated ideas of his key appointees through his misconceived directive to his Cabinet Ministers to pass through his Chief of Staff in dealing, communicating and meeting with him. Needless to say, this was a bureaucratic process that delivered nothing but mediocrity. A serious leader must evaluate and guide first-hand the initiatives of his appointees. But in Buhari’s disorderly style, an appointee became responsible for evaluating and deciding on policy initiatives of other appointees. This was not only an unnecessary bureaucratic bottleneck created but the process also indeed diminished the zeal, confidence and energy of appointees concerned, ultimately hindering the general policy outputs of his government. Naturally, this lack of direct evaluation and guidance of the president on the initiatives of his appointees rendered the government slow, weak and bankrupt in ideas, and in policy formulation and implementation. Consequently, nothing was properly or usefully designed and decided, as all initiatives and energy were paralyzed. Not surprisingly, under such a situation nothing much was achieved.
Fifth, whatever efforts put forth by other members of the government were mired in confusion from the outset owing chiefly to lack of good understanding of the real issues at play, thereby resulting in poor policy options and choices. The reason being that most of the personnel he appointed did not fit the offices they occupied. Sourcing the right personnel to occupy key offices of government is no doubt important, but the refinement of the personnel to fit the offices assigned to is even more important. To this end, sufficient thought was not given by the president in matching the character of the individual with the demands of the office assigned to them. In this, President Buhari also failed miserably. A purposeful leadership must always have its policy makers strive to conceive and implement new initiatives so as to create and maintain positive momentum for the government. And this can only happen if the right persons hold the right offices.
The sixth failing in President Buhari’s leadership style was temporization. The president hardly took decision on virtually any issue. In fact, it looked as if the president hated taking decisions at all until compelled to do so. We saw that in him time and again on even the most serious issues. These included the formation of his cabinet, acting on corruption allegations against his appointees, changing his Service Chiefs, injecting capable hands into government, etc. Not that long period of procrastination necessarily gives cause to taking right decisions, or decisiveness leads to taking bad decisions, but temporization is hardly a virtue in the books of leadership. In fact, as the saying goes, the more easy it is for a leader to do nothing, the harder it is for him to achieve anything. A good leader must be decisive; he must abhor procrastination, temporization and equivocation. We saw this virtue in President Obasanjo; for whatever may be said of his leadership faults, Obasanjo was undoubtedly a decisive leader.
Seventh, Buhari as a person had serious moral and ethical burdens weighing down his personality, and therefore affected I his leadership output. On coming to power, President Buhari grassed up those who were pivotal to his victory; those who stood by him and sacrificed everything – their intellect, their wealth and putting their lives on the line for him at the time when crass opportunists were all running away from him. By this act of betrayal, he purposelessly made enemies out of his friends; those who believed in him, persevered hardships, threats and persecution, and never wavered against all odds at a time when he was being stigmatized, abused and dreaded. But when he got to power, those who had maligned him, with whose invectives his opponents campaigned against him; those who ran away from him in his hour of need, swarmed back on him like flies on rotten carcass, unfortunately making him turn his back on those who really made it possible for him to gain power in the first place. No one would commit such misdemeanour against those who made the real difference in his electoral victory after three unsuccessful attempts and still succeed in leadership. No one; no way! The reason is simple – it is against natural laws of power!
In other words, his leadership failed to imbibe the necessary essence of the Divine Doctrine of Reward and Punishment, which is God’s own command. President Buhari refused to reward meritorious deeds and punish acts of transgressions throughout, a central policy thrust that not only brings out the best in citizens and serves as deterrent in national service, but in the light of the serious problems then faced would have also manifestly helped restore his ebbing political standing, the success and popularity of the administration and the wellbeing and stability of the country.
These manifest deficiencies of Buhari weakened his regime, and rendered it highly vulnerable to internal manipulation and external sabotage. It created a situation that was both unsuited to the active requirements of a country in dire need of peace, economic growth and political stability, and uninspiring, discouraging and disappointing to zealous and devoted politicians, intellectuals, bureaucrats, patriotic citizens, etc. who were eager to see Nigeria leap forward into the developed world of the 21st century. And holding onto this poor leadership style to the end, his presidency became for Nigeria just another eight years of squandered time and resources that offered no solutions for salvaging the country, redeeming and securing her future. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, admonished leaders to spare no effort in protecting the polity and the ‘kingship’ institution. But President Buhari failed to heed to Aristotle’s admonition; and with this failure, he failed in leadership and collapsed the nation under him. His regime was, as Aristotle would say, “like a cloud that passed on without dropping rain”.
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