The euphoria that marked 100 days in office of previous administrations especially with the change of leadership at the centre was certainly lacking in the one that has just passed by. This is without prejudice to the various assessments in the media of the first 100 days of the Buhari regime and other highlights by some state governments. It is not clear, the chain of events that brought about the low morale in the celebration of that event.
But, there is a widely held belief that it was not unconnected with the imprecise stance of the Buhari administration on what that days held for the nation. Before then, controversy had arisen regarding the promises the president was purported to have made in his first 100 days. To this, his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu was quick to add that the president never made such promises when the question was put to him at Chatham House.
For him, “we prefer to talk about milestones instead of achievements; whether the milestones represent achievements or not is left for the people to judge”. Though a few state governments still went ahead to showcase what they considered their achievements, it was palpable that a new thinking had been given to that event especially given the flurry of activities that marked it in the past.
It is now obvious that a new perspective has been given to an event which before now, easily passed as a veritable yardstick for measuring the success of new leaders. It was then thought that the tone and direction of a new government can be successfully set within the first 100 days and those who showed high promises within that timeframe are more likely to perform well during the rest of their tenure.
That had been the reason for the mad rush to execute and commission projects within the first 100 days by our governments especially at the state levels. The same reason accounts for the high level of public interest in such occasions. Whether the assumptions that underline these conclusions are borne out of empirical evidence or mere conjecture is a different ball game altogether. But one thing that stands out clearly, is that it will no longer be business as usual in the way such events were in the past, seen in this clime. There is beginning to evolve a new thinking on the heuristic value of the first 100 days; and whether the copycatting and stereo-typing we had been used to were adding real value. These are the issues now before the public domain. We shall return to them shortly.
The history of some world leaders accounting for their stewardship after 100 days in office is traceable to President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States of America (US). He was reputed to have introduced the concept in 1933 at the height of the great depression to instil hope in the American people. Conceived this way, the concept would aptly be seen as a child of circumstance. It evolved during a crisis situation and was meant to address the exigencies of the period.
Americans needed to be given hope; they needed quick-fixes. And Roosevelt had to evolve that concept to keep hope alive. He needed to come out with sundry legislations and policies to reaffirm confidence in the capacity of that country’s survival. It was a child of serious emergency that drew justification from the exigencies of the emergency situation.
But the concept has since undergone some metamorphosis and is generally used for direction setting, highlighting accomplishments and setting the tone for moving forward. It is now applied as a parameter for a clearer picture of an administration’s policies and programmes. The extent to which this direction setting and showcasing of hurried accomplishments within 100 days can go in determining the eventual success of governments remains largely a moot issue.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, historian David Greenberg summed his argument on the first 100 days thus: “the first 100 days is really important but in a better world, it wouldn’t be”. For him, it is better world leaders are not judged so much on their early accomplishments. They should be given time to make mistakes and learn, they could focus on long term vision and do not have to worry about tactical manoeuvring.
Unfortunately Greenberg lamented, new leaders have to live in the world they inherit. And it is in this context that what new leaders do in their early days has a disproportionate impact on all that follows.
The above brings to the fore the inherent dissonance in the value of the first 100 days in office by leaders. Greenberg did not say explicitly what constitutes a better world. But when that construct is paired with his other idea that new leaders living in the world they inherit must be conscious of what they do in their early days, he can be better understood. He may have had in mind a more developed and more structured country; where there exist more organized ways of statecraft as against one still is in a state of flux.
This is more so given the coincidence in the evolution of the concept with the great depression in the US. It would therefore seem justifiable why such agenda setting and benchmarking is relevant in a country like Nigeria. Because there are yet to be well established and ordered ways of conducting government affairs leading to monumental corruption, it may not be out of place for leaders to drive a solution in their first 100 days in office. But that is definitely not all there is to it. There is no guarantee that a government that seemingly started well within the first 100 days, may not totally derail thereafter.
Beyond this however, is the larger danger in the way the event has been applied on these shores. The theory of incremental change derives its strength from the principle that there is really no new policy; as every policy is an addition to an existing one.
What we have seen overtime in the application of the first 100 days concept has been the jettisoning of some well thought out policies and programmes by new leaders for make-shift and impressionistic ones. The issue of continuity is thrown overboard as all that appear to count is the imperative of the 100 days’ show. Not surprisingly, questionable and ill-conceived projects have been randomly embarked upon to satisfy the spur of the moment. But as soon as the event is over, nobody cares to ask the overall impact and value of such hurried projects in the final performance rating of governments (federal or state). That is the real issue we have to contend with in our peculiar situation. Buhari appeared to have set the right tone (irrespective of extant controversy) on the way we should look at the first 100 days celebrations. The direction of his government on corruption and insurgency in the north-east are not in doubt; though issues of the economy are still largely hazy.
But it will be inherently foolhardy to nurse the feeling that all it takes to know a good government is what it does within the first 100 days. A government should be allowed time to stumble and possibly recover from it even as success in its early days is equally relevant in enhancing the outcome of its final rating. So, we need to take a new perspective of the type of value we ascribe to the performance of leaders within the first 100 days.