General Muhammadu Buhari, who was sworn in as the newly elected Nigerian president in late May, has not hit the ground running as promised.
His time after four attempts as a presidential candidate came at the intersection between palpable hunger of Nigerians for a political change and his famed austere personality.
Thanks to the incompetent and corrupt administration of then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari’s principled leadership style from his military dictator days (1983-1985) appeared to be what an increasingly lawless country needed 30 years later.
But, things have been rather slow and unsteady this time around. Going on four months into his administration, Buhari’s activities have us asking: “Where’s the beef?”
In a country perpetually under siege by its vacuous and marauding political class, it is easy to mistaken the nail biting speed of Mr. Buhari for something of a calculated strategy in policy making. After cumulative years of ossified challenges, any newcomer to the Nigerian leadership arena might be excused for not immediately knowing which is a hen, pigeon or duck in a rain-soaked common pen.
Except that Mr. Buhari is not a newcomer. In the 30-year interregnum, he had taken up highly visible roles in and out of governments, thereby retaining his front seat view of the issues that are keeping the country down.
In his campaign manifesto, he had assured the voter of knowing how to tackle practically every problem with Nigeria, out of which he identified war against corruption, liquidating the Boko Haram insurgency and improving the hemorrhaging economy as his three-point agenda. It is doubtful yet if his ideas on any of these core national issues are clear or working.
In the fight against Boko Haram, Buhari has already played many of his trump cards as laid out in his campaign manifesto.
He had made diplomatic rounds to the United States for military hardware and training supports and to the neighboring African countries to galvanize regional cooperation and coordinate individual national battalions into a formidable multilateral force against Boko Haram.
He has changed his top military (army, navy, air force and defense) service chiefs, and moved the defense command center from Abuja to Maiduguri in the Northeast, closer to the Boko Haram battlefield. But, each move he made seemed to infuriate and embolden the fearful Boko Haram rag-tag insurgents into ramping up their trademark daring raids, including ambushing the very top general of the Nigerian fighting army, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, within days of his appointment by Buhari.
One soldier and five Boko Haram fighters died in the attempt. Boko Haram on foot and horseback are still beheading hundreds of citizens and displacing thousands of villagers. The end to Boko Haram civil war in the country remains a possibility that is currently not in sight.
Mr. Buhari signified the start of his anti-graft war in July by announcing a shakeup of the nation’s citadel of corruption, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He dissolved NNPC board of directors and appointed a new chairman followed by retirement of 38 senior executives within weeks.
Since then, sensational headlines of jaw-dropping sleazy deals and eye-popping amounts of crude oil receivables embezzled during Jonathan’s six-year administration continue to casually leak out of government investigations.
Although the incumbency noise is enough to make politicians from the Jonathan government skittish and voluntarily dump portions of acquired largess they consider dead weights, Buhari is still far from having the right legal and regulatory infrastructures for dispossessing rogue politicians of loots or prosecuting those with known paper trails.
In his efforts to skirt around the double-dealing judiciary, Buhari hopes to establish 37 special courts for speedy adjudication of corruption cases across the 36 component states and the Abuja capital territory. A batch of 37 judges was recently evaluated for “boldness and avoidance of sentiments in judgment.”
Only two judges passed the integrity test from the batch. There is no doubt they will eventually find 37 good judges in a country of 170 million.
The largely crooked political class is already fighting back by making the whole anti-corruption stream murky with nefarious stratagems, screaming foul play of witch hunting, and calling for extension of the corruption war back to 1960 when the first democratic republic began.
The two hibernating anti-corruption agencies — Independence Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) — are now on overdrive, quizzing and compiling paperwork on unscrupulous politicians, their spouses and associates.
But, few cases, if at all, have been filed or are anywhere near a substantive hearing. The knavish bicameral legislative arm retaliated by launching its own corruption investigation against Ibrahim Lamorde, the Executive Chairman of EFCC.
For now, Buhari’s battle against corruption is at a messy street fighting level. There is no predicting how the whole skirmish will end, it is not clear if it will ever end in favor of the country.
It isn’t clear how much anyone can do with a one commodity economy that miserably depends on vanishing crude oil earnings to sustain thousands of reprobate politicians in 37 mostly unviable states.
Mr. Buhari’s indifferent ways border on the insensitive. Most of the cabinet appointments he has made so far are tactlessly skewed in favor of his North base. It is so blatant, sections from his North are crying “marginalization” along with Nigerians from the South, who are warning that Buhari is skating on thin ice that could trip the country into a constitutional crisis.
Nigerian public opinion is already in a state of jury selection on Buhari. Some citizens find his taut persona in the ensued rowdy environment enchanting and are tirelessly rooting him on. Some think he is back as a snooty regionalist (rather than a nationalist) leader, and are cautiously optimistic. Others, yet, cringe at the thought that Buhari might be turning into a “bull in a china shop” recklessly jerking about.
In spite of himself and his circumstances, Mr. Buhari is better off strategically, to push Nigeria forward methodically. He needs to drive hard to achieve the “change” mandate given to him by Nigerians like he has nothing to lose.
At 72, he probably doesn’t, except maybe $150,000 in his personal account, 270 head of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses and a few birds on his farm.