Between a Head of State and a President


On May, 29th, 2015, at the famous Eagle Square, Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Muhammadu Buhari, the victorious candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), at the recently concluded 2015 polls, was formally sworn in as the latest President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But amidst the pomp, pageantry and high expectations that accompanied his swearing-in, one could not help but ask one very critical question that most Nigerians seemed oblivious of: Should Nigerians expect Muhammadu Buhari, the democratically elected civilian President of Nigeria, to perform the same magic he performed as a military Head of State? This puzzling question forms the fulcrum of today’s discourse.

buhariMost Nigerians, especially the politically naïve and ignorant, seem to expect too much, too soon, from the incoming President, regardless of the fact that MB the MilitaryHead of State” who ruled Nigeria from 1983-1985, consequent to the military putsch that ushered him into “Dodan Barracks”, is ascending the throne in “Aso Rock”, not in Jackboots, but in civilian garbs as a democratically elected “Civilian President” of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The truth is that the offices of a military Head of State and that of a civilian President are two different offices entirely with contrasting powers and responsibilities: the former being the office of a maximum ruler with unlimited powers, while the later is the office of a democratically elected civilian leader with limited powers – at least in theory. A military ruler comes to office through a coup d’état, while a civilian President is usually elected by the general populace as his chief constituency through the ballot box. Both positions emanate from contrasting trajectories and are imbued with differing dimensions of power and authority: the former is illegitimate and forcefully acquired, while the later is legitimate and popularly accessed. Again, while the administration of a country under military rule is usually totalitarian – closed, restrictive and forceful – that of a country under civil rule is usually liberal – open, free and participatory.

As Head of State, MB ruled with “Decrees”, as other laws – as is the norm under military rule – were suspended in favour of martial law. As a military man, MB practically had the powers to make and unmake, do and undo, formulate, implement, reform and revoke state policies as it pleased him and members of the Supreme Military Council – the highest policy-making body under military rule – through which the country was administered; a supreme form of authority that eased the hashing and execution of policies; unlimited powers that removed any stumbling blocks to the easy execution of all state policies, and probably accounted for the speedy achievements of some government objectives – such as the merging of the Federal Ministry of Commerce with that of Industry and the vesting of the authority to grant import license in one central authority; downsizing the entire civil service workforce   by 30%, as it appeared so many people had been recruited not on grounds of productivity but largely because they were being rewarded by the corrupt politicians they helped in bringing into public offices; entrenching discipline in public office; clamping down on corruption in public offices, coupled with other significant reforms in both the public and private sectors – during his brief stint in Dodan Barracks.

Most of the aforementioned programs succeeded largely due to the absence of the usual time-consuming official bottlenecks of democratic governance – bureaucratic encumbrances that would have slowed down the decision-making processes of the SMC. But as a civilian President, MB will have no such powers available to him – as he had as a military Head of State. Instead, he will be governing the country through the instrumentality of the “Constitution” – a contractual document that owes its existence to the will of the citizens of the Republic; a legal deed that must be administered according to the wishes of the general populace, unlike a decree that is usually executed through military fiat.

Thus, unlike the situation under military rule, where through the use of decrees he usually got things done with dispatch, MB the President will not always have his way, policy wise, during his second coming, as the National Assembly – constituting the Senate and House of Representatives – and the Judiciary can censor any executive decision they deem unnecessary or anti-people . Unlike a military government where the functions of government – Legislative, Executive and Judicial – are fused, powers are usually separated in a civilian democratic system. These checks and balances will largely limit the ability of MB’s administration to expeditiously hash out fresh policies and speed up needed reforms.

The President obviously has good intentions for the country and its people as expressed through the promises he made during the pre-election campaigns, couple with his steering inaugural speech on May 29th, but the realities of practical democratic governance might largely limit, delay – and in some cases even frustrate – the successful implementation of some of his transformation programs for the country, novel as they might be. The processes of decision making are more cumbersome and methodical in a democratic system than is the case under military rule. It involves a lot of laborious consultations and endless debates before decisions are taken. Democracy’s major advantage – popular participation in decision-making – sometimes, works against the speedy achievement of the goals of the government in power as it opens the broth – the processes of governance – to the inputs of too many cooks who might end up colouring its end products. This might be one of the greatest challenges the new government will be grappling with, and will definitely define its successes or shortcomings in coming years.

Despite the ruling party having a majority in the House of Assembly, due to the numerical advantage of the APC in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the President will not be guaranteed a free ride in the decision-making process, unlike the tradition during his days in Khaki when all policy proposals where speedily executed without much fuss. A parliamentary majority will definitely aid MB’s winnowing mission to Aso Rock, but cannot cut off the procedural tilt of democratic governance which requires that the popular sovereigns – the citizenry – are carried along the whole processes of policy formulation and implementation involving serious consultations, deep deliberations before decisions are deemed worthy of implementation.

This is not doomsday prophecy, but a reality check for Nigerians who expect MB to create an Eldorado out of this scorched land overnight. Based on his sterling antecedents, MB means well for Nigerians, and is certainly set to bring about a paradigm shift in the governance of this country. He is a man of proven integrity, an incorruptible purist and goal-getter of the extreme kind – a man whose life has been defined by uncommon dedication to excellence; an altruistic servant leader of sorts; a fearless, sagacious character committed to reinventing, reengineering and rebranding Nigeria: attributes that are bound to guide his stewardship of the “Giant of Africa” – this vast treasure chest – in the next four years. But Nigerians are urged to be patient with their President as he tries to correct the incongruous processes of governance that are responsible for the deplorable, piteous, damnable, stinking and wretched state of the nation and its people, bearing in mind that the conditions that defined his initial stint as a maximum ruler are miles apart those he will be functioning under as a President in mufti.

Nigerians cannot be faulted for expecting a miraculous turnaround in the sordid, shoddy, gory, shanty and rankly villainous state of the Nigerian State. But putting other discernable variables into consideration, no sane person should expect the plethora of formidable challenges the Nigerian State has had to grapple with for decades to be obliterated overnight by the magical wand of the new President, despite the effectiveness of this scepter in bringing sanity to the stations he previously occupied. Endemic issues like the asseverating rot in the power sector, almighty corruption, emasculating state of insecurity, petroleum crisis, gross maladministration, damning indiscipline, cyclical unemployment, infrastructural decay et al, cannot be obviated in one fell swoop. It will take large doses of patience, dogged resilience, hard work and unyielding faith – and not mere magic – on the part of both the leaders and the led for this lethargic dinosaur of a system, as currently constituted and operated, to be completely overhauled and transformed into an effective working machine that provides the greatest good for the greatest number. MB needs the unalloyed support and patience of all Nigerians to succeed. No leader can do it alone. That is the truth of the matter.

God bless Nigeria!

Written by
Jude Obuseh
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