Last week, when he finally unveiled a partial list of his proposed cabinet, President Muhammadu Buhari also revealed—even if inadvertently—that one of his biggest enemies bears the name “Time.”
It took Mr. Buhari six months after his electoral victory, four months after his inauguration, to disclose the names of those he wished to invite as ministers in his Presidency. It was an unusually long time, even by the standards of past Nigerian presidents. I always wondered whether the president was taking so long because he wanted to surprise us with the moral equivalent of ministers from Mars. Yet, a part of me felt that it would be a fairly conventional, even predictable, cast of prospective ministers.
The latter conjecture, I’m afraid, turned out to be true. If President Buhari was going to resort to such widely speculated names as Lai Mohammed and former Governors Tunde Fashola, Chris Ngige, Kayode Fayemi, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and Ogbonnaya Onu, then what took him so long?
In his Independence Day broadcast to the nation, the president offered a wholly confusing and confused answer. “Fellow Nigerians,” he said, “there have been a lot of anxiety and impatience over the apparent delay in announcement of ministers.” Apparent delay? The delay was real!
It didn’t help that Mr. Buhari entreated, “There is no cause to be anxious. Our government sets out to do things methodically and properly.” It makes sense to do things in a methodical and proper manner. Even so, a parent who spends six hours preparing breakfast for his or her children should not be allowed to get away with arguing, “I wanted to cook a methodical and proper breakfast.” A parent who squanders six hours on a breakfast is, at bottom, putting his or her children’s well being in jeopardy. Breakfast should not take six hours, period.
Nor should the appointment of ministers. Even if the president had decided to do something radical—like nominating a cabinet filled with young, digital-age professionals between the ages of 20 and 35—he would still be accused of taking too long.
“Anyway, the wait is over,” the president told Nigerians. He added: “The first set of names for ministerial nominees for confirmation has been sent to the senate. Subsequent lists will be forwarded in due course. Impatience is not a virtue.
“Order is more vital than speed. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results.
“And better results for our country is what the APC government for Change is all about.’’
There’s a lot to question in the president’s assertions. Throughout the months he campaigned for election, he was frequently accompanied by most of his ministerial nominees. He met them at party meetings. One hopes that he was able to take a measure of them from others who knew them, in some capacity or another.
The question begs an answer: What took so long to prepare a list with few, if any, surprises?
In the past, Mr. Buhari had indicated that he wanted to do a thorough check on his nominees, to avoid having to rusticate ministers shortly after asking them to serve. Is it the case, then, that Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies had been scrutinizing these candidates for four months, or longer?
Or are we to run away with the impression that President Buhari doesn’t really care to divulge the real reason for his inordinate delay? Perhaps, deep down, he’s not convinced that ministers are a big deal in the scheme of things. After all, in mid-September, President Buhari had told a French TV interviewer that civil servants did most of the work, while ministers were there to make “a lot of noise.”
If he believes that sentiment—and I suspect he does—then why didn’t he look Nigerians straight in the face and restate it? Why dress up his lumbering pace in the ill-fitting attire of methodological rigor?
Whatever the real, but unstated, reason for the inexcusable delay in nominating ministers, one hopes that President Buhari realizes that Nigeria is too broken, too buffeted by crises, to afford expending more than four (or six months, if we count from the moment of his election) on personnel matters.
At 70 plus years, there’s no question that Mr. Buhari’s energy level is not what it used to be. But he was aware of his physical limitations when he asked for this job. Nigeria’s educational sector needs revamping. It should be repositioned to produce ethically sound and technically competent men and women equipped to operate a robust, modern economy. Nigerians deserve a healthcare system for the first time, one that would obviate the billions of naira that the country’s medical tourists funnel each year to other countries, in Africa and elsewhere. The country’s law enforcement agencies need to be retooled, empowered to rise to the challenge of combating sophisticated crimes and securing lives and property. Nigeria’s dilapidated infrastructures demand a dynamic response. Nigerians deserve a leader to who applies himself to define policy directions that would diversify the economy, attract investors, and create jobs for milling hordes of unemployed graduates. There should be action to fix Nigeria’s lingering electric power woes. For that matter, Nigerians expect Mr. Buhari to get cracking on strategies for containing the spreading scourge of Boko Haram.
Clearly, then, Mr. Buhari has a huge burden: issues to be addressed, tasks to be taken up. It would be a disaster if he applied the snail speed with which he named a partial list of his ministers to the menu of issues demanding his presidential attention.
If President Buhari is to have a shot at leaving something that would remotely resemble a positive legacy, then he better realize that he does not have the riches of time.
If the president continues to operate like a man with a lot of time on his hands, he—and Nigerians—will soon wake up to realize that the Buhari Presidency has been a colossal waste of Nigerians’ time.