Today is exactly 35 days since Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office. It is also exactly 127 days (more than four months) since the President was presented a Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission after being declared the winner of the presidential election conducted on February 23 2019. Since Buhari has spent over a third of the first 100 days of his second term, and over four months since receiving a Certificate of Return, it will not be out of place to talk of the journey so far.
Well, 35 days into his second term in office (or more than four months after he was given a Certificate of Return by INEC), the President is yet to make any appointment, including for such crucial positions as Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government and Media aides which do not require Senate confirmation. Though some of the former aides such as Garba Shehu, (his SSA Media) and Boss Mustapha, (the Secretary to the Government) continue to issue statements on behalf of the government, no one knows if they have been re-appointed or not. It should be recalled that during a valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council on May 22 2019, the President told members of his cabinet to continue to work until May 28 (when his first term in office formally ended) and then to hand over to the permanent secretary in their respective ministries.
As the President ended his first term in office, the boards of at least ten government agencies, including critical ones like Nigeria Custom Service, Pension Commission and Federal Inland Revenue Service had not been constituted. Some of the boards have the statutory function of formulating policies for their agencies. In fact while the President dissolved the governing boards of several federal parastatals, agencies and institutions in July 2015 (barely two months after coming to office), he did not reconstitute the dissolved boards until December 2017 (some two years after they were dissolved). Even at that, about five dead people managed to make the list of the reconstituted boards.
People expected the President to demonstrate that his second term in office would avoid tardiness such as the above and prove that those who daub him ‘Baba Go Slow’ are just a bunch of ‘Wailing Wailers’ or ‘Buhari haters’ or ‘corruption fighting back’. There was no speech and no appointment of any sort made on May 29, the inauguration Day. The President’s supporters argued that since June 12 had just been made the new Democracy Day, any expectation of appointments or profound policy statement would be on that day. Yes, there was a speech on June 12 but it sounded more like an inauguration speech than a Democracy Day speech that should celebrate the country’s democratic struggles, the journey so far and why June 12 was made the new Democracy Day. There was still no formal political appointment on that day.
So what can we make of the Buhari government so far – in the absence of a Federal Executive Council?
From the President’s speech on Independence Day, we are unlikely to see a radical departure from what he did during his second term in office. Buhari said in that speech that his new administration would “consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the lapses inevitable in all human endeavours and tackle the new challenges the country is faced with and chart a bold plan for transforming Nigeria”. He also promised to dedicate the rest of his life to “work for the unity of Nigeria and upliftment of Nigerians”.
While the President did relatively well in the provision of infrastructure during his first term in office and in containing Boko Haram, one of the lapses people expected to see him correct is apparent insensitivity to public opinion and complete disregard of the role of optics in governance. While it is true that leadership is not a popularity contest and that a leader should not be bullied by public opinion, being sensitive to the mood of the public can only do any government a world of good. This is a major reason some governments hire private pollsters to help them get untainted feedback from the people on how it is perceived and how some of its planned programmes will be perceived. It is not just enough to feel righteous about the intentions behind policies and programmes. After all, did we not all learn that the road to hell was originally paved with the best of intentions?
Had the government been a little more sensitive to public opinion, it would not have made certain policy mistakes that made it start its second term on a rather controversial note. It certainly could have handled the herdsmen issue differently. First was the rumour that the government was to pay the cattle breeders’ association Miyetti Allah N100bn to help them stop kidnapping (since denied by the government). Again just days after Obasanjo accused the government of ‘Fulanization and Islamization’ agenda, the government very unwisely announced plans to set up a radio station that would broadcast exclusively in Fulfude. The furore generated by this had hardly died down when it was announced that the government has gazetted lands to set up RUGA settlement for the herders in 36 states of the federation, and that trial had already begun in some states. Though the government has reportedly suspended the initiative to enable “wider consultation”, the harm has already been done, feeding into existing narrative and conspiracy theories of a hidden agenda. There was also the announcement by Miyetti Allah that it was going to set up Fulani vigilante groups in the South East.
There is no doubt that the intention behind some of these initiatives might have been noble, but given the prevailing atmosphere of heightened suspicion and profiling of one group (which the government’s missteps unwittingly encouraged), a more sensitive government would have factored the way these policies would be perceived in the current environment and then appropriately pace their roll-out and with the ‘right’ names and nomenclatures. Given the deeply ingrained perception (or misperception) by sections of the country that the government has a hidden agenda, I doubt if there is any policy it can come up with now to solve or attenuate the herdsmen crisis that will not be viewed with suspicion. I strongly feel that the government should, for now focus on confidence building among the different ethnic nationalities, in particular between the herdsmen and their indigenous communities.
What is worrying in all these is the apparent triumph of the ‘singularity of identity’ narrative. With the increasing profiling of the Fulani ethnic group because of the murderous Fulani herdsmen, we all quickly forget that a typical Fulani, just like the rest of us, also embodies a mosaic of identities. Their identity does not start and stop in owning cattle or being herdsmen. Many are additionally respected academics, lawyers, businessmen, members of our sports or social clubs, our colleagues at work or close friends we respect and cherish. These are also identities that interface with their Fulani identity. Unfortunately, like in all profiling and stereotyping, there is a tendency to freeze other identities into the identity we want to vilify. And it is something all ethnic groups in the country, including the Fulani, are guilty of. Today it is the Fulani, tomorrow it may the turn of the Igbo, and next the Yoruba as we all sanctimoniously reduce the ‘trouble with Nigeria’ into the simplistic binary of ‘we’ versus ‘they’.
While our herds mentality is a problem, the Buhari government’s mismanagement of the herdsmen crisis, in particular not building enough confidence and not convincing Nigerians from sections of the country that the government is neutral, as it should be, in the inter-ethnic, inter-regional, inter-religious and even intra class struggles for ascendancy, creates legitimacy issues not just for the government but for the ethnic group that is suspected to be favoured. And like in every stereotype, even those from the assumed favoured ethnic group who are opposed to the government’s policy options will be tarred with the same brush. So how will they feel? A Fulani who is opposed to the Buhari government’s mishandling of the herdsmen issues but at the same time sees his Fulani identity being pummelled will no doubt momentarily forget his opposition to Buhari’s policies on herdsmen to defend his Fulani identity which he now perceives to be under threat. This is what Amartya Sen, the Indian economist, philosopher and 1998 Nobel Prize Laureate in economics meant when he tells us that the identity that is perceived to be under threat is the one most vociferously defended.