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Buhari as god of small things



It should not come as a surprise if, one of these days, President Muhammadu Buhari’s media team and aides announce that due to the dire times Nigeria is experiencing, kitchen responsibilities in the Presidential Villa has fallen on the President’s to-do list. What would surprise one is not that the President manages kitchen affairs but that he did not seize duties the very day he was sworn in!

Nigeria says she is cutting excessive bureaucratic costs and all the President’s men, burdened with an urgency to make him look good through it all, are turning him into a micro-manager.

In this fictionalised Aso Rock, there exists two reasons we can adduce for the presidential aides to glorify a kitchen take-over.

First, this administration has since its infancy, shown a proclivity for the mundane; its team of spin doctors panders to a Nigerian public that has yet to live the change bayed and fought for. A smokescreen of change –whatever one – to this over-expectant collective is quickly effected when there is a lull in the atmosphere. Second, well, these men just do not know when to stop.

Since May 29, a relentless barracking of infinitesimal moves by President Buhari, many of which are beneath his office, have been packaged as paradigm changers which has huge impact on Nigeria’s future. Thanks to the media and his bureau of spinners, the quagmire that has imperilled Nigeria’s development continues apace with outstanding advances in development-inclined countries. Ethiopia, some weeks back, launched its light rail system to little or no fanfare. It would have suited the austere posturing of Nigeria’s incumbent yet the tale is not the austereness but the manner in which The Guardian UK concluded its article on Addis Ababa light rail by drawing comparison to the delay in Lagos’s quest for same and a rather humorous tweet from a Nigerian stating: “It’s not by Giant of Africa or hiring e-rats. Congratulations Ethiopia!”

Lately, there was a news report that Buhari had “ordered” the stoppage of risk and hazard “special allowances” for Villa guards. The problem with that report is legion. One is the verb “order” and the evocation of dictatorship and autocracy. Did the President truly issue an order to this effect? This is not the first time we will read about the President “ordering” this and that which makes one wonder if Aso Rock has administrative structures and processes independent of the President’s micro-management. Or, is the spate of “orders” more of mischief by journalists who use the fact of Buhari’s background as a military leader to evoke the image of an unrepentant dictator?

Besides the “order”, there is a more annoying issue: Why is the President the one poring over the payment voucher of Villa guards? Is he not supposed to be busy with weightier matters of statecraft while the administrative office handles pay slips?

Is this really how money is being lost in Nigeria – through the salaries of Villa guards? The amount, from the report, is between N25,000 and N75,000. How much does this add up to compared to the bigger problem of the fuel subsidy that is haemorrhaging Nigeria? The point is not that these simple and small changes are entirely useless but Nigeria will profit from a more challenging and arduous structural adjustments where necessary rather than a presidential “order” that can – and most likely will- be easily rescinded when he vacates office.

For today’s celebration, we were assailed with the news of how Buhari slashed celebration budget to N70m. Paid and volunteer PR managers have noisily applauded this, brandishing it before “wailing wailers” as evidence of Buhari’s fiscal superiority over his predecessor. In 2014, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan spent N120bn on Nigeria’s Centenary. Juxtaposed, N70m is a far cry from N120bn, if truly that is the amount spent. Yet, this should not stop us from being circumspect; rightly questioning if the President should be the one to sit on Independence Day budgets. These are roles that should be subsumed within the daily run of affairs with such spending generating neither fuss nor drama.

These days, it seems any which way one turns, there is a report of the President making an order to stimulate people to do their jobs. One day, the media are reporting that in the wake of Saudi Arabia tragedy, Buhari has ordered the National Hajj Commission to account for all Nigerian pilgrims. Another day, we are told that he has ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, to find the abducted former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae. Again, these are supposed to be mundane issues that should not require presidential orders. Why does any agency need to be “ordered” to do its job? What necessitated a presidential intervention in what should be a routine investigative Police job?

Don’t get me wrong, the small things should never be ignored because they build up into a whole; whole can become a phenomenon but so what? Who wants a President who chases crickets when he should be hunting larger games? At whose expense?

Of course, I admit that Buhari is working from ground zero of sorts – he is having to deal with grim realities some of which include lack of structures in government but then the problem of presenting us with a President who slashes anniversary budgets and fixes staff salaries is that he begins to seem he has too much time on his hands. Rather than work towards confronting the complex systemic problems assailing Nigeria and has turned her into a self-fulfilling field of negations, Buhari seems to be wasting time on the small things that can be delegated. To be blindsided, constantly and unwaveringly, by small details will lead to information overload.

The problem, as I see it, is perhaps not Buhari himself or the Presidency although they contribute to the banalisation of the institution they represent. Most of the shenanigans of these frequent “orders” are a consequence of the lopsidedness of the Nigerian governing system: the Presidency is the beginning and end of everything Nigeria. Too much power has been accrued over the years by Aso Rock that it is an exception to the norm for the presidency not to be involved in the workings of the 774 local governments of Nigeria.

Whenever a section of the nation is ailing, we call on the president to intervene. When the refuse in front of our houses threatens to drown us, we call on the president. Issues that should rightly be handled by local government chairpersons are blamed on the Presidency. What is called opposition party in Nigeria thrives on endlessly yapping at the president. There is some sense in this reality. The Nigerian presidency is too powerful, all knowing and overbearing. The kind of power the President embodies will be better dispensed on resolving structural issues like the long-vaunted federalist structure for Nigeria.

It is unsurprising that Buhari’s aides attribute godlike qualities to him and pretend to us he makes the sun rise in the sky daily. Yet, an attribution of every simple issue to the Presidency is not good for anybody least of all the president. The Presidency should not be at the forefront of promoting the myth of an omniscient president who does everything including the small things. Perhaps, he was never even involved in the process that yields directives they say he orders often.