Farooq Kperogi: Six agenda items for Tinubu’s success
Exactly a month from today, Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be inaugurated as president of Nigeria—unless something seismically dramatic happens before then. There are literally hundreds of suggestions I can offer for the success of his administration, but I have chosen to isolate only six.
1. Refrain from avoidable delays in decision-making. It is better to take a bad decision and correct it after seeing its effects than to wait until eternity to make one. That’s why it’s customary to say that indecision is the graveyard of good intentions. Muhammadu Buhari’s spectacular and lamentable failure as a president was built on the fundament of indecision.
Buhari couldn’t make up his mind about anything and took half-hearted, ineffective decisions only after the urgency of moments had passed. He couldn’t come up with his cabinet members months after he was declared winner of the 2015 election.
Governing boards of government agencies, which are the engines of everyday governance, were unfilled years after Buhari was inaugurated as president. That was one of the reasons the economy took a tailspin into predictable chaos from which it hasn’t recovered.
To avoid Buhari’s fate, Tinubu should assemble his cabinet members while he is awaiting his inauguration and announce them within the first week following his inauguration. He should also fill all vacancies in governing boards of government agencies within the first few months of his administration.
More than 2000 years ago, Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero memorably said, “More is lost by indecision than [by] wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. It will steal you blind.” Buhari’s indecision didn’t steal him blind; it stole Nigeria blind. Tinubu shouldn’t replicate it.
2. The choice of cabinet members should lean toward savvy and competent people. I am aware that in presidential democracies cabinet positions are often given as rewards to politicians who supported a presidential candidate during electioneering. I don’t expect Tinubu to not reward people who supported his electoral victory.
Nevertheless, in light of the multiple burdens of heightened insecurity, economic stagnation, progressively dysfunctional infrastructure, etc. that he is inheriting from Buhari, not to mention the deteriorating crisis of confidence that the APC has engendered in the last eight years, Tinubu will earn the confidence of the nation if he appoints apolitical, clear-eyed, and demonstrably experienced and capable people to supervise the economic, security, power, and other consequential sectors of the nation.
Most previous administrations have a history of inviting politically neutral experts into cabinet and other significant positions in government. The Buhari regime departed from this norm. Tinubu should return to it. If Tinubu goes beyond having just a smattering of so-called technocrats in his cabinet—like Obasanjo, Yar’adua, and Jonathan did—to actually ensuring that they set the tone for his administration, he will inspire confidence.
Of course, being a non-political subject-matter expert isn’t always a guarantee of success at assigned tasks. There are intimidatingly credentialed know-nothings. Tinubu should, because of this, set up achievable and measurable metrics to evaluate the performance of ministers, and fire non-performing ministers irrespective of their credentials. Buhari kept the same cast of lusterless, non-performing ministers, except for the few that resigned on their own, for the entirety of his administration.
3. Forgiveness and inclusivity. Presidential electoral contests are inherently divisive and toxic, and their aftersensations can linger longer than is normal. Nigeria’s primordial fissures particularly aggrandise the noxiousness of electoral contests. Revenge and exclusion are the easiest emotions to crowd the mind of a victor in such contests, but the easy path isn’t always the right path.
Tinubu should work to earn the trust of people who didn’t vote for him, including people who don’t believe he legitimately won his election. I am the first to admit that it’s hard to embrace people who perpetually malign, belittle, and vilify you, but purposeful leadership entails responsibility, self-denial, forgiveness, and a large heart.
In appointments and location of projects, he should reflect Nigeria’s intricate diversity. He also should not, in words and in deeds, marginalise parts of Nigeria that resent him and unfairly elevate his natal constituency. It’s easier to win over opponents by repaying their hostility with kindness than to fight them back. That was one thing Buhari never learned.
In any case, after becoming president, there will automatically be power asymmetry between Tinubu and his traducers. The fact of being president dwarfs any vilification he may receive from his opponents and critics. Success, they say, is the best revenge. How he treats opponents will define him more than how he treats people who support him.
4. Take religion out of governance. Exhibitionistic preening of religiosity by high-profile government officials is the sole reason religion has become intolerably contentious in Nigeria’s polity. It engenders feelings of symbolic exclusion in people whose co-religionists are not in power.
Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida made the germinal error of centralising religion in the business of governance when he built a mosque at the Presidential Villa and glamorised Islamic worship there on Fridays.
Olusegun Obasanjo replicated a Christian, retaliatory version of what Babangida started. He built a Christian chapel at the Presidential Villa and ordered live television broadcasts of his worship. Oby Ezekwezili, a minister in the Obasanjo regime, said in a 2006 interview with the Guardian on Sunday that the Presidential Villa chapel encapsulated the defeat of Satan.
“Satan had been sitting pretty before,” she said. “Now God has dislodged Satan, but we needed to clear all the debris that Satan had put in place in what was his former territory.”
This sort of inflammatory rhetoric from mindless religious bigots like Ezekwezili, the kind of which animated the last election, was possible because of the Muslim bigotry that Babangida inaugurated and enthroned, which his successors did nothing to tamp down.
Tinubu has an opportunity to reverse this. He and his vice president should not show off the performance of their faith. There should be no live broadcasts of his Juma’t prayers or umrah.
5. Don’t increase petrol prices by other names. I know that there is now an artfully manufactured consent, particularly among the gilded classes in Nigeria, about the undesirability of “fuel subsidy.” I don’t care what it’s called, but any policy (call it deregulation, subsidy removal, appropriate pricing, etc.) that results in an arbitrary and unbearable hike in the price of petrol without a corresponding increase in the salaries of workers and an improvement in the living conditions of everyday people will sink Tinubu.
Resuscitating existing refineries and creating conditions for robust private sector investment in building new ones are obvious, well-worn solutions to the existing order, which have been floating around for years. Any serious government would make this happen.
No responsible government shies away from subsidising the production and consumption of essential commodities for its people. I have lived in the United States, the belly of the capitalist beast, for nearly two decades, and I can tell you that governments at both federal and state levels heavily subsidise petrol consumption—in addition to agriculture.
When gas prices increased dramatically a few months ago here, both Joe Biden and state governors granted tax holidays to oil companies so they could lower the cost of petrol. Biden tweeted daily about the reduction in gas prices that his policies enabled. Americans call high petrol prices “pain at the pump” for a reason.
The surest way for a government to lose legitimacy here is to allow petrol prices to go up without doing anything about it. That’s why America’s 50 states collectively spend $10 billion a year to subsidise petrol consumption.
I know Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi said they would “remove fuel subsidy”—a code for they’ll increase petrol prices— if they’re elected president, but I can assure Tinubu that if petrol price hikes deepen people’s misery, he’ll have a tough time governing.
6. Communication is key to success in a modern presidency, and Tinubu can’t afford to duplicate Buhari’s template of an uncommunicative presidency. Tinubu obviously now struggles with his speech, stumbles on some words, and occasionally blanks out. It’s understandable that his minders will want to continue to shield him from news interviews, which could provide materials for disparaging comic skits.
But he and his minders can learn from Joe Biden who is a natural stutterer and who has been known as a “gaffe machine” since his younger days. He doesn’t grant many media interviews, but he delivers remarks on camera. A president whose communication is always delivered by aides will lack political, social, and symbolic presence. And that’s a disaster.
In writing his speeches for periodic broadcasts on major policies, Tinubu’s speech writers should take care to avoid writing words he struggles to pronounce. Instead of writing “administration,” for instance, which he apparently has a hard time pronouncing, they should prefer “government.” That’s Speech Writing 101 that his speech writers fail all the time. That was why they wrote “ballyhoo” and “hullabaloo” for him that, in a state of momentary mental confusion, he mispronounced as “balablu” and “bulaba.”
Finally, he should never for any reason ban social media, especially Twitter, where he is, for now, hugely unpopular. In a democracy, people have a right to not like the president.
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