Heart of Arts

Tinubu and the Buhari Playbook: Is it Time to Lose Hope?

Toyin Falola


At the height of the Muhammadu Buhari campaigns pre-2015, the then President of Nigeria enjoyed widespread support placed on an abundance of hope that there would be change — in the economy, security-wise, and in other aspects of the country that were ailing fast. When the Buhari-Osinbajo first term started, and citizens began to notice changes — although starkly different from the positive changes they expected — Buhari and his campaign strategists promised Nigeria the Next Level, pre-2019. The next level for change? Or the next level of promises? Whatever it was that Nigerians believed, Buhari cemented another term of four years as the country’s President; and these extra four years also more than confirmed to those that thought the first administration was abysmal due to ill-luck and if they were among those who thought to give Buhari some time, that the disaster of the first administration was not by happenstance.

The failures and underwhelming performances weighed heavily on Tinubu’s campaign prospects. As much as he tried — sometimes hinting at not being APC’s anointed candidate and facing as much opposition from his party cabals as any average Nigerian — Tinubu could not fully distance himself from the failures of the Buhari government. And maybe he should not have done that. To remedy his image, his campaign strategists brought Nigerians the promise of “Renewed Hope”. Buhari rode in on an abundance of hope for change and good, but the eight years he spent at the helm sapped Nigerians of their hope.

Tinubu came asking the have-nots to dig into their recesses and nurture their seedlings of hope, watering it with trust in him to turn the tide in the country. He was lucky to convince enough people to guarantee him a win at the polls, although the win came with the label of being Nigeria’s least-popularly-voted President. He won an election without a mandate. His domestic policies have been disastrous, portraying him as a sadist whose joy is to see millions of people suffer and die on the streets. His first foray into foreign policy was to threaten a military invasion of Niger, the equivalent of killing his people, for France to steal uranium and the United States to maintain its military base.

It’s about three months into the Tinubu administration, and in what looks like a commitment to his pre-election promise of staying on course and building on the “legacies” of the disastrous Buhari administration, Tinubu’s time in Aso Rock looks like a replication of the Muhammadu Buhari playbook. How so? Let us consider the areas of convergence that have reared their heads this early into the Tinubu administration.

Delay in Appointments

President Tinubu rode into power on the wings of many things. One of those core things that helped him cement his victory at the polls was that he had been away from active public service for so long, a move claimed to be his lifelong preparation for the office of the Nigerian President. However, if his first three months in office are anything to go by, it does not seem like the man who has spent all his lifetime preparing for the presidency is truly prepared for office. This is especially evident in how long Nigeria has been on auto-pilot without a cabinet. Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the only other President that has spent as many days as Tinubu in the selection of ministers to form the cabinet was Presidents Buhari and Yar’Adua, who spent six months and three months, respectively.

Notably, President Obasanjo selected his first cabinet within a week. Spending about three months selecting his cabinet was unexpected from President Tinubu, especially since he came into office when there were grievances from and ongoing negotiations within pressure groups such as the National Labor Congress and the During his first tenure.


Watery Appointments and Square Pegs in Round Holes

As if the delay in the appointment of cabinet ministers was not enough of a bad start to a government that had so much to prove to citizens and doubters, the nomination list of Tinubu’s cabinet members was more watery than solid. Although there were some brilliant nominees on the list, however, the bulk of the nominated cabinet members were Nigerian politicians that either had little to nothing to offer, were battling corruption and related charges, had a track record of bad governance, or were generally bad omen for a country that is hammering on making things better.

During the pre-election campaign, one of the main points that were repeated during Tinubu’s campaign — in the face of doubts about his physical strength in relation to the exertion that might be required of him as the President — was that the office of the President required more of mental exertion than physical strength and that Tinubu knew how to select the best people to work with. Therefore, it falls short of expectations that only a few of his selected ministers cut the figure of capable hands. The public was so nice to him that they gave him a respectable list of men and women of integrity, including Jibrin Ibrahim, Lasisi Lagunju of Tribune, Bishop Hassan Kukah, and Femi Falana. The public even appointed him a Minister of Education, in the person of the super-efficient Professor Is-haq Oloyede.

Beyond the misgivings on the overall capabilities of Tinubu’s ministers, another thing that has been making the rounds since the appointment has been a flashback to when Buhari selected the ministers for his first cabinet. After five months of leaving the nation on auto-pilot, Buhari announced that he had selected round pegs to fit round holes in the appointment of his ministers. However, that claim met with counter-claims that he had several round pegs forcefully driven into square holes on his ministerial list.

The same can be said for Tinubu, whose allocation of ministries seems worse than the initial selection of his ministers. From the placement of Bayo Adelabu in the Ministry of Power to the appointment of Festus Keyamo as the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, to the appointment of Dave Umahi as Minister of Works, the ridiculous appointment of Abubakar Momoh as the Minister for Youth, Gboyega Oyetola as Minister of Transportation, and the placement of John Enoh as the Minister of Sports Development, among other appointments, only a Babalawo can divine what these ministers know about what they are being asked to do. Tinubu has taken a cue from the disaster that was President Buhari’s eight years at the helm in Nigeria, too dangerous and bordering on self-destruction for Nigeria to expect that ministers need not have any iota of knowledge about their assigned ministries.

Self-Appointed Minister of Petroleum

In the announcement of the portfolios of his ministers, one of Nigeria’s key ministries, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, is missing. Although Heineken Lokpobiri has been appointed as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, there is no substantive head for the ministry, hinting at Tinubu taking yet another leaf from Buhari’s playbook — the self-appointment as Minister of Petroleum Resources.

Nigerians need no reminder of how the ministry feared under the leadership of Buhari, whose self-appointment many thought would bring about the much-needed accountability and transparency in Nigeria’s oil-rich Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Against expectations, the ministry continued to suffer oil theft and vandalism with no end; the country experienced some of its worst periods of fuel scarcity; the refineries are still not functional; and there were no significant corruption-free gains in the ministry. Thus, Buhari failed as a minister, but Buhari could not fire Buhari.

If there is anything to learn, it is that the office of the President is Herculean enough; adding the portfolio of a tedious ministry like the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to the role of President cannot bode well, even with the appointment of a Minister of State for Petroleum Resources.

Duplicated Portfolio and Increasing Cost of Governance

Another textbook move from Buhari’s playbook has been the duplication of portfolios in Tinubu’s cabinet, specifically the appointment of ministers and ministers of state for certain ministries like the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, and Ministry of Health, among others. For a president that has been cajoling and urging the citizens to endure the baby steps of pain, there have been no circumspect moves to cut the cost of governance. The duplication of portfolios will mean that each minister will appoint aides and staffers, thereby increasing the running cost of the Tinubu-led government.

The Nigerian Talkshow

Tinubu inherited a lot of woes from his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari. In my last pieces about the Nigerian elections and the newly elected President, I clearly stated problems that the President could expect to have and what the citizens will require of him in his earliest days in office. Those problems manifest themselves in the form of higher living costs, increasing inflation, and general hardship that has left citizens angrier and less tolerant.

Laudable as it is that the Tinubu-led government is making more efforts to communicate with and speak to the citizens than the Buhari government, one thing has been clear: they have made more than they have acted on. Of all the promises Tinubu made during his last national address, there has been no implementation, and the citizens continue to wallow in hardship. Tinubu deploys proverbs and idioms to maximum effect, and he will understand that if you tie down a goat, it is your business to give it cassava. His advisers should let him know that millions of Nigerians have become his goats, as he has tied them down, and he must look for food for them. Before you tax them, at least fatten them.

Decisions before Policies and Feasibility Frameworks

History will remember Buhari’s democratic years for the infamous border closure, cash redesign, and other unfavourable policies rolled out without proper frameworks to ensure that citizens are not at the receiving end of the negative effects of the policies. In borrowing from Buhari’s playbook, Tinubu has also made it a habit of his government to hastily roll out harsh policies, and if such policies are met with backlash, work on trying to backtrack and correct things. This is not how to govern.

Since his assumption to office, there have been policies and acts on the removal of fuel subsidies, the increase in electricity tariff, the increase in school fees for unity schools and federal universities, and introduction of a student loan scheme with stringent conditions.

Every time that the Tinubu government rolled out these policies and acts, they were met with outcries from citizens for their anti-masses tendencies. In reaction, Tinubu’s government has backtracked on many of the policies it hastily rolled out — removing the barriers to the student loan, planning to temporarily re-introduce fuel subsidy, nursing the idea of a paltry 8,000 naira/month/household palliative, and cancellation of the increase in electricity tariff. Mr. President, why would someone behead a person in public and hide the cutlass?

While it is laudable that the government seems to be active in taking feedback from the people’s outcry, it is better to think of establishing feasibility frameworks for every newly conceived policy rather than hastily rolling them out like a government running on a tight deadline to impress before being usurped. The Yoruba have a word for this behaviour: oponu.


Selective Manhunting

Muhammadu Buhari had the citizens’ goodwill because people thought of him as a no-nonsense General that would battle the country’s corruption and security issues. However, Nigerians would soon be shocked by the selective manhunting and incessant abuse of court injunctions that the Buhari-led government would introduce. The selective manhunting was so glaring during Buhari’s tenure that the saying, “To evade your corruption charges, join the APC,” became a popular joke among Nigerians.

Some months into his rule, Tinubu’s government is already showing signs of going that same way of selectively manhunting criminals and corrupt officials. Godwin Emefiele has been made the scapegoat, although he is not the only one complicit in the disastrous handling of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Abdulrasheed Bawa has also been made a scapegoat. Ironically, a convicted person and known accomplice of Nigeria’s most-corrupt Head of State (name withheld), who was indicted for laundering millions of dollars, sits on Tinubu’s cabinet as a Minister. There have also been allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds against three ministers— all without receiving attention from the Tinubu government and the APC-controlled Senate.

Give Him Time

Last on the list of the convergence between the direction Tinubu’s rule is taking and the eight years Buhari spent in government is the unwavering loyalty of core supporters that will never see the signs on the wall or perhaps will see them but choose to ignore them. Buhari started this way, but for every bad policy he introduced and every bad move he made, they kept saying, “Give him time. It’s too early. You don’t expect him to start making positive changes just like that. Nigeria has been rotting for so long; repairing it will take time.” Taking the cue from the apologists and explainers, the Buhari-led government spent its first four years playing the blame game instead of working on the country. And at the end of those four years, there were still people that thought Buhari needed more time and should be given a second chance at governance.

Today, those people, or people like them, are back at it, asking Nigerians to give Tinubu time and repeating the same excuses given during the Buhari tenure. As the country continues to run like a directionless udder, they keep requesting more time for the President. Perhaps some Nigerians have also noticed this pattern that Tinubu’s earliest days in office share with Buhari’s tenure. And if patterns are anything to go by, it is not too early for Nigerians to worry and put their worries into action to pressure the government to be more cohesive and goal-driven in its deeds. As far as I am concerned, my hope has evaporated.

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