THERE is an old saying that every artist draws his own wages. The powers of an office are usually defined, especially in a democratic atmosphere governed by the rule of law. But that does not mean that everybody who occupies that office will exude the same amount or aura of power. The power of an office is often measured by the character of the person occupying it at a given time.
It is often said that the Office of President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is one of the most powerful in the world. Former President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged this when he said if he had wielded 30 per cent of the powers of his office, he would be called a dictator. He made it clear that he was not a “general”, emperor or “Pharaoh”.
Ask yourself this question: Why would Nasir el Rufai, who now governs Kaduna State, bolt into exile, when Alhaji Umar Yar’ Adua was sworn into the office of President? He returned soon after Yar’Adua died and insolently poked his finger into the eyes of President Jonathan. Why would Nuhu Ribadu do the same, even to the point of running for president against Jonathan?
The answer is simple. Jonathan could not exhibit the true mystique of the office of the President which he occupied for over six years. One word can describe the Jonathan presidency in terms of the mystique factor: shallow. Jonathan only demonstrated the power of the Presidency through one of its many points of efficacy: the power to hire and fire. Jonathan continued to hire and fire government officeholders till his last few days in power. But it did not make him look “powerful”. A jackal’s jaws are useless to a squirrel on a tree branch. If people outside government cannot feel the magnetism of the Presidency, then why bother?
President Muhammadu Buhari has mounted the Presidency in the typical fashion of a man who, like Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’ Adua, understands power. The Presidency has recovered the aura it lost under Jonathan. It was so absent that his wife, Patience (alias Mama Peace) tried to fill the vacuum but ended up demystifying it further. Buhari is doing what Jonathan failed to do: he strikes fear into those who have reason to fear, and he keeps everyone else guessing.
When Obasanjo came in 1999, he made those who sent him to jail and their collaborators shiver and shake by re-jigging the armed forces, police and security agencies. Any Nigerian president who will not proclaim a fight against corruption will never be “feared”. Obasanjo used this weapon effectively, but whether he was less guilty of the same crime is a matter for another day. Yar’ Adua fought corruption by simply declaring his family’s assets publicly. Everybody scampered. But when Jonathan refused to disclose his assets and started making “friends” with members of Obasanjo’s “Corporate Nigeria”, those who scampered into holes re-emerged and strutted the landscape like lords.
Obasanjo’s “anti-corruption crusade” was a hollow drama, but some Nigerians still believe, even now, that it was worthwhile the way Ribadu went about it. But Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda appears far more convincing. People see him, rightly or wrongly, as having a credible track record of integrity and the will to crack down on thieves, no matter how highly placed (if there is such a thing as a highly-placed thief!).
Buhari has created an atmosphere of suspense. Everybody is holding their breaths and waiting to exhale. Being able to keep people guessing is one of those intangible things that make a Nigeria president seem more powerful than true. Politicians usually rush to reward their party members and those who helped them to win power with juicy posts. They quickly award contracts to meet the pressures of the conventional “first 100 days in office”. But Buhari will have none of that.
Instead, he sits on his palms and tells us not to expect ministers within the first 100 days. He says he is using the 100 days to “clean up the deep rot” left behind by Jonathan’s PDP. He says he is finding it difficult to get men and women clean enough to be appointed ministers. This sounds like music in the ears of those looking for Change.
The impact of this approach is magical. Everybody stays indoors to observe how Hurricane Buhari is blowing. Even All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains are forced to watch and wait. The business community, lost for direction, waits. The National Assembly, fresh from crisis, tries to look for Buhari’s smiling face rather than engage some controversial appointments, such as those of the Director General of the Directorate of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, and “acting” Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mrs. Amina Zakari. “Watchdogs”, the media and civil society watch (pardon the pun) and wait the way they never did during the days of PDP’s Jonathan. Even PDP, the unlikely opposition party, complains rather than adopting the APC’s attack strategy when Jonathan was in power.
One thing is sure, though: no one holds his breath forever. One day soon, everyone will have to exhale, and when it comes, it will be a heavy whoosh! This is a democracy, after all! Just wait until the federal cabinet is in place and the boards are filled. Just wait until Buhari unfolds his economic agenda, and Amina Zakari conducts her first elections. Just wait until Buhari begins to govern effectively. The guessing game will end.
What matters is where the orchestration of power leaves you and I. Will Buhari use the mystique of power to fight for us or against us? Will he leave us better than he met us? Will he defeat Boko by December, return our stolen money, jail those who stole and give Nigeria a chance to work? Would he make you and I feel good equally as Nigerians? That would be a great improvement of 1984/85. And that would be nice!