COVID-19 and the temporizing style of President Buhari, By Isaac N. Obasi

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President Muhammadu Buhari

It was Benjamin Franklin (one of the influential founding fathers of the United States) who said that ‘you may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again’. For Napoleon Bonaparte (a French Military General and a very notable Emperor) ‘take time to deliberate, but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in’. Furthermore, Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th president of the United States), summed it up when he advised that ‘in a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing’. These wise sayings speak directly to leaders who delay in taking decisions when confronted with hard choices in governance circle. 

Temporizing is the name for such behavior in governance. In actual fact, temporizng can be said to be a trade mark of some politicians in governance. Many countries would always have in abundance such politicians who like to buy time over a pressing knotty public policy problem. In Nigeria and in our time, President Muhammadu Buhari’s style of governance since 2015 to date typifies such. President Trump of the United States adopted this style over a month ago when he kept wishing away the imminent COVID-19 with such statement as ‘America is fine’ thereby denying reality. Unfortunately COVID-19 hit God’s own country in a disastrous manner.  

Coming to President Buhari, his temporizing style manifested more openly after his inauguration in 2105. Everyone then expected him to hit the ground running with the appointment of ministers but alas, it took him several months to do that. As if to corroborate Roosevelt’s saying, his ‘best decision’ (appointment of ministers) taken at a wrong time (after much procrastination) ended up not satisfying the expectations of a wide spectrum of Nigerians. During that period of procrastination, he justified his unjustifiable temporizing style with the statement that permanent secretaries are the ones who do the enormous work, while ministers do the talking. He created the wrong impression that having ministers was a burden to his administration. 

But across much of the world, whether in republics, constitutional monarchies or even in what Niccolo Machiavelli (in his famous book The Prince) called principalities (which are hereditary), heads of government need and appoint a Cabinet (made up of able assistants called also Council of Ministers). The roots of President Buhari’s temporizing style can be traced to the early part of his administration in 2015. Ironically, this temporizing manner of his, constitutes his idiosyncratic style perhaps not in the perspective of Chief Femi Adesina while rationalizing the inability of the president to address Nigerians on COVID-19 pandemic much earlier as demanded by many Nigerians. 

COVID-19 more than anything else in Nigeria’s governance history has exposed President Buhari’s administration as the most temporizing of our time. This is in spite of the quality and commendable nature of his address on COVID-19 on Sunday March 29, 2020. For all intents and purposes, his COVID-19 nation-wide address put a lie to the view that he is a ‘working and not a talking president’, after all an effectively working president is also a sensibly and shrewdly talking president. This is a good governance principle which all heads of government consciously or unconsciously obey. Again, this is the raison d’etre for appointment of chief press secretaries, media advisers or spokespersons. 

It was wrong for a presidential spokesperson to tell the world during the ensuing cut-and-thrust debate (prior to the address) that a president’s style of not addressing Nigerians is simply idiosyncratic. Although, President Buhari is a reticent politician, but this in no way should make him the most temporizing politician of our time. A president who takes pride in delaying taking decisions when needed most or who ignores public opinion when a matter needs his urgent attention, is miles away from delivering good governance in a timely manner. Unfortunately, when the same president turns around to take decisions on this same matter belatedly, he ends up being more reactive and invariably reducing the quality of his governance regardless of his good intensions. Time is of essence in governance and much more in times of COVID-19 pandemic which involves rapid infections of loss of lives as the minutes go by.   

For example, the price being paid for the President’s temporizing style on responding to crucial issues that required his stamp of authority on the COVID-19 pandemic is what is happening right now namely the rising cases of infection. As at 11:15am Tuesday, March 31, 2020 (see http://www.punchng.com) there are a total number of 135 cases across 11 states and the FCT. Ironically, the resultant policy response in the President’s address (namely the targeted lockdown of three states, banning of domestic air travels among others) would have proactively reduced (by hindsight now) this rising curve of COVID-19 infection. 

If these policy interventions (in the President’s speech) were taken a week earlier for example, we would not have perhaps recorded as high as these 135 cases. Again, if these well targeted policy measures were taken two weeks back, those who returned with the last flights following the banning of international flights into Nigeria, would not have been among the purveyors of this spread RIGHT NOW. In fact, if the policy measures were taken three weeks ago, Nigeria by now would have crossed its peak and the curve would have been flatting gradually by now. This high number of cases is the price we pay for procrastination in governance. Perhaps, the worst is yet to come because we have not reached the peak of our infection curve. 

Although the policy measures contained in the president’s address are commendable, they are so to the extent however that they are majorly reactively proactive. For now, the problem of COVID-19 infection is ahead of those commendable policy responses due to the temporizing style of President Buhari’s administration.  

Prof. Obasi teaches Public Administration at the University of Abuja. Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com      


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