Presidential U-Turn: Are You Convinced?

131 days after the Nigerian Senate called for the suspension of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), President Buhari finally suspended him. Hot on the heels, the Director-General (DG) of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke, was similarly relieved by a swift Presidential move.

As is typical of political analysts, we have attempted to explain the rationale behind the suspension and make sense of the government's actions. This raises a problem. All too oft, analysts will look for order in chaos, or put simply; analysts try to explain actions that do not follow a pattern. Good intentions, poor results.

However, for the sake of Nigerians looking to understand the politics of our nation, we will also take a shot, and assess how the President’s U-turn on the SGF has reinvigorated both his critics and supporters.


Supporters – 'Buhari is Working'

Supporters have pointed out that the President’s actions signal his anti-corruption drive; after all, the former SGF was a close confidante. For them, though corruption is fighting back, Buhari will prevail. So is the suspension evidence that the Buhari administration is as effective as supporters claim? There is reason for scepticism. 

Perhaps it is the Senate that is working. 85 days before the suspension, President Buhari rejected a Senate recommendation to sack the SGF, claiming he received ‘unfair treatment’ in their investigation. The Senate was riled, but the President prevailed. 

Senate 0 – 1 Presidency.

50 days later, the Senate dealt Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts a sharp blow by refusing to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC Chairman. 

Senate 1 – 1 Presidency.

If Buhari needed to settle the score with Senate, then it is possible that the suspension was a case of 'trade by confidante'; suspending the SGF in return for securing safe passage for the EFCC Chairman. But these are guesses. In reality, the real reasons behind the U-turn will remain unknown to most of us. The Vice President has begun investigating, and that is all we can put on record.

However, there remains the argument for supporters that the suspension of the DG of the NIA did not need to be traded, and is a signal to naysayers that the Presidency will not tolerate corruption. But even this is open to debate. The NIA claimed ownership of the discovered $43 million, setting itself up for a fall. As a vestige of the previous administration and a 'Jonathan man', it would seem like an easy political win to remove him and also garner political support; killing two birds with one stone. But again, political analysts can only extrapolate or read the 'President's Body Language', because his actions could have been triggered by one, all or none of these reasons. 


Critics – 'Buhari is Not Working'

Critics and disillusioned Nigerians have a case to make that the administration has failed to tackle corruption. Take the case of Ibrahim Magu. As the symbol of the anti-corruption campaign, DSS reports besmirch his claim to be the anti-corruption czar. Objectively, there is little comfort in the fact that 1 year, 10 months and 28 days since Buhari's inauguration, there is no Senate approved EFCC Chairman. Critics celebrate.

At the extreme end, Ayodele Fayose will have you believe that the suspension was to distract Nigerians from the fact that President Buhari missed a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, showing his inability to work at full capacity. In Buhari's defence, the causal link is weak, but the argument is typical of Nigerian politicking and is viral in all the right ways.

Moreover, it touches on a vital point. We do not have to pardon the President for skipping an FEC meeting because he subsequently fired two allegedly corrupt officials. But the Nigerian voter can consider; if for every skipped FEC meeting, two high-ranking corrupt officials were removed from office, we could have removed 200 corrupt officials since President Buhari assumed office. This hyperbole is open for criticism, but it shows the difficult position the President is in. There is no winning; at least to his critics.


Others – 'We just want somebody, anybody, to work'

Nigerians will agree on one thing: we are not neatly divided into Buhari supporters and critics. There are voters in-between. These voters judge the administration based on what they can see and feel; improved quality of life, improved health care, and rising wages, rather than party allegiance. These are the voters who barely heard of the Magu rejection, nor the SGF’s Senate investigation. And for these voters, the requirement could be as simple as looking like the government is working.

On this front, there is room for the President to improve. Many Nigerians were hopeful when the President took over and simply want him to perform. After all, it is in the interest of the average voter if the country leaps forward. But, that Nigerians and politicians alike were surprised at the suspension is telling. Our expectations are so low that we were surprised the President delivered on what he campaigned to deliver. A government that allows this mindset to persist is one that could surely do better.

President Buhari still has time, resources and political support. We are only approaching the midterm of the Presidency. Therefore, if he intends to keep his supporters happy and his critics silent, he should keep acting. Or, forever hold his peace.


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