"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.'' – Winston Churchill
Few Nigerians have as long-winded a story as Muhammadu Buhari.
It is easy to get lost in the euphoria that comes with the chants of 'Change' and 'Sai Buhari', but there was a time when Buhari was considered unelectable. Any discussion of his pre-2014 legacy would highlight his first term between 1983 and 1985, his reputation for integrity and discipline, and his perennial losses at the presidential polls
Then 2015 happened. His historic victory over former President Jonathan, as an opposition candidate, no less, added a new and more optimistic chapter. The Army General became a Converted Democrat, and our former Head of State became our President. A story 30 years in the waiting had reached its positive conclusion.
Then 2016 happened. As did 2017, and now, 2018. The arc of President Buhari's narrative has changed as much in 3 years as it did in those 30. And regardless of whether he returns as President in 2019, there will be questions about the story of this term. It is worth looking at what has and will define this chapter of his history.
Who tells his story... and how?
Many nations periodically conduct polls on past leaders, from Germany and the United Kingdom to Australia and the United States. Many of these focus on traits associated with effective leadership, from communication and crisis management to cabinet management and moral leadership. Although these areas allow leaders to be judged on a standard scale through time, they are subject to general and ideological perceptions. In assessing Buhari's legacy, we can focus on party leadership, relationships with the other arms of government, and the more conventional aspects of governance.
In a presidential form of government, the ruling party is led by the president. Though there are many party chairmen and powerbrokers, the president wields significant influence. We have seen this over the years, with PDP Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan in a position to dismiss party chairs and influence their successors. This has often been used as a way to ensure party loyalty at all levels, from Executive-Legislature relations to Federal-State liaisons.
The APC was heralded as a new democratic and progressive party, with Buhari at the helm as a firm and effective leader.
But the APC of 2018 is a far cry from the promise of 2014. Opposing is easy, Governing is harder. And despite a litany of campaign promises, the party, and her leader, have begun to look similar to previous governments. From the initial failure of the party to rally round the selected nominees for the legislative leadership positions to the ongoing conflicts between government officials, the APC has taken on the toga of a party at odds with itself. On both issues, the president has been unhelpfully mute, leaving insinuations and unnecessary issues to fester and brew.
Relations with other Arms of Government
Legislative success is often used as a barometer of presidential achievement and is particularly important for assessing legacies. While successors can easily reverse executive orders, the law of the land is much more difficult to amend. But, of the President's 17 achievements cited at the end of 2017, none involved signature legislation.
For most of his tenure, President Buhari has navigated an uneasy relationship with the National Assembly headed by a powerful Senate President. Most of the key relations between the President and the Legislature focus more on the latter refusing to confirm certain nominees, and the executive refusing to permit officers to respond to constitutional summons. At times like this, effective leadership and collaboration would strengthen democratic ideals and even fast-track specific requests. Yet, the opposite has happened. Buhari blamed government inactivity on the National Assembly, and the National Assembly has already begun impeachment proceedings.
A key aspect of presidential ratings involves communicating with the electorate, especially in times of crisis. This is something President Jonathan learned following his delayed response to the Chibok situation. But President Buhari has been conspicuously quiet, only giving a few media chats, and choosing to address the country on occasions like Democracy Day and Independence Day. In contrast, the President has been outspoken during his frequent trips abroad, committing a few gaffes on the way. He has actively engaged with foreign media through interviews and even published opinion pieces in their dailies. Of course, he has also spent a notable period of his tenure abroad, usually on medical leave.
When evaluating a presidential term or legacy, it is difficult navigating politics and governance. Governance is not merely politics, neither is it charismatic leadership. It touches on the administration's ability to guide and govern. That is why it is essential to look at the capacity to lead, of not just the president, but of his party as well. And ahead of 2019, it is important that we understand the growing difference between our leaders, parties and their visions for Nigeria.
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin