Monday, 01 June 2015 00:00

President Muhammadu Buhari sets out priorities but is yet to appoint government


President Muhammadu Buhari set out his governance and security priorities during a short address at his inauguration on 29 May.1 However, he failed to ensure that his chosen candidates won the most senior offices in the national assembly. This will make it harder for him to pass his reform agenda and increases the risk of policy delays. During his inauguration, Buhari:

  • Emphasised the curtailing of corruption, but pledged that there would be no “paying off old scores” 2 in an apparent attempt to reassure members of former president Goodluck Jonathan’s(2010-2015) administration that he would conduct a political witch-hunt;3
  • Criticised Nigeria’s record of governance, accusing politicians of behaving “like spoiled children breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house”.4 Buhari pledged to revamp the judiciary and revise Nigeria’s federal structures to improve the relationship between the federal government and states;5
  • Announced that the government would move its command centre for forces fighting Boko Haramfrom Abuja to Maiduguri (Borno State) to improve coordination and decision-making.6 Buhari also pledged to overhaul the security services’ rules of engagement to “avoid human rights violations in operations”.7Buhari announced that the federal government would continue to “invest heavily” in the Niger Deltaas the region’s amnesty programme ends in December.

There are, however, already questions about Buhari’s political acumen.8 His failure to announce a cabinet and fill key positions including secretary to the federal government (a key office as it is responsible for the effective implementation of government policies and programmes) has triggered popular concern that Buhari’s reform agenda has stalled before it even started.9

“Considering that this was Buhari’s fourth attempt at the presidency, I would have thought he would have a good idea who his personal staff like the chief of staff should be; he had people functioning in these roles during the campaign who he could appoint. Nigerians need to see and know that the government is moving.” 10

Much of this criticism is unjustified. Buhari had already warned that it would take several weeks to form a government. Discussions continue behind the scenes over key appointments, and Buhari has submitted a provisional list of names for security clearance.11 It also reveals a misunderstanding of Buhari’s character.

“Reports from insiders indicate that Buhari keeps a lot very close to his chest and is very much his own man. It would appear that Buhari’s reserve is mistaken for inaction.”12

Buhari is not prone to rushing decision-making.

“Buhari does not want to be rushed into making decisions; he is under an incredible amount of pressure from people either wanting their own appointments or offices for their preferred candidates. I don’t see the delay making appointments as a worrying sign but rather a desire to think things through logically and take time to consult.” 13

Once Buhari makes a decision, he is not liable to reverse it,

"There are only a few people who can persuade him once his mind is made up about something."14

There are, however, genuine concerns about the ability of members of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) to outmaneuver him. Buhari failed to ensure the victory of his chosen candidates for the position of senate president and house of representative speaker during their elections on 9 June. The senate elected Kwara Central (Kwara State) senator Bukola Saraki as its president.15 While Saraki is a member of the APC, he did not have the backing of the APC and required opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) support to win. Buhari was reportedly in a meeting with APC senators when Saraki engineered a vote by successfully arguing that the 57 senators present constituted a quorum. The APC leadership’s chosen candidate, Yobe North (Yobe State) senator Ahmad Lawan, was at the APC senators’ meeting, meaning Saraki was elected unopposed. Saraki, as a former governor of Kware State (2007-2011), was the founder of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum in 2007. Under former president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua (2007-2010), Saraki was influential as chair of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum.

“Saraki played a strong role in the Yar’Adua years and was influential on many policies, ministerial nominees.” 16

The House of Representatives on 9 June elected Yakubu Dogara, a PDP representative from Bauchi State, as its speaker.17 Dogara defeated APC candidate Femi Gbajabiamilaafter sufficient numbers of APC representatives ignored their party’s instructions to vote for him.

The appointments will make it harder for Buhari to pass his legislative agenda and his authority.

“Buhari will face considerably more wily political operators than Saraki within his inner circle. I am thinking especially of APC political godfather Raji Babatunde Fashola. You have Fashola maneuvering for a key behind the scenes position like chief of staff where publically he gets none of the criticism that Buhari will, but can keep pulling strings. You need to look at your history to understand Buhari’s position. Fashola was chief of staff to his predecessor as Lagos State governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu.” 18

Buhari has moved to temper expectations, claiming his age (72) means he needs additional support.19 This is a risky strategy if opponents use his age and public mistakes as a sign of weakness.

“Buhari has publically referred to the now defunct West Germany and Organization of African Unity. I certainly don’t think he’s senile or even an old man, it’s just that when on ‘autopilot’, he returns to his last administration 1983 – 1985.” 20

This article appears in Africa Risk Consulting’s Monthly Briefing on Nigeria. See website:

1 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

2 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

3 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

4 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

5 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

6 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

7 Punch NG, 29 May 2015.

8 Source, senior western diplomat, Lagos

9 Source, senior western diplomat, Lagos

10 Source, policy consultant, Nigeria

11 Source, investigator, Nigeria

12 Source, policy consultant, Nigeria

13 Source, policy consultant, Nigeria

14 Source, policy consultant, Nigeria

15 This Day, 9 Jun 2015.

16 Source, political analyst, Lagos

17 This Day, 9 Jun 2015.

18 Source, senior western diplomat, Lagos

19 The Guardian, 17 Jun 2015.

20 Source, political analyst


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