Priye S. TorulaghaTuesday, July 14, 2015
[email protected]
Boston, Massachusetts, USA




s President Muhammadu Buhari begins his term of office as the political leader of Nigeria, following a landmark electoral victory, it is very tempting to hypothesize that Nigerians largely voted for the man and his past rather than for the system, culture and the institutions of governance. Therefore, when they agreed with the campaign slogans of the presidential candidate of Gen. Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) party about change and fighting corruption, they seemed to have paid a greater interest in changing the man that occupy the office of the president rather than the system and culture.

Nigerians were probably persuaded to change the person in the office rather than the system and culture of governance due to the personality and reputation of Maj. Gen. Buhari, a retired no-nonsense military officer. Thus, from the moment Gen. Buhari declared his candidacy for the 2015 presidential election, many Nigerians felt that the country needed an individual like him to bring sanity, transparency, discipline, accountability, responsibility and change. They also felt that since he is a no double-talking individual, he would be the right person to fight corruption uncompromisingly and tame the beast once and for all.

In this regard, it could further be said that Nigerians were looking for an authoritarian figure rather than a democrat to rule the country. Hence, throughout the campaign for the 2015 presidency, Nigerians tended to view President Buhari subconsciously from the military point of view, rather than from the democratic political point of view. By focusing greatly on the military personality and ignoring the political personality, they conceptualized quite easily that if he wins the presidential election, he would act like a military officer and change the country in a manner characteristics of a military revolution. This is why many voters unhesitatingly voted for Gen Buhari as their preferred candidate. Likewise, it appeared that many Nigerians did not pay sufficient attention to the difference between a military regime and a democratic political administration. So, they assumed that President Buhari will act like a military officer and not as a democratic politician in bringing change to the body politics of the country.

By focusing on the no-nonsense military character of President Buhari, many Nigerians seemed to have simplified the process for change by assuming that as soon as he takes over the leadership of the country he would single-handedly bring about change and fight corruption. The oversimplification of the task during the electoral campaign has led to high expectations that could hinder President Buhari from actually achieving the goals of his campaign. Nigerians, it could also be said, unconsciously desired a military-type of regime rather than a democratic regime to do the job of cleaning the country.

The purpose of this article is to show that Gen. Buhari as a military head of state is quite different from President Buhari as a civilian political head of state. Likewise, to show that Gen. Buhari as a military person is quite different from President Buhari as a politician. Consequently, those who assume that he is going to run the country like a military head of state are mistaken and might be disappointed because the military arena and the democratic political arena are quite different. President Buhari understands the difference and he would not make the mistake of acting like a military head of state, as some Nigerians expect him to do in an effort to wipe out corruption and bring change. In short, the president would not repeat some of the harsh military methods he used as a military head of state because he is operating from a very different perspective. Moreover, he does not want history to repeat itself.

To understand the difference between a military environment and a democratic political environment, it is necessary to describe the characteristics of the two environments. The following describes the difference between a military environment and a democratic political environment:

The Military Environment

  1. The military organization is a highly centralized organization that is designed to operate like a machine. Almost everyone in the military organization is trained and socialize to think and act alike.

  2. It is hierarchically structured from the top to the bottom. Everyone within the system is expected to obey orders and carry out their assignments without asking too many questions. Insubordination is not tolerated at all in the military.

  3. Policies and laws are crafted in the form of orders and decrees. As soon as the members of a military council makes an executive decision, the decision is expected to be carried out in the form of an order. As soon as it is issued as an order, it must be carried out without any question. A decision that carries an almost legal effect is issued as a decree and is enforceable as a law.

  4. A failure to carry out an order can lead to a court martial.

  5. Anyone who violates a decree can be arrested and detained without even a trial in a court of law. Detention in a military environment can be harsh. This is why some Nigerians complained that their loved ones got sick or died after being detained during the regime of Gen. Buhari.

  6. An officer of a lower rank is expected to obey an officer of a higher rank.

  7. The military operates as a close system with less political input from the outside environment.

  8. The military can readily use force to ensure compliance. Thus, the kind of change Nigerians voted for would have been more suitable to be carried out by a military regime since the military can act swiftly, rather than by a democratic administration. Ghana was lucky to have the right military person at the right to institute change that has enabled the country to grow.

  9. Thus, the military environment allows for a swift action. In a military regime, anyone, including the high and the mighty can be arrested on mere suspicion and detained, as soon as an order has been issued.

  10. In a military environment, there is no room to use the concept of the rule of law to challenge a military order.

Evidently, Gen. Buhari thrive very well in the above described military environment. As a military head of state, he was able to institute measures that enabled him to achieve his desired goals without compromising his position. The military environment enabled him to build the no-nonsense image that endeared him to the Nigerian people even after he retired from the military. Apparently, Nigerians voted for Buhari the military no-nonsense general and not President Buhari the politician. Many are increasingly being surprised that he is acting like a politician rather than as a military general.

Democratic Political Environment

On the other hand, the democratic political environment is quite different from the military environment. It requires a different modus operandi to get things going. Similarly, it requires a non-military personality to get the system function appropriately. The reasons are as follows:

  1. A democratic political system is like an organized chaos. For someone who had been socialized and cultured in the military tradition, democracy is a crazy idea. In fact, President Buhari is already experiencing the chaotic nature of democratic politics as different factions of the APC leadership compete to select candidates for leadership positions in the Senate and in the House. Due to the rivalry among the party leaders, the president is being compelled to work behind the scenes to bring sanity to the competitive environment in which he finds himself among the ambitious political tycoons of his party. While he is working to fix the APC problem, the political zones in the country are politicking to have their political shopping bags filled with various public goods and services. At the same time, individuals are hounding him and his associates in an attempt to get positions in government.

  2. The democratic political environment is highly decentralized, thereby, allowing various centers of power and influence to take place. Due to the decentralization, the president is expected to be a deal maker and negotiate his way around the multitudes of power centers and issues. Thus, a democratic president of Nigeria cannot even assure himself that his own political party will work with him in an amicable manner. He is also expected to deal with opposition parties, interest groups and the citizens at large.

  3. The opposition political parties have a right in a democracy to constantly criticize and challenge the president and the ruling party at all times in the hope of defeating the incumbent and the ruling party in subsequent elections. Therefore, the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) would always look for weak spots around the president and the ruling party. It should not be forgotten that the APC did the same to former President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling PDP party. Consequently, the intraparty rivalry within the APC is a blessing to the PDP and other political parties.

  4. A democratic political system operates both hierarchically and horizontally. This means that influence flows in different directions. Consequently, the president is always caught in the middle of the whirlwind.

  5. There are individuals with official powers and those with unofficial powers. Sometimes, individuals who do not have official powers actually wield more power and influence than those with official powers. For instance, in Nigeria, the traditional, religious, political and economic leaders are as powerful as the elected officials and the bureaucrats that operate the governmental system.

  6. Political parties compete to run the government and recruit their members as both elected and appointed public officials. The struggle to control the government often leads to various intrigues. It could be said that President Buhari is already experiencing the intrigues from all quarters of the polity.

  7. Political power is intentionally decentralized. Hence, it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to pass laws, keep the public purse and serves as the watchdog of the government. The president is empowered to implement the laws passed by the legislature. The president does not have the official power to propose and pass laws by himself or herself. It is the responsibility of the Judiciary to interpret the laws and make judicial reviews. The division of power is known as the separation of powers. The three branches are expected to check and balance each other so that no one branch can exercise authority in disproportion to the authority granted by the constitution.

  8. To pass any law, extensive debate is required before a bill is enacted as a law of the land. Sometimes, the parties involved are required to make deals, including exchanging favors to get anything done.

  9. A democratic system involves some elements of corruption, which is sometimes referred to as influence peddling. The reality is that some degree of corruption is an essential grease that makes the system functions well. President Buhari, like his predecessors, would have to occasionally dabble in corruption in order to distribute public resources to various stakeholders. This means that corruption cannot be totally wiped out in a democratic system of governance.

  10. The system operates on the rule of law. This means that every action taken must comply with the rule of law. Likewise, before anyone is arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison, the person must be allowed to defend himself or herself in a properly constituted court of law. Thus, unlike a military general in a military regime, President Buhari does not have the wherewithal to issue an order as a decree or get someone arrested for corruption without following due process.

The Practicality of Democratic Politics

Apparently, President Buhari must be a deal maker since there are many centers of power and numerous powerbrokers. In fact, President Buhari actually succeeded in becoming the president by shedding some of his military characteristics and bending some of his principles. Many examples can be cited to show that he consciously acted and continues to act like a politician rather than as a no-nonsense military officer. First, he sacrificed some of his ethical principles by joining political forces with individuals who do not necessarily share the same high ethical and moral standards like him. Second, he allowed some individuals who accumulated their wealth through means that could be ethically challenged to sponsor his presidential candidacy and to run his campaign for him. Third, he consciously makes effort not to sound like a military officer before speaking out. Fourth, he is willing to listen even if he does not agree with the positions being made or advanced. Fifth, he is very tactical and measured in making decisions about filling important official positions. Sixth, learning from the past, President Buhari would not go it alone in trying to change the country without seeking the opinions of former leaders, noted professionals in various fields and regional traditional and political leaders.

Apparently, President Buhari has a different personality from Gen. Buhari because he is operating from a different political environment. He seems to have realized that the promises he and the APC made could not be easily kept. Hence, he is reconciling and repositioning his perspectives on how best to deal with the thorny issues that affect the country. Consequently, those Nigerians who expect him to move swiftly like a military general and take immediate action to cure Nigerian ills might be disappointed because he does not want to rush and make unforgivable mistakes that could haunt him.

Indeed, President Buhari is right to be cautious and not rush his decisions on any matter. The reason is that Nigeria is a very complex society and the issues are almost intractable. The same Nigerians that are calling for a revolution-like action might turn out later to be the critics if things do not go their way. It should not be forgotten that when Gen. Buhari and Brig. Gen. Tunde Idiagbon initiated the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and took actions that tended to intimidate the press, it was the same Nigerians that were hailing him that turned around to become his greatest critics. The criticism led to the palace coup staged by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Apparently, President Buhari cannot and should not allow history to repeat itself. This is why he is very tactical, measured and cautious.

Consequently, on fighting corruption, President Buhari is treading very carefully. The reason is that if he were to act like a no nonsense politico-military leader, he could wreck his own administration for the following reasons:

  1. He is highly embedded with the Nigerian system, after having been associated with governance for 30 or more years. This means that there are actions or inactions that he might have had taken in the past that could affect his ability to really fight corruption unhesitatingly, despite the no-nonsense reputation. To declare a war on corruption, he has to clear any doubt about his past association with circumstances that relate to the issue.

  2. A strong ties with the Nigerian system means that he is personally associated and acquainted with many former and current military, political and business elites in the country. Therefore, it would be exceedingly difficult for him to take actions that could lead to the detention, trial and possible imprisonment of those he had associated with for decades. Since he does not want to act like a military leader, he would not adopt some of the drastic measures being proposed by some Nigerians to fight corruption. He is going to take the traditional statutory legal route to deal with corruption so that he is not accused of violating peoples' civil rights, as was the case when he was a military head of state.

  3. Likewise, due to his close association with many Nigerian elites who have tampered or pilfered public funds, if he were to launch a revolutionary campaign against corruption, the dragnet could end up catching some of his closest allies. Therefore, he has to be very tactical in fighting corruption in order not to destabilize his own administration.

  4. Due to his campaign promises that he would only hire Nigerians who meet a certain ethical standard and that all his appointees would publicly declare their assets, he does not want to rush in hiring his cabinet ministers. It is better for him to be late than to hire anyone who might turn out to embarrass him and his administration. Moreover, he needs to be extra careful since he is being pressured by the different factions of the APC and the political zones of the country to hire their chosen candidates for various positions. However, he is caught between a rock and a hard place, in the sense that the more he delay the process the more Nigerians become restless and worried that the government is operating without administrative direction. Moreover, the economy could be battered as foreign business partners decide to take a wait and see attitude and refuse to engage in serious business activities in Nigeria.

On fighting Boko Haram, it seems that President Buhari is realizing that the situation is much more complicated than earlier thought. The Boko Haram is a political spoiler for any Nigerian head of state. The reason is that there are very important elements in the country which support the organization. Consequently, if he threatens to wipe out the organization, those who benefit from the insecurity and those who support Boko Haram could make the situation very difficult for him. It should not be forgotten that those who did not like President Goodluck Jonathan used the Boko Haram to create doubt about his ability to militarily crush the organization. The same tactics could be used by his detractors to cause doubt about his ability to fight and crush the organization. It is preferable for him to deploy the military while at the same time negotiate with those who have influence with the Boko Haram. A purely military solution would not end the chaos that is taking place in Northeastern Nigeria, parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It is necessary for the president and his advisers to study the situations in Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq and Syria to know that an unconventional warfare is a very complicated and messy affair. Even the greatest military power on earth has not been able to tame the beast. This is why the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue to operate.

One area in which President Buhari must really tread very carefully is foreign relations. The reason is that his campaign for the presidency was closely intertwined with the strategic interests of the Western world. The West was very supportive of his political campaign to the extent that Chatham House invited him to make a presentation in order to boost his political standing internationally. Now that he is the president, tremendous pressure might be mounted by Western nations for him to reciprocate. If he is seen by many Nigerians and Africans in general as being too pro-Western, he might be accused of being a Western tutelage. On the other hand, if he moves away from the Western orbit, his administration could be jeopardized by the outside stakeholders that invested politically and otherwise to actualize his electoral victory over President Jonathan.

Another potential threat to his administration is the APC. The APC is a five-headed dragon. The different political parties that came together to form the All Progressives Congress party did not have enough time to congeal before the electoral victory of the party over the PDP. As a result, the different factions are vying for predominance in the party and in the National Assembly. If the president fails to pay sufficient attention to the APC, the party could bring him down just as some high-ranking members of the PDP contributed to the defeat of President Jonathan in the election of March 28, 2015.

Indeed, the slow and tactical manner in which the president is running the affairs of the country is causing restlessness among some of his impatient supporters and those who assume that he is going to wave a magic wand and immediately solve the problems which besiege Nigeria. Instead of blaming President Buhari they should blame themselves for mistaking Gen. Buhari with President Buhari. They should blame themselves for assuming that President Buhari would lead a democratized Nigeria by acting like a military dictator instead of serving as a democratic leader. They should blame themselves for pretending to support democratic means while inkling for a military-like solution to the endemic problems that face the country. If Nigerians are sincere, they should also change their ways and work with the president to gradually change the culture of corruption and impunity.

President Buhari should always have it at the back of his mind that in Nigeria, the principle of ungovernability has been established as a political weapon to destabilize a government by detractors. His detractors could easily rationalize that since ungovernability was acceptable against President Jonathan, it is also acceptable against President Buhari. Consequently, it could be used against him the way it was used against former President Jonathan. Indeed, unlike Gen. Buhari, President Buhari is in the midst of a political storm.


There is no quick fix and painless solution to the endemic problems that have been wearing down the country for decades. President Buhari cannot do it alone, even though he and the APC were responsible for raising the expectations of Nigerians. The most important lesson here is that in a democratic political system, it is strategically unwise to take the high moral ground and make promises that are suitable for a revolutionary government. Gen. Buhari and the APC acted as if they were a revolutionary group during the presidential campaign, thereby, raising high expectations. After the electoral victory, the APC leadership realized that the promises it made could end up ensnaring some of its leaders, so, a tactical withdrawal from the daring promises is being made. This is why President Buhari is being cautious, tactical and measured.