By Miebara Jato
It usually takes president Buhari longer than necessary to make a decision or reverse a bad decision or act on a recommendation or balk to public pressure. To add quickly, he also has a reputation for nepotism. We can point to a myriad of factors why the president behaved that way. But one dominant factor, which is backed by science, is old age.
At 76, President Buhari is among the world’s oldest presidents. He’s in the company with the likes of Paul Biya, Beji Caid Essebsi, and Bounnhang Vorachit. Needless to say that these old men are presiding over poorly performing economies. The truth is, old age limits the vigour, cognitive abilities and performance of presidents.
Lunney, Lynn, Foley, Lipson, and Guralnik in their widely cited 2003 study, “Patterns of Functional Decline at the End of Life” argued that as people grow old, their physical strength, cognitive abilities, and ability to reach goals decline.
In his fascinating book, “Being Mortal” Atul Gawande made a similar anecdotal point, citing the case of Felix Silverstone, an 80-year-old geriatrician, himself had written extensively on aging. “I can’t think as clearly as I used to,” the geriatrician told Gawande. “I used to be able to read the New York Times in half an hour. Now it takes me an hour and a half,” he continued.
Gawande also pointed out that old age also makes people (including presidents, of course) acutely slow to act, become disturbingly inattentive, close-minded, and tend to trust fewer people.
But despite these mounting evidence that connects old age with weak mental capacity, poor performance at any job, still, there are those who believe that with old age is wisdom, experience, therefore, performance.
This may be true, but there are resounding exceptions. Even the bromide “wise old man” is almost a relic as intelligence and experience are no longer acquired with the currency of long life or exclusive to grey-haired men.
In fact, the older you are today, the higher the possibility you are ignorant and unaccustomed to the ubiquitous all-purpose information-technology.
So how does all of this connect to president Buhari’s nepotism and lethargy?
President Buhari had shown mindless favouritism to a particular section of the country in his appointments. For instance, his appointments into the top brass of the military are mostly Hausa-speaking Muslims. Disappointing, but not surprising, right? In 2015, the then new president promised to offer appointments only to people he personally knows and trust.
And because Buhari’s followers and associates are mainly found in the Muslim-majority north, his appointments have unsurprisingly skewed to favour that part of the country.
In a polarised nation like Nigeria, it’s necessary to fairly distribute political appointments among the various ethnic groups. Indeed, most of his predecessors were pragmatic and farsighted enough to ensure that balance. Well, Buhari isn’t your kind of detribalised president!
President Buhari’s other preposterous shortcoming is his lethargy. He is very, very slow to make decisions or act on recommendations, a former top career official once told me in frustration. This had earned him the well-deserved moniker, p “Baba go slow”.
In his first term, it took him over six months to appoint his cabinet. His second term is close to two months but he’s yet to select ministers. Recall it took him months to sign the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Even bills passed by the National Assembly for his assent reportedly languishes in his drawer until they expire; recommendations and memos sent to him stay for months without being touched.
Take another example: his unwillingness to replace the service chiefs despite their apparent incompetence and loud public outcry for their sack, yet the president isn’t taking action.
What’s the explanation for the president’s indecisiveness, his abhorrent display of favouritism?
Let’s hear from an expert: “Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks. They narrow in their circle of friends….they interact with fewer people and concentrate more on spending time with family and established friends. They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future.”
No doubt the president’s behaviour transcends limitations caused by old age. And we cannot use it to sufficiently explain his mulish, indifferent, and nepotistic behaviour. But we know it’s a factor.
Miebara Jato, a social commentator, is based in Yenagoa.