Moses Ochonu: Buhari’s problem is unhealthy personal loyalty

Buhari’s problem can be summed up in two words: personal loyalty. He is loyal to a fault to those who are loyal or allied to him. He rewards loyalty with unquestioning loyalty. That is a potentially fatal flaw of leadership. His appointees know this weakness of his. They know that he is too loyal to them to hold them accountable, to punish them for infractions. They know that their jobs are secure as long as they stay loyal to him, no matter how badly they are doing the said jobs.

That unhealthy political loyalty is what saved Buratai and Danbazzau, and it is why Abba Kyari still has a job as arguably the most powerful person in this administration after Buhari. This undemanding loyalty is the reason why Babachir Lawal, known as “cash and carry” in Abuja power circles for his corruption, still has a job as the fifth person in the constitutional line of succession.

When a leader is too loyal to his appointees, they misbehave; they become lazy; they become complacent and reckless. When they become lazy, corruption, plagiarism, and other kinds of sloppiness occur. The culprits know that nothing will happen to them.

They recently watched as budget padders were simply redeployed instead of punished. They saw those who perpetrated the corruption of illegal recruitments at FIRS and CBN keep their jobs. There is no reason to think that Buhari will start reneging on his fetish of personal loyalty now. Those who plagiarized Obama’s speech were enabled–and emboldened–in their act by Buhari’s history of sticking with loyalists no matter what they do.

There is a final element in our analysis. Buhari’s problem of personal loyalty is compounded by an almost Trumpian reluctance to go back on decisions, to accept that he made a mistake, to reverse himself, and to undo his appointments. The flip side is an inexplicable propensity to stand behind his decisions and appointments no matter how bad they are shown to be.

It is a kind of hubris. But it is also a sign of insecurity, a belief that reversals and the firing of incompetent aides and appointees may portray him as weak, error-prone, and scatter-brained, and give his adversaries an opening. Only insecure, blustery leaders conduct themselves and take decisions (or refuse to take them) because of how they will be perceived or what their enemies may think.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Moses E. Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014).

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