When this column made its debut on October 28, 2008, it began with a poignant and pointed headline: “Is Nigeria proving hard for Yar’Adua”? It was a headline necessitated by the tempers of the times during Yar’Adua torrid presidency. The state of despair and disillusionment in the land was frightening.
He behaved and acted like a stranger in Aso Rock. He didn’t know when to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to hold it in reserve. He exhibited absolute faithlessness and lack of firmness in most of the decisions he made. He maintained annoying imperturbable calmness when urgent action was needed on crucial matters affecting the country. This may seem like a sinking sticker on the late president. But every passing day, Nigeria under Yar’Adua as president, became sicker than many of us imagined.
It was so because every country is as good or bad as the man or woman in charge of its affairs. Every president can only infuse democracy with a new intensity of participation if he shows competence in the issues that call for his attention. Competence is the only virtue that can fill a leader with a genuine self-confidence. In the absence of this, nothing works.
Yar’Adua has long gone. And Dr. GoodIuck Jonathan has since ascended the presidential throne. But the niggling question still remains. Is Nigeria proving too hard for Jonathan? I reframed the question because many Nigerians believe, perhaps rightly so, that nothing much has changed since Jonathan Presidency began 120 days ago. Majority still feel that governance in the past four months is like business without a soul, prompting many people to ask (as they did during Yar’Adua’s administration): does President Jonathan have the gravitas, indeed, the philosophical grounding to turn things around in Nigeria?
This is not a rap on the President. But, as people continue to ask, and with some justification, aren’t four months reasonable enough to see in concrete terms, serious policy measures bearing fruits. Showing competence, especially in areas that directly affect the lives of the people can give them confidence and the abiding faith in the ability of the President to turn despair into hope. That’s how a leader can bolster the confidence of a shaken nation and its people disillusioned about the sincerity and capability of those they have elected to serve them.
To be fair, a lot of things call forth empathy and sympathy for Jonathan. Problems are turning up like claps of thunder. We have like hot potatoes the intractable Jos crisis, the Boko Haram logjam, the spate of kidnapping, and imminent workers’ strike. And you begin to ask. All of these for one man? Yes. That’s why we elected him president – to solve the problems that ordinary Nigerians can’t solve. It will be tempting to rush into conclusion though that these issues, especially the insecurity that Boko Haram and Jos crisis pose to the country, are beyond the ability of the President. It is not enough as the President boasted at the 66th United Nations (UN) General Assembly, in New York, last Wednesday, that terrorism, the type that Boko Haram poses, would not intimidate his administration. Getting over the challenge will depend largely on how he uses the powers of the presidency.
So far, he has shown fear rather than grit determination. He has not shown he posses the gravitas to tackle the security issues confronting his government. Some have alleged that Mr. President doesn’t have the necessary expertise on any area that matters, except his course of study – zoology. Neither can he talk authoritatively on any other issue. People who make such allegation readily cite the recent misadventure of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo in Maiduguri where he went to broker peace between the Islamic fundamentalist sect and government. Who sent Obasanjo to Maiduguri? Was he an emissary of Jonathan or he went on his own accord? The issue is: if the former president went of his own volition, without the prompting or prodding of the sitting president, who indeed, is running the affairs of Nigeria – OBJ, or Jonathan? Till now, mum remains the word at the presidency.
There’s nothing wrong with an ‘elder statesman’ like OBJ to mediate in any troubled spot, but he must be an emissary of the government in power. He cannot go on his own as he claimed in the Vanguard interview. Obasanjo is still unlearned in the nuances of democratic norms. He is yet to cure himself from the hubris and egoistic tendencies that led him to run aground in the presidency.
But, the big task for Jonathan is how to respond with speed and clarity of purpose, the uncertainties that will define his presidency. How, for instance would he like to be remembered? As a wimp or as the nuts-and-bolt you can see and measure? Politics essentially requires that those who hold public office must define themselves and where they stand on critical issues. When a leader fails to do that, particularly, the President, he begins to waddle on the cusp of hopelessness and helplessness. That is why, in the land of the hapless, the competent man becomes the king. But even that we are yet to see from the President.
That could explain why other criminalities like kidnapping are making waves and the perpetrators are strutting on the stage to announce their deals. Imagine this joke: two weeks ago, the Association of Registered Kidnappers (ARK) in Onitsha rose from its Annual General Meeting (AGM), according to The Guardian report of September 18, the kidnappers released a new manuel that outlines the operations of its members. Under the new rules, the kidnappers said henceforth, they would attach every kidnapped person to a specific developmental objectives. Excerpts of its release says, for instance, “if chief Obasanjo is kidnapped, his release must be tied to the promotion of free speech”. We may not be far from such joke becoming a reality.
However, the president has assured during his recent Television interview that not under his watch will Nigerian state slide into another anarchy. But, assurance amounts to nothing without competence and influence. The truth of the matter is that while a political figure depends largely on friends and a sorry pack of cronies to succeed, (and we have many of such sycophants), a president on the other hand, rises or falls, as a result of his own action, inaction. Call it errors of judgement. Jonathan, it must be repeated, has a test book of failures, from those before him, to draw useful lesson on how not be his own private enemy as his predecessors brought upon themselves.
The pain of how Nigeria has come to this miserable state in spite of all efforts is something that troubles the mind. And it raises the question, Is Nigeria jinxed in the leadership scale? We lend transference leadership, that ability to connect with the people and meet their aspirations. Since the present democratic dispensation and even prior to it, we have lacked people who are themselves genuine inspirations for the citizens to meet their aspirations. Many of our presidents were people “forced” into office. They had no vision that can carry the country beyond tomorrow. In politics, there is no point in embracing a vision if that vision is not in sync with the needs of the people and what the country needs.
Our leaders squander public trust. They pursue simple, personal things with zeal but approach critical matters of state either half-heartedly or completely unattended. Or, does it mean that these issues overwhelm them? There is an appetite among Nigerians and the international community that Jonathan should deliver dividends of democracy. If he allows himself to be drowned by the load of expectations, he blows away the chance to make a difference and prove critics right that abinitio, he doesn’t possess what it takes to be a confidence and confident, president.
Dan Onwukwe - 08023022170