By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The Days of Jonathan
This week, the Senate approved for the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, his list of cabinet ministers. It was a milestone in his effort to consolidate his power. What he did was quite in order, for no leader would succeed with a council largely made of disloyal members. Now that the ball is in his court, the next hurdle would be what he intends to do with his tenure. And the options before him in this regard are pretty many.
The single factor that would dictate his choice would be the indomitable influence of power. Throughout history, power has played crucial role in directing the minds of princes. It has moderated a few for the good; equated the good and the bad intentions of many; and adulterated the superior intentions of most so strongly that very little good could be remembered of their reign. In the end, the performance of a prince is dictated more by power than by his naïve intentions.
But power itself is a product of the prince’s circumstances and his actions. Some circumstances harness his power while others impede it, regardless of his intentions. On the other hand, some actions, even under good circumstances, reduce the influence of a prince over his subjects while others, even when few, empower him even under precarious circumstances.
Yar’adua, for example, may have had very good intentions: he articulated his seven point agenda and pursued them to the best of his ability. If we will be fair to him – and Nigerians are hardly fair in the assessment of their leaders – we will acknowledge his sincere efforts in containing the agitation in the Niger Delta to an extent never attained by his predecessors; we will commend his pragmatic effort at improving electricity supply in the country and though we are still far away from solving it, there has been tremendous achievement during his tenure, far better than whatever was achieved during the eight year tenure of his predecessor; and finally, we will appreciate his impact on roads whose recently awarded repairs are in earnest, going by what I saw as I tour the country. He indeed needed time, say eight years, to realise some of his dreams in these and many other sectors. But the circumstance of his health would not permit him. In the end, he had to submit to its dictates, leaving behind his office and his ambitious dream, which some of us would describe unrealistic, for a better Nigeria., his vision 20-2020.
Jonathan, the new prince at the villa, will not be an exception to the rule. As is usual with any new leader, there will be a mountain of expectations by Nigerians sitting before him not realising that given his circumstance he what he can achieve is limited. The political environment under which his tenure is conceived, delivered and fostered, may tamper with his resolve. It is destined to be short-lived. It is an irony that we Nigerians have not gotten it right still: while Yar’adua had the time but limited by health, Jonathan has the health but limited by time. And the result will be the same: a moderate impact. So in order to ease his task, let us not overburden him with so much expectation that will make him feel helpless. Let us, on the other hand, empower him with the courage to do what a leader in his circumstance would best do. If he could achieve that, then he will have the opportunity to write his name in ‘diamond’, to borrow from the innovative lexicon of late Chief Bola Ige, where others wrote theirs in charcoal.
I have never given this topic a thought until yesterday when the BBC put it before me. I was on a trip, so I quickly murmured some words in a style less articulate than I would aspire. Later I later exerted my mind to a more detailed assessment. The greatest impact on his tenure would a decision taken by the PDP a month ago, when it declared that it would not accord him the ticket to run for the presidency in 2011. Though the party might have done so to enable stability of the polity and avoid the difficulties of arriving at the same decision after his powers as Acting President have become more dominant than that of the party, the decision has in effect reduced him to a lame duck since the country is just two month or so from the nomination of candidates for the next elections.
Circumstance may force the party to change its decision and, finally, allow him the ticket. However, I would not want to squander my optimism. I will rather consider it less probable than to be likely. Here lies the unsuitability of PDP’s rotational presidency. In my opinion, the party should graduate from the concept as quick as possible because, in addition, it is will become irrelevant as soon as the country can conduct free and fair elections. Under such circumstances, once other parties can field in more credible candidates, the dictum of the PDP would become irrelevant.
As soon as another person is given the presidential ticket of the party, say any time between June and July, people and companies will start to accord less relevance to Jonathan, knowing that his time would soon be up. Jonathan himself will then lose steam and the quickly approaching end of his tenancy in the villa would moderate every decision he takes. At best, I would advise, that though he is not expected to do any damage to the long term plans of Yar’adua except those which his cabinet finds ill-conceived, the focus of his impact should be on consolidating the gains of the President and devising short term but revolutionary policies that would leave a lasting effect on the future administration of this country.
We expect him to consolidate peace with the Niger Delta, continue to work on improving electricity and roads that I mentioned earlier, for example. However, the greatest things he could leave behind as a legacy are two: putting his weight behind a competent presidential candidate in the PDP and conducting free and fair elections. He should purge the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, of dubious characters and substitute them with those that are inclined to fairness. I know this is difficult for him to do because the party is likely to object to any such patriotic decision that will dispossess it of its major weapon – rigging. However, men are celebrated in history by the making the sacrifice which those who fail find incapable of making. Jonathan must not repeat the mistake of Obasanjo who chose a terminally sick person in place of more competent candidates and conducted the worse elections in the history of the country.
To achieve that, INEC requires an entire overhaul; not only Iwu should go, but its entire executive staff, including state electoral commissioners. The Acting President can avail himself of the services of the plenty young and competent Nigerians from various works of life. This country is rich but for the lack of will of its leadership its success still remains mediocre. The electoral reforms should reflect the content and spirit of the Justice Uwais commission. Nigerians withdrew their trust from Yar’adua on electoral reforms the moment he started to tamper with its recommendations. It is still with the National Assembly and it is our fervent hope that the Acting President will put his weight behind it.
Jonathan in his days should avoid the mistakes of his President. Despite the flawed means by which Yar’adua came to power, Nigerians gave him the benefit of the doubt based on his promise to lead a transparent government and conduct free and fair elections. However, he did not keep either promise. His family was widely believed to be neck deep in corruption to the extent that many Nigerians soon despised his wife. Her alleged involvement in important decisions regarding contracts and oil blocks has prevented Nigerians from shedding tears for the President at the moment of sympathy when his health deteriorated. Yar’adua behaved in very nepotistic manner especially in his preference for Katsina and Kano indigenes. Eighteen most senior custom officers were retired simply to give way to a Katsina indigene who is allegedly holding fake certificates. The decision is widely believed to enable the custom department become another portfolio for the First Lady and Dahiru Mangal, a business partner to the President. The comptroller remained there despite appeals for his sack by Nigerians. There are calls already by Nigerians for Jonathan to revisit that appointment and those premature retirements.
Jonathan should therefore watch his family and restrain it accordingly should he observe any tendency on its part to go the ‘Turai’ way. He must be transparent in all his decisions. He should not be persuaded by political affinity or economic gain to favour some or become provoked by a difference to victimise others. The pursuit of Ribadu, el-Rufai and others by Yar’adua fell short of the standards of a refined leadership. The merit of his cause in their case was invalidated by the crudity of his method.
Finally, Jonathan should not lend his ears to courtiers among his ministers and advisers that would venture him into self-succession at all cost. If he is able to persuade his party to accord him the ticket and win his tenure through free and fair elections, then he would have before him the time that would enable him achieve many things beyond what his brief tenure of Acting President would allow him. He might not have invented the briefness of his present tenure, but he still reserves the right to make his days colourful by painting them with the colours of selflessness, equity and justice. Once he can do just that, I believe there will be many Nigerians who would long for his successful days as Acting President and canvass for his return to the villa in 2015. Eight years would be waiting for him then. I hope that in anticipation of the latter scenario, he will not play the Putin and Dimitriv game in 2011. He should allow providence to run its course as it did in bringing him to his present position because the interference of our hands sometimes spoil the work of destiny.
3 April 2010
As I concluded this piece, I heard over the BBC that some clerics have met with Yar’adua in the villa. It is possible, but not surprising, that for the sake of stability the new cabinet may choose to determine the condition of his health pursuant to section 145 of the constitution. With the backing of the senate, Yar’adua may finally be relieved of the burden of leadership and concentrate on his health, as I advised right from my first article. The ongoing ‘guerrilla war’ between his supporters and the Acting President should not be encouraged since developments have come so far.
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