A Friendly Advice In The Ears Of The President

by Banjo Odutola

Whenever the president of our nation is provided qualifying advices publicly on the administration of his government: there is a tendency for his media advisers and the man to perceive such advices as criticisms and reject them offhand and sometimes become belligerent. It is arguable that Mr. Obasanjo gets uncountable unsolicited advices from many quarters and for a man who behaves as if he is a monopolist of wisdom, the advices may be uncomfortable. But when the advices are qualified on other conditions and are offered by respectable and trusted friends of the president; at least Mr. Obasanjo once made known his respect and friendship of his former Defence Minister, Mr. Theophillus Yakubu Danjuma – it is confusing that the media advisers of the president choose to import half meanings to what is published.

Recently, Mr. Danjuma was reported to have laid blame on the cabals running this government and making it difficult for Mr. Obasanjo to reposition the country. The only part of the speech zoomed on by the apparatchiks of the president was the earlier part of a sentence describing the type of people responsible for the failure of this government. Mr. Obasanjo ought to have admired the courage of his friend and said nothing of the sympathy for him. The president should have realised that Mr. Danjuma was only informing the nation of those who have made governance difficult.

After all a profile of the taciturn retired General of the Nigerian Army suggests that he has been at the heart of government of our nation for the last thirty years – whether as an appointee or not, his influence has been overwhelming. He has been the type of operative who applied wisdom when he wanted to see an administration changed; and where he considered an administration inappropriate for the nation, he kept his counsel to himself but applied his finances secretly to encourage a change.

During the administration of Mr. Ibrahim Babangida, he said little and by his silence, he made known his contempt. When asked about retired service personnel whom he respects; he said a great deal of Mr. Buhari and others to the specific exclusion of Mr. Babangida. Further, he glowed in revealing that he maintains a respectful contact for others and not the gap toothed retired military “president”. However, it was not only with silence that he dealt with the administration of Mr. Sanni Abacha. He was wise enough to say little. Yet, he expended much to enjoin others in discrediting that administration. If he hid his contempt for an administration, it was not because of cowardice. As he has now made known his concerns, it is because he believes in the administration for which he would be judged along with the president.

Mr. Danjuma is sententious but not pompous. He abounds in aphoristic expressions. An analysis of his recent pronouncement on the administration of this government by cabals ought to provide a deeper understanding of the banality at its heart. The reason for its failure so far; and why it is unlikely to succeed are now evident. This is a government that has little time to impact the lives of the governed and to consider otherwise, is to believe in its failures and disbelieve a cogent reason for it to change tact. The only person so placed to effect the change is the president, who fails to recognise qualifying advices because he perceives such as confrontational and dishonest.

In recent times, Mr. Wole Soyinka like Mr. Danjuma proffered advices, which this president ought to have considered constructive. This may well be the frustration of Mr. Soyinka to have accused the president of lacking the depth to understand him. Nonetheless, there is a single thread of commonality between the advices of the duo of Messrs Danjuma and Soyinka. Neither of their advices blamed Mr. Obasanjo personally. In fact, they went to absolve the president of blame for the performance of his government. Unfortunately, the president and his media advisers appreciate that.

In the issue of Mr. Danjuma, so what is the advice that presupposes that the nation would have been better positioned had it not been for others but Mr. Obasanjo? The charge is about double-dealing, deceit, ineptitude and corruption. Whereas, Mr. Soyinka warned of murderers and outlaws in the ruling party with whom the president is a bedfellow. There is little distinction in the claims. Neither of the two men laid blame at the feet of the president. The blame was at his door. Mark the difference. The claims were premised on what others in this administration are doing. Not what Mr. Obasanjo has done. The claims seem to encourage the president to be more sensitive to the dealings of the politicians that work with him. Arguably, the president may be ignorant of what surrounds him. However, his media chiefs have excoriated the luxury of such ignorance, thereby making out that the president is in cahoot with those suspected of corruption.

If Messrs Danjuma and Soyinka do not have enviable access to this president, their concerns may be considered truculent. But they are dependable and loyal to the president. If that were true, why at the advice of these men and others like them, does this president overreach himself often times to score lone goals? At times their reactions are stereotypical of a failure under siege. That, this present administration has failed to deliver on the expectation of the governed is hardly arguable. However, the flip side of the same expectation must therefore be, can it still deliver?

If Mr. Obasanjo continues to perceive as criticisms, advices that are predicated on provable accusations, he may find his famished well-wishers dwindle in numbers and his failure catastrophic. It has to be granted that he is entitled to expect his trusted “friends” to approach him with their concerns firstly, instead of the pages of newspapers. That much, is his right and their prerogatives. Nonetheless, if the pertinacious Mr. Obasanjo chooses to align itself with those that place politics before the interest of the nation, he becomes a lost cause, worthy of his friends to abandon.

However, the regret of giving up on Mr. Obasanjo is to give up on the nation. We cannot afford such a stance and we must not abide such a posture. Messrs Soyinka and Danjuma must fashion another process to yield transparent and honest politics to their friend who they believe means well for the nation. Those who consider personal aggrandisement beyond service of the nation must be exposed one after the other. A wholesale approach will fail. There is a need to focus on the dealings of just one politician at a time by exposing his sleaze. What happens is that others will run and not grant succour to a sinking one. That is politics. Politicians never defend losers. They are always clamouring to be seen with winners. It is necessary that other means by which the concerns of the nation reach the president must be established.

This can be done even when governance in our country is not only about procurement of services and goods; where contractors and suppliers determine policies on the same basis as computation of profits. The enthusiasm of this president for empirical studies, debates and deliberations, even though he does not welcome antagonists, can still be utilised to persuade where decisions are not anecdotal but scientific. Mr. Obasanjo likes the company and output of thinkers; he listens less to opinions of others because he has a deep suspicion that many Nigerians are self-serving. Quite rightly so. Therefore, Mr. Danjuma should have gathered “wise” men and women of intellect for summit after summit on the subject of the military risks faced by the nation. He should have demonstrated that as our military is not packaged as he intended, we must await serious consequences. After all, these summits are the new games in town. Smartly dressed pseudo technocrats with little knowledge about varied subjects of their summits are gradually replacing previous contractors parading themselves at government departments for contracts to supply what can be purchased directly from manufacturers.

If Mr. Obasanjo had chaired one of the summits, money would have poured into the Defence Ministry. Did Mr. Danjuma not witness the number of summits at Abuja? If a minister wants to make his point to the president: a summit in time saves nine. It is not that these summits are not important; in our country, their display barely portrays seriousness of purpose. Many of them capture national news. In developed nations, symposiums attended or organised by government departments or private enterprise hardly make local news. Why are we any different in Nigeria?

That aside, Mr. Obasanjo must be granted the sympathy of the loneliness of leadership. He is one person who cannot count on many true advisers and “friends” of honour. Unfortunately, that is how our political system works: it is to a great extent inhabited by liars and corrupt politicians.

Consider the latest development in the confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Babangida(IBB) as a member of the ruling party. The man who unashamedly parades himself as a past president of our country has now “out” himself. Why now and why this long? This is a pompous man, who regards himself as a past president of this nation. An unelected president to be precise. No past military Head of State considers himself as a past president. IBB does.

Is this not the same man at the last presidential elections, who distanced himself from the party he now claims? Did he not bury the hatchet to support the presidential ambition of Mr. Mohammadu Buhari? Now, we know once again that honour for IBB is inexpedient and transparency is inconvenient. Presently, he symbolises the crop of politicians in our nation that the nation requires to expunge. It cannot be said that he would not win the next elections if he contests. Choosing him to lead any political party means that we are set for another term of deprivation.

In closing, Mr. Obasanjo and his media advisers must realise that not all critics mean ill for the president. Many want history to judge him well; this is the reason, when at times, a controversy may be the only way to reach him. And, where a “but for” test is inherent in the advice to the president, his media advisers must engage their heads before jumping up and down to criticise, when they need to apply the basic principle of their trade: to use more of their heads and less of their mouths.

The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.

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