A Reluctant President in Desperate Need of a Mentor

by Sheyi Oriade

People-watching can be an engaging pastime; and particularly so if it involves observing politicians and world leaders in action. Very often, when watching world leaders on television interact with one another at political summits; it is often easy to detect certain tell tale signs from their body language. For instance, one can tell who is dominant and who is not. And who likes whom, and who does not. It is amazing how much one can learn about them simply by observing their bodily gestures. Confident or awkward gestures often give away their true feelings about other people or situations; and this regardless of their protestations to the contrary.

To exemplify this point, I recall that whenever former President Olusegun Obasanjo (who was in the habit of frequenting London during his presidency) visited Tony Blair at Downing Street; it was impossible not to notice the pained grimace on Blair’s face whenever he was in Obasanjo’s company. You often got the impression from his body language that he would much rather have been in different company. I think it is fair to say that Obasanjo was not one of his favourite people.

In similar vein, when one observes the body language of our current president, he seems to carry about with him an air of detachment. It is not an air that one may misconstrue for arrogance or aloofness; far from it. But his body language does seem to suggest that he would much rather be somewhere else doing something different.

And because of the air of detachment around Alhaji Yar’adua; he does come across as a reluctant president. One, who against his will was thrown into the deep end of things without the comfort of a protective life-jacket. In matter of fact, it is well known that he was a reluctant electoral candidate; one who had the presidency thrust upon him in a manner which shames our electoral system and those with oversight for it.

Indeed, had one been told years ago that at some point in the future, a Yar’adua would emerge as president of the nation; the smart money would have been on the emergence of the more politically ambitious, but now deceased Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’adua. Our president’s older brother, who ever since his early retirement from the Nigerian Army and Supreme Military Headquarters had set his hopes on becoming president of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, for him, his presidential ambitions were viewed as being out of sync with those of his rivals in the armed forces; who saw to it, that his aspirations were thwarted. And as it happens, the position which he so earnestly sought fell effortlessly into the hands of his less politically ambitious brother. Such is the inexplicable working of fate in the affairs of man.

But returning to our current president; it does seem strange, that a man who having attained that which he did not actively seek, should now appear reluctant to exercise the functions of his high office. Particularly, when one considers the fact that there are some people in Nigeria, who would readily sever their right arms in order to attain to his position.

But is having a reluctant president a bad thing for Nigeria? I suppose that there are advantages and disadvantages to it. One main advantage is that, this president not having actively sought the position in the first place is less likely to have perfected plans to fleece the nation of its financial resources for his personal benefit. A practice that was common amongst some of his predecessors.

Many things have been said in criticism about the president; but no one to my knowledge, has accused him of having sticky fingers. In fact, in his manner and appearance, he comes across as an ascetic man of simple taste. But whether his personal example of abstemiousness is sufficient to deter others in his government, from engaging in the theft of public funds; remains to be seen.

Another advantage, I suppose, in having a reluctant president, is that he is less likely to want to perpetuate himself in power. I imagine that he will be more inclined to follow the example of Madiba Nelson Mandela, rather than that of his predecessor, and pack his bags and leave after one term in office. But I could be wrong.

But as much as there are advantages, there are also disadvantages. And one major disadvantage, is the fact that a reluctant president can very easily lose interest in the leadership of the nation; thus allowing the nation to drift aimlessly. And if there is one prevailing criticism of the current president; it is that the nation is not moving apace under his leadership. Furthermore, a reluctant president may convey a sense of weakness to those around him; thereby empowering and providing sufficient room for manoeuvre for those in the government who seek the ruination of the nation through their corrupt activities.

I imagine that there are more than a few readers who will think, and rightly so, that if the man does not want the job, then he should step aside and let someone who does want it, have it. But I wish things were that simple. I doubt if the vice-president is ready to step up to the plate of leadership. And I am not sure anyone would want the current senate president anywhere near the top job. And in the unlikely event, that there was to be another election; a repeat of the run of candidates from the previous election does not fill one with hope.

However, I do think that there is a solution to the present circumstances. What the president needs is a mentor or group of mentors to guide him in his leadership of the nation. Having a mentor or mentors is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom. In other political systems, it is common for leaders to have mentors to whom they can turn to for guidance.

Bill Clinton had Warren Christopher and Pamela Churchill Harriman as mentors in his early days in office. George W. Bush has his father George H. W. Bush and James Baker; while Tony Blair had the late Lord Roy Jenkins to lean on.

But to whom, does our president, have to turn to in his turn? Most certainly not to his predecessor, who dropped him in the deep end to begin with. And more so because he is less likely to be objective in his counsel; seeing that he will not want his successor to surpass him. Think about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for a second.

I do believe that there are well accomplished and decent people of integrity in Nigeria, to whom he can turn to for guidance. Top of this list for me, would be, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; a refined gentleman with profound international experience; one who would be of great benefit to him in the area of foreign affairs. And being a seasoned diplomat he also has the required sensitivity to convey his counsel in a manner that is respectful of the president’s position.

Another person who could serve as a mentor to the president is Alhaji Shehu Musa; that accomplished public servant of considerable experience; he has much to add in terms of domestic matters. Another such person is Dr. Christopher Kolade, a perfect gentleman of proven integrity, who has enormous public and private sector experience that can be of advantage to the president.

Indeed, there are many others who can also fulfil this role; these names are not exhaustive, they are merely indicative of the type of people available to the president and at his disposal. None of these people have political ambitions of their own, and are, therefore, more likely to provide him with objective counsel. I suggest that he forms a private council of mentors to work with him; but keeping their numbers to no more than twelve in total.

Should the president decide to go down this route, I believe that there will be an immediate change for the better in terms of his style and substance of governance. The nation will once again begin to move forward. And no longer will he be the unwitting victim of the jaundiced and prejudiced counsel of those professional political racketeers whose selfish interests do not coincide with the interests of the Nigerian people.

I sincerely hope that he has the courage to take this step.

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1 comment

enit August 5, 2008 - 2:05 pm

Constructive article! Nigeria is a difficult horse to bridle. We have a history of harsh boisterous self aggrandizing national leaders. It is my hope that this current president who sometimes seems rather reticent will mark the beginning of a line of leaders who think about the country and not themselves and their own alone before they act.

A calm leader might seem reticent in a very “trendy and busy” society where arrogance is seen as confidence, but I’m willing to put my money on small cautious steps than some of the reckless and meaningless giant strides of some past leaders that have landed us right where we are at this time.

I am all for having the accomplished “wise men and women” of our nation coming together to bring their wisdom, knowledge and expertise to bear on the presidency. Such a gathering would be a gift to the nation not just to the man in the position we have become so accomplished at criticizing.


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