Nigeria Matters

A Tale of Two Goodlucks: a Security Man and a Vice-President

A few years ago, a relative of mine, requested that I visit a female friend of hers who was visiting London from Nigeria. During her stay in London she put up with a relative in Knightsbridge; a salubrious and well appointed district of London. As requested, I made contact with her and we agreed a time for me to visit. She did warn me, however, that she might be out shopping when I arrived. And that if she was, I should wait for her at the Security Lodge of her relative’s building complex. On the appointed day, I arrived at the agreed time, but she was out shopping. So I waited for her at the Security Lodge, as agreed. It was to be an interesting waiting period.

Manning the Security Lodge was an Igbo man, who was as friendly as he was loquacious. And who on discovering, that I was a fellow compatriot, began to regale me with tales of his life’s sojourn. He told me that he was born on 1st October 1960; Nigeria’s Independence Day. And because of the uniqueness of that day and the coincidence of his birth; a crystal ball was consulted to discover the portents for his life. He beamed, as he informed me that the portents were all good. And as result, he was forenamed Goodluck, to reflect the circumstances and auguries of his birth. Although, most people, he said, called him Lucky. In his own mind at least, he was convinced, that there were fewer Nigerians luckier than himself. He then proceeded to prove this conviction to me.

He told me that for 20 years, he had been the sole Security Guard responsible for a luxurious residential complex; home to a collection of no fewer than 25 millionaires/ billionaires. And all of whom he said were ‘international.’ He asked me if I knew anyone, who knew as many wealthy people as he did; and in truth, I didn’t. But best of all, he pointed out to me, that he was on first name terms with all of them. In effect, he called them Sir or Madam and they called him Goodluck.

As he warmed to his theme, he explained to me, that while all of these 25 tycoons were enormously wealthy; they were all different in character. Some were nice; some were pompous; some were indifferent; some were racist; and some were even bastards. But without exception, they were all generous tippers. And that to him was more important than any of their collective foibles. He took this pragmatic view, because he was building a house in his native Abakaliki, to which these funds were being applied. On completion of the building, he said he would name it ‘Knightsbridge Lodge’; as a mark of respect to his unwitting donors.

To demonstrate his love for his job, he told me that he had not been on holiday in 20 years. In fact, he hadn’t even had a day off work the whole time. On noticing my surprise at his mention of this fact; he confessed to me that he was too scared to go on holiday; as he was certain, that anyone standing in for him would in his absence, manoeuvre him out of the role. I told him that I didn’t think this was good for his health. But with a shrug of his shoulders, he said that it was no big deal and that as long as his pocket was healthy, his body would adjust itself accordingly.

As he went on regaling me with more tales, the lady I came to visit arrived from her shopping spree and ‘delivered’ me out of Goodluck’s hands. Her first comment to me was, ‘I hope that man did not burn your ears, he can talk for Africa’. I laughed and said that he had kept me entertained.

On the odd occasion, since that interesting encounter, I have thought about Goodluck; wondering whether he was still in his role; and if he had a holiday or a day off; and whether his ‘Knightsbridge Lodge’ was now completed. And in thinking about the Goodluck of Knightsbridge, my thoughts have wandered to another Goodluck in another place; the Goodluck of Abuja – the vice-president of Nigeria.

Dr. Jonathan Goodluck is a remarkable man by Nigerian political standards. He, unlike many of his peers, has risen wholly without trace to within touching distance of the most coveted job in Nigerian politics; the presidency. And this he has done without subterfuge. For someone, who only a few years ago, was an obscure deputy governor of a resource rich state; and the summit of whose ambition, was to become governor of his state at the end of his principal’s term in office; his political ascent is instructive. It is one which provides a lesson in political patience to all ambitious politicians across the country.

Credit in large part, for his effortless ascent, has to be ascribed to his erstwhile boss, Dipreye Alamieyeseigha; whose combination of corrupt practices; vanity; cosmetic overzealousness; and ‘gender bending’ escapades; led to his downfall leaving Dr. Goodluck to profit from his misfortunes. In attaining his current office, Dr. Goodluck also owes much of his good fortune; not only to his apt surname, but also to the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo (for hand-picking him for the role); and to his nativity, being as he is, from the resource rich, but impoverished Niger Delta area. Whose representative in government he supposedly is.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Goodluck is a grateful man; and one with much to be grateful for. One only has to recall the presidential inaugural ceremonies of last year, to form an idea of the extent of his gratitude. His body language towards the former president was so deferential, that I am convinced, that had he been of Yoruba stock, he would have assumed a horizontal position; prostrating full stretch on the red carpet before his benefactor. I suppose one cannot blame him for his overt display of gratitude; for lady luck shone ever so brightly on Dr. Goodluck.

It is not very often that one writes about a number two, when there is a number one in place. And, particularly, when in a number of political systems, the office of vice-president is usually looked upon as a being mere political appendage. This used be true of the American political experience; as some former American vice-presidents attest.

Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s ill fated vice-president, once described his job, as being the worst job ever conceived by the mind of man. In his turn, John Nance Garner, vice-president to Franklin Roosevelt during the period 1933 to 1941, described his job as not being worth a pitcher of warm spit. Another former vice-president put it more poignantly, when he said that the vice-president of the United States had only one meaningful function; which was, to call the White House every morning, to see if the president was still alive.

But America is not Nigeria; and Nigeria so often proves to be the exception to so many things. Being vice-president in Nigeria is a big deal indeed; if only from the perspective of political patronage. But more so in recent times, with ambiguous reports about the president’s well-being circulating in sections of the media. It brings to the fore questions about the readiness of Dr. Goodluck to step up to the top job, if required to do so.

Rarely in our system is the vice-president’s judgment called into action or taken into account where matters of State are concerned. And try as I might; I cannot recall an episode in which the vice-president has had to make a judgment call about a matter of national importance. Apart from of course, on the odd occasion when he chairs cabinet meetings in the absence of his principal. But in any case, his inaction is not necessarily a reflection of his capabilities; but more a reflection of his role. However, one event does come to mind, in which his judgment was required.

I refer in this instance, to the issue of the publication of his declaration of assets. Many will recall that the president on taking office broke with tradition and published publicly his holding of assets for all to peruse. It was a gesture of transparency; one which gave a boost to the new government. Quite surprisingly, however, Dr. Goodluck when called upon to do likewise refused to do so initially. It was a baffling episode, and one which suggested that his political judgement was suspect.

Legally, there was nothing wrong with his approach as he had complied with the requirements of the Code of Conduct Bureau. But by his reluctance to follow his president’s example, he showed that he was out of step with the Nigerian people. By refusing to satisfy their curiosity he unwittingly cast a veil of suspicion over himself.

In the eyes of the people, he was seen as having something to hide. And it was only after relentless pressure from the media that he gave in to their demands and published his holding of assets. His refusal to be transparent in such a simple matter raised serious questions about his capacity for sound judgment and his reading of the Nigerian situation.

It may be thought in some quarters, that there was nothing to the episode; particularly, as he was not in contravention of any law. And in near perfect political systems, such a view may be acceptable. But in a fragile political system such as ours, every gesture capable of strengthening it, is welcome and to be encouraged. The vice-president failed to realise this important fact; and was not to do so until his hands were forced.

Some may also think that the vice-president is never going to wield real power, no matter what happens to his boss; and so what he does or does not do is of no importance. For if there was ever to be a vacancy at the top; powerful political interests in the North will see to it that a vice-president emerges from that region to become the de facto president. And this would render Dr. Goodluck redundant, in everything, but title only. This would be similar to the Obasanjo/Yar’adua arrangement of 1976 to 1979; a scenario in which the late Major General Shehu Musa wielded actual power.

No matter what permutations are undertaken in the unlikely event of a vacancy occurring at the top; going forward it is important that future vice-presidents should be more than just political makeweights. People of stature should be encouraged to fill the role. And by this I am not suggesting that Dr. Goodluck is not a man of stature; but I think we need to see more of him and his judgment in action to be convinced of this. Nigeria is a serious country, or at least it ought to be; and one that demands serious and purposeful leadership. His initial steps in office were stumbles, but at least he has sufficient time within which to recover his balance.

Considering Dr. Goodluck’s remarkable political ascent to date, only a fool would wager against his further ascent. Dr. Goodluck is a man with good luck, even if he is not the most politically astute. Maybe it is time for the president to assign to him a specific portfolio to get busy with. As the representative of the people of the Niger Delta at the top table, he could be put to good use in resolving the inequity of a situation that renders the owners of the most resource rich area in Nigeria amongst its poorest citizens. He must lift his voice as a powerful advocate on their behalf in government.

Just like the Goodluck of Knightsbridge, the one who safeguards the possessions of the super rich in Knightsbridge; the Goodluck of Abuja must safeguard the interest of his kith and kin and their wealth which sits beneath the soil and waters of the Niger Delta area.

No matter what happens in the months ahead; and I wish the president a full and quick return to robust health, and hope that he completes his term in office. But to Dr. Goodluck, I say good luck to him; heaven knows that he will need all the luck in the world, if he is to ride the tiger that is Nigeria at some point in the future.

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