A Vessel Leaking From The Top

by Noble Omosimua Ofugha

James Reston once said, “A government is the only vessel that leaks from the top.” This statement is very apt in describing the tottering administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. With the manner the president has handled some serious matters of state so far, it does appear that the major weakness of the Nigerian state today is located at the very top of the power hierarchy. This is because political leadership is a salient factor in assessing the strength of a country since no country can hope to be stronger than its leadership at any point in time. A country that has a strong-willed and visionary leader is obviously much more powerful than the one whose leader is timid, visionless and weak.

The way the federal government bungled the planned redenomination of the national currency by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, is about the clearest proof that President Yar’Adua has been held hostage by some sinister forces outside government. One of the major reasons that every government has failed in Nigeria since 1960 is that some vested interests, in collaboration with imperialist forces, have constituted themselves into some kind of mafia that determines who comes into power. And whoever this mafia props up in office must do the bidding of and protect the interest of the group. Unfortunately the interests of this group and the interest of the country are not only different but are antagonistic and irreconcilable.

The CBN’s planned redenomination of the naira, though in the interest of the country, was diametrically offensive to this mafia. This is because the exercise was not just going to be a mere shifting of the decimal point but was also designed to radically change the relationship between the naira and the dollar. Naira-dollar parity is against the economic interests of the mafia and their imperialist collaborators. This is why members of this group have been the most vocal in vilifying this otherwise commendable policy as “capable of causing economic earthquake”. Don’t forget that these people have been siphoning the naira from the national coffers and keeping it in dollars. They revere the dollar so much that they see the CBN’s plan as violation of their ‘idol’.

It was Fred Schwarze who once said that when a man’s evidence cannot be discredited, the simplest alternative is to discredit the man himself. The CBN Governor, Charles Chukwuma Soludo, has taken pains to explain how the redenomination would improve the economy. But those who criticise the policy are hard put to it to explain to the people the specific way it will harm the country. To hide the truth from the people they would rather discredit Soludo than discuss the merits and the demerits of the programme. Unfortunately, the focus on Soludo, as the ‘idiot child’ in that whole saga has conveniently obfuscated the real weakness of this present government which, if not checked, will soon land the country in some crisis. What has played out is hire-wired politicking and interest-pushing in which the CBN governor has been made the fall-guy to cover the president’s lack of grip on the reins of political authority. The mafia have once again hijacked the Nigerian government. After all, what strength would one expect from a government that is battling with a crisis of legitimacy to resist a rampaging mafia bent on ruining the country for its own interests?

Obviously, the greatest need of Nigeria today is for a strong president who can ride roughshod in a mission to sanitise the country without fear or favour. But Yar’Adua does not seem to hold that promise. He appears to be panicky, unsure of himself in the face of conflicting forces, doubtful of his principles when challenged, or amenable to sundry influences. This character sketch was brought into bold relief by the federal government’s repudiation of the currency redenomination plan of the CBN, a few days after the same government gave nod to it. However, this is not the first time that the Yar’Adua government has renounced some policy measures to the consternation of the general public. The government is fast becoming notorious for sudden volte-face on policy pronouncements so soon after they are announced. The reversal of the currency redenomination plan is just another number added to the soaring policy mortality rate of this administration. What this signposts is that the president is not his own man in running the affairs of this great country. And this is a clear signal that the country may be heading for turbulence.

This is, indeed, worrisome. But more worrisome is the reason government often give for its summersault on policy issues. In the instant case, Michael Aondoakaa, the pontifical attorney-general of the federation, cited lack of compliance with the law by the CBN authorities as the reason for suspending further action on the currency programme. He should have told us a bigger lie. Those who are familiar with practices in government are not deceived by this lame excuse. It is not conceivable that the CBN governor, a professor of economics who is not new in office having served a previous government, does not know or suddenly forgot the administrative processes and policy channels of government. The habit of lightly changing policies shortly after they are announced is an evil one. But more evil is the habit of feeding the public with cheap lies to cover the first evil. The U-turn on the currency redenomination plan has more to do with President Yar’Adua’s eagerness to dance to the drum-beat of some powerful forces and less with Soludo’s brashness and failure to comply with the CBN Act on monetary matters. It does seem that Yar’Adua is already cultivating the habit of hiding under “due process and the rule of law” whenever he cannot be decisive in his policy choices. This is the same way his predecessor hid under “the fight against corruption” to ruin our economy and cripple our democracy.

However, it bears repeating that the currency redenomination debacle is, perhaps, the clearest confirmation of our fear that the Yar’Adua government may have become a hostage government. It is also the clearest vindication of those who had insisted that President Yar’Adua was not fit to govern a country like Nigeria. By now, the president too must have realised that the reality of political office is something that is quite different from the rhetoric of political campaign and inauguration speech. Also, those who propped him into the presidency on the ground that he was a good governor in Katsina State would have realised by now that governing a desert state with a high level of illiteracy is quite different from governing Nigeria as a whole.

To the discerning mind, the currency redenomination tale only portrayed Yar’Adua’s confusion as to the depth of his authority and the enormous responsibility he bears as the president of Nigeria. The political administration of a country is an enormous task and involves two broad functions. The first consists of symbolic or ceremonial activities such as opening legislative sessions, accepting letters of credence from ambassadors, receiving visiting heads of state of other countries, giving assent to legislation, and generally representing the country in public engagements. These are things that anyone can do. But the second function is more demanding as it involves the formulation and implementation of policies and the actual day-to-day administration of the country. The way a president handles this second function determines whether he is successful or not. In Nigeria, these two functions are vested in the president who is aptly described by the constitution as the ‘Head of State, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces’ of the country. As the head of state, the president exemplifies the abstract essence of the country. That means that he is, in fact, the country personified. As the chief executive, he administers the country to achieve the objective of promoting the welfare of the citizens. And as commander-in-chief, he maintains the country’s military capability for the purpose of protecting its territorial integrity and defense against external aggression.

This means that the president envisaged by the Nigerian constitution is certainly not a weakling or a marionette dangling in the air when the strings are pulled by some irascible puppeteers hidden somewhere in the labyrinth of power, but a man who can be decisive and definitive and not wear the character of the shifting edges of a vanishing cluster of clouds. In spite of his numerous faults, the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, never left anyone in doubt that he was in charge of his government. He firmly established his own reputation (whether bad or good) as a strong leader and made known to the public (at least by the very ranks from which he chose his advisers) that it was not his intention to share his authority with anyone.

In a similar manner, Nigerians expect President Yar’Adua to take charge of his government and not allow vested interests to confuse him. This is because ultimately he would be the one to take responsibility for whatever happens during his tenure. The first step in this regard is to demonstrate that he can and is ready to provide clear leadership for the country. No government can achieve success if it has no clear and identifiable leadership. A corollary to this is the need to avoid chaos and incoherence in governance. To this end his executive council must have a unity of outlook to be able to act quickly and effectively. The current executive council does not seem to have this attribute. This is because some ministers are carrying themselves as if they are more important in government than others. This is certainly inimical to the spirit of teamwork that is required for the success of the work of the president. Nigerians can no longer tolerate a government that is leaking from the top.

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