Devaluing A President’s Office

by Banjo Odutola

The Office of the president of any nation symbolises not only the power to affect lives of its citizens and relationship with other nations; the office imposes responsibilities and obligations on its incumbents, which equally is demanded from its citizens. The Office is respected regardless of the profile of its incumbent. This is why it is greater than its occupant. The axiom as true as it may be, imports that negative actions of an incumbent president is separate from his Office. Truer still is that the office outlasts its occupants.

My position is therefore of a central submission that does not veer from the above apothegm. However, in considering the same, I seek to highlight the obvious and it is only as it pertains to my own observation of the current Nigerian presidency. Also, it is an attempt to bring to the fore the present investment for future troubles that will yield a dividend of anarchy or contempt for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What is submitted herein is not exhaustive of what the current president needs to reconsider of what he brings to his exalted office.

The copious Bible throwaways and Pharisaic piety of this president, in a secular nation is foreboding. The graveness, which for now fails to transform itself beyond lip-service will be apparent if, as certain as it is that the next incumbent is of a different faith. Consider what would happen, when Christians whose “Holy Ghost night services” cannot be graced by a Muslim president and government ministers, who would no longer attend the Christian services to be seen by the president. Aside from sycophantic Christians whose faiths change in line with the belief of the president in power, conversions to Islam after the next elections would be attractive but not be as problematic as what is in store. Suffice doomsday prophecy, I shall volunteer what I suspect may happen.

Presently, peoples of other faiths in our country feel neglected. The Muslims, who presumably are greater in number feel “marginalized.” That may not be true because “marginalized” is a buzz word in the Nigerian lexicon, when a few well placed citizens are denied ill gotten and undeserved concessions, which have personal financial gains attached. Once their positions and existence become threatened, they deliberately cloud denial of their comfort as perpetration against a region or religion.

After the next general elections, we may find Christians who since independence have not been this emboldened may not quietly return to hibernation. They will find Biblical justifications to “claim the nation” for their faith. It is then that a reaping of the harvest from the ground tilled for religious adversity and in which discord is being sown will not fail to bring its fruits in due season.

During the governance of Ibrahim Babaginda, it was reported that the country was elevated from “observer nation” to full membership of the Organisation of Islamic Nations (OIC). At that time Christians were unhappy and the reaction was no more than a few rumblings that were soon replaced by other issues. The next time another president attempts to affiliate the nation to a religious Organisation, the consequences would not be sedate. It is not the office of the president to convert faiths or beliefs either by commission or omission. Doing so is a travesty on the office, which is to protect and defend the freedom enshrined in the constitution.

It can be safely assumed that this president is not fundamental enough to align the nation to a Christian Organisation. However, on the same issue of religion, access granted to so called televangelists and “great men of God”, a tag for which the emphasis is wrong as confirming deity on humans, is disturbing. Have you ever listened to those white Blackcoat reel off about their work in Africa, as if the continent is a small country? In the past, the braggadocio was of meetings with President Chiluba of Zambia. We know what became of that Bible Basher. Now, President Obasanjo of Nigeria is the latest kid on the block, with whom these men, who are not granted audience by an ordinary mayor of their little towns; but when they are in Nigeria, access to the president is assured. Why do we inflict them on our president? Of what services are they to the nation? After all, every street corner in Nigeria boasts of more places of worship than most other countries in the world. Yet, corruption is rife. Why does our president need these men? Are there not enough “prayer warriors” in the land? Let us be clear that there can only be men of a great God, rather than great men of God.

On a related note, his personal involvement in matters that ought to be delegated and for which due process should take its natural course needs to be attended. Let us consider the present fines imposed on Oil companies whose executives decided that the best arbiter of their grievances is the presidency. Such arbitration would not happen in the United States of America or the United Kingdom. There are laid down rules and regulations that these oil companies must abide. Is our presidency so devalued that no other avenue can provide equity? If we consider that most of the top executives of oil companies in Nigeria are only middle managers in the parent companies, who as sure as death will most certainly not be attended by the heads of their home governments, why are we so quick in making available access to our presidency?

Do you know that it is possible for a minister to refuse meeting a foreign delegation whether from a little known hamlet in the United States of America or other places; yet, the same delegation is propelled through other contacts in the presidency to arrange audience with the president? It can only be assumed that most foreign missions are guilty treating our presidency in the way that ours can never treat theirs. Presumably, once a foreign mission finds that a Minister would not oblige its request for access to the presidency, it uses other “contacts” to achieve the same. Aside from foreign missions, there are well placed Nigerians with the same contacts that are equally guilty. Apart from undermining the Minister, what message are we sending to foreigners? How for a piece of bread, we sell access to our own president? Or, does the fault lie with the current president himself?

Where a Minister has refused to see a trade mission, whoever in the presidency undermines such a decision should be fired. The prevalence of personal interests of many civil servants and their godfathers often conflict with those of the state. Many of them are therefore disposed to circumventing the system and any hindrance to the final dispenser of all benefits and favours is ignored or subverted. It is of little wonder that quality time to solve national problems is diverted to extra presidential concessions.

This dovetails to the publicised concession that the Lagos States Governor seeks for a private ferry company. The absence of a national ferry transport policy has brought about one governor after the other pleading for all sorts of presidential concessions. The governors should advise the Federal Government to adopt a common inland water transportation to ease congestion on the roads, as a way of lengthening the lifespan of present roads and reducing the number of fatalities common on our road network. It is not for a governor to plead the cause of a specific company, lest accusation of nepotism at least and corruption at the worst could be suspected. A governor should plead for improvement of an industry to ease the lives of the governed and not the profitability of a particular company.

What hope is there in granting a presidential concession to a company, which like the mobile phone companies may charge exorbitantly for its services? Why plead for a company with slim finances to operate in an industry that is commonly subsidised by governments? If the Ferry Company is strapped for cash to pay excise duties, perhaps, it does not have adequate funds to pay for safety measures required for its operation. Is that not an alarming inference to draw? We are playing with the lives of our people and I hope the president invites State Governors that can benefit from a common water passage to sponsor legislations and budget allowances. If it bears clarity, the president must on this occasion reject what is reported the Asiwaju of Lagos has pleaded on behalf of a private company. Let the Governor return to doing what he is best at doing: serving a collective interest of the people and not the interest of a private company. Perhaps, then the respectability of this presidency can be sustained.

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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