Joe Biden was an American senator well known for his goofs and the lawful possession of an acid tongue. Thus, during the debates that were a precursor to Barack Obama’s election as America’s first black president, Biden was at his elements. On one memorable occasion, he referred to Obama as the first ‘clean’ black man who gave a serious shot at being president. The implication of that word ‘clean’ was not lost on most African-Americans and they took that seemingly innocuous remark to unprecedented levels. They said that Joe’s remark was a sad commentary on the lives of African-Americans either as pieces of garbage or as reminders of their place in the disequilibrium of mainstream American politics. Even though Time Magazine placed that remark on second position in its list of top ten campaign gaffes for 2007, and despite the fact that Biden had apologised to Obama, he continued to attack Obama. ‘I think he can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training’, he said concerning Obama. Biden also consistently argued Obama often stole his ideas on matters relating to foreign policy.
But when the chips were down, when it came to the nitty-gritty of nominating a running mate alongside Obama as vice-president on the platform of the Democrats, Obama chose Biden. To many, this was the finest example of Obama’s naivety and his much vaunted inexperience as a politician. Everyone had thought that he was going to nominate Hilary Clinton, perhaps so as to oil the wheels of the roller coaster with which the Democrats were going to ride rough shod on the Republicans. At that time, I was one of the strongest champions of the view that a Clinton pick certainly would pacify her supporters and heal the wounds that the bitter rivalry between the debutantes had inflicted on the Democrats.
It was much later however that we learnt that Obama was not as stupid as some of us had thought him to be. According to Obama, the decision to nominate Biden was not based on the petty quarrels that they had had in the heat of the presidential primaries nor was it based on primordial considerations. Obama said he decided to choose Biden, not because he wanted to subordinate or punish him for being such a pest during the Democratic primaries. He said that he saw in Biden his own avatar. Obama said he saw in Biden a worthy opponent who had presidential and magisterial clout. In plain English, the Biden decision was based on who he thought had the best interest in promoting the American agenda, and who could become president at short notice.
But that was not the only reason why Obama chose Biden to be his vice president. As one of the longest serving senators from the state of Delaware, Biden parades an intimidating foreign relations expertise spanning over three decades. He was head of many congressional committees that helped America develop a foreign policy towards her relations with trouble spots like Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.
But if merit and a keen sense of patriotism is what may be the considerations for public servants to be nominated in the United States and in the developed world, what we have here is the exact opposite. Take a look at ALL the people who were nominated by the acting president. Ninety-nine percent of them were nominated from their states [ I hear that’s what the law demands] as either loyal party people from the PDP, or that they are the kind of people all too willing to lick anyone’s ass just because they want to be ministers. At the end of the day, the kind of people that Mr. Acting President is going to surround himself with are the rankadede-all-correct-sir kind of people who may never engage him in any kind of meaningful debate, and who will only truly be loyal to the governors who nominated them. If you have read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, you would have come across a certain section of that book that vigorously asserts that what every leader should be afraid of is not wars, dissidents or external aggression. Rather, Solzhenitsyn warned that the leader that wants to succeed must fear the YES-MAN, a minister or aide who never disagrees with or has the potential to always want to say ‘Yes sir, no problem sir! even when the leader’s roof is on fire.
When Nigerians were pestering Mr Acting president to dump President Umaru Yar’Adua’s executive council, they were not thinking of cabal or non-cabal marionettes like Dora Akunyili, or John Odey, or Usman Shamsudeen, or Odein Ajumogobia, or Godwin Abbah, or of anyone of those who have just been sworn in. Rather, Nigerians were thinking more in terms of a Femi Falana, a Festus Keyamo, a Wole Soyinka, a Pat Utomi, a Shehu Umar, a Nuhu Ribadu or any other radical ready to do what is necessary to move Nigeria ahead and make it a decent country. I also thought that Mr. Acting President would have given the former FCT Minister, Adamu Aliero, the Biden treatment. Just a little while after Jonathan was said to have became Goodluck as acting president, and was tinkering with the idea of dismantling Yar’Adua’s cabinet, we understand that it was only Aliero who had the liver to stand up to him and advised him otherwise. Whether or not this was self-serving [as some people have argued], his position radically contrasted with the position of a Dora Akunyili who jumped and dumped rather than sink with the ship that she helped keep afloat with her culinary as well as her ability to pose as a crusader fighting a ‘cabal’.
Therefore, at this ‘critical’ period of our life as a nation, those whom chance thrust on us as leaders should have no need of the former templates of religion or our ethnicity as determinants of the direction we should go. I insist that if the acting president had put his foot down and ignored the pressures that came at him from all directions, he would have set in motion a course of action that would trigger the much-needed change that this country really needs.