Discovering a Sense of Purpose: President Yar’adua’s Challenge

by Sheyi Oriade

Some may think that the absence of the ‘vision thing’ at the heart of government is of little consequence, as Nigeria has always managed to survive and defy the odds. But this is the problem, Nigeria needs to do more than survive, it needs to thrive in a manner consistent with its abundant array of human and natural resources. Nigeria should be punching its weight and acting its age. It is only when we begin to do so, that we will cease to be a ‘BBC’ (Big Blind Country) as Nigeria was aptly and colourfully described by that late patriot, musical genius and national treasure – Fela Kuti.

It is ironic that while President Yar’adua’s predecessor was widely disliked by reason of his obdurate and prickly personality, his government was actually defined by a number of policy initiatives, even if their implementation left a lot to be desired in a number of areas. For instance, his first term was characterised mainly by the controversial privatisation of state owned assets; while his second term policy focus was largely directed towards international debt repayment/relief. The present government urgently needs to define its beliefs and go about the business of achieving them.

In writing about the above, I am not oblivious to the complexities that bedevil Nigeria. And neither do I think that governing Nigeria is an easy proposition. I am well aware of the dysfunction that pervades our nation. How many nations on earth have as many different people groups and languages per square mile as Nigeria? A position compounded by the legion of interfering ‘traditional monarchs’ who abound in the land? Or which other nation has as many professional political operatives united in their determination to loot national and state treasuries for personal gain? How many nations have a multiplicity of uniformed personnel who terrorise the people on a daily basis in the pretext of performing their duties? And how many other nations have potentially restive armed forces, upon which a perpetual eye needs to be set, in order to ensure that they remain within barracks and out of mischief. Not many I think. All of these are factors are things, that I recognise the Nigerian leadership has to contend with.

As hard as it may seem to believe, Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua is our first post independence executive president to have had the benefit of a University education. He, unlike his predecessors in office, can lay claim to having received a form of structured educational training founded on the principles of the modern world. And it is largely for this reason that I expect his administration to perform better than those that have gone before him. The bar of performance against which he must set his aim, and against which he will be judged, must of necessity be much higher. I am not suggesting that by reason of his educational training alone, he should have an absolute knowledge of, and a solution to, all the problems that confront Nigeria; far from it. But one expects from him, an intelligent approach to the formulation, analyses and resolution of issues.

One of the drawbacks of being a reluctant candidate or president, is that one can very quickly become a hostage of manipulative forces and become drawn, against one’s will, in many conflicting directions by competing interests. Much better it is, to have an agenda and a mandate of one’s own, than to be the captive of interfering patrons. Manoeuvring between a rock and a hard place must be a frustrating experience for any leader, and it can’t be pleasant for President Yar’adua either.

I do, however, suspect that the president’s apparent initial reluctance is beginning to give way to an acceptance/appreciation of his role. For during his recent visit to the White House, I noticed a certain twinkle in his eye as he sat in the Oval office in the warm glare of the klieg lights. Listening to his responses and reading through the transcript of that visit suggest that he may have experienced something of a political epiphany. Quite possibly that visit succeeded in persuading him of Nigeria’s importance in, and to, the world and the fact that he has the unique opportunity of leading it at this time.

Overall, it is yet early days for the Yar’adua administration, but the earlier it defines its agenda for the nation, the better for the nation and his government. Nigeria has to be roused from its slumber and assume its rightful place in world affairs. Maybe then a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council will yield itself to the nation as of right, in recognition of its pivotal place and role in Africa and its importance in international geo-political calculations.

In spite of all the odds set against the president, I am convinced that there is one ‘secret’ that will guarantee him success in office, and win him the respect and admiration of the Nigerian people. It is this; he simply needs to adhere to, and apply the political doctrines and principles of the late Mallam Aminu Kano – his former political mentor – in his (Yar’adua’s) leadership of Nigeria. To do this successfully, he must withstand the forces of resistance within his own party. He needs to strengthen both his position and hold over power, by surrounding himself with people of like mind and stature. He needs to loosen the strangle hold that his patrons and sponsors exert over him. Like his late former mentor and guiding political light, he needs to recognise that even the least of Nigerians is worthy of being served. By so doing, he will have paid the greatest tribute to the memory and ideals of the saintly Mallam Aminu Kano, who lived and died in the service of his people.

I like to believe that, fundamentally, President Yar’adua is a good man, who is as much the victim of circumstances as he is the beneficiary. Nonetheless, experience has taught me never to endorse governments too early in their political lives, and I am not about to depart from this practice. Rather than endorse his government, I shall be doing the ‘Sting’ thing; I shall be watching him:

Every breath he takes
And every move he makes
Every bond he breaks, every step he takes
I’ll be watching him

Every single day
And every word he says
Every game he plays, every night he stays
I’ll be watching him

With every step he takes

Every move he takes
Every vow he breaks
Every smile he fakes, every claim he stakes
I’ll be watching him

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