Goodluck Jonathan: Indecision, Power and Legacy

Ever since Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became the acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, powercenters, decisionmakers, opinionmakers, civil society, and every-day Nigerians have been begging, advising, cajoling and/or yelling at him to “move it, do something.” In their estimation, the acting president has been a laggard, slow to decision, and in some cases, indecisive. Nigerians, it seems, are inpatient with him. And frankly, their impatience and annoyance is justified. Or so it seems.

To understand the psyche, and the reasons for why Nigerians are calling for a decisive and action-oriented captain, one has to truly understand where we have been as a nation: The lost opportunities, the squandered resources, the sickening state of basic needs, deteriorating economic and political system, a fragmenting and self-immolating society, declining national prestige, and a succession of mostly third-rate presidents and heads of state – all of which have contributed to the stagnation, and in some cases, the regression of the Nigerian state and society.

Adding to the aforesaid mix is the uncalled-for saga of the last ninety or so days. What otherwise should have been a simply constitutional exchange nearly resulted in a crisis. And now that the near-crisis seems to have abated—with the vice president now the acting president – Nigerians want the new man at the helm of affairs to quickly regain lost grounds. Words are not needed, only actions; not vacillation, but resolute resolutions. The people want an assurance of a better tomorrow; they want to know that he is capable and competent. They expect and deserve a better tomorrow.

In all of these, however, the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, can be likened to a man sandwiched between a rock and a hard place (facing a dilemma): If he acts too fast, he risks committing egregious mistakes in which case his opponents and bashers will pounce at him. If he acts to slow, his opponents, critics and bashers will accuse him of indecision, of incompetence. Whatever it is he faces — a Morton’s Fork, a Hobson’s choice, or a false dichotomy — he is likely to be hammered on both sides. And in fact, all the choices have a price. The problem then becomes “what manner of price is he willing to pay?”

Since whatever decision he makes, and however he makes them comes with a price, Goodluck Jonathan must govern with one thing and one thing only on his mind: Legacy. What will history and posterity say about him? How will he be judged tomorrow and the day after? In thinking about the Acting President, and about the mountains and the valleys he has before him, I couldn’t help but think about President John F. Kennedy’s January 9, 1961 stirring speech (part of which reads):

“…And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us–recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state–our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage–with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies–and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates–the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment–with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past–of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others–with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?

Third, were we truly men of integrity–men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them–men who believed in us–men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication–with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest?”

As a long time critic of the Acting President, my unsolicited counsel would be for him to “take the bull by the horns:” Deal with our national problems directly and resolutely. He must do it now and with measured speed. He cannot satisfy or please all sides. For starters, he must (a) surround himself with advisers who are strong, intelligent and unwavering and who understands the way the country and the global system works; (b) relief all current ministers of their portfolios and immediately appoint men and women with proven commitment to our collective cause; (c) retire all current service and security chiefs; (d) pave the way for and sign off on Sovereign National Conference; (d) help to strengthen our political institutions; and (d) curtail the excesses of the PDP.

From now until the sixteen months or so before the next primary/general elections, he may want to concentrate his energy on four areas: electricity, roads, higher education, and electoral reforms. He must not attempt a 7-point, a 12-point or a 15-point agenda; all he need do is concentrate on this four areas. Strong and viable institutions, i.e. the judiciary, will help towards fighting corruption and corrupt practices. In the short term, the Acting President may put in place some conciliatory and healing policies; but for the long term, let the Presidency and the SNC deal with the “Ijaw and the Niger Delta Question.”

Now, as to whether the Acting President should stand as a candidate during the next election; well, that’s for him to decide. That’s his choice to make. That said, there may be some “inner understanding” within his political party that may forbid him from doing so, however, should he meet or exceed the expectation of Nigerians (as the acting president), there may not be plausible reasons for not electing him in his own right. For more than three decades, Nigerians have been longing for competent leadership. If Goodluck Jonathan delivers today, the people may ask him to return tomorrow. But he must earn their trust to earn their love and their votes.

Obafemi Awolowo, Mobolaji Johnson, and Samuel Ogbemudia – what are they known for? What are their legacies? Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Jerry Rawlings, and Yakubu Gowon – what are their legacies? And what’s the legacy of the last four men that have presided over the affairs of Nigeria? The Acting President must do, speak and act like a man on a mission. He must be decisive. He must be bold. He must surround himself with men and women with demonstrated love for the country and for the people. Should he do the right things at the right hour, history will embrace him; posterity will thank him

Finally, Acting President Jonathan cannot, and must not allow a repeat of what happened to him during the most recent Governors Forum. He must also make it clear to the Chairman, and agents of his party (PDP), that he will not tolerate insults as was the case when the party tried to pre-empt his presidential ambition. For now at least, he is the man in charge of the party and the country. He must make this clear by his actions, pronouncements and demeanour — that he is in charge, the numero uno

Please think history, think posterity and think legacy. Please act, act now! Hedrick Smith, in the Power Game (1988), posited that “power is the ability to make something happen or to keep it from happening. It can spring from tactical ingenuity and jugular timing, or simply from knowing more than anyone else at the critical moment of decision.” Acting President Goodluck Jonathan must keep this in mind at all times; otherwise, he may find himself naked, clutching straws and gasping for air.

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