If one were to hold a candle to President Umaru Yar’adua’s head to discern his most dominant thought process – and this in spite of Shakespeare’s admonition – ‘that there is no art to find the minds’ construction in the face’, one would find, I think, that the president is a man of reflective mentation; a state of mind consistent with his taciturn nature. And as a man given to introspection, he must be thankful for the favourable turn of events of recent weeks. Particularly, as his acquisition of the presidential mantle was procured on the basis of a deeply flawed electoral process; not of his making, but largely to his benefit. He must now be relieved that the political legitimacy which a flawed electoral process could not confer upon him, a judicial process has.
Because of the nature of his coming to office, much of his tenure to date has been dogged by assertions of electoral illegitimacy; assertions of which have distracted him from his task of leading the nation. Also distracting to his presidential attention has been the persistent indiscipline and infighting within his political party. A poor indictment of a ruling party wholly lacking in effective dispute resolution processes capable of resolving its internal feuds, such that it has to call upon the president, time after time, to resolve crises affecting the party.
But thankfully, with the occurrence of two key events in close succession in recent weeks: specifically the verdict of the Court of Appeal (in its Election Tribunal function) validating his election as president; and his political party’s appointment of an executive body to run its affairs; he has at last, a much needed berth, from which he can now proceed to perform the duties, which he swore on oath to undertake on behalf of the people. And in view of the momentary respite offered by these events he also has the time to reconsider and re-direct his focus with renewed vigour to the task of solving Nigeria’s problems; whilst at the same time consolidating his position in office through the provision of good governance in the service of the people.
In any case, the president must realise that no matter how exultant he is at his recent turn of good fortune, he is not completely out of the woods yet, as his chief antagonists persist with their election petitions to the Supreme Court. Since one lacks proficiency in the art of futurology, it is difficult to predict with certainty what the outcome of these appeals will be; particularly with the Supreme Court’s rediscovered ‘Fiat Justitia, Ruat Coelum’ (‘let justice be done, though the heavens fall’) approach to issues. But within one’s competence, one can safely say, that it is with fevered expectation that the nation looks to its highest court for a definitive determination of this critical issue. In any event, regardless of which of the parties, emerges as the ultimate victor, one fact is clear, and that is, that our constitutional jurisprudence will be enriched by the process.
But back to the present and to the president and to matters at hand. It will come as no surprise, I think, to the president, that increasing numbers of Nigerians, out of bitter experience, have over time become mistrustful of their governments and their ability to govern for their good. This widespread mistrust is based on the unseemly and seemingly relentless corrupt practices of successive governments for much of Nigeria’s post independence history.
It is a sad state of affairs, when a nation of ordinarily vibrant people, is transformed into a nation of cynics. And when this cynical mindset is combined with the plethora of other problems that beset the nation; what emerges from the mix is a venomous brew, whose cup we are forced to drink. What is particularly upsetting about this state of affairs is that it does not bode well for the future progress of the nation, as negatively minded people very rarely accomplish great things.
Suffice it to say, that against this background, the president has his work cut out for him. And his immediate challenge is to decide from where to begin in tackling the problems before him. An appropriate starting place, in order to underline his sincerity of purpose to Nigerians, would be to put clear distance between himself and his predecessor, whose tenure in office, with every emerging day and unfolding fact is increasingly looking like a monumental fraud perpetrated against the people of Nigeria.
There can be no doubt, that in attempting to confront this challenge, the president will find himself impaled upon the horns of a dilemma; in that, he is the principal beneficiary of his predecessor’s preferment; and that the people expect him to differentiate himself from the actions of his benefactor. But, nonetheless – dilemma or not – it is an issue which he cannot avoid, and one with which he must deal. Should he fail to do so, he will be tarred with the same brush of corruption that has sullied his predecessor. But should he somehow muster the courage to deal with his predecessor, he will have succeeded in making an implacable enemy of a former benefactor. One thing that is clear, however, is that he cannot have it both ways.
Judging from the current mood of Nigerians, there seems to be strong clamour for the probing of the activities of the previous government. As desirable as this is, I wonder whether it will achieve any meaningful end. For apart from the fact that our Criminal Justice system is insufficiently robust to deal with the stature of political malefactor(s) in view, I am not convinced that there is the political will for this to happen. And this even in the face of recent EFCC announcements suggesting that a probe of the previous regime’s activities is soon to take place. I suspect that nothing more than a series of sensational headlines confirming our widely held suspicions will be the outcome of this exercise.
It is laughable that a system which has not been able to deal decisively or effectively with a group of ‘two-bit’ errant governors, is now expected to deal with a powerful, but errant former president. One needs only to consider how many tainted former leaders remain firmly beyond the reach of the law; going about their affairs enjoying and flaunting the proceeds of their dishonesty. Do we really believe that this time it will be different? I doubt it.
As a nation, I believe that we have now reached a point where a line needs to be drawn under that which has gone before; let us cut our losses, learn from the painful lessons, and henceforth look forward to a new beginning. Let no one take away from this, the idea that I somehow condone corruption. I do not. But I feel that we cannot as a nation, sustain in simultaneous motion a forward and backward march; it has to be one or the other.
In this, the president has to take the lead. He has to be transparent with the nation, articulating that which he can reasonably do, and that which he cannot. No one expects him to rid the nation of corruption in one, or however many terms, he spends in office. But one does expect him to take firm charge of the wheel of our ship of State; steering it away from the treacherous waters of corruption and aimlessness, whose waves threaten to capsize and render it shipwreck.
To this effect, the president has to take immediate steps to lance the boil of corruption within the government and end the cycle of self-destruction. In order to arrive at Mt. Olympus, one needs only to take steps in its direction, as the philosopher, Socrates, once advised a traveller. In this regard, the president’s recent decision to force the resignation of two of his ministers suspected of profiting illegally from public monies is commendable. If we are ever to develop a zero tolerance attitude towards corruption and its appearance in public life, this sort of decisiveness has to become the norm.
It is often said that inherent in every problem is the seed for its own resolution. And as difficult and as numerous as Nigeria’s problems are, there is more than a glimmer of hope of their being resolved. Rather fortuitously, the price per barrel of crude oil (our chief export) on the world markets is of such a nature that the nation’s treasury stands to profit handsomely. These additional funds, together with existing budgetary allocations should be used to revive areas of the economy which have been neglected for too long. In particular, the following areas require immediate attention: the construction and re-construction of national road networks; the revamping of the federal educational sector; the re-vitalisation of the health sector; the overhauling of the power sector; and the resuscitation of the agricultural sector. Each of these areas is within the competence of the federal government and should be prioritised and dealt with accordingly.
In the face of current global economic realities, the president also needs to diversify the nation’s base of foreign reserve holdings, most of which are denominated in US dollars. This no longer makes good economic sense given the current parlous state of the US dollar on world markets. Converting these holdings to alternatives such as gold must be a priority. Overwhelming considerations for the well being of our economy must take precedence over any other considerations of loyalty to other nations.
Quite often, a good measure by which to determine the level of a nation’s advancement is to look at the quality of its police. And I think it is beyond contention, that the Nigeria Police in its current state is not fit for purpose, and is in desperate need of an overhaul. Its current structure is too top heavy and needs de-layering, as well as ‘root and branch’ reformation at other levels. In any fight against corruption, the police have a pivotal role to play, but at present, they are as much a part of the problem, than they are the solution.
The president needs to direct his Minister for Police Affairs and his Inspector General to renew the training curriculum of the police service; whilst calling upon the services of retired senior police officers with distinguished records to provide of their expertise to help the Nigeria Police improve its service to the people.
If the president devotes some of his time in office towards the achievement of the above objectives, then he will have succeeded in governing for the good of the people; and by so doing gain their trust and respect.
In rounding up this article, I recall an anecdotal tale regarding Governor Huey Long, a one time candidate for office of president of the United States. In soliciting support for his quest, he admonished his prospective supporters in the following terms:
‘Those of you who come with me now will receive a big piece of the pie;
Those of you who delay and commit to me later will receive a small piece of the pie;
Those of you who do not come in at all, will receive – Good Government.’
Many Nigerians, I am sure, would love to receive a piece of the national cake – be it big or small – but in the absence of such an apportionment, most Nigerians, I imagine would settle for good government under which they can ‘bake’ and enjoy their own cakes.
It is my sincere hope that President Umaru Yar’adua will rise to the challenge of governing for the good of the Nigerian people; and in preferring the people above all else by being responsive to their needs, he will be able to echo the profound wisdom of the saintly Mahatma Ghandi, who once said:
‘There go my people; I must follow them, for I am their leader’