President Goodluck Jonathan and the Man in the Mirror

by Sheyi Oriade

For the first time in his political career, our newly inaugurated president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, can, from within the opulence of his presidential lodgings, repose and assume pose before a full length mirror, thumb his chest and look his reflection in the eye, and declare without equivocation or fear of contradiction – to the satisfaction of his spouse – that he has, at last, in his own right and by his own devices attained to high elective political office without having to profit from the misfortune of a political principal!

Such uplift to his political manhood this must be. But as he undertakes this self affirming ritual of reflective validation before his looking glass altar of self appraisal, he will notice, if he is of observant disposition that his reflection stands opposite to him in much the same way that millions of Nigerians stand opposite, and in opposition, to his political party, due to its inability and unwillingness to grasp and grapple with the key challenges obstructing the nation’s path to progress over the past dozen years of its national rulership.

What a great paradox it must seem to observers of the peculiar workings of Nigeria’s electoral politics, that large numbers of registered voters appeared able, at one and the same time, to despise a political party, and yet find it within themselves, to endorse its standard bearer by popular electoral acclaim. But Nigerians are – if anything at all – a mass of unfathomable complexity, of which the ability, to dislike a political parent and yet like its political offspring (by concluding in their minds that he is a good man in a bad party) is but one curious manifestation of some of the complexities which characterise the nation.

As sensible or nonsensical as the above may seem, one wonders in practical terms what effect such a mental decoupling of political party from its prime political candidate will have in terms of the substance and style of presidential governance going forward.

For instance, from whom will the president take his leadings? And to whom will he incline his ears for advice and soundings? And in whom will he repose his loyalty? And to whom will he be accountable; the people or powerful interests? And will he be able to transcend his political party? Can he override those within and without who are resistant to progress and meaningful change, particularly, those to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for their role in returning him to power?

Will he be able to straddle that tightrope of conflicting interests and expectations, pulled on the one side by political associates in favour of a ‘business as usual’ approach, and on the other side, by ordinary Nigerians who desperately yearn for change and progress? Can he demonstrate that he has the dexterity and equipoise of a trapeze artist able to traverse such a high wire without losing his balance? Will he be able to prevent or penalise those within his party with a proven proclivity for perpetrating and perpetuating corrupt practices?

As ever, there are more questions than answers! Ordinarily, the answers to such posers ought to be obvious. But hardly anything is straight forward in the context of Nigerian politics. And so it seems that the passage of time alone will reveal the extent of his independence of mind and determination to pursue the best interests of the nation.

One immediate test which will provide an indication of his resoluteness, or lack thereof, will be the composition of his executive cabinet. Will he, in its constitution, succumb to the pressures of his political party and other interests, in terms of who gets in and gets what, or will his choices be based purely on merit? Will he go with those he believes are best placed to actualise his vision for the nation (hopefully a vision which coincides with the aspirations of the people), regardless of whose feet are stepped upon in the process?

Or will he saddle himself with a mishmash of plutocrats, kleptocrats, aristocrats, and technocrats in order to keep his retinue of sponsors and courtiers happy? Such a concoctive approach, if adopted, will be tantamount to utilising uncertain ingredients of a dubious recipe to prepare a national stew, but the output of which, on its consumption is certain to be unpalatable to the palate of the mass of Nigerians. But we wait with interest to see what blend of brew will emerge from his distillation of the sweet and sour juices of idealism and realism with which he has to work.

Whatever team he does decide to run with, it is advisable that he sets for them, and ensures that they stick to, the achievement of a few measurable objectives. He should resist the temptation of announcing grand sounding, but unrealisable goals that make for catchy headlines but nothing else. In other words he should focus on key areas which successive governments, for whatever reason, have been neglectful of and deficient in generating required outcomes over the years. The power sector, road construction and maintenance, health care delivery, and education immediately spring to mind as examples of such.

During his electioneering criss-cross across Nigeria, undertaken largely by presidential flight, he will have had the opportunity of forming a panoramic perspective of Nigeria and its true state of underdevelopment. From the heights of the sky he will have noticed that the mass of Nigerians are held to the ground by the gravity of their challenging circumstances. Circumstances which require many of them, on a daily basis, to risk their lives in pursuit of livelihoods on impassable roads, the passability of which falls within his remit.

In contrast, to the many impassable roads under his remit, he will have noticed, and thankfully too, during his aerial campaign travels that the skies above, unlike the ground below, are without potholes. Thus, ensuring that his travels were a pleasurable experience and whatever occurrence of turbulence he may have encountered was not sufficient to throw him off course. To this end, he should make it the aspirational cornerstone of his government to make ‘the below like the above’ or in the language of his chosen religious faith to do things ‘… on earth as if in heaven’ aiming to achieve a reflection of perfection wherever possible in his leadership.

Going forward, however, over the course of the next four years, he must realise that the conduct and performance of those in his government, will, in the mirror of judgment of the Nigerian people represent a reflection of his leadership, whether good or bad. And should things go well, or otherwise, on his presidential watch, he should look no further for the ascription of praise or blame, to the man in the mirror looking back at the man in the fedora hat striking a pose before it.

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