Speaking Truth to Power: Giving President Yar’Adua an Opportunity to Govern in the Autumn

by Olu Ojedokun

Reflections are considered a good starting point to revaluate ones goals, both long term and short term and establish whether the general direction of one’s life is heading anywhere. I find the autumn months of September to December an opportunity to do precisely that. This I find not too early nor too late. It is when the year is worn, tired, but before it is well advanced and that I find my preparations for the next must commence and be grounded.

I wish I could some how contrive to explain these accounts for the earned rest and my sitting back of the past few weeks. I wish I could report that in my period of ‘rest’ I have taken the position of an ‘interested observer’, suspending all scepticism of and about President Yarn Adua’s administration. However, I locate my ‘back sitting’ more within the seething frustrations I experience from the knowledge that the omens today for Nigeria, are not very encouraging.

I hope that this article would allow me to go further down the recent memory lane, for time may have elapsed since the President emerged from the ‘darkness’ of the night on return from the ‘lesser Hajj’ with a new burst of energy and a promise of a Kairos moment, if rumours are to be believed. Two months later what does the report card show? A pattern, one, that seems to have emerged with this President, is a recurring theme that maybe crucial in the understanding of the character of his administration. I see in the many government actions or inactions rarely any capacity for straightforwardness, directness or transparency. For it appears it is congenitally incapable of being frank, clear or assertive. Furthermore in my limited perception I believe this administration is playing some complex, convoluted game while Nigeria stagnates.

President Yar’Adua’s return, rather than a return to the routine of governance has been fraught with ambiguities, knee-deep in complications with hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggressions and paranoid confusions. The Nigerian President’s handlers seem perversely determined to make everything as difficult as possible for his administration and for the country.

At this stage reference some evidence of my assertions may be aptly combined with some possible suggestions of some ways forward. I use the Sunday Tribune of 19th October 2008 as a starting point, to shows the backwards and forwards dynamics of this administration. No where in the past may I suggest that routine cabinet reshuffles has been accompanied by so much drama. Drama not because of the juice of stories concerned or with the choice of excitement it brings but due to his perceived inaction, my points is corroborated below:

“Sources said in Abuja on Friday that while President Yar’Adua is not planning a clean sweep of the current cabinet, his kitchen cabinet is considering the recall of the former Minister of Finance to the cabinet
Those lobbying for her return point to the tremendous work she did on the economy and the payment of the nation’s debt during the Obasanjo administration. She was also credited with inspiring the confidence of foreign investors and the world financial sector in the nation’s economy.

It was not clear which Ministry the lobbyists would want her to be deployed if she makes a return but a source said that as late as last Wednesday, she was still being considered for a return to the cabinet…

Meanwhile, as the President continues to delay the release of the new ministerial list, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has joined the fray of top politicians who have been making cases for a number of ministers and nominees..”

May I suggest that this President needs to make its mind up and recover its bearings. He must ask himself am a continuum of President Obasanjo’s administration or an antithesis of it? Any continuing lack of clarity inspires no confidence and confirms confusion at the heart of governance.

Another report from Nigerian Guardian of 19th October 2008 indicates that the Presidential spokesman is attempting to give credence to the present stated of affairs:

“Adeniyi explained the restriction of the daily movements to the Presidential Villa as part of the restructuring and enthronement of efficiency in the operations of the federal government.”

He said: “The President deplores a situation in which Ministers, rather than stay in their respective offices working, would spend the whole day in the Villa waiting to see either him or the Vice President for what often turns out to be matters they could easily have handled on their own.

“Most often, many bring files containing memos they could easily have sent through normal channels, knowing they would get early response.

“When you add that to Governors who have unhindered access, when do the President and Vice President have time to work?”

He added that many things were being streamlined at the Villa and as such, it is the SGF, acting as a buffer, that would determine if those Ministers have to see either the President or the Vice President during official working hours in the office.

“The President does not micromanage and so has given the Ministers all the powers to do their job,” he said. “There is no reason why they should come and line up in his office waiting to see him or the Vice President with a mere memo that could have been routed through normal administrative channel.”

I do not think the spokesman needs to convince us that the President does not micromanage for many are convinced the President is not managing anything at all.

May I suggest that at the heart of the mesmerisation with the complexities of governance is the inability of the President to have a gate keeper. I would suggest that as evidenced in the American Presidential system, the President requires a trusted hand, a Chief of Staff or SGF who has enough clout to control access to the President and knock heads together. Such an office should be responsible for overseeing the actions of the Aso Rock staff, managing the President’s schedule, and deciding who is allowed to meet with the President. In further details, I shall share some ideas I gained from the experience of Andrew Card a former US Chief of Staff to the President. The office should be concerned with the following three areas:

(1) Care and feeding of the President: This must be the top responsibility of the Chief of Staff, and its core is the President’s “eating, sleeping and being merry.” The Chief therefore engages in, among other things, scheduling, planning for events inside and away from the Aso Rock, overseeing personal aides, security and groundskeepers, and coordinating with various State House offices. For there would always be an “infinite number of people who want to convey an infinite number of ideas to the President, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day.”

Therefore, the Chief of Staff or SGF must in my view “pay attention to every minute of every day” and make sure the President has time for such basics as reflecting, calling the First Lady, eating, relaxing, reading a book – even going to the bathroom.

(2) Policy formulation: The Chief of Staff or SG should have a front row seat at critical policy meetings and strive to provide “good, wise and candid counsel.” There is the importance of the President having “really smart” and competent advisors who share the President’s overall philosophy but who nonetheless hold diverse views and opinions. With such a team in place, the President is better able to consider an issue’s facets and arrive at optimum decisions. A critical aspect of the decision making process is timing, and the Chief of Staff or SGF must see to it that decisions are made in the proper context and at the right moment.

(3) Marketing and selling: Once a policy choice has been made, it must be communicated adeptly to the Nigerian people, National Assembly, other governments and the various members of the Cabinet . That is the job of the Chief of Staff of SGF.

I am not convinced that the present position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation has the capacity and clout to function as detailed above but if it does then it should reduced some of the bottlenecks, somersaults and road blocks and standstills we have experienced with this administration.

In conclusion I would suggest that the President’s staff invest in the purchase of a complete series of the West Wing series, retailing for about $120 on the Amazon internet site. Watching it would allow them and the President to appreciate the finer points I am seeking to make so that progress can began to be made and felt in Nigeria’s heart of governance.

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1 comment

Iroabuchi sampson onwuka October 23, 2008 - 4:28 pm

Its good to find someone responding to the Nigerian president positively and yet we can say that the man can do better. We, Nigerians are so used to very abusive presidents that we don’t know what a good president look like anymore. I despise his Arab sentimentality and his religious doctrinaire Northernity, but he has done better than most by at least trying to master the difficult impression of ethinicity on a young society

Above all he has worked to balance the budget even as the country has dipped in its value. The currency is barely hanging in there and is facing ‘south’. The man should buckle his belt in such a time and if the president Musa Yar’dua could cause himself to sleep, he should therefore agitate since he cannot allow his boat to sink any further.

We Igbos believe that the duty that ‘the many owe to the few’ is the protection of thier rights and values, rights and values that their families handed to them at anyone time. Should we fail in that duty, all our ‘families both living and departed has also failed’.

This man should prove himself, if not for his family but some of us young men who might be readying to wear the shoes.


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