Speaking Truth to Power: Imperative of a Goodluck Presidency

by Olu Ojedokun

In recent weeks we have witnessed tumultuous times in Nigeria’s democracy, a transition of some sorts from one President to another. A transition hastened by reason of the ultimate human tragedy, death. An inevitable fact of life that should have been managed with dignity befitting the office of the President was allowed to descend into a spectacle of fun and games innuendos and a series of amateur sessions.

In a brief contextualisation of the ridicule we were served with in the past few months, anonymous sources treated us to the following claims that the late President did the following: “Hugged his mother, came downstairs, played with his grandchildren, enjoyed green tea with his cousin, jogged for 20 minutes daily, studied and then signed the budget and granted the BBC a telephone interview.” (Dominic Ogbonna)

It appears that the recent but unavoidable drama made out of the late President Yar’Adua’s health by the so called ‘cabal’ was motivated by moves to subvert and manipulate the constitution for personal and selfish gain. It is now evident that the ‘cabal’ subjected the then Acting President to unacceptable subversion and in the process precipitated a grave constitutional crises. President Jonathan was initially treated as an interloper or at best an inconvenience on the radar screen. A less resilient ‘nation’ might have splintered into various pieces like the fall of Humpty Dumpty with no capacity to be glued back together again.

However, despite the shenanigans of desperation exhibited by the cabal I am convinced that even in twelve months President Goodluck Jonathan can usher in a new era in Nigeria. In the midst of 50 years of acquired cynicism I remain stubbornly convinced that government, even in Nigeria, no matter what it’s past failures, in the months to come, can still be a space where people come together and where no one gets left behind, ultimately an instrument of good.

I believe that the President has a unique, once in a life time opportunity to master the complexities of power in Nigeria but can borrow from the words of the departing British Prime Minister’s which I parody, that being President should be a rare privilege to serve not for the love of the prestige, title or ceremony that accompanies the office but because of potential to make Nigeria fairer, more democratic, more prosperous and more just, a truly greater Nigeria.

After 50 years of failed governments and mismanagement of our resources and opportunities it is very tempting for our new President to feel that he is out of time and become hypnotised by the complexity of power. He must, however, appreciate that he and his government can make more of a difference in one day in Nigeria than any of us outside government attempting to speak may make in a generation.

Many articles have been written since our President was sworn in and so it is easy to consign this article into the category of ‘mere words’. Whilst I accept that am a man of words and those words are everything to me. I say this because it is through words that I gain a vehicle representing a means to convey ideas and to influence and to speak truth to power. The truth is that we all require words and we all, including government wrestle every day over words. Words are always up for grabs to be deployed by spin masters of various complexions; even people with questionable reputations engage words to rehabilitate themselves. Many Nigerians would be justified to cry out for deeds from our government and not just mere words, but Dim Ojukwu once said ‘ideas precedes action’.

I submit that it is not enough to posses mere words, yes they are a starting point but action that transforms the life of the governed must be the by product. If the President is going to emerge with any progress in the next twelve months as far as his agenda is concerned then I suggest he considers the appointment of a Chief of Staff. This should prevent a multiplicity of chaos and allow him the space to execute his agenda.

The appointment of a Chief of Staff in Aso Rock, a senior aide should ensure that the President’s time is planned and expended with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. S/he would track strategic initiatives by monitoring progress towards meeting goals and achieving benchmarks, analysing data, ensuring follow-through on the part of agencies, ministers and other key players. S/he would sustain the momentum needed to drive forward his initiatives. S/he would also prevent pitfalls for the Presidency through the provision of good staff work. However, without such an appointment of a person to review action items, creating a reporting system that allows for a timely flow of necessary data, developing communication between all arms of the Presidency, there is very little hope for progress. The Chief of Staff should be the aide that serves as a first alert system to the President, keeping him aware of unanticipated problems or opportunities to be considered.

Above all the aide would have the capacity to exercise keen judgment, deciding:

• What to bring to his attention and what to shield you from;
• When to speak and when to remain silent;
• When to intervene and when to let things run their course;
• What information is reliable and what needs to be questioned and challenged;
• How to respond to unanticipated developments;
• How to best keep the boss focused on the top priorities;
• How to help you see clearly through the “fog of war.”

Our story must not be: “There is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again.”

But again it must have the assurance of the words of Franz Fannon, words that filled me with awe as a student that:

Each generation must out of relative obscurity find its mission, fulfil it or betray it”.

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