Speaking Truth to Power: Mr President and the Chaos called Nigeria

by Olu Ojedokun

Mr President, my thoughts have recently reverted back to the question of your legacy as President and the fact that there are no invisible ones. I am inclined to ask what story would you tell your grand children? Would it be a narration that revolves around you standing on the great wall of progress? Would you tell them that you sat at the tables with King’s and Cardinals, visited the White House? Or that one moment in the autumn you got to spend a few moments with the Nigerian Armed Forces? This is where I require your assistance Mr President. Maybe you would regale them with tales of how you intensified the battle against corruption using the tools availed to you by the ‘Rule of Law’?

However, for the very present, many look around your government and see a multiplicity of chaos and no discernable progress in most areas. Allow me, to take one firm example from today, which is located in the rising fuel chaos in Nigeria, a bitter irony.

Some say that this is evidence of the resource curse at work. Mr President, through your staffers, in the absence of a Chief of Staff, I would ask you to decipher this one in a second: Nigeria is suffering a potentially crippling fuel scarcity. The reports indicate yes, that is right: oil rich Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest population and theoretically and ought to be a regional economic engine is not able to provide fuel for its domestic economy. It is claimed that there are a number of factors at work here, ranging from economic inefficiency to the internal colonisation that oil creates in Nigeria and elsewhere to utter mismanagement to the political chaos that oil foments. Still, that Nigeria faces such a shortage is nothing short of dumbfounding.

I realise that to the unsophisticated mind it is much more complex than a thousand words in an opinion editorial may seek to capture. Nevertheless I am determined to speak truth to an aspect of the issue.

The facts laid bare are that despite being the world’s eighth biggest crude oil exporter, Nigeria is forced to import about 85% of its petroleum product needs because of the chaotic condition of its four state-owned refineries. This has caused untold hardship. The supply disruption has caused chaos in cities around the country, with motorists having to wait hours in long queues at filling stations or buy from street hawkers illegally selling fuel in jerry cans at twice the usual price. Yet we thought his was a by product of the Abacha era.

However, I have not given up hope because even though the chaos theory has to do with fractal geometry I am told that it has to do with finding order and even great beauty in what looks like total chaos. That if we look closely at the randomness around Nigeria then patterns will start to emerge.

One consolation therefore is the possibility that in the midst of what looks like your randomness and your chaotic governing style that a pattern of progress and development is starting to emerge and that soon and very soon it will become evident to the many.

A little point of departure, just to recount my recent visit to The Gambia. Yes a small nation, but everything works there. Electricity is constant, fuel flows in abundance and house not connected to the national grid have solar power!

Mr President, I make one admission that it is easy to criticise using tactics of the armchair variety whilst domiciled far away in the Queen’s own country. I will, however, attempt to redress that by making a concrete suggestion. I hope it might enable you to grasp some of the chaos engulfing your Presidency and the country. Whilst it would be naïve to think this is a panacea against corruption and lack of inspiration and the viciousness of the ruling party, I am prepared to leave those wider issues to others more savvy than myself.

Some of the rot in my view can be partially addressed by the appointment of a Chief of Staff in Aso Rock. A senior aide that will ensure your time is planned and expended with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. One that tracks 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. Sustaining momentum needed to drive forward your initiatives. Some of the pitfalls of your Presidency might have been prevented and even salvaged through good staff work.

Without someone to review action items, create 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 your Presidency. It is obvious that you need an aide that serves as a first alert system to you, keeping you aware of unanticipated problems or opportunities to be considered.

Above all Mr President, the Chief of Staff, should have the capacity to exercise keen judgment, deciding: What to bring to your 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.”

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

But 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, fulfill it or betray it”.

On these I speak.

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Davies Bamigboye May 28, 2009 - 9:05 am

Ok. Just so you know that the economic and political fundamentals in Nigeria are wrong. This is what we need to challenge and change. Recently, I heard we have gone back to the IMF with a cap in hand and we have started plunging into “red” our foreign reserve. It is saddening that we keep going in circles.

Now to address this, what we need to do is to create a free knowledge Portal as a start where the larger populace are able to air their opinions – a transparency that will ensure that public officials are held accountable for what their job description dictates.

Overall, a good idea you raised. I am just not sure if this is going to lead anywhere.

employlawone@aol.com May 27, 2009 - 1:01 pm

Thank you,

Yes I agree with your comments that is why this article is partrather than a sum total of many suggestions out there. Together aggregting all the suggestions together will move us somewhere.

Davies Bamigboye May 27, 2009 - 12:57 pm

Speaking of Chaos; a country that is not transparent enough can not go anywhere. An appointment of a Chief of Staff may be a laudable thing to do but this can not be effective if the underlying structure does not support this. There is no corporate governance in Nigeria – no accountability. Your suggestion may end up being a waste of time if not properly instituted.


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