Yar’Adua and the Question of Legitimacy

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

There are a couple of weeks left for the expiration of the Obasanjo administration. Barring any legal pronouncements by the Election Petition Tribunal or the Supreme Court — or other extralegal events like a military coup d’état — Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua will be sworn in as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Political and legal squabbling apart, the 2007 elections are generally considered a non-event. Opponents and critics point to the preparation, conduct and outcome of the elections as nothing more than a fraud and a charade perpetrated by the current administration and the ruling party.

For these and other reasons therefore, the Yar’Adua administration will be, for the most part, considered illegitimate by the majority of Nigerians. His won’t be the first to be so considered, though: political illegitimacy is something most African governments suffer from as they have generally come to power by way of coups or coercion, self-imposition, electoral malpractices, or a combination of these and other means. Even so, illegitimacy is not and can not be considered a death sentence. Illegality can morph into legality. In other words, an illegitimate government can, over time, become legitimate. According to Max Weber there are three forms of legitimacy — charismatic authority, traditional authority, and rational/legal authority.

But the focus here is completely different: This is a cursory attempt at how Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua (along with his partner Governor Jonathan Goodluck) could, over time, legitimatize their government. But considering the mindset and worldview of Nigerians in yesteryears, Yar’Adua may not bother with such. The average Nigerian has usually not cared about such matters. The privileged and the influential do; even so, it is only to the degree that their interests are threatened. But the times are changing. Today, not much is known about him or about the path he is likely to take. No manifesto and no game plan. His visions are yet to be stated.

But the legitimacy question must be put to rest. And once the question of legitimacy is taken care of, all sorts of benefits will accrue to both the government and to his person, in which case he will be standing tall and upright and majestic. He will not be acting and speaking from a position of weakness; he will not feel inhibited or unnecessarily guarded in his dealings with his colleagues within the continent and at the international arena. He will have the moral and legal authority to expound his vision and philosophy; he will be able to look at national and international culprits in the eyes without feeling like the guilty scolding the guilty.He gets these and much more if and when the vast majority of the people hold him in their palms — praying and wishing him the vest best of luck.

First, between now and inauguration day (or as soon as all the legal and political matters are settled), he should meet with critics and opponents with genuine interest in the survival and progress of the country. There is the need to explain or convince the opposition and the critics that the time has come for all Nigerians to move forward, to join forces for the sake of the country and the people.The President’s entreaty must be genuine, and no one must be paid-off to come onboard. The country is bigger than any single individual for it to be held to ransom.

Second, because those who “win the war automatically benefit from the spoils of war,” the President and his Vice are rightfully expected to appoint only their fellow-warriors. However, the president may want to consider inviting/appointing members of the opposition into his cabinet and other positions. Ordinarily, it is not even in the interest of the president (and the country) to disregard other competent and talented Nigerians who are able to bring their skills and training to bear on the economic, social, cultural and political development of the country.

Third, the President must make sure that he appoints only the qualified and or those who have demonstrated their ability and willingness to assist the President in carrying out his vision for the country. Moreover, there must not be concentration of plumb appointments willed to certain geographical zones. Doing so would set a bad precedence for future governments. Along this line, the President may want to consider having a meaningful relationship with overseas-Nigerians. There is a deep well of talents and resources overseas that the President can tap into.

Fourth, it is in the interest of the President to hold town-meetings spread over the entire country 3-5 times a year. (He could hold 2-3 a year, and then the Vive President another 2-3.) The idea here is to make the people feel that “government belongs to the people,” that the President is listening to them; and that he cares about their individual and collective aspirations.

Fifth, in addition to the town-meetings, the President may also want to consider holding periodic press briefings. There are several advantages to press briefings including the appearance of accountability and transparency. Besides, what’s the point in hoarding information, or making it look as though “government has something to hide”?

Sixth, the President must not treat the National Assembly as a junior partner, or as an enemy. No; they should work as complementary organs in the pursuit of common objectives. However, they must not forget that one organ acts as a check-balance on the other. Unnecessary frictions must be avoided (legally) in the interest of the people.

Seventh, the government of President Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck must act as a truly independent administration free from the tentacles, whispers, commands and nudging of President Obasanjo and his proxies. There must be a break between the past and the present. In the short term, nothing will equate the Musa Yar’Adua/Jonathan Goodluck government to a poodle and a spineless bunch more than the appearance of dependence and indecisiveness. At least in public, there must be a safe distance between previous and current government. To borrow an American lingo: Yar’Adua must “be his own man.”

Eighth, the President and his government must do their utmost best not to corrupt, weaken or bastardize the judiciary and the media. The Judicial arm of government, along with the media, is the best and last hope for the aggrieved and for those in search of justice. These bodies must at all times be independent in their dealings. Separation of power is one of the hallmarks of democracy. Additionally, the President must do all it takes to professionalize the military and security services.

Nine, the President should as soon as possible meet with his deputy to have a heart-to-heart talk. The time for political expediency and maneuvering is over. They should have a series of private conversations on how best to relate and how best to move the country forward. But more than that, mechanisms should be in place to resolve personal conflicts and disputes that is certain to arise in the future. The good news is that Dr. Jonathan Goodluck has a track record of being a loyal deputy; therefore, Yar’Adua will not have to worry about his deputy scheming and conniving with others, allowing his ambition to cloud his judgment. Jonathan will not be Atikuing and attacking his boss.

Ten, the President and his deputy should consider May 2007 as a fresh start for the country. 1999 through May 2007 should be considered wasted years. And so there should be a sense of urgency, commitment, and transparency in how they conduct the affairs of the nation. Job one is the human and infrastructural development of the country, along with strengthening the nation’s institutions. If they do their very best in these and other regard, they need not worry about the judgment of history and posterity.

And finally, the Niger Delta question must be resolved. Justice, transparency, and equitable distribution of resources and balanced development are urgently needed. Militarizing the Niger Delta would be a mistake; and branding genuine agitators terrorists is uncalled for. When the government is ready for genuine dialogue, the President will find willing and able partners in and from the region.

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1 comment

Anonymous May 9, 2007 - 12:30 pm

This is a beautiful article that should have been titled "Advice to our in-coming President" I hope the President's Official advisers would help him digest Dr Sabella's Advice. Other Obasanjo Critics still living in denial should take a cue from this Patriotic Nigerian (and Gani Fawehinmi) and offer their's too. Then, in unity under a legitimised Yar'Adua Presidency Nigeria can proceed forcefully into "eldorado"


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