Friday, 8 July 2011
Two of the key themes that have dominated public discourse in Nigeria since the swearing in of Goodluck Jonathan as president more than a month ago are the exceedingly long time it took Jonathan to submit a list of his preferred choice of ministers and advisers to the Senate, as well as increasing insecurity across the country owing to ceaseless bombings by various criminal groups.
Soon after the presidential election, Jonathan promised to transform the nation by changing the pace with which his government conducts official business. In making that pledge, Jonathan admitted the second-rate performance of the government he led after he was confirmed as substantive president following the demise of Umaru Yar'Adua. In his own words, Jonathan said he was determined to achieve positive results by adopting a uniquely different style of government. A part of that transformation, everyone reasoned, would involve a marked acceleration in the pace of managing government affairs. Prompt nomination of federal ministers and advisers would signal to the nation that Jonathan had started a new style of government.
As days turned into weeks and the president continued to procrastinate in drawing up his list of ministers, it became obvious that Jonathan had failed the first test of his commitment to his own pledge the adoption of a new style of government. After more than four weeks of inactivity, it turned out that nothing significant would change in the way Jonathan conducted official national business.
The long delay in the nomination of federal ministers did not match public expectations about the quality of men and women who will serve in Jonathan's government. That was not all. There was another more serious side to the president's delay in releasing the names of his ministers. The longer the president shopped for ministers and advisers, the longer it took to attend to urgent issues of national significance that required ministerial assent. Essentially, government business was held up because Jonathan could not find the right mix of men and women to serve as ministers of the federal republic.
The list of ministers which Jonathan presented to the Senate for vetting and approval was no better than a recycled inventory of nominees. An editorial in The Guardian edition of Friday, 1 July 2011, which was as punchy as it was unapologetic, captured the air of national sadness that greeted Jonathan's ministerial nominees. In the editorial, The Guardian argued: "The delay might be tolerable if the outcome justified it. Not so in this case. The list of proposed ministers is as unimpressive as the delay in compiling it. There are simply too many nominees whose records in their first coming are far from inspiring. And, if as they say, morning shows the day, there is cause for worry about the quality of governance in the next four years."
Just when you thought Nigeria had discovered a political leader who would lift the spirit of the nation by putting into practice policies and programmes that would transform the lives of ordinary people, something happens to crush public expectations. Jonathan has certainly stumbled badly in his first steps in the first two months of his four-year term. His defenders might argue that it is too early to judge a president in the first two months of his tenure. But we have seen how a president can falter by taking too long to appoint members of his cabinet. For example, it took Umaru Yar'Adua an interminable period to nominate his ministers and advisers.
Jonathan has no reason to fail. He has everything a president needs to succeed. He enjoys national goodwill but that may not be enough for him to succeed. Sardonically, every day the president acts in ways that give the public little confidence in his abilities to transform the nation. He has continued to create the impression that he could turn out to become a national tragedy in terms of political leadership. Look at the way he has handled almost apathetically the indiscriminate bomb explosions in the northern parts of the country.
National security, as I argued in a previous essay, is undoubtedly Jonathan's weakest link. He needs to assert his authority and show some presidential bite in the way the federal government responds to growing cases of insecurity. Bomb explosions cannot be treated with the same degree of indifference with which the government attended to widespread abductions in the southeast.
After winning the presidential election, all that Jonathan needed to do was to demonstrate his understanding of the urgency of the national sentiment about the importance of making a difference in the lives of the less privileged people. To transform the nation, Jonathan requires the support of experienced men and women who have a track record of success in public administration and service delivery. It is therefore crucial that the president should resist the arm twisting tactics of the godfathers and kingmakers in the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Jonathan cannot be an effective and successful president or indeed a man of his own if he accedes to every demand by the party apparatchiks. He should listen, he should consult widely but he must make the final decision about the expertise of the people who will constitute the president's A-Team. The list of men and women submitted by Jonathan to the Senate for screening as ministers has not inspired many people. A man who has served as vice president, acting president and substantive president who understands the direction in which he should be moving the nation could not have shut his eyes to the long list of competent Nigerians at home and abroad who possess impressive academic qualifications and practical experiences required to serve their fatherland.
In a nation that is blessed with some of the best brains in the public and private sectors and in the academy, the quality of men and women re-appointed as federal ministers must be considered as something of an insult. Jonathan was not handicapped in his search for qualified Nigerians to the point that he was compelled to recycle many of the men and women who contributed largely to the poor performance of his government during the period he served as substantive president after the death of Yar'Adua.
If Jonathan searched widely and thoroughly for qualified Nigerians at home and overseas, why did he have to re-appoint mostly undistinguished men and women whose main qualification (with the exception of a few) seems to be their contribution to the president's political party? This might be the trend in some democracies but there are also countries in which the president picks ministers not on the basis of party affiliation but solely on their proven record of performance.
By his decision to re-appoint some of the ministers who underperformed in their previous assignments, Jonathan has flagged his determination not to deviate from the PDP kingmakers' script. The only reason why the president insisted on re-appointing those unsuccessful ministers is that he doesn't want to be seen as the president who rocked the boat that delivered the presidency to him.
Jonathan is a man to whom much is given. So far, he has delivered disappointment in his first major assignment after the election. During the swearing in ceremony of the first batch of ministers cleared by the Senate last week, the president advised the ministers to "hit the ground running". The statement rang hollow and suggested that Jonathan had nothing to offer in terms of stirring his ministers to greater objectives. A minister who is bereft of ideas, who has nothing to deliver can run as fast as he/she wishes but the outcome will remain the same: ineffective performance.
Since the country attained political independence, Nigeria has been served by clueless leaders in collaboration with a lousy civil society. The next four years will determine the kind of legacy that Jonathan will leave behind. His achievements or failures will frame the way the public will perceive Jonathan's presidency. It is Jonathan alone who will determine how the nation will remember him. Will he be remembered as a president held hostage by PDP politics? Will Jonathan be perceived as a superlative president who achieved more than the nation was willing to acknowledge? Will he be judged as a man who talked more but achieved little? These questions constitute a simple test for Jonathan's government.
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