By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“A hen with chicks does not perch on a high branch of a tree”–Nigerian Proverb
YOU really do have to wonder who assists President Goodluck Jonathan in terms of his engagements with the public. It is possible that he chooses what he says, when and where he says it, and why.
But surely with a full complement of Special Advisers, Ministers, and sundry political appointees, it is reasonable to expect that the President’s decision-making process, including decisions on his public engagement, will be better handled.
Perhaps Dr Doyin Okupe is still in the process of settling down, or has had to hit the ground running, but it will be comforting to believe that he tried to dissuade the President and the Minister of Finance from making public, the decision to direct that federal workers must be paid salaries before the end of last week, so that they will enjoy Sallah.
If it was important for the administration to pay its workers salaries before Sallah, why was it necessary for the President to have to order it, and publicise it, on the very last working day? Why does it require Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, whose job it was to have paid the salary if that was what Mr. President wanted, to make such a song and dance about it?
Why should paying federal workers, (people who are used to erratic payment days, or going for months on end without salaries) in the middle of the month elicit such excitement?
Much ado about Federal workers’ salary
Federal workers are paid through banks, and those who were not paid on Friday last week won’t get paid as the President directed. This will not be the first time President Jonathan directed that salaries should be paid on a certain date, and they weren’t. If majority of federal workers didn’t get paid last week, their estimation of the administration and Mr President’s standing will plummet.
This was a risky gamble that need not have been taken. Mr President could have ordered payment of federal workers salaries without fanfare, and only after assuring himself that the Ministry of Finance, Accountant-General’s Office and all banks will be in a position to pay every worker between Friday and Saturday.
If by a miracle this happened, the President’s people can then go to town, for what it is worth, with the image of a compassionate and firm President, who can even order payment of salary when workers do not expect it.
You cannot avoid getting the impression that the administration is really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of its public image. Perhaps, it is all too complex and intimidating, what with all the daily challenges on security, on corruption and a media that is unrelenting in its criticism.
But Goodluck Jonathan is still President, and we look up to him to reassure us that he is dealing with our most burdensome problems.
On the very day he ordered salaries of workers to be paid due to the forthcoming Sallah, the Borno Elders Forum issued another statement calling for restraint on the part of both security agencies and the JASLIWAJ (a.k.a Boko Haram) insurgents. The elders say many innocent and fasting Muslims are being killed in their hundreds, and their community is facing genocide.
If you know the people in the Borno Elders Forum, you will know that they will not use the word genocide lightly. This statement, dripping with elderly tears and passion, has been taken up by the very JTF they complain about, which says there is no cause for alarm. Not by someone higher in the military hierarchy than the JTF spokesman. Not by Mr President’s spokesmen and image makers.
Not by the new NSA, and not by the President. So who decides operational matters, and who decides when the public needs assurances that it is not being targeted in a genocide by the military? Is the military now entirely on its own to fight a war as it pleases, and interprete the manner in which it responds to public demands for accountability?
Perhaps Mr President has said too many of the wrong things regarding this threat, and he is reluctant to continue to get involved directly in engaging citizens on their misfortune.
Or perhaps he has decided to let spokespersons explain the limitations of the administration, which they appear to be taking up with gusto. We now know there are three different types of Boko Haram, and that they are like misguided siblings you do not send an army after.
From the release of the Borno Elders Forum, it is obvious that the military in Borno and Yobe states has not heard the bit about not sending soldiers after your own children.
Whither the Defence Minister?
As we speak, the President has not decided on who should become the Minister of Defence, months after he fired Dr. Halliru Mohammed. If he had a Minister who could work with the new NSA, some of the collateral damage which is creating massive hostility among the population may have been reduced.
Is it possible that in a population of 160 million Nigerians Mr President needs months to decide who should be Minister of Defence? Some will argue that the vacancy is really not central to the administration’s strategy to deal with numerous threats to national security. After all, there is a Minister of State in place.
So why doesn’t Mr President just move her up and juggle his cabinet to address the Kebbi State issue? Whoever is appointed Minister of Defence should worry intensely over how much influence he will have on current policy and strategy as well.
Even his best admirers will concede that President Jonathan has a tendency to leave too many of his flanks open for attack by his opponents. His style, if that is what is, of running a government with gaping holes, and then hoping that time and fortune will fill them up is not working.
There is need for some decisiveness around fundamentals, and the President as a leader, must lead. He must find a handle on the deteriorating security situation.
He needs to assure citizens who are victims of all sides that he cares. He should visit Borno and Yobe states, and meet with the community.
He must get a grip on corruption and our dislocated economy. He needs to be seen working on crime, on unemployment, on building bridges between communities and sections of the country. He still has more than two years of his mandate to run. He can make a difference if he wants to, but his decision-making capacity must be completely overhaudled.