Is the President weak?

on   /   in The Orbit 2:08 am   /   Comments

By Obi Nwakanma

Not too long ago, in an interview granted to a newspaper, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, second republic member of the Federal House of Representatives, described the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as a “nincompoop.” This utter lack of measure in his address of the President of the Republic did not elicit even a public reaction, least of all by the national press who ought to have reprimanded him. You may disagree and oppose the president of Nigeria, but to call the president a nincompoop is madness and an insult to the nation.

Two weeks ago the Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso called Jonathan a “weak president,” and almost as though in lock step, the Central Bank governor, Mallam Sanusi, allegedly refused to resign in spite of the President’s request, whose trust he no longer enjoys. Mallam Sanusi had misled the nation in his leaked letter to the president alleging at first that the administration is unable to account for $49.8 billion from the oil revenues, and later modifying it to $10 billion, lost in the dark hole of the administration’s oil account.

The NNPC and the Federal Ministry of Finance, the government’s Treasurers, later provided accounts that debunked the Central Bank Governor’s allegations. Was Mallam Sanusi doing his patriotic and statutory duties to the nation? I did feel in the release of the letters that the Governor of the CBN was doing his work to inform the president and the nation about a horrendous leakage in the nation’s revenue accounts. But did something else govern the action of the CBN governor, like a calculated attempt to subvert the integrity and operations of the Jonathan administration, and the work of its economic team led by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in releasing what was later proved to be wrong information? There are quite a lot of Nigerians who think today that the CBN governor has been in cahoots with opponents of the administration to smear it and create dangerous problems of perception against it.

For what it is worth, Mallam Sanusi’s conduct fell below the minimum professional expectations for a man whose office positions him as the  trustee of the nation’s key economic intelligence. His letter would therefore be, particularly given that it was proved to be false, either the product of a massive level of incompetence or calculated mischief; an attempt to blackmail and subvert the administration with cooked financial figures aimed at embarrassing it. I’ll not speak for this administration, but as a Nigerian who demands the highest kind of probity from any officer of the public service: I think the Central Bank governor should have resigned without prompting in the light of the mistakes contained in his letter to the president. It would have been the honorable thing to do, and he should not have waited for the president to demand his resignation. But he not only waited, but when the president allegedly placed that call requesting him to offer his resignation as CBN governor and proceed on terminal leave before the official expiration of his term as the Governor of the CBN, Mallam Sanusi refused to resign. He would, he is reported to have said, resign only when his tenure expires in June. It is of course true that the office of the Governor of the CBN is tenured by the Act of parliament establishing it. The president, unless he is backed by the appropriate number of members of the National Assembly, cannot sack the Governor of the Central Bank. In some ways, Mallam Sanusi’s refusal to heed the president’s request to resign is an important landmark in our democracy which highlights the limits of presidential power.

The president of Nigeria is not an absolute monarch, and does not always have his way, and it is important that occupants of that office be reminded of this fact frequently. That, to me, is the singular significance of Sanusi’s defiance of the president, even though sheer professional decency and courtesy requires him to resign on the president’s request. This president clearly no longer trusts the Central Bank Governor, nor does the Governor have the President’s backing, and what we have is a toxic gridlock. But the law protects Sanusi’s position and the President is unwilling to adopt extraordinary measures to remove him. Perhaps this is why some of the president’s critics like Kwankwaso call him a “weak” president. He seems irresolute. They recall the era of military strongmen who would simply order it, and it’d be carried out. Olusegun Obasanjo would not have tolerated this. Once, during his administration, a national party chairman was forced to resign.

Such cowboy tactics are the marks of the “strong” president, and it seems that Jonathan’s critics suffer from the Stockholm syndrome. No other president in Nigeria’s history has been so virulently attacked and publicly insulted as President Jonathan without consequence. That is why he has been called a “weak” president.

The election of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011 touched off a series of virulent counter-action that began with a defiance movement funded by a very disgruntled section of the Northern political oligarchy or what was left of it. Jonathan’s election was against the traditional political calculations that had shaped the structure of power in Nigeria from the end of colonialism, but particularly since the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970s. Some of the president’s critics would certainly have preferred that he adopts scorched earth tactics in smoking out the Boko Haram insurgency, but this president has adopted a more tactical and conciliatory measure. Perhaps that is why they call him weak.

Under Jonathan, nonetheless, Nigerians have enjoyed relative peace and security. All we need to do is go back to the haunted years of political assassinations and kidnappings under Obasanjo for instance, and compare it with Jonathan’s, and it’d be clear that Jonathan has created a more tolerant ambience than his recent predecessors.

There are many grounds to critique this president: for instance, I think his wholesale adoption of the Obasanjo economic policy and the principle of radical capitalism and privatization is one ground upon which I may consider not voting for this president. I also think that this president needs a far more coherent and ambitious national development plan that does not simply plod along. There has to be a bold vision, which this administration currently lacks, that can put Nigeria on the global stage.

But in sheer comparative terms, Goodluck Jonathan has achieved more than his critics give him credit. He is certainly a better president than Obasanjo who wrote him a churlish letter. That Dr. Jonathan does not huff and kill, does not make him a weak president. Could he do better? Oh yes, in fact. But for a man who came to power without plans or anchor, this president is no pushover, truth be told.

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