Of presidents and ambitious spouses: Lessons from Jonathan and Yar’Adua

on   /   in News, Talking Point 12:30 am   /   Comments

By Rotimi Fasan
FIRST a disclaimer: any comment made here now and at any time in the past pertains to the persons concerned in their public activities as Nigerians. It does not and should not in any way be read as commentary on their roles as individuals in their private capacity.

We must at all times be respectful of other peoples’ sensibilities. There is therefore nothing personal in what follows. The would-be forensic analyst, retired and practicing arm-chair critics, internet, religious and tribal warriors, and others of their ilk are hereby warned not to read this.

President Goodluck Jonathan and late president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua

President Goodluck Jonathan and late president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua

And should they against this sound piece of advice choose to do so, they must be careful to take their very opaque and convoluted inferences to wherever they belong and not read them into very simple and direct statements of fact.

It is one thing after all to be literate. It is an entirely different experience to know HOW to read. And where the fates of hundreds of millions of Nigerians are concerned we should not be too shy as privileged speakers in public spaces to make our views and opinions known. Let those who must gripe in protection of their private turfs and interests. That is not a thing to break sweat over.

Yet, the truth is that Nigeria has hardly ever been fortunate in her choice of leaders. The best never make it to the top and those who do are mostly products of factors that are not in any way connected to competence. They are either candidates of ethnic or religious partisans or the accidental choices of powerful blocs of groups and individuals out to pursue their own private agenda.

In spite of this, the country has somehow managed to get by. But we are now beyond the period of mere management in leadership. That period of grace is far behind us hence the insistence that those who cannot stand the searing heat of leadership must give way to more competent hands. Our situation calls for very urgent action that can no longer endure the excuses of the past and so we insist on today’s Nigerian leaders being so not by mere claims. They must be seen and felt to be leading.

This is more than we can say for our leaders who have been no more than afflictions on the Nigerian people. But we have somehow got by until now when our collective destiny is clearly hanging off a cliff of disaster, no thanks to a crop of leaders who can hardly understand the import of their position to say nothing of knowing what the position demands of them. There has been a progressive decline in the quality of Nigerian leadership which has historically been the turf of average performers. This decline has been quite steep in the last twenty years. Apart from the Sani Abacha affliction the last two administrations of the late Umar Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan have presented Nigerians with the worst leadership challenge.

Neither of these two mencame into office prepared for what they met. One was the willful imposition of an overweening predecessor and the other the accidental offshoot of the precedent cavalier politicking. One was a hostage of his immediate environment, a pathetic case of abuse done in by deliberate manipulation of his fragile health.

The other, no less a hostage of his environment, is both awed and swarmed by the demands of his office and the manipulation of minders. Both are victims of ambitious wives alert to the gains of power but not the wise use of it. And to imagine that these two are the most educated occupiers of Nigeria’s most powerful office! One was the first university-trained Nigerian president. The other is the first with a doctorate degree. Both were former teachers who, regrettably, came into office ill-prepared and, among their peers, with the scantiest knowledge of the demands of their exalted office.

The very danger posed by such candidates as leaders of a country like Nigeria, indeed, the very danger of making the wrong choice of leader with the wrong people exercising the unconstitutional powers of ‘First Lady’ became chillingly clear when against all reason Turai Yar’Adua held Nigeria literally in its balls in the uncertain months that led to the death of the former president. It showed to what extent power had been privatised in Nigeria and the danger an ambitious ‘First Lady’ without proper grooming could constitute.

We have seen much of this same danger under President Goodluck Jonathan. The latest of this was the fiasco of his wife’s ‘rescue’ effort to bring back the abducted school girls of Chibok. Her tears might have been genuine (who knows?) but the controversy that has trailed her effort should tell her that her interventions are misdirected. Mrs. Jonathan no doubt means well for her husband if not the girls whose kidnap she knows nothing about.

She can hardly be blamed for wanting to protect the office of her husband and by extension her self-appointed office of First Lady. But she has failed for the umpteenth time to realise that the fact of her husband being president does not make her the leader of Nigerian women much less the second in command to her husband as Nigerian leader. As a Nigerian, she has a warped sense of her position as wife of the president. Pity that her husband doesn’t seem to know how to rein her in.

The President’s wife can no doubt be a good and loving wife to the president or he would not remain her husband. But there must be a way he can take charge of his responsibility without the intrusion of his wife who obviously cannot provide the qualities her husband lacks. He may be perceived to be a weak president without much to offer to the many problems with which we are faced. But his failure to keep his official duties beyond domestic interference worsens his case.

He may not be directly responsible for the terrorist insurgency in the country but his clear lack of initiative and will to fight it at the right time is nothing to be proud of either. It all chalks up as part of proof of his inefficiency and unsuitability for his position as president. It’s a warning for him to either wake up or go home.

That a drunken and demented beast would be issuing threats of mass murders and making good his threats, raping and selling girls into slavery is a direct challenge to Jonathan’s presidential powers. But thank God his helplessness is bringing him world attention and help. But what does that say of him? What does it make of his ambition to stay on in office beyond 2015?

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