By Ochereome Nnanna
SOMETIMES, one wonders what the numerous advisers that elected office holders surround themselves with actually do to earn their keep.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, however, gave an insight when he told his advisers (in effect) that he gave them the job not because he needed their advice. Perhaps, it was just a magnanimous gesture to get them gainfully employed.
That, perhaps, accounts for the unutterably high number of aides that presidents and governors appoint.
Some of these so-called aides or advisers hardly ever get to interact with their principals, let alone give them useful advice.
Some of them know next to nothing about the field in which they have been employed to “advice” their principals. I once came across a “Senior Special Adviser” to a governor who was petrified by the suggestion that he should take up an issue with his principal!
Another inkling to the wastefulness of appointing special advisers in Nigeria is that Governor Isa Yuguda (yes, the man who shocked us by saying that youth corps members murdered by barbarian street urchins in his Bauchi State were “destined” to die the way they did) appointed over one thousand “aides” when he assumed office.
A few weeks before the just-concluded general elections, Yuguda suddenly realised they were “sycophants” who blocked him from knowing how the world out there dealt with the common people. When he got re-elected he sacked all of them, ordering that they should be paid half salaries for the month of May 2011.
I went into this illustration of the place of “special assistants”, “special advisers” and “aides” to political office holders to show that most of them are merely draining public resources and offering little or no valued service. The evidence of our elected office holders being poorly advised is there for all to see.
The recent visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Uganda to attend the swearing-in of President Yoweri Museveni, during which his convoy was mobbed by opposition supporters was a clear case in point. The trip was Ill-advised.
However, I can understand the mindset that went into the packaging of the presidential trip.
Perhaps, the Presidency saw the current protests by the loyalists of the opposition and loser of the recent presidential election in that country as something akin to the recent orgy of murderous mayhem embarked upon by retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, supporters here in Nigeria.
Just as in Nigeria, the leader of the opposition, Dr Kizza Besigye, was resoundingly beaten by Museveni.
Also, just as in Nigeria, where Buhari had encouraged his supporters to embrace violence and continues to defend their actions unrepentantly, Besigye had urged his supporters not to take the result of the poll which he lost lying down.
It is, therefore, possible that the President Jonathan foreign affairs advisory team (if any exists) drew this parallel of our President and the Ugandan President finding themselves in a similar dilemma, and thus needing to extend solidarity to Museveni in return for a reciprocation when when our President is sworn-in on May 29, 2011.
Perhaps, they saw this visit as a duty by the leader of Nigeria, being a dominant force on the African continent.
All these did not make the presidential trip to Uganda a compelling one, had the sensitive underpinnings of Nigerian and Ugandan political histories been taken into account.
Uganda is a country that has suffered under series of military and civilian despots. Military officers drove away civilian dictators and proceeded to entrench military dictatorship, only to be driven away by civilian “Messiahs” who went on to establish their own dictatorships.
Yoweri Museveni waged an armed struggle to oust the government of Milton Obote in 1986 and has since then dug into the longest “civilian” dictatorship in the country’s history. Kizza Besigye was once Museveni’s personal physician.
However, he represents a section of the Ugandan political class that has grown impatient with a one-man dictatorship who has for long depended on his power of incumbency to block genuine democratic choice by the electorate.
On the other hand, Jonathan is leading a country that has successfully defeated all efforts by both civilian and military despots to set up shop here. Since the end of the civil war in NIgeria, the outcomes of the various political processes hallmarked a struggle by the Nigerian people to shun lifelong dictatorship and sectional domination and evolve a truly federal democratic republic.
The rejection of Abacha and Obasanjo’s tenure extension bids, and the triumph over sectional forces in the just-concluded presidential election should have warned the Nigerian Presidency that any perceived romance with a continental or regional dictator was against the expressed political will of the Nigerian people.
Even though Nigerians are peeved by an attack on their dear President, not many people have seriously raised a voice against the Ugandan protesters, who (understandably, if not excusably) saw President Jonathan as a supporter of their local dictator. What happened to our President in Uganda is the type of thing that happens to America in the Arab world, where the global superpower is seen as a supporter of oppressive regimes.
Let this be an object lesson to President Jonathan in his future dealings with “brother” African leaders. The correct thing should have been for Jonathan to thumb down the sit-tight syndrome of Museveni and send the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Odein Ajumogobia, to his inauguration.
His presence in such events must be seen as an endorsement of the genuine democratic outcomes, as well as the performance of the country in general as an African example. If Jonathan intends to lead Africa by example he must only honour exemplary regimes on the continent with his presence and censure discredited rulers through subtle diplomatic body language.