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Our President, Jonny Go-slow

31 Dec 2012

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BEHIND THE FIGURES by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu; ijeoma.nwogwugwu@thisdaylive.com


On Christmas Day, President Goodluck Jonathan, for the second time in six months, admitted that his administration is slow as far as the decision making process is concerned. His excuse for the administration’s tardiness stemmed from the need to think through policies in order to avoid costly mistakes that may be difficult to reverse. In July, the same president blamed the Boko Haram insurgency for the slow pace of his administration.


Given his penchant for moving at a snail’s pace, we shall give him the sobriquet, Jonny Go-Slow. It’s a throwback to a similar nickname, Baba Go-Slow, coined for Mr. Michael Otedola, who as governor of Lagos State in the 1990s, was also known for his slow pace of governance.


But if you asked me and a host of other Nigerians, Jonathan and his administration is not just slow, it is frustratingly weak and indecisive. The president’s tardiness and inability to take action is not just glaring in his style of governance, it is evident in his limp handshake that depicts him as a man uncertain of himself and his environment.


Expectedly, the president’s most recent excuse for his tardiness drew flak from the opposition and civil society groups. Those who didn’t have a voice just shook their heads in disappointment at a president who looks for every excuse under the sun for his shortcomings. Some attributed Jonathan’s underwhelming style to the fact that he stumbled on power and remains unprepared for governance. I disagree.


The president is not the first man to have power thrust upon him by providence. Several leaders before him, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, did not knowingly seek for power but they knew what to do with it once they had it within their grasp. That aside, Jonathan contested for and won the 2011 presidential election. He sought for our votes to remain in office after his predecessor, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, had passed on a year earlier. This was a testament that he consciously sought for power and should have been better prepared after his election.


Ironically, the constitution confers enormous powers on whoever occupies the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some even complain that the constitution, perhaps, confers too much power on the president. Yet Jonathan nervously dithers over the simplest of tasks. His preference is to depend on a coterie of close aides who often don’t tell him the truth and mislead him into taking the wrong decisions.


That Jonathan is slow, weak and indecisive is obvious to anyone but the blind. Between May 29, 2011 and today, he has been unable to shake up his cabinet and effect changes where they are badly needed, even when the opportunity presents itself. The defence and power ministries, for instance, have been limping along without substantive ministers despite mounting security challenges and a critical power sector reform programme that could make or mar his administration. Add to this the fact that there are some members of his cabinet who he should have kicked out a long time ago and handed over to the law enforcement agencies for abusing their offices and corruptly enriching themselves.


It is not just his cabinet that requires an overhaul. Quite a number of agencies and departments of government lack substantive heads and are being run by officials in acting capacities. This has arisen because Jonathan probably lacks the energy to sieve through the piles of resumes that are handed to him and appoint substantive heads in a timely and decisive manner. Even his own ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, is frustrated with the president over his inability to appoint the party faithful and other outsiders into the boards of government parastatals. The result is that departments and agencies are being run without the right corporate governance structures and checks and balances that could keep errant executives in check.


To be fair, Jonathan can be quick and decisive about certain aspects of the job. He is well known for his ability to set up committees, task forces and White Paper panels that help him avoid making the so-called costly mistakes that he is so eager to sidestep. With these ad hoc committees and panels he is able to create the impression that something is being done, when in actual fact there is inaction, because all the committees do is help to postpone the hard decisions that have to be made.


If Jonathan were not already president, I would have recommended some management and leadership programmes at home and abroad. From these, he would learn that loyalty is an overrated virtue and leaders only succeed if they surround themselves with the best people, draw from their wealth of knowledge, know how to use the power that they wield, and are unafraid to take decisions.
A leader who is more concerned about taking his precious time like he has all the time in the world, in a bid to avoid mistakes, has no business leading. Besides, if Jonathan has tried to depict himself as one who is measured and careful in the decision making process, he has failed woefully at it.


In fact, by his inactions and tardiness, the president has lent credibility to the leaked diplomatic cable sent by the former US ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Robin Givens, to the US State Department. In that cable, she described Jonathan as “underwhelming” and eager to blame Yar’Adua’s minders from shielding the late president, who was sick and incommunicado at the time, from him and creating the leadership vacuum.


Well, Nigerians are tired of Jonathan’s excuses, as they no longer hold water. In addition to being Yar’Adua’s understudy, he has had more than two and half years learning the ropes as the country’s substantive president. If he is seeking perfection, he will never find it. Indeed, good leaders learn from their mistakes and correct them. What Nigerians seek is a president who will solve the numerous problems and challenges confronting the nation, not one who shies away from them.


Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
Shortly after Ms. Arunma Oteh, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was appointed to oversee the capital market, she went about her job with unconcealed zeal. Borrowing a leaf from Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the central bank governor, she deployed slash-and-burn tactics to clean up the rot in the capital market.


With mixed results and disgruntled employees, who were dissatisfied with her management style at SEC, it was only a matter of time before either of the chambers in the National Assembly was going to beam its search light on the capital market. It was the House of Representatives that jumped into fray.


The public hearing into the near collapse of the capital market was not a pretty sight. Ms. Oteh and the leadership of the House Committee on Capital Markets and Institutions had a head on collusion. Both sides accused each other of sundry issues, chief of which was the allegation made by Ms. Oteh that the committee’s antagonism towards her had arisen from the demand for a N39 million bribe, which she declined to give its members. Owing to the blemished reputation of the House, the public believed her.


But from internal memos that were later to emerge from SEC, it turned out that Ms. Oteh, under oath, had made a false representation against the members of the committee and perjured herself. It was not something that the House of Representatives was going to forgive. Ever since, the House, in conjunction with the Senate, has demanded for her sack. But President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to oblige the National Assembly’s demand.


In order to force his hand, the National Assembly included a clause in the 2013 Appropriation Bill effectively denying SEC of its budgetary allocation, until Ms. Oteh is removed from office. The inclusion of the clause was unprecedented. Not only was it unprecedented, the National Assembly had abused its position to drive home its point.    


While this column is sympathetic to House committee members who were falsely accused by Ms. Oteh of demanding for a N39 million bribe, and believes that she owes them and the National Assembly an unreserved apology, it will not applaud the National Assembly for jeopardising the operational capacity of SEC to effectively discharge its duties as the regulator of the capital market. Ms. Oteh is not SEC; she is simply one of its employees who remains in office at the pleasure of the president.


The National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, has taken its personal war with Ms. Oteh a step to far. In the interest of SEC, the capital market, the investing public and for the sake of its reputation, the National Assembly should expunge the pugnacious clause from the 2013 Appropriation Bill.

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