"Vacancy" in Jonathan’s State House

Presidents do not lose battles. They win, all the time. It is a reason the office remains ever attractive. What with so much resources at a president’s disposal; and the uncountable number of canny men to carry out his or her instructions. So, why does getting whatever he or she wants, as the case of electing the ruling party’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees proved, become an uphill task for President Goodluck Jonathan? It must mean he needs new men around him, men who know where he is going, and the best route to it. They must be men who know what it means to the image, power and prestige of the Presidency, for their principal to get what he wants, and when he wants it.

The other day, President Jonathan presided over a meeting of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party. The task at hand was to get a chairman for the party’s BoT. But the meeting flopped. Presidents don’t sit over meetings that flop; they don’t sit over meetings that will flop. It’s because they know ahead a meeting that will flop. Students of power game comprehend that. This is so because prestige is at stake. And presidents have several foot soldiers to maintain it. Hatchet men. Call them wise men on a good day, on days when they are in their positive element, deploying energy to positive uses. Not the negatives, which this writer finds fascinating in itself — the negatives that leaders engage in, and get away with. The abracadabra that leadership performs and escapes with is so fascinating to this writer, that only the following quote can convey the very thought of it to the reader: "There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid." Here, the good wise men do a leader is in focus.

A president’s prestige is not separable from setting what he wants, and getting it. When he loses, too often, the images his citizens get are not so positive. That’s why the claims President Jonathan’s men make that his is not a weak Presidency fail to impress anyone. Images. Here are a few of them: Once upon a time, the President and his party said they zoned the Speakership of the House of Representatives to the South-West of the country. Reps defiantly voted whoever they wanted though. The ruling party was humiliated. Its leader no less so. There was that occasion a personality from Taraba State wanted to be a minister of the Federal Republic. His name was on the President’s list. Senators said he shouldn’t bother to come to their red chamber. Some men around the President counselled that the nominee should go. He went. He spoke. Then the Senate President had asked his colleagues, if anyone had questions to ask the nominee. The red chamber was silent. The nominee left, never to be confirmed. No point stating what that meant for the Presidency. Which adviser had been so naïve to let this happen to the President? And to think Nigerians saw the humiliation on TV. Yet, anyone who understands the workings of the three arms, and the code lawmakers work with on matters of ministerial nominations, would know that only three people, four, were all that the President’s foot soldiers needed to work on – the three senators from Taraba State, as well as their state governor. And the President’s men could have held the nominee back, for all the background negotiations to be completed, before he was sent to the Dome.

The prestige any presidency enjoys is anchored on several factors. At the zenith of the glory of the United States of America’s presidency — from F.D. Roosevelt to Richard Nixon – it was tagged the "imperial presidency". The height being under J.F Kennedy, and the low under Nixon who committed the error of being found out, after doing what leadership usually does and gets away with. Sometimes, the personality in the seat plays a role in defining the presidency – JFK. At other times, it is how effectively the man in the saddle juggles the cards, how he deploys the enormous powers at his disposal – Nixon – a man who successfully threatened the American press with his “silent majority” rhetoric. Compared to other democracies, Nigeria’s Presidency stands as the most powerful. The constitution shows it. Effective harnessing of the power will impress observers of the power game; but not many leaders here ever did. What with the enormous resources that the Federal Government plays around with, the fact that other tiers of government come, cap in hand, every month, to "beg for alms" in Abuja, powers in the Exclusive List that favour the government at the centre, posts to which the President deploys Ministers, Directors-General, Federal Commissioners, Chairmen of boards, and ambassadors? If the current administration has not utilised its powers, it is because the seats for men with mental capacity to juggle these together and thus project a powerful Presidency, are vacant. This has affected every facet of governance.

This matter of how much the Presidency fails to project to the nation came to a head when President Jonathan left a meeting, without the election of a BoT chairman for his party, after several postponements. In fact, members present manifested a rebellious spirit, the type members of the ruling party got away with in recent past. The rebels had their positions, too, just like the Presidency. Noise was all over the place about differing calculations and permutations – the North wants the Presidency in 2015, so Jonathan must be stopped from fixing his man in the BoT chairman seat; former President Olusegun Obasanjo wants the seat for a Yoruba man, because his kinsmen have been sidelined; same Obasanjo wants to work with the North for 2015, so he wants Jonathan’s candidate stopped from getting the BoT seat; Igbo people need the seat because they have their eyes on 2015.

After the meeting failed to achieve its objective, a committee was set up to recommend who is best suited to be a BoT member. That should have happened before calling for a meeting where the President had presided, but failed to get a result. Every adviser around the President must have been asleep. No wonder they missed words about the strategy in the camp of the President’s enemies. Quality advisers know the strategy in the enemies’ camp before it is unleashed, especially on no less a personality than the president. Basically, what the committee wants to do is reduce the BoT crowd. Have a manageable number, a few who would listen to the right whispers. Such a step had led to how the current BoT membership was constituted, the same should have happened as a precaution, not solution.

Add all of that to the sacking of the National Secretary by a court; the same personality the President had ensured was installed not long ago. Humiliation complete. The distraction of these is one effect. And it’s happening at a time the President should be busy with solving the nation’s problems. Now, the administration will mark two years in office with its house in chaos, with noise about how politicians are trying to use the BoT seat to lay the ground ahead of 2015. What has happened is a reflection of what currently bedevils every sphere of governance in the country; it’s not just a brouhaha over a BoT chairman’s seat. The saga itself is one more call to the administration to clean up its house, organise itself better, and work smarter in order to move the nation forward.

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