Dear Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, GCFR, BNER, GCON,
Congratulations on your successful exit from Aso Rock without the use of force or the tragedy of untimely death. In fifty-five years of Nigerian post-independence history, only Olusgeun Obasanjo and Abdulsalami Abubakar have been able to achieve this feat. But, before you handover, here’s a final farewell from me—one of your most unrelenting youth critics. Despite my criticisms, I have wished your administration nothing but success, not for your sake, but for the sake of millions of Nigeria whose lives and welfare depended on your leadership. Please consider this as an exit appraisal and, maybe, a sort of guide in your future role in public affairs.
To summarise directly: if I were to score the overall performance of your administration, I would, unhesitatingly, label it “Below Average”.
Yes, you did well in some areas, especially in fixing some infrastructure, agricultural improvement, and some educational policies. But these are no more impressive than the activities of a local government chairman scaled up to a national level. Yet, you were not a local government chairman; you were the president of a country.
And there is more work to being the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria than commissioning projects. Your job was to exercise the executive powers of the laws and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Execution requires that you take action on issues—and be seen to do so. You were empowered to use the full arsenal of the laws of Nigeria to act on behalf of the Nigerian public.
Also, “acting on behalf of the public” involves, apart from other implied leadership intricacies, communication to, continuous reassurance of and constant engagement with the public. In the words of Abraham Lincoln “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
But, Dear Sir, you squandered “public sentiment”.
Almost from before you took office, you pussy-footed on the decision whether to take over government or not. Because you were unsure of your stance, you allowed your fate to be determined by external circumstances. You were tossed around from Turai Yar’Adua’s “cabal” to the protests of the Save Nigeria Group, from the National Assembly’s “doctrine of necessity” to the Supreme Court’s judicial intervention.
But, afterwards you ran for election with some zeal—or was it just the backing of political godfathers? At any rate, you negotiated the antagonistic PDP zoning formula, won widespread support from Nigerian youths on social media, and capitalised on your humble origins to win the election by a wide margin. More than any other president of Nigeria, you were poised to start your tenure with an abundance of popular goodwill.
Sadly, this solid approach to the polls changed once you were elected. Bomb blasts became the work of the opposition party; protests were the work of the opposition party; antagonistic public opinion was the work of the opposition party. Your lieutenants were adept at labelling every critic—myself included—as mere sponsored agents of the opposition party. They “shielded” you from Nigerians and short-circuited your role as national leader. And so, with this protection from exposure, you became sensitive to negative feedback. You got in the habit of approving hasty policies that you would later back down from because you could not convince Nigerians of the principle backing them. And then you turned to your south-south origin for succour, and started making ethnically divisive comments.
But this only made you even less popular. And so, Nigerians called you clueless and your memes entertained the Internet. But, again, you chalked it to opposition politics and withdrew even further.
Unluckily for us all, there was also Boko Haram. You could have earned some marks if you had attended to that menace timely and less nonchalantly. You called a nominal state of emergency without taking definite action. You allowed the military spoon-feed you with edited information instead of establishing a direct situation room in Aso Rock. And when the terrorists started gaining ground, you dawdled, excused, justified, and generally “unlooked” until the international community embarrassed you into some action.
The same missed opportunities occurred with the supposed fight against corruption: by your third year in office, you had become so defensive of your administration that any of your people who was criticised by the public automatically earned your support—from Stella Oduah to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; from Diezani Madueke to Bode George.
But, more than all of these, what made your regime so annoying—so irritating on a personal level—was this: you wasted the presidency of Nigeria.
No one wanted you to be an imperial president, but you ought to have been a crisis president. The last few years have been a crisis period in Nigeria. But our Constitution makes provision for the exercise of prerogative powers during crisis periods to enable you have a direct chain of command in handling any situation—from Boko Haram to oil cabals—but you failed to work with this.
Instead, you were wishy-washy and indecisive. You whined about public support instead of working for it. You hedged your policies, but blamed it all on politics. You allowed other people—friends and foes—to control your narrative. You could not take criticism—your administration just had to respond to every critic. You were always the last to know and always the first to point fingers. You kept quiet when people wanted reassurance, and started to talk when people wanted action.
It is a poor report card, sir. Some people will always defend some of the good you did, and many people are still in the habit of praising you—to save face for their own participation in your administration’s inefficiencies. But, in the final analysis, you failed. You allowed political insecurity and misguided sentiment to rule your tenure. Your administration’s capacity for infantile ignorance and unjustifiable self-pity is unrivalled by any other Nigerian head of state.
And that, sir, is why you were rejected as the President of Nigeria.
May good luck continue to shine on your endeavours.
P.S. The last few days of your administration gave you an opportunity to rise to the leadership challenge without risking any political favours, but again, you wasted this. It is inconceivable that any group or sector can hold the Nigerian state hostage and attempt to sabotage the economy without any governmental backlash. But, we will leave this talk for another day.
Ayo Sogunro is the author of Everything in Nigeria is Going to Kill You. A lawyer by profession, he also indulges in socio-legal philosophy on this blog and on www.pontificalpapers.com. Interact with him on Twitter via @ayosogunro.