The Outsourced Presidency - by Chidi Odinkalu

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A WIDELY circulated electronic joke likens President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to an ambulatorily challenged local delicacy in a soup pot. His Presidency is also widely criticised as invisible and inaudible, verging on inept. Whatever the criticisms of the President, he is surely evolving a uniquely disembodied philosophy and style of government. Having inherited a Presidency credibly accused under his predecessor of being over-personalised and over-centralised, President Yar'Adua has found a response to calm our mandibles. He has outsourced the Presidency.

There is no power that is beyond the capacity of our President to outsource. Take education, for instance. For over three months, Nigeria's universities have been shut because of a multi-faceted dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Young people who should be in school preparing for the challenges of economically productive adulthood are home and idle. The President is profoundly worried by this, obviously. How does he show it? He outsources the problem to the Governor of Edo State, before proceeding to Saudi Arabia to open a university built by the incumbent head of the ruling House of Ibn-Saud. While he is in Saudi Arabia, the President further outsources Nigeria's representation at the annual foreign policy showcase of the United Nations General Assembly to an allegedly unaccredited Foreign Minister.

The preternatural selflessness of our President in this act of abdication to the Edo State Governor is reason for libation. Adams Oshiomhole, the Governor, who is now custodian of the fates of all of Nigeria's universities and their students, belongs to an opposition party. The party led by the President thought so highly of him, they had to be ordered by the courts to hand over Mr. Oshiomhole's electoral mandate after stealing it. Having received the reparation of his electoral mandate, Mr. Oshiomhole is now the beneficiary of a path-breaking act of Presidential BOGOF - buy one get one free. The President has an Education Minister, who is also an ex-Governor. Now he turns to an incumbent Governor to get his retired peer to work. Is there a pay-off in this for Governor Oshiomhole?

The answer to this question is probably also outsourced. The only pay-off that there could be for Governor Oshiomhole is ultimately political and electoral. But the President is surely such a selfless man that he does not concern himself with the business of who wins or loses election. He wants only the most for his party. That is why he has outsourced the job of election rigging to a professional alchemist called Maurice Iwu.

The man has few peers. He was supposed to be in his office for an initial period of five years. But he has proved so uncannily adept at confectioning improbable electoral outcomes that his tenure is now probably indefinite. If succession to the English monarchy were to be determined by his Electoral Commission, Maurice Iwu would easily find a way to issue a Certificate of Return to a Hindu-speaking Nigerian Catholic as the King of England. With a man of such rare talent to guarantee announcement of the right figures, the President has no need to perform or, indeed, to worry about his Certificate of Return

This frees Mr. President to address the reform of our politics, laws and economics. The first is outsourced to the National Assembly. They are to do whatever they consider necessary to ensure reform of the electoral process. If they need to legislate, all they have to do is send the Bills to the President and he will sign them into law pronto. What if they need to amend the Constitution? The President is happy with that. And if they pass nothing and do nothing? Well, as long as they pass the budget, that would do just fine. The President will not be accused of interfering with the separation of powers between the three arms of government. The National Assembly, after all, is a detached arm of the government led by the President. The fact that the National Assembly is dominated by members of the President's Party is not government business. It is Party business, and the President has outsourced such petty Party matters to the Party leadership.

The reform of laws is similarly outsourced to the Federal Attorney-General, whose current incumbent is a man whose surname rhymes with "I-don't-care" and who carries on as if he is enamoured with more than just this eponymous rhyme. Until his preferment to high office in 2007, Attorney-General I-Don't-Care did not have an international passport and had not traveled out of Nigeria in his life. His prolonged sojourn within our shores enabled him to plumb all the depths in the country and simultaneously develop profound contempt for those considerable heights that we are capable of. In office, the President has outsourced to him the business of attending to the government's plumbing works and deodorising the stench from them. He is outstanding at this.

Determined not to be distracted by economic matters, the President has similarly outsourced that part of his office to the only Governor that he can appoint - at the Central Bank. In a hyperactive first trimester, the newest Governor in the country and the only one with a federal footprint has also become the most talked about. The jury may still be out on the measures that he has taken but the result is that all economic assumptions about productivity and growth made before his assumption of office have been torn up. Presidents elsewhere may be unable to escape holding forth on such pocket-book issues. Over here, our President happily outsources them.

So, our President who came to power promising so much has found ways to outsource responsibility for everything. Those who thought there were no liberals over here just need to look at him. He is liberal with law, liberal with responsibility, and invisible in his liberalism. His predecessor may have been accused of the despotism of over-centralization. Being different form his predecessor, President Yar'Adua prefers the decentralisation of despotism. What a difference a non-election makes.

Dr Odinkalu write from in Abuja

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