THE FALL OF SUPER MINISTERS
I knew some of them. Some I had met in the course of my reportorial duties. But they all had one thing in common: they walked with a swagger, spoke in a booming voice and carried on with the arrogance of the Nigerian big man who is also conscious of the enormous power he wields. On Wednesday, both the super ministers and the feather weight ministers moved from power to powerlessness. They were kicked out by Nigeria's acting President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who has begun to grow muscles, biceps and a red eye.
The dissolution of the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, aptly dubbed HURRICANE GOODLUCK, by the authoritative Daily Sun, caught most of the now ex- ministers napping. The pre-dissolution shots of the ex-ministers taken at the council chambers showed people in exuberant mood, pumping hands, bear-hugging and grinning from ear-to-ear as they engaged in chatter of those who generally take statecraft as casual business. The grin faded less than five hours later.
At a time, socio-economic infrastructure has collapsed almost irretrievably, and the Nigerian ship is drifting dangerously, it's always confounding to watch our ministers on national television and the print media behave as if all was well. You can't see a sense of urgency in their eyes. You can't see or feel compassion in the manner they deal with grave issues of state. You have a feeling that many of them are there to enjoy the pomp of the office and not engage in the rigours of the job.
However, by last Wednesday, the grin had been wiped off the faces of many of the ministers. Gone was the bonhomie and the gait. Even a harmless hello by state house reporters met a stare blank and tight lips. The game was over. Jonathan had delivered to them a sucker punch that sent them reeling on the floor.
Of course, the news of the cabinet sack triggered different reactions in the land. While to some people, it was time to lament and read politics into the matter, to others it was a good decision taken even late. A step taken to jerk up the low ebb and general drift of the administration, following the indisposition of President Yar'Adua. But to keen observers of the nation's delicate power game, it was Jonathan's suave moves to consolidate power. It was his bold attempt to stamp his authority on the governance of the country.
Before Jonathan's bazooka hit the executive council, it was common knowledge that the body existed only in name. It had become rancorous, divided, petty and a theatre of political intrigues rather than the engine room of federal governance for which it was constituted. It was open secret that, following the president's medical vacation abroad and his surreptitious return, ministers lived in mutual suspicion of one another and took positions on many other considerations far from nationalistic or patriotic fervour. Ethnicity, regionalism and other destructive primordial sentiments had sadly eaten deeply into the soul of the body.
But that was not all. Greed and self-protectionism had become the preoccupation of many of the ministers. As soon as Jonathan was proclaimed acing president, typical of the opportunistic tendencies of politicians in this clime, allegiance of many of the ministers quickly shifted to the new kid on the bloc. Many who had stood firmly by the infirm president turned full circle. How could anyone do business with men who lacked courage to stick to their principles or stand by the constitution they swore to defend? At best, many members of the dissolved cabinet were no better than 'chop chop' people, like others before them, who saw their appointment not as an avenue to serve their people but the route to personal aggrandisement. When, therefore, they fell, not many Nigerians were willing to shed tears for them.
As for the super ministers, no one will miss them. One of them, Alhaji Muhammad Aliero, an ex-Custom chief and ex-governor of Kebbi State, would be remembered for the singular achievement of erecting speed breaks all over the city. And of course, 'Kebbi-nising' the administration. He must have seen his appointment as one meant to transform the lives of his people. In the 15months or so of his stewardship, I am still trying to see what major impact he made in the lives of Abuja residents. I am quite sure Abuja residents would be quite pleased to miss him.
There were others like Aliero: do-nothing ministers. Ministers who were just perambulating the corridors of power, with nothing concrete to show for their appointment. They were some of the reasons President Yar'Adua was often dubbed the go-slow president. They were those who by their inaction didn't do what they should to put Nigeria on the road to economic recovery. They were those who made all of us perceive Yar'Adua as the do-nothing guy. Even though the buck stopped on his table and he had responsibility for driving the policies of his administration, he still needed good hands to help actualise his administration's dreams. Sadly, he got a mediocre team that couldn't run. Apart from a few brilliant minds, he had a cabinet of average performers who worsened our collective plight as a nation. And that's why you find many Nigerians popping champagne and rolling the drums at the news that these guys had been shoved into the cold night to resume life as ex-ministers.
Now, with the chance of a life time to demonstrate his leadership capabilities, Acting President Jonathan, must start by putting in place a team of performers, not passengers who will add to the burden of governance. He must resist the temptation to be regional or pander to cronyism and other base sentiments. Let square pegs be put in square holes. Earlier in this column, I had proffered my humble views on what Jonathan needs to do to refocus the country as acting president, pending the return or otherwise of Yar'Adua.
'Even as temporary president, I wrote in the column: JONATHAN, WATCH YOUR BACK 'Jonathan certainly has a tough task turning cynicism into hope; tackling infrastructural decay and calming the frayed nerves occasioned by the process of transfer of power to him. Also fundamental is the tackling of the hopelessness in the land. Since he has not been living in the moon, the new acting president should be familiar with the cause[s] of this hopelessness and frustration ravaging our people: soaring unemployment, poverty, power collapse, amongst myriad other problems. If Jonathan concentrates on tackling electricity problem, he would have scored the bull's eye. With a functional power system, industries would spring up, small-scale entrepreneurs would have a breather, firms and other big corporate players would take on more idle hands. Millions sunk into generators and diesel would be channeled into other areas. And life would be easier for everybody.
Avoidable deaths in the theatres triggered by power outages or fluctuations would not happen. We can't hope to be technologically vibrant when we are forever chasing the elusive 6000 mega watts. I don't know or care about how he does it, as acting president, Jonathan must quickly wipe off his shy grin and the softie look and tackle the energy problem plaguing our nation in the shortest possible time, and he would have won our hearts for keeps. Again, can he? The answer lies buried in the womb of time. Even as he tackles the tasks ahead, Jonathan must watch his back. Cleaning the Augean stable isn't a gentleman's job. And in a country of deals men posturing as leaders, you can't be too careful. Eternal vigilance, as the saying goes, is price of liberty.'
In another piece, I also admonished the acting President to be wary of the new gold diggers who seem to have encircled him. Of course, he needs genuine advice of patriots and other well-meaning Nigerians, not those who see service and government patronage as a means to an end. In the piece, GOODLUCK AND THE GOLD DIGGERS, I made this argument on the hustling mentality of the Nigerian elite.
'Today, Jonathan is the man of the moment, the man in power, even with the Ag. prefix. Even as an acting commander-in-chief, the adept power players believe he's the man to make things happen and they are swinging in his direction. Apart from critical section of the media and a few progressive Nigerians like the revered Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the radical cleric, Pastor Tunde Bakare and a few other principled Nigerians, some of those in the vanguard for a new order are propelled by other factors other than love for fatherland. These same people were with Obasanjo and before Obasanjo, they were with Babangida, Abacha, Shonekan and Abdusalami. Of course, they were with Yar'Adua in 2007 until his worsening health made it difficult for him to exert the power and influence of his high office. Now, it's Jonathan, the new kid on the bloc. It's this peculiarly Nigerian penchant of siding with the winning team that is particularly distasteful. Principles don't matter. Conscience don't count. It's the stomach first, country last.
That's why Jonathan must be very careful about the activities of some of these fair-weather friends and turn coats swarming around him and pretending to love him more than his wife, Dame Patience.
As has been canvassed by other well-meaning Nigerians, Jonathan must resist the temptation to be boxed into the cocoon of a regional or ethnic leader. He's today, by the grace of God, the acting president of Nigeria. Not the acting president of Southern Nigeria, not the acting president of Ijaw nation, not the acting president of the Christians. He must shun those ,who by their words and actions, tend to promote these divisive tendencies. After all, in the broad coalition that brought about his present position, some of those who were counted on his side included, surprisingly, leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF led by Gen. Ibrahim Haruna[rtd].
From the East and West also came voices asking that the power vacuum be filled. Interpretation: Nigerians were unanimous that the vice-president becomes acting president to lead the country. This is the time to treat fairly all Nigerians including those who may not have been fair to others. This is not the time to have a winner-takes-all mentality. The days ahead are pregnant. Jonathan, as the chief mid-wife must tend this pregnancy carefully in order not to have a still birth. I hope the new gold diggers won't be the cog in the wheel of progress.'
LAST LINE: And I hope Mr. Acting President will have the courage and the good sense to pick men and women who will lead our nation to the next level. Not people who will be a curse to the people. Not those who will feed like locust on our treasury. Not those who themselves need direction and rejuvenation. Not those who are double-faced crooks. Brother Jonathan, the world is waiting for you. Are you ready?