UNQUIET TIMES: JONATHAN, NEHEMIAH AND THE TEST OF LEADERSHIP
They say that we, Nigerians, are a very happy and optimistic people. At least so scientific surveys say lead the rational actor to conclude. But it is becoming increasingly very hard these days to find Nigerians who are optimistic and happy about their country. Indeed, many of our compatriots will think that you are crazy were you to echo the view held by some foreigners, the peripatetic economist Jeffrey Sachs for example, that Nigeria is on the upswing. You will not convince many no matter how fervently you appeal to the data. For many Nigerians, these are very unquiet times.
The confidence of Nigerians has been shaken by a series of events since the 2011 elections that were so filled with hope. The bombing of the Police Headquarters, Abuja, the ease with which terrorists can attack (practically any where in the country), the return of kidnapping in Rivers State and other parts of the Niger Delta, the apparent difficulties that the President is having in putting his cabinet together, the caliber of persons rumored to be on the list of possible Federal Ministers, and the corruption, and it is easy to understand why for many Nigerians, if not most Nigerians, these are very unquiet times.
A lot of people are carrying in their heads the notion that our country is heading down the path of destruction. In some these thoughts are unarticulated. Many believe these problems cannot be fixed and that Nigeria is doomed. The pages of our newspapers and the Nigerian social media are filled with compatriots who are lamenting the evil fate that has befallen the country. Many mourn and lament. Like Jeremiah. A not insignificant minority foresee the dis-memberment and demise of the country as we know it. They sit in death watch, waiting for the last breadth of the nearly 100-year old “geographical expression.”
Even some of our friends are becoming openly concerned about our unquiet times. According to some media reports, the Americans have advised our President to settle down and begin to govern. The Archbishop of Canterbury sent an envoy to whom the President reaffirmed his commitment to govern with the fear of God. It is unlikely the President is a happy camper at this time. The warm and reassuring smile must by now be a touch subdued, his nights might be shorter and his rich head of hair is visibly whiter.
The 2011 elections, which now have receded in our collective memory, had given us so much joy and so much reason to hope. Candidate Jonathan represented for many the possibilities of what our country could become. The outcome gave the nation so much to be happy about, in spite of the violence that ensued in its wake.
No-one ever said that governing Nigeria is easy. Polarised by many cleavages, reaching a consensus on the many challenges facing the country, including on stemming the mind-boggling looting of the treasury, is not easy. Notice how many people have come out to defend Bankole and Ibori. The President’s inaugural address was filled with messages of hope. But after several weeks of bad news and undue delay in setting up the government, faith in him is increasingly losing appeal, strength; it (the hope) is no longer as inspirational as it was in the run up to the election and the days after. The “Jonathanistas”, although not yet experiencing “buyer’s remorse”, are beginning to consider the doubts raised by the opposition during the campaign. Many Jonathanistas are disappointed by the gold rush characteristics that Ministerial appointment has acquired and the apparent absence of a firm presidential hand to extinguish it.
Unquiet times call for uncommon and brave leadership. President Jonathan has the possibility of providing uncommon and courageous leadership. Clearly, there is no single best way to do that other than to just do it. There is no institutional formula for success. History shows and reason leads us to expect that success formula will be different and variable. A leader has to attach the highest priority to finding out what combinations are likely to prove successful. A leader just has to do it.
This is probably what the President has been doing in his efforts to cobble together a cabinet that will serve the Nigerian people. But many Nigerians believe that he could have gone about it differently and swiftly. Clearly, his caution is informed by the complexity of our polity and the many tensions and interests that must be taken account of.
There are many polities as complex, if not more complex than ours. Biblical Israel was very complex. The President is a Christian and knows that. His names say so. He identifies himself as oneh. We recall the iconic photograph of the President kneeling before a man of God, in prayer, seeking God’s guidance in the run up to the elections. The Christian Bible presents many leadership models for dealing with a very complex polity.
In setting up his Cabinet, Jonathan may wish to look to Jesus Christ. Christ did not consult many people in choosing his twelve. He just said “I will make you fishers of men, if you will follow me.” In similar measure, President Jonathan should say to a few Nigerians in whose competence and patriotism he has faith, “ Join me if you agree with me on the vision that I have for this country and I will make you transformers and change agents of our country, if you will follow me.”
But perhaps the most apt leadership model for President Jonathan in these very unquiet times is Nehemiah who provided leadership to the Jews in very unquiet times too. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of Persian Emperor, Artaxerxes, and thus like, Jonathan before his elevation to President upon the death of Umar Yar’Adua, the second in command.
Nehemiah received news that the walls of Jerusalem were in great disrepair and that the Jewish people still left there were in great distress. He asked his boss, the Emperor, for permission to go to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And his boss agreed.
There is a parallel between Jonathan and Nehemiah. He knew that Nigeria was and is in great distress. After several months of thinking and reflection (and perhaps praying) he asked us, the Nigerian people, for permission to rebuild our wall, our hopes and dreams and aspirations based on the vision of Nigeria that he shared with us during the campaign. We agreed with him and voted for him for president of our country.
In these unquiet times, a major test of his leadership has arisen in the choice of those who would help him to rebuild the walls of our country, to rebuild our faith and hope in our country. President Jonathan should search no further for a model leader in unquiet and troubled times on how to build a winning team than Nehemiah. As he assembles his team, his eyes must remain on the prize; not the stars and starlets, but on the promises that he made to the Nigerian people. A jumbo or lucrative or plum Ministry does not a capable Minister make. After all, a good team of uneducated but capable fishermen carried forward the message of Christ. They succeeded principally because they were a team, at one with their leader. Jonathan must avoid creating competing centres of power or unwittingly creating needless rivalries and jealousies among members of his team. The Nigerian Constitution does not have a provision for a Prime Minister.
Nehemiah gained the trust of the Jewish people. With that he built a team that enabled him to achieve his vision. Similarly, the President earned the trust of the Nigerian people at the last election. He earned enormous, in the words of George W. Bush, political capital. It will be a tragedy if he does not use that trust to build a team that will enable him to achieve his vision, a vision that is increasingly being forgotten in the mad gold rush for ministerial appointment.
None of the Apostles of Christ was a standout before they were chosen. But they got the job done and some became standouts. Nehemiah was imperfect. He had a tendency to appropriate all the credit and created the impression, some will argue, that he was indispensable to the cause. But, in the final analysis, unlike Ezra, he got the job done. None among those who with him rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days was a standout. But they got the job done despite all odds, because they were all capable and committed to the vision.
We cannot presume to understand these unquiet times better than the President. We can only make suggestions as responsible citizens of a participatory democracy that we hope, should he chance upon them, will be worthy of his consideration. The Senate will approve the nominees and the President will constitute them into a team. In these unquiet times, we pray that God will give our President the wisdom and courage to make the right choices and to provide the leadership that our country sorely needs. Unquiet times today provide an excellent opportunity for making great decisions that could be of value for dealing with future unquiet times. The President has enormous potential to make those decisions.
Written by Kasirim Nwuke.