KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future

Yar’Adua’s “no friend, no foe” Presidency


Hank Eso

                        Sunday 18 May 2008



 So far, the proactive scope and productive character of the Yar’Adua presidency,

 is analogous to the elasticity of wrought iron.



History and hindsight are inevitably instructive. It is with that mindset that one must evaluate the first year of President Yar’Adua’s presidency, which comes due on 29 May 2008.  It is unbelievable that one year has gone by since President Yar’Adua rode into Aso Villa on the coattails of political controversy and a widely repudiated electoral outcome.  During the intervening period, I have written two main pieces, (Yar’Adua’s 100 days of Bliss and Yaraduaology) in this space, in assessing the man, his policies and leadership style.  Now that one-fourth of his first term is almost over, and the continuation of his presidency all but affirmed, there is need to once again asses how he has fared, but more importantly, how Nigeria has fared under his watch.


Unquestionably, President Yar’Adua inherited a near dysfunctional nation. In addition, as has been observed by Nigerian watchers, he came into office “with less legitimacy than any previously elected president and so with less capacity to moderate and resolve its violent domestic conflicts.”  Hence, there are competing views on how well he has done in his first twelve months. The first year of his presidency, is in some quarters deemed inauspicious. Others are more sympathetic in their assessment. Certainly, we can say this much by consensus: His presidency has not been a charmed political life of pomp and pageantry and of purposeful governance, especially if one considers the slate of uncompleted or bad projects and policies he inherited.  Nevertheless, he does get a remarkably good grade in upholding the rule of law, humility and not being presumptuous. 


Acceptably, problems confronting Nigeria are numerous and intimidating.  They all deserve attention; however, it would be delusional and certainly impolitic to try to solve them all at once. Where and how does one honestly begin to address the broad swathe of problems in Nigeria -- security, transportation and roads, energy, education healthcare delivery and unemployment? Clearly, the Nigerian challenge is not for the feint-hearted. Neither is it for any leader who lacks determination, vision and gravitas.  But a president is not supposed to do it all alone, which is where the question of political appointments comes in. Honesty of the person and purpose also helps.


The appointment of qualified, proactive, and pragmatic ministers, advisers and heads of parastatals and other public regulatory agencies as well as federal support of state and local government’s efforts are critical to the implementation of policies and delivery of services. Hence, they are vital to the success of any presidency. Understandably, presidential appointments in Nigeria require delicate balancing. Critical variables include, party standing and loyalty, qualification, federal character, gender balance and integrity, in no particular order.  Of these, what is perhaps most important is the latter, integrity.  As someone once wrote about integrity, “either you have it or you don’t”. But good governance is all about integrity. Similarly, no presidency can thrive in the absence of cordiality cooperation and respect for the legislative and judicial arms of government.  President Yar’Adua seems to understand as much.


President Yar’Adua did well in enunciating from the outset, his priority seven-point governance agenda, which includes Energy, Security, Wealth Creation, Education, Land Reform, Mass Transit and Niger Delta. Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, since it does not include healthcare, public accountability, combating corruption and development of small-scale enterprises. Moreover, the agenda is like a wish list or at best, a guide or identifier list. Nowhere have I seen this list expatiated to indicate how the president intends to accomplish the goals. As such, they remain essentially declarative or as Tell, a Nigerian magazine bluntly put it, “the agenda has just remained an agenda”. This is especially so, since to my mind, in the six of the seven categories, the best score that Yar’Adua’s administration has garnered is a “C”.  He however gets a “B+” on Wealth Creation, not so much due to his austere policy measures, prudence or fiscal diligence, but thanks to rising global oil prices that has by default, increased Nigeria’s foreign reserve.


Ironically, what is the use of high foreign reserves at a time the nation is in a rut? Discernibly, security, energy and the education sectors remain dismal and the Niger Delta and mass transportation a nightmare. Amusingly, a recent cataloging of concerns or “worry list”, as expressed by President Yar’Adua, mirrors only marginally, his seven-point agenda.  Recent media reports maintain that President Yar’Adua is exceedingly disturbed by six issues that have challenged his presidency, even though these are mostly related to bureaucratic procedures and control, or in layman’s terms, “untidy housekeeping.”  The concerns include:


·         Charles Soludo's (Central Banks ) Unilateral Action of Investing $480m in the African Finance Corporation;

·         Obasanjo's Lingering Bashing (in the media but also within government quarters); 

·         Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa’s Indiscretion (in publicly attacking Obasanjo and rationalizing that Yar’Adua president was passionate about the rule of law only on account of his senior brother’s demise in an arbitrary atmosphere );

·         Diplomats' expression of concern over insecurity, in Abuja (pervasive robberies, shortage of water  and power outages);

·         Ministers' Lack of Initiatives, (Absence of proactive, creative thinkers and strategic planners within the ministerial ranks); and

·         Disquiet Over State House Entrenched Staff (extremely powerful, disloyal or indolent holdovers from the Obasanjo administration)


The Yar’Adua Presidency in Perspective

Evaluation of any presidency is the remit of historians. However, in the course of the presidency itself, strategists and pundits alike, often try to dissect why one presidency is better that the other, as a means of affirming their respective support or criticisms of a particular presidency.  While such views can be distractive, some often prove useful, only if they filter through to the president, and assuming that unlike President Obasanjo, the incumbent reads the national newspapers and is therefore, conversant with public opinions and criticisms. 


Undoubtedly and to his credit, Umaru Yar’Adua did not hanker for the Nigerian presidency.  Rather he found himself conscripted into the role for reasons, yet to be clarified to Nigerians. Therefore, while some feel comfortable in characterizing his first year in office as inauspicious, they do so without characterizing President Yar’Adua as being hapless.  This is understandable, since many believe that a key factor hobbling his presidency is public skepticism and suspicions about PDP’s leadership abilities and concerns that Nigeria may be drifting towards a one-party state. Moreover, Nigerian observers claim to perceive no distinctive paradigm shift in the governance style and methodology of the ruling PDP since he assumed the presidency.


Notwithstanding these attending reservations, it is broadly accepted that Yar’Adua has enjoyed a blissful political honeymoon, in which he received considerate assessments.  Incidentally, such consideration may have derived partly from the inconclusive judicial processes and legal challenges to his election, as well as concerns about the health of the president.  Overall, Nigerians have been generally kind and receptive of the president, even if guarded in some regards; and even when they juxtapose his nicety and his stubbornness or listless ways of doing things. Yet, some are asking how nicety is supposed to advance national interest, address critical questions and solve pressing problems. In this context, many speak of a presidency that is rudderless and bereft of novelistic impetus, optimism, vibrancy and energy. Indeed, so far, the proactive scope and productive character of the Yar’Adua presidency, is analogous to the elasticity of wrought iron.


Invariably, conventional wisdom holds that everybody’s business is nobody’s business. The same could easily apply to government’s business, especially when governance issues receive scant attention.  Yar’Adua has so far built his presidency on respect for the rule law, due process and separation of powers.  He has publicly shown keenness in combating corruption and malfeasance, having on several occasions asked the law enforcement agents to arrest serving public officials found wanting. Nevertheless, his government remains largely adrift and persistent national issues of concern related to his seven-point agenda, remain largely unattended. The Niger Delta crisis is a case in point. A derivation or budgetary issue has suddenly turned criminally violent due to its mishandling. As a  2007 International Crisis Group (ICG) report noted, “Hostage-taking, employed by militants since early 2006 to draw international attention to the Delta crisis, has turned into a lucrative, criminally driven enterprise, with local politicians and their relatives frequent victims, instead of just the oil industry expatriates who were the original targets.” What this amounts to, is the rise of anarchy. More often than not, a sense of insecurity scares investors away and affects good governance, talk less of when the threat is real.


Incontestably, bureaucratic nonchalance, lack of ministerial initiatives, accountability and oversight and the continuation of a welter of policy miscues continue to dog the Yar’Adua government. Official profligacy and outright malfeasance remain evident in many quarters.  Contractual or privatization controversies still mire many projects, which therefore, remain uncompleted.   As regards the energy sector, former President Obasanjo claimed recently, [that] “for a developing country like Nigeria, we should be increasing the rate of our power generation as close to the rate of our population increase as possible. Our Administration thereby inherited eighteen years of non-investment in power generation and seeming apparent neglect of the sector.” Setting aside that these were inherited setbacks, there is hardly any discernible effort to handle them differently, and hence, shift away from past untenable practices.


Furthermore, some ministers and top government officials have developed a tendency to be impetuous and to run public concerns as their personal fiefdoms. Others misconstrue criticisms of the erstwhile regime as a substitute for concrete policies they should articulate and implement; hence there is a visible disconnect and absence of identifiable concrete accomplishments. Even those ministers who talk the talk, trip up when it is time to walk the walk.  It is however, not impossible that the ministers may have taken their cues from the boss, given the administration’s fixation with reversing policies and projects of the Obasanjo administration, rather than articulating their own. Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa and Central Bank Governor Charles Soludo seem particularly oblivious that they serve at the pleasure of the president.  Both have respectively engaged in conducts that are undoubtedly embarrassing to the president and indeed, undermine his authority. Policy wise, both have also callously overreached themselves by acting at various times, well beyond their respective remits. When Health Minister Adenike Grange and her deputies flouted executive orders, they were ousted and charged for the offences. Earlier on, House Speaker Patricia Etteh and her deputy were forced out of office on allegations of unjust personal enrichment.


It is therefore, difficult to grasp why and how Messrs. Aondoakaa and Soludo have managed to remain at their respective posts, despite the latter, having reportedly invested $480 million public funds in the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), without clearance from Yar’Adua.  This recent episode follows on the heels of Soludo’s unilateral attempt to re-denominate the Naira without duly consulting and obtaining presidential clearance.  As it turns out, such contrivances turn to negative scores and serve as a basis for evaluating the Yar’Adua presidency, since they project a weak presidency that is also unfocused, unengaged or uncommitted.


Addressing the Critical Gaps

Perhaps, President Yar’Adua is disciple of Waziri Ibrahim’s doctrine of “politics without bitterness”, which would warrant that the president seek neutrality and above-the-fray leadership balance of “no friend, no foe”.   If that is the case, well, there will certainly be some price to pay later on, since such a disposition is not by any means a defining trait of a great presidency. In this context, President Yar’Adua might as well familiarize himself with what Richard Ben Cramer, a political pundit and the author of What It Takes: The Way to the White House had to say about such matter: When your friend causes you trouble, a president gets rid of those friends. It may come to pass that they become friends again. But for the time being, this is more important.” This admonishment should be quite instructive for Yar’Adua, especially since his party sees all such events as “family affairs”. In politics, he can be tough without necessarily being a “Maradona”.


Unsurprisingly, criticisms of President Yar’Adua administration are increasingly trenchant. Most of the criticisms are constructive and justified. The president must understand that pundits and critics of his government are not necessarily being heartless detractors or Machiavellian, when they offer uncomplimentary or damning unsolicited opinions.  They do so in the national interest.  More importantly, their role is supportive of President Richard Nixon’s observations that in politics, you must make critical decisions with “your head not you heart”. In the same vein, as president, one must watch what their friends and loyalists do, lest they wreck his or her presidency.  There exist already, several precedents in Nigeria.  President Shehu Shagari learned the hard way. An honest and God-fearing man, Shagari allowed the cabal within the NPN leadership and some of his close associates to hijack his government. Today, historians and pundits talk only about the corrupt and ineffective Shagari presidency, hardly remembering or mentioning his associates. The same may very well happen to the Yar’Adua presidency.


In judging Yar’Adua, one year is insufficient to begin to judge the strength, competence and abilities of his presidency. However, the time should be sufficiently indicative of the type of a presidency a nation should expect – robust or weak, engaged or complacent, policy-oriented or perfunctory, purposeful or indecisive. More importantly, several identifiable gaps in policy enunciation and implementation continue to impact negatively on the social fabric of the nation.  Addressing them in the short and medium term will convey a sense of purpose and help shape the Yar’Adua presidency. The points below are in no particular order of importance, policy options worth pondering, as President Yar’Adua engages in a critical self-assessment after his first year in office:


·         A crippling legacy of corruption: Damaging perception and residual impact of impunity and a crippling legacy corruption continue to haunt Nigeria, despite advances in the rule of law and sanctions against scofflaws and miscreants. Yar’Adua has so far shown zero-tolerance for corrupt officials, but needs to take additional assertive actions that will reassure Nigerians and foreigners that there are no sacred cows.  

·         Energy and Strategic oil reserve: It is inexcusable that national energy production operates at sub par capacity. Such disposition is now a matter of national security. If we must use electricity generators on an interim basis to power the nation, then, the president through an executive order ought to slash or subsidize the price of diesel for a three-year period, while the national power system is revamped. Also, strategic oil reserves for use during national shortages or emergencies, should be established within the six-geo-political zones and placed under the direct responsibility of the presidency;


·         Kidnappings: No nation becomes developed or well governed in the absence of an enabling environment founded on peace, security, and stability. The prevailing scourge of kidnapping in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region ranks with terrorism, given its diametric negative impact.  If the intent was ever to use violence and kidnappings to make activist statements, it is well beyond politic activism, with criminal elements having successfully hijacked the genuine grouse and public opinion of the people of the Niger Delta. Government has also been vicariously complicit in not tackling this scourge, which was a resource-sharing grievance aggressively. Policy prescriptions on the Niger Delta crisis abound (See,” Curbing the angst in the Niger Delta” and “The Niger Delta Conundrum”). We no longer need ineffective appeasement ploys, but the political will to implement hardheaded, unapologetic policies and robust programs.


·         Emergency response and rescue facilities: Nigeria has continuously flunked any challenge that requires emergency response. This is a sorry but tale-tale sign of the state of our national security. Efficient rescue operation and facilities after disasters, including search and rescue mission after plane crashes, or boat mishaps are non-existent. This should not be. A national emergency reaction scheme –that may entail the use of the Nigerian military- should immediately be put in place and adequately funded. A strategic grain reserve and an overall national food security plan must also fall under this rubric.


·         Appointments: Every president needs his own trusted allies and dedicated appointees, who must share the president’s vision and values.   After one year in office nearly 80% of the 4,000 positions critical to effectively running the boards of national institutions, federal parastatals, universities, corporations, and research institutes remain unfilled, after their dissolution by the Yar'Adua administration. Yar'Adua must endeavor to fill these positions by 31 December 2008 since power and progress abhors vacuum.


The critical challenges and central preoccupation of any Nigerian president has been how to manage the nation’s diversity, ensure stable and effective governance, and development, and overcome the basic impediments created by poverty. Every president must posses a firm political girth, required to weather distractions and engendered challenges. Every president must also think of his or her legacy and its benefit. President Yar’Adua must begin to think in these terms. Furthermore, taken singularly or collectively, the set of afore listed challenges, calls for political realism and expeditious retooling of instruments to statecraft needed to address them efficaciously. This is more so, since a well-coordinated government is imperative for purposeful governance.  Absence of coordination translates to dissonance in public policies and output.


Apropos, Yar’Adua’s public policy, seeking to replace the strategic with the reactive is not an option.  While maverick political appointees inclined to pursuing self-serving policies must be curtailed, Yar’Adua also need to appoint to office those who have strategic insight and share fully in his values and vision. Accordingly, with one year under his belt and his legal distractions from the election petitions almost over, Yar’Adua needs to be more assertive, in order to affirm his government’s legitimacy and salvage a nation that has been adrift for long. A “no friend, no foe” presidency may be politically correct and convenient, but certainly not practical. It will also not serve Nigeria’s urgent leadership needs. All said, the buck still stops at his desk.


With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.



Hank Eso is a columnist for (New Jersey).  His commentaries on Nigerian politics and global issues have appeared in The New Times (Lagos), African Profile International (New York), The Nigerian And Africa Abroad (New York), African Market News (New Jersey), and  


© Hank Eso, Sunday, 18 May 2008


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