Politics Nigeria — March 26, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Master of the game

Docile, timid, unassuming, weak, lethargic, and spineless. These are some of the derogatory words used privately and some times in public by critics of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan since he became Nigeria’s Acting President. Indeed, some of the cabinet members he inherited from his boss, President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is now sidelined due to poor health, also are guilty of disrespect and bad-mouthing the Acting President. So, when on Tuesday March 17 news broke that Jonathan had dissolved his cabinet it caught his detractors by surprise like the touchdown of an unforecasted tornado.

With that move Jonathan has shown that he is his own man, and not under the influence or shadow of anyone else other than himself. Although this move, on the surface, may appear not intended to prove anything to anybody or group of persons it, nonetheless, has shown that he is a true leader who is capable and ready. It reveals evidence of an uncommonly daring and bold mind found only in great leaders. If anyone, hitherto, harbored doubt whether Jonathan possessed the skills to survive Nigeria’s tricky political dance, this is your answer.

In an earlier article by me when Jonathan was recently mandated by the Nigerian Senate and House of Representative to act as President, I called on him to be bold and decisive in his actions. I warned that some cabinet members would attempt to test his resolve and that if any minister or cabinet member did not show loyalty to him, then such person(s) should be disciplined by any means necessary.

I am not sure if Jonathan is a student of the sixteenth century philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli. Notorious for his treatiseThe Prince, Machiavelli is one of history’s greatest and controversial political philosophers. Regardless whether Jonathan is an aficionado of Machiavelli or not, his surprise and intriguing sacking of his cabinet has shown that he finds some wisdom in Machiavelli’s doctrine that it is better to be feared than respected because with fear comes respect. Although I don’t subscribe to the application of this canon in every situation, this is one case in point I don’t mind it being applied. Now, those cabinet members who were openly rebellious to the Acting President have themselves to blame for they are unlikely to make it into the new cabinet that will emerge.

Recall that the political impasse began last November 23, when the President slipped out of the country under the cover of darkness for a medical emergency in Saudi Arabia without paving way for Jonathan to act in his absence. This created an unwarranted power vacuum in Nigeria, resulting in an all out war between Jonathan supporters and Yar’Adua loyalists. The bone of contention was who should be Nigeria’s leader in the absence of Yar’Adua: Jonathan or Yar’Adua who has been missing in action since November 23, 2009? As at the time of writing this article Yar’Adua was yet to address the nation and had not made a public appearance.

Meanwhile, to address the power vacuum that resulted, the Nigerian Senate and House of Representative provided a temporary solution while a permanent resolution was in the works. But the truce “midwifed” by the law makers did not last long as Yar’Adua’s surprise and unannounced return Wednesday, February 24, under yet another cover of darkness put Nigeria in a tail spin. That the President is yet to make a public appearance or issue a statement has not helped matters. It created an atmosphere of confusion which, until the dissolution of the cabinet by Jonathan, hung over the entire country like a thunderstorm overcast. This led some, especially Jonathan’s detractors, to erroneously assume that he was a mere figure head and wielded no power.

Finally, Jonathan had had enough and pulled a political joker card by dissolving the Federal Executive Council (FEC). The dissolution is in line with what astute political observers had been seeking him to do. The FEC was like cancer in the body of the administration as it became divided along lines of loyalty to either President Yar’Adua or Acting President Jonathan. Some members of the cabinet have been outrightly rebellious. There were speculations that some had resigned, but their letters were rejected. To continue with such a body without doing anything about it would have amounted to political suicide.

When the Acting President demoted Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, the former Minister of Justice, by moving him to Ministry of Special Duties, and followed that up with the replacement of the National Security Adviser, it was clear that he was flexing muscle. He was asserting himself as a master of the game. Maybe, this latest action from him may help convince the “doubting Thomases” that there is a new sheriff in town and that this sheriff means business. If you are a member of the current administration in Nigeria, doubt his political acumen at your own risk.

Consider the way he executed the “sack warrant”. In his usual way he was calm and collected and showed no sign of something being amiss. The sack, according to reports, came as a total surprise to the ministers who had earlier in the day deliberated for several hours with the Acting President during the weekly FEC meeting in Abuja. He reportedly informed the ministers of the dissolution after contracts worth several billions of Naira had been approved. He waited until every memo from every minister had been treated accordingly before dropping the bombshell news. Thereafter, he expressed his personal appreciation to them for their service to the nation. The ministers, reports say, were speechless.

I have always wondered what gave the Acting President’s detractors the reason to think that he is not politically savvy enough. Dr. Jonathan may appear calm and unruffled even in a hectic situation, but he knows exactly what to do. The fact that he is not given to loquaciousness does not mean that he lacks guts.

I remember vividly the first time that I met with him two years ago in Yenegoa, Bayelsa state.  Yar’Adua was still in charge, Jonathan was Vice President, and the term “doctrine of necessity” had not been coined by Nigeria’s body of lawmakers. His father had just died and he was in Yenegoa to attend a caucus meeting for his late father’s funeral and burial. We had not met before. It was morning and we had breakfast together on a huge and imposing dining table. I was not alone with him at the breakfast table. The dining room was crowded with men and women of timber and calibermostly from his Ogbia clan. I sat to his right and although I minded my own plate of food I couldn’t help but surreptitiously glance at him intermittently. He was too busy working on a bowl of smoked fish pepper soup to notice my peeks at him. Or, maybe he did but didn’t care. Soon breakfast was over and it was time for the business of the day.

After clearing through State Security Services (SSS) protocols, I was ushered into a large living room by one of his aides who had arranged the meeting. I sat waiting briefly for a minute or so before he emerged from an adjacent bedroom, beaming a disarming broad smile. He was taller than I had thought, and built strongly too. After the usual greeting and exchange of pleasantries we started our discussion. All the while I was watching and listening with the eagle eye and candor of a seasoned journalist, mentally absorbing details of him as much as I could.

He let me do most of the talking while he did most of the listening. I tried to be quite so that he can do most of the talking but he wouldn’t fall for it. I got the message.  All the while he spoke in a soft voice. I am not sure if the strategy was by design or a mere coincidence. My hunch tells me it was no happenstance, but the hallmark of an astute politician and strategist.

His name might be Goodluck, but you miss the point if you think that he got to where he is today solely on the wings of luck without any serious effort on his part. Such a thought is borne out of naivety without the benefit of reason.

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