Having watched President Goodluck Jonathan in the one and a half years of his presidency, I can ‘summarise’ him as follows: he is not a man who, by nature, is excited, enthusiastic or passionate about anything. Some men are like that so we cannot quarrel with his basic character trait. But for a president or a leader, this trait can be a very major weakness or serious handicap. This is because such a leader can easily sell himself very short and unwittingly give the people the impression that ‘’nothing is happening’’ under his stewardship as the President is being accused of right now.
The current grumbling in the land that Jonathan is doing nothing is a major fall-out of this his style or character trait. And the heat the man is getting now from some members of the National Assembly about ‘lack of implementation of the budget’ is another logical consequence. This is a weakness which the President himself and his handlers must address because it is a problem indeed.
If it was not so in ancient times, I dare to say it that in modern times, successful political leadership is 70 per cent substance and 30 per cent image. In fact, in some cases, some modern leaders who are hailed as great success stories are 50 per cent substance and 50 per cent image. The truth about modern governance is that any leader who gives 100 per cent of his energies and talents to solid performance but who pays no heed to getting the people to know what he is doing may end up being dismissed as a non-performer. A leader must not only seek to leave a legacy of solid performance, he must also seek to let the people know what exactly he is doing to better their lot. Public perception is as important as actual performance.
This writer was privileged to sit through the one-month Ministerial Platform, the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Information which ran from April 22 to May 23 at the Radio House. This forum was designed to give ministers an opportunity to let Nigerians hear from them and get to know what the Jonathan administration had done in the past one year of his presidency. At that forum, I got to know of many projects, policies and plans cutting across many sectors which the Jonathan government is pursuing, some with some solid visible results to show for his efforts and others yet to bear some visible fruits.
It is true that many of the projects are on-going and have not been completed to claim them as achievements but the fact remains that a lot of things are going on but President Jonathan is not directly identified with them even when his administration is the initiator of them or in cases where he has inherited them, he is vigorously pursuing them for the greater greatness of the country. Take for example the tremendous work that has been done in the railways sector. From what I know, very soon many important Nigerian cities will be linked by railway yet many Nigerians are not aware of this positive development in that critical sector. In fact, a very knowledgeable journalist and commentator who is aware of what has so far been achieved in the railways sub-sector, said recently that if he was president and has made such great progress in the execution of such a massive project, he will not let the world rest. Rather, the whole world will be made to hear of the progress report on a minute-by-minute basis until everyone comes to accept that he is doing something!
There is a place for drama in modern governance. A president needs to, by himself, dramatise his work to let the people know that he has a passion for their service. We are not talking about spin here. No. We want the President not to be a ‘sitting president’ but an out-going one who is in one remote location in the swamps of the Niger Delta today laying the foundation stone of a project. Tomorrow, he is in an helicopter going to another remote desert village somewhere in Katsina , this time around, inspecting another project. The day after, he is in yet another village, a farming one, somewhere in the Middle Belt region flagging off a new agricultural initiative that is expected to add million of tonnes of grains to the national silos. Yes, the president’s ministers, special assistants and other senior aides do all these under his delegated authority and supervision yet it is important that he himself is sometimes seen out there doing the things himself. The led need this type of presidential ‘activism’ for their psychological well being. Indeed Jonathan needs to add drama to his game.
Any modern leader who wants to be humble or self-effacing does himself a grievous harm. If truth be told, the presidential system of government has no room for a shy, humble or reticent president. That system was designed, unapologetically, for performance and showmanship. The individual must be the best communicator of his dreams and their actualisation. He must also be the best on-hand executor of his goals. The presidential system says that if you alone have physical, spiritual and psychological strength enough to man all the MDAs all by yourself and do everything, for heaven’s sake go ahead and do just that so that there can be progress and we have one visible person we can hold to account if nothing happens. It has no patience for the usual excuses and blame-game of men.
Another reason the President must seek to become the chief promoter of his agenda is that this is a nation where the citizens have a very short attention span. The easily forget what any leader has done unless you have adopted certain programmes or project as your pet ones, the ones to which you are most passionately committed. It must be noted that that joy, enthusiasm, passionate concern are various shades of one big infectious disease. If a leader evinces passion for a particular project or national cause, he will automatically ‘infect’ the people with that bug and sooner or later, everybody will key into that and make it work. Unless Jonathan selects a few key projects for which he makes passionate promise to himself that these is what he wants posterity to remember him for and flowing from that, mobilises the people to support them, he may continually be accused of doing nothing.
Nigeria is a vast and undeveloped country. Anything any leader is able to do may amount to no more than a drop in the ocean or a wink in the dark except his performance is above 150 per cent which many of them cannot give for many reasons. This type of situation therefore calls for a president to be personally identified with his ‘passionate projects’ or be seen to be actively promoting his programmes or star projects in order to draw the people’s attention to what he is doing for them.
No leader should say posterity will speak for him. He has a responsibility to speak for himself while he is on the stage, motivating the people, infecting the people with his enthusiasm and mobilising them behind his noble projects. That is the way. Any exhibition of unhelpful shyness or what the Hausa-Fulanis call pulaku (modesty) will not do at all. Nigerians have a history of a lack of faith in their leaders. Therefore, anyone who comes unto the throne and who wants a favourable rating must, right from the beginning, make up his mind that he must be seen as an action-oriented workaholic who will out there working and not relying on aides for reports. Any other style will inevitably open you up for a charge of inactivity.