One of the enduring take-aways by this author from the Political Science classes under Professor Humphrey Nwosu, at the University of Nigeria Nsukka in the 1970s, was that the style of an administration is often defined by the character of the administrator. Hence can it also be surmised thus – ‘show me your administrator and I will show you the style of the administration’.
Incidentally, the truism in this brainwave was amply proven most dramatically, during the reign of late General Sani Abacha as the country’s leader between November 17 1993 – June 8 1998, as his personal idiosyncrasies played out graphically in the style of his administration. Not a few knowledgeable Nigerians of that generation will concur that every new day during the tenure of General Sani Abacha proved the close match between his ever goggled face, reticence and the mindless brutality against perceived and real political foes, not to talk of the banal level of sleaze – all of which served as the defining features of his administration.
Meanwhile a most illustrative setting for this author’s focus on Abacha played out at the swearing in of civilian place holder – Chief Earnest Shonekan as Nigeria’s Interim President on August 26 1993, at the State House Abuja, by General Ibrahim Babangida who was ‘stepping aside’ as the country’s Head of State. As Shonekan was taking his oath of office, a US military officer who was in attendance quipped to journalists present that the exercise was in futility, as according to him then, the bespectacled Abacha who was watching proceedings as Chief of Defence Staff would soon take over the government. When the US military officer was asked the reason for his prognosis, he explained that both Abacha and himself attended the same war college in the US where the former majored in ambush warfare, as well as even wrote his project on ambush strategies and tactics.
Explaining further, the American pointed out that the ambush soldier was trained to lie docile in wait for an enemy to cross the ambush line, and attack with devastating ferocity to overwhelm the latter. In conclusion, the American therefore thought aloud that it was just a matter of time before the goggled general would take-over power from the civilian Shonekan. As the country’s history bore out, the American’s prognosis became prophet as on November 17 1993, General Sani Abacha was declared Nigeria’s new Head of State.
Zooming down to the present day that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is holding sway as Nigeria’ current leader, not a few circumstances manifesting in the early days of his tenure are defining the likely character of his presidency, and therefore demand a closer attention than he may be getting for now. While the majority of Nigerians may be seeing some of these developments from an eclectic perspective, such tendencies may actually be a medley of signs of things to come, and therefore need early attention before the actualisation of the proverbial scenario where the hand of a monkey stays too long in a pot of soup and starts looking like the hand of a human.
It has taken some 11 weeks for the President to assemble a cabinet of ministers that will help him run his administration, and through a process that had all the features of Nigerian style political shenanigans, with not a few patriots relieved at the happy ending of the exercise. At least sooner than latter, the cabinet will be sworn into office and the administration will swing into action in full panoply.
Interestingly too, before the coming of the ‘President’s men’ (cabinet ministers) President Tinubu had launched some actions and policy salvoes that have not only defined the thrust his administration may be inclined to tow, but have also stirred the angst of not a few country men and women. Top on the list of these measures is the imbroglio associated with the withdrawal of subsidy on the pump price of petrol. While the measure ordinarily enjoys justification given the avoidable hemorrhage of the country’s valuable largesse, through systemic fraudulent practices which the subsidy regime had foisted on the country, its reversal was executed without a credible fallback position for the already hard pressed Nigerians. The pain which this Presidential gaffe had caused the country, with the pump price of petrol jumping to 300% within a matter of weeks, betrays the unjustified hastiness and faulty forward-planning in its management.
Meanwhile, as Nigerians were contending with the challenge of withdrawal of fuel subsidy, came the cocktail of reforms in the foreign exchange market, whereby the Naira plunged into free-fall against the dominant foreign currencies. Once again, this was another instance of hastiness that has put the country’s economy into an avoidable bind, given its high import dependence and the deficit of a fall back contingency position. Today, the cumulative effect of these two measures alone has turned the country into a living hell for most Nigerians, with organised labour hanging the threat of a general strike – like the mythical sword of Damocles over the country, and waiting for the Tinubu administration to take any further false move in terms of another rise in fuel prices.
Yet another debacle which the President has drawn to Nigeria is the current dalliance with the diplomatic folly of leading ECOWAS to fight the coupists in neighboring Niger Republic over the July 26 – 28 2023 ouster of the elected President Mohamed Bazoum. Given the various factors at play, Nigerians should question the rationale in Tinubu actually being disposed to lead this country into a fracas in which Nigeria will shoot itself in the foot.
Incidentally, expectations were rife that with the coming of the ‘President’s men’, some measure of remediation will be fostered in Tinubu’s play-out of his “one man show’. Eventually, the ministers have come, even with a wide scope of concern for several omissions and commissions. One of these is the loud silence over the likely scrapping of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the resurgence of frayed nerves in the Niger Delta region. Yet another is the circumstance of the President personally assuming the role of substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources.
By and large, Nigerians may be ignoring the emergence of Tinubu as a President whose inclination to by-pass national consensus, is loading. Meanwhile, considering the more than cozy relationship he has established with the Tenth National Assembly, the prospects of a vigorous constitutional response to any excesses of the executive actually hangs in the balance.
However, while President Bola Ahmed Tinubu enjoys the prerogative of running his administration as may be pleasing to him, it still will serve him right to reflect on why late Umaru Yar Adua recognized the need to handle the Niger Delta matter with caution and did the needful.
And as wisdom teaches in this respect, even Presidential liberties have boundaries.