The Sun News

Our executives and their aides

I must first apologise to my readers. Today by my schedule was supposed to be their day. I have received many quality responses on previous discourses on this page and many of them are both knowledgeable and very inspirational. The Parliament would have sat today but like you can see, it is postponed for a short while. As my people of Umuiku-Ozaa in Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State would say when two things are on the ground, one definitely will be of greater consequence.

The matter at hand is a huge issue with plenty of implications for the proper development of any nation. Political executives at any level are the symbols of that entity. It is for this reason there seems to be a universal consensus that some political offices are sacred. Many times we have seen people abuse or make caricature of governors and presidents and the general refrain has always been if you don’t respect the man, respect the office.

This issue has been in my mind since 1999, when a group of retreating military leaders went to the prison and brought out one of their own to be president. General Olusegun Obasanjo as president was very unconventional, his mannerism and style of speech was not in tune with executive protocol. It was obviously a big embarrassment to those who know a little about such administrative etiquette, but because we have been a nation where anything goes, we tolerated it as if nothing was wrong. Yar’Adua who succeeded him appeared worse. He often went on medical leave unaccompanied by his spokesperson and without any official handover, at a point the disgustful happened: he disappeared totally from radar.

It is an obvious bad behaviour, certainly against governmental protocol and because we did not insist that such development was wrong, it has become a precedent being cited and even extended to include the argument that a president that has handed over to his deputy has become a private citizen. This is not true. If he is alive, though unavailable for whatever reason, the inherent power and influence of his office follow him as the constitutionally elected president of the nation. He may not be involved in the daily administration of the state but that does not translate to loss of status, he remains the president hence a public property. The era of Jonathan is difficult to describe. Too many offices overlapped into each other. At some point for instance, it was difficult to say who was in charge of finances between Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi, the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Deziani Allison-Madueke, who was the Petroleum minister. The ugliest part of the drama was that the president could hardly read a prepared speech. We saw all that and the concern was if the president ever had appropriate assistants. This observation is not peculiar to us. Many other serious nations do elect persons of low finesse and of poor speaking ability but because they know the protocol of power and government, they engage capable and experienced personnel to groom and assist the chief executive in different areas.

As sophisticated as some of the developed nations are, their leaders are grilled and groomed before major outings. The preparation of their speech is another tedious duty on its own. The assignment is usually handled by a top, experienced bureaucrat with acknowledged excellence in official communication. Many don’t know but it is true that government has a communication pattern and when official communication falls short of that standard, it becomes an issue of jest. It is for that reason speechwriters are expected to draw inputs from other experts around or even outside depending on the issue at hand.

Sometimes it could take two or more weeks to ‘cook’ a good speech. We don’t do that here, and as a result we are establishing negative trends that are inimical to our developmental march. This work was provoked by the mishandling of the return of our president penultimate Saturday. Everything about that occasion was about a bungled exercise. I love the president and I have always believed he means well, but the truth is no one man can execute a vision; no matter how noble those objectives are and how well intentioned he is, he will still require the support and partnership of others and whatever these supporters do could go a long way to determine the success or failure of the principal.  For the first time, the president’s party decided to play practical politics. So they brought their supporters to welcome him. That was good. But on the overall score what was intended for good turned bad. It did more damage to the President much against what the organizers had expected and that was because majority of those in that crowd came from the president’s region. I am sure the president does not want to be seen as a sectional leader but that is what eventually emerged from the activities within the airport vicinity. This one was so bad because it was not entirely a Nigerian affair, the whole world directed their attention to what was going on. It was a big moment but we blew it.

I don’t think the broadcast was necessary if all that the president said was all he wanted to say. A press interview with necessary questions given to correspondents of friendly media would have been enough to give the president the chance to prove that he did not lose his speech power as well as say those things that were important and suitable for the moment. The president’s focus should have been about appreciation and crave for understanding, reconciliation with any perceived opposition and extension of a hand of friendship. All these could have been taken of by the press interaction on arrival. By choosing a broadcast the stakes were raised and when it finally came it became an outing that was lacking in substance. The people expected him to touch some key areas and possibly hint on new direction, but that was not to be hence the big frustration. The combative tone was not necessary; it tended to make him sound unfriendly and dictatorial. The mention of Ojukwu’s private visit was not necessary and the use of rough words like ‘irresponsible’ should leave our presidential addresses.

Femi Adesina said the broadcast was short on details because there is sequence of events. He should be reminded that time and moods are vital in management of executives and when you lose a time to make a first impression it could take subsequent 50 efforts to regain balance. Another person told me that the president needed to show some tough stance. My position is that the president does not need any tough disposition, what he needs is deft political moves and well crafted constructive engagements. If the enemy has laid mines, all a good leader needs to do is to identify and safely pick them up and in the process frustrate the devices of the enemy. The president is good but if he is to climb the pinnacle of excellence he must try to grow above the voices of his immediate environment.

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