Before Buhari Appoints His Advisers, By Umar Ardo
It is a standard universal norm that no leader leads without advisers, and time has ascertained that a leader who acts solely on his own judgment is sure to fail. Consultations and taking of advice are therefore composite foundational elements of leadership. The institutional office of the Special Adviser, with its functions, is hence vital in the due discharge of governance. Indeed, the success or failure of a regime rests as much on the ability of the leader as on the competence or otherwise of his adviser(s).
Underscoring this point, the 1999 Constitution of our country (as amended) creates at the federal level the Council of Ministers and offices of Special Advisers for the good purpose of executing the powers and functions due to the Office of the President. This invariably means that the stability and good governance of the country are dependent on the sound character, right practice and good judgment of the President; while the well-being and quality judgment of the President depend on the knowledge, skill and honesty of his official advisers. Blessed therefore is the President with truthful, knowledgeable, intelligent and right-doing advisers to remind him if he forgets, to assist him if he remembers, to correct him (in secret and with respect) if he is wrong, and always lay to him the complete facts of every issue that may come before him to decide.
Advising a leader, therefore, is an onerous task that necessarily requires very special proficiency to perform. Great political thinkers are agreed that the adviser needs five basic attributes, if his work is to be fruitful and satisfactory:-i. Wisdom, whereby he will perceive clearly the outcome of everything into which the Principal may enter; ii. Knowledge, whereby implications of actions of the Principal will be open to him; iii.Courage, so as to act as and when appropriate on the Principal; iv. Honesty, so that he will treat all things and men truthfully without exception; and v. Discipline, so as to keep official secrets secret at all times. If the President is able to appoint suitable men, then he is most likely going to succeed, for ‘a good adviser is like the ornament of the King’; but if he is unable and appoints unsuitable men, then his regime is most likely going to fail. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, said that when a ‘king’ has an unsuitable [ignorant] adviser, his reign will be like a cloud which passes on without dropping rain. He then warned that since what is most important in the polity is the ‘kingship’ institution, no effort must be spared in getting the right adviser to help protect it.
Instructively, in our presidential system of government, all advisers are solely appointed by the President. This means that the quality of advice is also solely dependent on the kind of advisers the President assembles to himself. In appointing advisers, the president’s skill or lack of it to distinguish the great disparity that exists between men who are suitable and men who are not itself can decide the ultimate destiny of his regime. To this extent, therefore, the President must necessarily think deeply, consult widely and select carefully in matters regarding the appointment of advisers; and thus when ultimately making these appointments to ensure that only competent and very skillful advisers are chosen. On this account, I support the President in taking his time to select his governing team.
Given that President Buhari came to office with the confidence and goodwill of Nigerians behind him,all genuine lovers of the President and the country would not want him to lose peoples’ confidence and goodwill; because in politics, as the saying goes, it is easier to gain peoples’ confidence than to regain it. So it is of utmost importance thatbefore the President appoints his advisers and ministers, his actions or inactions in the meantime must also not diminish his political standing.I say this because of three recent happenings on the political landscape, which ordinarily ought to have re-enforced the President’s political goodwill but all failed to do so, and instead are drawing unwarranted criticisms and even possible loss of peoples’ confidence.
First is the inauguration of the National Assembly (NASS). Being a first time democratically elected president under the platform of an opposition party with the zeal to initiate and implement change in the country, the president undoubtedly needs the NASS to perform. To this end, in my opinion, the President should have corporally inaugurated the NASS so as to create an interpersonal relationship with members.This would not only have forestalled the current crises in the NASS and the ruling party, it would have instead created a strong bond of goodwill and confidence-building between the two arms of government,thereby earning the President huge political capital withthe legislature. Besides, as probably more than 70% of the APC members in the NASS would not have won election on their own merit but were electedon account of Buhari’s ‘APC-sak-wind-of-change’, I believe many of them were eager to physically see the man whose name swept them into fame. The president’s failure to seize this opportunity and personally inaugurate the NASS was a political misjudgment and a product of either bad advice or no advice at all.
Second, is the recent policy statement by the Presidency on the removal of military checkpoints nationwide. Without doubt, military checkpoints have become nightmares for most citizens, especially those living or traveling in the northern part of the country. Other than the superfluous time-wastingat the roadblocks, and the accompanying extortionsof innocent citizens’ hard-earned money, there are also cases of dehumanizing tortures and even killings inflicted on Nigerians. It is therefore desirable that these checkpoints are removed or moderated in such a way as to bring relieve to our people.However, it would have been advisable that before such decision is taken and pronouncements made, wide ranging consultations were made with critical stakeholders so as to arrive at the best form and method of handling the issue. In this regard, consultations should have been held with State Governors, the Police Commands, DSS Commands, Road Safety Commands, NSCDC Commands, and even with Local Government Chairmen and key Traditional and Religious Leaders.
These consultations are important on two aspects – first, they can help formulate alternative security devises that are locally initiated, people-friendly and practically effective; second, it will be politically beneficial to the President because he will be seen to be carrying the people along in his policy formulation and implementation processes. The failure to do that is again the result of bad advice orlack of it; the result of which occasioned the current embarrassing reversal of this policy in certain parts of the country. Such mishaps not only caninevitably create a poor impression of the thoroughness of the President’s policy initiatives, but also will be accompanied by a debilitating loss of peoples’ confidence in the president’s method of governance. This is the last thing the president needs to kick-start his administration, especially given the good impression of his character and ability that pedestalled his election.
Third, is the appointment of the Director-General of the DSS. Surely, the former Director General, Mr. Epenyong richly deserved his sack for having turned such a highly delicate and professional agency into a political tool of a governing party, but in appointing his successor the President should have been well advised to be political about it – i.e. being sensitive to the national sentiments and sensitivities! Since he wanted to appoint Musa Daura, who is eminently qualified, and Daura being the President’s home town, and having already appointed two previous officers (Accountant General and INEC) both from the Northwestern part of the country, the president should have appointed at least one Southerner in another agency along with Daura for the purpose of national politics. Even though the President may mean well in his actions, still he needs not give his vast political opponents the data to paint him inbad light as a regional irredentist. Such a perception, rightly or wrongly, is not good for the President’s political image.
These three episodes are capable of hampering the President’s political trajectory and misleading the public of his politics of governance, in its formulation, execution and general decision making. But to be fair to the President, on all the 3 cases sited, I believe he must have acted on some advice, most likely from his close associateswho are obviously acting as his unofficial advisers. The lesson to be learnt from this, therefore, is that the capacity for sound advice in a presidential system of government like ours must not be taken for granted that it can always be found in about every Nigerian close to the President. It definitely takes more than knowing the President closely; it needs special skills and total commitment. And such commitment can only come when the skilled is formally bestowed with the official garment to perform those duties. That way, the sense of duty to the nation and responsibility to the government shall impel in the official adviser the total commitment to the President; seeing the latter’s success or failure as his own.
As an analogy, the work of an official adviser to the President is like that of an aircraft’s pilot. Just as the pilot must ensure that the aircraft and weather are 100% without problem before taking off, so the president’sadviser must ensure that all matters are 100% inerrant before being presented to and decided by the President. This way, mistakes on the part of the President will therefore primarily be the malfunctions of his official advisers. In fact, the analogy may even be in twist in favour of the pilot – for the extreme that can happen to the aircraft is to crash; the harm that can come to a nation with a slip of the President’s pen is better imagined.This then necessitates the essence of ultimately appointing skillfulofficial advisers in the light of the emergent problems that can manifestly expend the political standing of the President, the popularity of the regime and the stability of the country. It is my considered opinion that this action will help save the President, his regime and the nation from further unwarranted and avoidable discomfitures. The President may well need to heed to Aristotle’s admonition; ‘good advisers are needed to help the King spare his reign’.