There is a growing realization amongst Nigerians that certain types of modesty – humility, if you like – are counterproductive at best, and injurious at worst. If this is true in private life, it is especially true when trying to confront the huge challenges that come with being Nigeria’s president.
Last September, as part of events to mark the nation’s 51st Independence anniversary: President Jonathan said: ‘God knows why I am here, even though I don’t have any of those attributes, or these kinds of characters I have used as an example. But through your prayers, God placed me here. The only thing I ask you to do for me, and that is the prayer I pray every time, is for God to use me to change this country’.
That was the speech that included his now famous ‘I am not a lion, I am also not a general’ line. By way of retort, one could ask the president – if you are not a lion, then what are you doing in the lion’s den?
A few days ago, the president’s enduring gratitude for his good fortune was at it again when he declared ‘I always make my supplications to God that in selecting me as the President of this country, the Vice President, the Governors, members of the national assembly, the ministers, we are not the best material but God knows why he chose us and we pray He should use us to change this country.’
There is a trend here, and it is a dangerous one. The President is clearly a man of faith, and strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong at all with a strong faith in God.
The only problem is, Nigerians did not elect God to be president.
The president cannot continue to pass the buck to a higher power while the country careens wildly in transparent confusion. No pun intended, but someone needs to whisper to the president the much vaunted ‘transformation agenda’ does not appear to be much of an agenda at all. It is so underwhelming that it prompted Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber to last week dismiss him as a ‘Chauncey Gardiner figure with no obvious vision for his presidency beyond holding office.’
This is no mean insult, and we agonise as we consider the fact that this is almost certainly the world’s assessment of our leader and by extension our country.
Every day, Nigerians of all stripes pray daily to God and gods for even the simplest things. We already know enough of praying, either in church, or for those who cannot worship due to incessant bomb-blasts at home. However, we took the physical step of going to the polls last year because of the convergence of understand that action must follow words – that decisions must come after supplication.
It goes without saying that the difficult decisions that need to be made to put this country back on track will not be made by God. They will be made by a president that has a firm belief in his ability – and in the ability of his cabinet – to deliver. The more the president, in trying to emphasise his personal humility, underlines his incapacity to lead, the less faith Nigerians can have in him or his team.
In addition to a seeming failure of governance, a president who chooses open professions of humility to competence; and rhetoric to action is a luxury we cannot afford. We do not need a president who confesses he is not the best or that he is ill-equipped for his job – in fact, we find this profession offensive. Nigerians need only the best to lead our nation in these times.
So this is the bottom line: President Jonathan is completely within his rights to maintain a posture of gratitude to the God who apparently made him president. All we ask for is that he keeps his private supplications private. In public, all we want to see is a president who is clearly in charge.