by Senator Ihenyen
This week, I have chosen to give his Excellency, President Goodluck Jonathan, a free crash course on cowardice to courage. I had previously wanted to write an open letter, but had to change my mind since from what I have gathered from the friends of the President who had used that medium, they are of little use to the President because the presidency easily suspects that open letters are usually used by the “enemies of his government” to criticise or taunt him publicly.
To demonstrate that I have nothing to hide, this crash course is however public. This is to enable future Nigerian Presidents have easy access to avoid the problem of having to start all over again should they have the same challenge of showing courage in very difficult times like this.
Your Excellency, I appreciate that by virtue of your office, you find greater comfort in giving the speeches, while others listen. From Inauguration speeches to Budget speeches, Democracy Day speeches to Independence Day speeches and many others. However, since this is a crash course on cowardice to courage, may I plead your indulgence to quickly lean on Winston Churchill’s words: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Your Excellency, I understand this may be a great test of your courage, but I earnestly hope it won’t be too much to pass this crucial opening test if you must successfully complete this crash course!
You may think of courage as a quality required only in times of great danger, such as during war or disaster. However, Prof. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” Your Excellency, you can do nothing without courage. Any person, especially in leadership, who desires to live without regrets must be a man of courage.
Being the president of Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world with a great potential for both continental and global leadership, I must not fail to use the right individuals to help me effectively pass the message across.
Let’s quickly take a quick look at Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister in 1940. At the time he became Prime Minister, “Freedom and democracy were hanging in the balance,” as aptly put by John C. Maxwell in his book, “Talent is Never Enough.” Specifically, your Excellency, for the purpose of illustration, especially against the background of our present national insecurity in the hands of the fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups, permit me to employ a flashback to a time when Europe fell to the Nazis. Again, John C. Maxwell captured it well thus:
“After Europe fell to the Nazis, Great Britain stood alone against them two years with Churchill as their leader. He defied Hitler and continually rallied the people of the nation while they suffer under repeated German bombings and faced the threat of a possible German invasion. In the 1930s prior to war, Britain’s strategy had been to appease Hitler. All during that time, Churchill vocally expressed his opposition to such actions. In 1940, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced from office, Britain looked for a strong leader to replace him. The natural successor to Chamberlain would have been Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary. But Halifax knew that he didn’t possess the qualities needed to lead Britain in war, and he declined the potential appointment. That’s when Churchill, then age sixty-six, was called to step into the gap.” The rest is history.
Until tested, we really do not know what a person is made up. Your Excellency, you will not be asked to face the Nazis, much to our relief! But the issue of “amnesty for ghosts” is presently testing your courage more than ever before.
I recall that this is not the first time your courage has been tested. Very recently, the actions and words of your media aides had betrayed your cowardice when you made a clear u-turn on the administration’s subsidy removal plan under your deregulation plan for the oil and gas industry! Of course, this is not what your Excellency wants to hear, but is it surprising that Herbert Agar, the Pulitzer-winning columnists had rightly identified that “The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which mben prefer not to hear”.
Your Excellency, if you must grow and succeed as a courageous leader, you need to be prepared to face the truth about yourself and your administration. I understand that this is going to be a very difficult process, especially for you. Thankfully, John C. Maxwell has an outline that can guide you successfully through this process, and I have added short explanatory notes to help you comprehend and appreciate the power of courage:
- The issue. Often it is something we do not want to hear about.
A great example of this is the unpopular presidential pardon you granted to your former boss and ex-convict, Mr. Deprieye Alamieyeseigha, who….Of course, let’s not talk about it!
- The Temptation. We want to ignore it, rationalize it, spin it, or package it.
Who can ever forget the manner you treated every divergent opinion on fuel subsidy removal? Oby Ezekwesili was also a recent victim of that temptation to want to ignore pertinent issues to “protect” your administration from “enemies of the government.”
- The decision. To grow, we must face the truth and make personal changes.
Your Excellency, it is not news that majority of Nigerians have the opinion that so far your administration has underperformed, and consequently has no business coming back. From many of your actions and inactions, your excellency has demonstrated a lot of indecisiveness in the issues that affect us most.
- The Challenge. Change is not easy; our decision to change will be tested daily.
I could recall that recently, you visited Lagos on the occasion of the official launching of the Eko Atlantic Project. Irrespective of party affiliation, you had demonstrated statesmanship when you lauded the vision of the Governor of Lagos State, Raji Fashola. However, when your party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) described the project as a waste, your decision to change from a partisan and myopic President was tested… and has remained greatly defeated.
More recently, you were previously not in a hurry to give “amnesty to ghosts”. But after great pressure on your good office, particularly from northern leaders, you have significantly shifted ground in a hurry. Yes, I agree – you had kept that option open, just in case you chickened-out from too much political pressure to do so. Your courage was tested; you could not hold it a little longer!
- The response. Others will be slow to acknowledge it; they will wait to see if our behaviour changes.
Perhaps, one of the reasons why many Nigerians lack faith in your administration is that sooner or later, you often end up doing exactly what they had predicted you would do. When you sacked the Super Eagles, Nigerians were mad, but were also waiting if that decision would change to understand the kind of President you were. Before we could say “Goodluck Jonathan”, you had reversed that decision! Nigerians simply smiled, mischievously: “So, this is the kind of President we have?
A President who acts before thinking!” And same for subsidy removal. But ironically, when we hope and pray that you would give in to public opinion, you look the other way, not because we are not right but because you don’t want to appear to be a chicken in Aso Rock Villa! The presidential pardon, for instance which generated a lot of criticism both locally and internationally. But you stood your ground, not so much of courage, but, with due respect your Excellency, more of shamelessness.
- The Respect. Respect is always gained on difficult ground, and it comes from others only when our behaviour and words match.
Your Excellency, you already realise that Nigeria is presently experiencing one of her most difficult times under your leadership. The stake is high. Yet, respect is gained in such difficult times, if only you summoned some courage inside you. From your words, we are convinced that the administration is fighting corruption; but from your actions, to say the least, much more is left to be desired.
As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, your ability to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian has been continually questioned. It is even more worrisome that your compromising amnesty option, another product of lack of courage to fight and stand for what is right, is already dead on arrival as the targeted beneficiaries have turned it down. Now, Nigerians are in a state of confusion as to how to categorise your leadership: a weak President who never gets it right or a self-serving President whose vision is blinded by his 2015 ambition?
Mr. President, to exercise courage, you don’t have to have fought in the Biafran war, like Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian President. If George S. Patton’s definition that “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer” is to be taken as true, then you need not have the courage of the late Ikemba and Biafran Warlord, Ojukwu, who fought the Nigerian army for 30 months! All you need to do is “hold on a little longer” to your inner conviction that Nigerians do not need a peace of the graveyard – a state bound to be the consequence of any grant of amnesty to a sect that has vowed to render Nigeria ungovernable until its demands are met.
Your Excellency, I leave you with the words of Gene Hackman: “The difference between a hero and a coward is one step sideways.”