“Most of the Ministers and Special Assistants/Advisers in that government were mini-tyrants; they saw every criticism of government policy as an act of affront, the more deluded and disoriented ones among them, with their arrogance helped to make more unnecessary enemies for government. It was also a style of governance that encouraged sycophancy. The point was often made that Ministers went to the Federal Cabinet meeting only to massage the President's ego…”
Those words were penned on May 26, 2007, just days before Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan took office, part of a newspaper columnist’s postmortem of the Olusegun Obasanjo years.
“The General ran a government in which he was the wisest man in the entire country. Nobody was expected to contradict him, and those who did were punished for their insubordination. Governors struggled to be in Baba's good books. The President was called Baba: he was the father of everyone whose words could not be questioned since this is the dictate of age-old culture and tradition…”
Of the centrality of sycophancy in that administration, the author said, “When on one occasion all the Ministers in a show of solidarity with the President rose in unison against the Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who had become Obasanjo's adversary, it was clear at last that we had a civilian dictatorship on our hands.”
The article was “Obasanjo’s Legacy (4),” by Reuben Abati, who was the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian (Nigeria).
Four years after those words, Abati took office as Special Adviser for Media and Publicity to President Jonathan. In that capacity, he has blossomed in the past three years as some kind of Director of Denials: when there is something for Mr. Jonathan to deny, he calls upon the man who so well understands tyranny—mini and maxi—delusion, disorientation, sycophancy, and presidential ego massage.
However, if there is someone who takes presidential ego massage more seriously than Abati, it is far and away his colleague, Senior Special Adviser Doyin Okupe.
If Abati is the Doctor/Director of Denials, Okupe is without question the most dangerous man in the presidency. He is the quintessential mini-tyrant described in Abati’s article, gifted with the easy ability to accumulate enemies for the president.
Okupe courts the mainstream media, but he is also heavy on social media, with particular loudness on Twitter. That is not difficult to understand: Twitter is easy: 140 characters by which to combine praise and worship, 24 hours a day. Okupe is the propaganda champion.
But he is also a chameleon. Recently, as he praised Mr. Jonathan’s so-called Transformation Agenda, I asked him: Are Mr. Jonathan 2011 electoral promises part of the TA?
I also asked: Were Mr. Jonathan’s post inauguration vows also part of the TA? His response has been deep silence.
But this same man, a medical doctor brought into the presidency not to heal the sick but to injure the healthy and deceive the hopeful, leads the charge to portray Mr. Jonathan as special.
Last week, citing “facts on the ground, he declared, “…In terms of performance and achievements, no administration since 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from Britain, has done as much as that of President Jonathan.”
He immediately reminded me of another man who once observed, accurately, how the more deluded and disoriented among Nigeria’s Ministers and Special Advisers “with their arrogance helped to make more unnecessary enemies for government…a style of governance that encouraged sycophancy…”
Sycophancy is a difficult word to spell, but even Mr. Jonathan, by now, understands that some of the people close to him are sycophants. Were Mrs. Jonathan to ask him for an example of sycophants, I have no doubt he would point one finger at Okupe.
No administration…has done as much as that of President Jonathan? You can almost see Mr. Jonathan, turning to Mrs. Jonathan, pointing at Okupe.
You thought, for a moment, that perhaps Mr. Jonathan did something unique, something exemplary, or something profound.
You thought perhaps he read a book…perhaps to a child, or took his Ph.D dissertation in his hands to a department of agriculture to share his ideas.
Perhaps he declared his assets publicly—determined to enthrone example and presidential transparency—thereby launching an unprecedented era of accountability?
Perhaps he inherited 36 States from his predecessor, and 36 months later, still had all of them within his control?
Did he implement one of the presidential reports submitted to, and applauded, by him?
Perhaps Mr. Jonathan, upon assuming office, was stunned to discover the presidency had an embarrassing pool of jets and expensive automobiles, and swiftly proceeded to rationalize the needs of the office and sell-off the excess capacity to make the funds available for drinking water for elementary schools?
Did he walk through a shopping mall in Abuja, encouraging small businesses to broaden employment?
Did he achieve a ceasefire with Boko Haram, or end the militant group as he has promised over and over?
Perhaps some kidnappers were stupid enough to seize hundreds of schoolgirls from a school somewhere within the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and he, outraged, ensured they were swiftly returned to their parents and schools unharmed?
Perhaps he demonstrated courage, literally under fire, by visiting and sleeping in one of the states under emergency rule? Did he go to Chibok and break bread with the families whose children were spirited away under his watch?
Perhaps, unknown to us, the President wrote up a cheque, representing 50 per cent of the vast, private wealth he knows he will never need and used it to develop libraries or to offer scholarships to indigent students?
Perhaps he made his wife return her bogus earnings as Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa?
Did he give his country electricity, or did he explain why Aso Rock must buy new generators every year?
Did he persuade the people of South Africa or of Kenya that Nigeria’s presidential jets and other government toys are not used for extensive money-laundering?
Did he finally kill Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau? Did he transform the people of Chibok, or just the citizenry of Aso Rock?
These are a few of the questions that Okupe ought to be answering in prosecuting the mission to sell the 2015 Jonathan candidature.
Obasanjo, who rated the Jonathan presidency as “average,” was actually offering unearned credibility. Jonathan’s administration is the very definition of a tragedy. How can anyone define as an achievement the epochal equivalent of arson and looting?
The bigger tragedy is that it is to Obasanjo that Nigeria owes the Jonathan administration. Seven years ago, the PDP certainly had men of presidential potential, but Obasanjo permitted them no electoral opportunity.
I have written elsewhere that if the former president must be taken seriously concerning his criticism of Jonathan, he must first apologize for inflicting him on Nigeria. In 2006, Jonathan was minding his business trying not to attract attention when Obasanjo offered him the buffet.
As Nigeria slips from unworkable into unmanageable, we are paying for that colossal crime, driven on by ruthless sycophants who have no regard for truth or for the corporate interest. Nigerians must respond by speaking loudly and courageously for themselves.
- Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense