The new appellation and euphoric praise name by which high-profile governorship candidates were addressed by their supporters during the campaign and voting period is the word, ‘incoming’. Now the governorship elections, including that of the slow motion Rivers State, are over and the ‘incomings’ have become governors-elect.
As far as this columnist is aware, there is no institution in Nigeria, offering programmed instruction or crash courses in democratic apprenticeship or stewardship for new office holders, either at the executive or legislative levels. So the governors-elect will have to make their own coffee, as they contemplate taking the first tentative steps in holding high office, some of them with little or no antecedent in corporate governance.
There is no substitute for the advice of the ancients tersely rendered as ‘know thyself.’ In this context, what this translates to is doing a frank assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, with a view to mainstreaming your aptitudes and competencies, while, with the help of appointees, remedying your weaknesses.
In practical terms, if you don’t know how to crunch figures and dislike statistics, it may be too late to learn them with all the pomp around you and the leash on your time. If you appoint a finance commissioner, who only has a degree in Law and has no use for Statistics and Accounting, you have simply compounded the problem. The reason for a searching self-assessment therefore, is to ensure that you do not complicate your inadequacies by the nature of your appointments. Still on appointments, it is wise to make them early enough, if only to stop the guessing games and die-hard lobbying that will trail you everywhere you go. You will have to maintain a healthy balance between professionalism and political considerations; this would allow you to reward loyalists and party people, while making sure that professionals, good ones, are in bed, so that they can handle the nitty-gritty of governance. Of course, there is a civil service, but almost anybody who has been in government will tell you that there are perils in relying on civil servants because they lack commitment to temporary custodians of power, while minding more their own enduring self-interests. At any rate, don’t forget that the decline of institutions in this country has gone so far that nobody can vouchsafe for the corporate integrity, competence and knowledge skills of the civil service.
These apart, you must decide early whether you are content to be a run-off-the-mill governor majoring in shouting party slogans to cover up your lack of achievement, or whether you prefer to leave a lasting legacy through a leadership whose profile rings bells. To be an effective helmsman, you will have to go back to the circumstances of your election. You will have to provide frank answers to such questions as, ‘in electing me, were the voters protesting the incompetence and sadism of my predecessor? Were they affirmatively making me their choice?’
To get an answer to this question, you must pose what historians call, a counterfactual question, which runs like, ‘if I was a member of an opposition party and therefore disadvantaged with respect to the many uses of incumbency in our clime, would I have been elected?’ Still on this issue, even if you are what Wole Soyinka would call a historical throw up, which means you came to office by accident, you can still choose to either make a mark or dance away the time enjoying the perquisites of office, even inventing some that don’t yet exist, while the opportunity lasts. After all, most of our governors, with a few happy exceptions, have been lackadaisical and self-indulging. Should you decide to matter, ensure that you have a policy agenda set down in black and white and translated into catchphrases, which the wider electorate can understand.
If you have no policy agenda, one will be found for you by the predictable horde of praise singers and political contractors that strut around the corridors of power. It should be understood, I hope, that your agenda will derive from the peculiar circumstances of the majority of people in your state and from other burning issues that predominate in policy discourse. For example, Nigeria’s foremost industrialist and billionaire, Aliko Dangote, on Wednesday, tried to set agenda for Northern governors by asking them to focus on the overwhelming poverty which has engulfed that section of the country.
This suggests that poverty alleviation translated into higher school enrolment, healthcare provisioning, and infrastructural development, should top the list of policies. Having set a policy agenda, you will need to secure the buy in of the electorate because in a democracy, leaders do not get results by fiat, but by consultation, consensus, and by bringing along stakeholders. This, of course, means that you will have to communicate clearly to the people that you lead, instead of exhibiting the arrogance of power that says, ‘I know it all.’
Let me assure you, your first 100 days will count a lot because they will send out decibels concerning your effectiveness or mediocrity. If your body language is that of a laid-back governor in the early part of your administration, it is unlikely that you will be able to alter that perception, even when you wake up from slumber. So, use those days to show direction, to flash your forte, lay foundations, foreshadow strength of character, where it exists, and put governance on the kind of efficient keel that would ricochet throughout your tenure. Please do not forget that all the time you really have for governance are two and a half years, considering that between then and the end of your term will be taken up with the politics of succession, jostling for your post, and shadow activities related to the 2023 elections. In other words, you had better hit the ground running as soon as you are sworn in.
Having set clear policy imprints, you will need tremendous follow-up energy, much of it initiated and implemented by you, rather than through proxies or the usual tribe and train of praise. Bear in mind, in this connection, that the devil is often in the implementation or non-implementation details. Our polity is littered with the carcasses of policies that were grandly articulated and imaginatively crafted, which never came to light because they never prospered at the implementation stage. Hence, you will need follow-up capacity, which is sustained through the stages of implementation, including the daring to fire those who either obstruct or are sleepy about implementation processes.
It is important, too, for you to be a role model leading by example rather than by precept only. Whether you know it or not, your followers will discern your body language and inclinations, as well as integrity, sooner than you think. In addition, refuse the temptation, if things go wrong, to blame your opponents or your predecessor in office. Citizens quickly see through and resent leaders that pile up alibis for non-performance. Ensure that you have one person in your cabinet, at least, who can look you in the face and tell you the truth about your policies, action, inaction and mistakes.
Finally, mind your health. Your length of days and leadership ovary depend on it. I wish you a successful and happy tenure.