“The buck stops here,” is a phrase that was popularised by a former United States president, Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign with that pithy aphorism on his desk in the oval office at the White House. The phrase refers to the notion that the president of any democratic country must make decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.
Like Truman believed and the constitution expressly backing it up, the buck has always stopped on the president’s table in a presidential system of government. He takes the backlash or praises for any action. Therefore, for a president to attempt to shift blames to ‘powerless’ centres, like a state governor’s office, is ridiculous.
In former President Goodluck Jonathan’s book, ‘My Transition Hours’, launched last week in Abuja, he made frantic efforts to put the blame of his seeming ineptitude and indecision as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the governor of Borno State, Ibrahim Kashim Shettima. In chapter four of the book, Jonathan claims that Governor Shettima sabotaged federal government’s efforts to rescue the Chibok schoolgirls from Boko Haram captivity. He struggled to stand truth on its head by trying to justify his leadership failure on pages 27 to 36.
Curiously, the buck stopped on Jonathan’s table as president at the time because he had all the constitutional powers at his disposal to address the security challenges. In Nigeria, the 1999 constitution confers the powers of the military, the police and other security agencies on the president who is also recognised by the law as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. What this means in effect is that the president is at liberty to put to use the various security agencies as the chief security officer of the country.
With these awesome powers at his disposal, coupled with the security information made available to him by the numerous intelligence generating agencies, if the former president was truly in charge as president, he could have acted long before the Chibok schoolgirls were abducted.
Jonathan took presidential powers to the dust in his desperate bid to pass the buck of his ineptitude and lack-lustre actions instead of ensuring prompt rescue of the Chibok Schools in 2014. On the night of April 14, 2014, over 200 girls were kidnapped from Government Secondary School Chibok.
Specifically, the former president accused the Borno State governor and the United States government of frustrating his efforts at rescuing the abducted Chibok girls. Analysts and other keen observers view this claim as lame and lacking any modicum of substance. Rather than attract the sympathy of Nigerians he seeks by fabricating and distorting facts, Jonathan got condemnations.
Governor Shettima had in a response, described the book as elementary and fictional, pointing out that the former president deliberately omitted an investigative report submitted to him in June 2014 by the presidential facts-finding committee he constituted to probe into the circumstances surrounding the Chibok girls’ abduction.
Without incurring the charge of bias, one will expressly agree with Governor Shettima’s rejoinder through his Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy, Malam Isa Gusau, that Jonathan never believed there was abduction and that rescue efforts were late.
If Jonathan had believed there was abduction, would there have been need for him to constitute a fact-finding committee? A Commander-in-Chief worth his onions ought to have given a marching order to the Army to pursue the insurgents into their holes and hidings, with the other intelligence gathering agencies supporting them with information.
Apart from Governor Shettima’s response to the book, many Nigerians have also described Jonathan’s claims as tissues of lies. Their bone of contention can be understood: the 254-page book was written for the sole aim of whipping up sentiments and explaining away leadership failure. The wife of the late presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Zainab Duke-Abiola, described the book as a “monumental manipulation of historical facts and figures, ‘a pseudologia fantastica.”
Excerpts from her reaction to the book reads: “I think the only option left for Jonathan is to plead with God and Nigerians for forgiveness and until we forgive him, he should remain in his purgatory of lethargy. No amount of write-up can erase the fact that he took this great nation for granted.”
True to Mrs Abiola’s position, Jonathan was the Commander-in-Chief of the troops that fought insurgency in the area at the time. Under the Nigerian constitution, except for understanding, the governor has no power to appoint even a commissioner of Police of a state, not to talk of commanding the Army.
Given the bashings the former president has received since his book was unveiled in November, the honourable thing for the ex-president to do now is to apologise to Governor Shettima; that will be accounted for him as strength. Sticking to his claims in the book will reveal to Nigerians the more how, as president, he was not in charge of the affairs of the country.
Jonathan’s ‘Hotel California story’ defies all known logic. How could a governor who stands the risk of being voted out by the people whose children, nieces and friends were abducted condescend to such dastardly act of frustrating the release of the girls? At least there should be a limit to political gimmicks. Jonathan suggests in his book that the kidnap of the schoolgirls was orchestrated for political gains. But can one be so brutish and malignant to the extent of playing politics with the lives of over 200 girls aged under-20?
Instead of recognising the fact that the buck stops on his table and take action immediately like the late John F Kennedy did during the Cuba Missile Crisis in 1962 when the United States security cabinet held a marathon meeting for 13 days, the former Nigerian president fiddled like Nero while Rome was on fire. President Kennedy gave the Army marching orders to do whatever it takes to stop the Soviet Union from mounting ballistic missile in Cuba, which was a direct threat to his country.
Jonathan should just heed the advice of Mrs Abiola by praying God for forgiveness over his failure to do what he had the constitutional powers to do. Nigerians are known to be very religious people. Perhaps, they will find a place in their hearts to forgive him too, instead of shifting blame on Shettima, a state governor who was also at the mercy of the insurgents.
– Ocheme, a public analyst, sent this piece from Abuja
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