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Umar Ardo, Ph.D

In the last few days the president has started appointing key functionaries of his government – the Secretary to the Government, the Chief of Staff and Special Advisers! More will be coming in days to come, including his ministers. Essentially, all of them make up members of his cabinet. These are the president’s official helpers and advisers. They will occupy a critical place in determining the success or failure of the regime. As it is a standard universal norm that no leader leads without advisers, and time has ascertained that a leader who acts solely on his own judgment is sure to fail, consultations and taking of advice are therefore composite foundational elements of leadership. The institutional offices of these appointees, with their functions, are hence vital in the due discharge of governance. Indeed, the success or failure of a regime rests as much on the ability of the leader as on the competence or otherwise of his advisers.

Underscoring this point, the Constitution of our country creates at the federal level the Council of Ministers and offices of Special Advisers for the good purpose of executing the powers and functions due to the Office of the President. This invariably means that the stability and good governance of the country are dependent on the sound character, right practice and good judgment of the president; while the well-being and quality judgment of the president depend on the knowledge, skill and ability of his official advisers. Blessed therefore is the president with truthful, knowledgeable, intelligent and right-doing advisers who among other things will always put to him complete facts of every issue that may come before him to decide.

Advising a leader, therefore, is an onerous task that necessarily requires very special proficiency to perform. The lesson here is that the capacity for sound advice in a presidential system of government like ours must not be taken for granted that it can always be found in about every person close to the president. It definitely takes more than knowing the president closely; it needs special skills and total commitment. And such commitment can only come when the skilled is formally bestowed with the official garment to perform those duties. That way, the sense of duty to the nation and responsibility to the government shall impel in the official adviser total commitment to the president; seeing the latter’s success or failure as his/her own.

Great political thinkers are agreed that the adviser needs five basic attributes, if his work is to be fruitful and satisfactory:-
i. Wisdom, whereby he will perceive clearly the outcome of everything into which the Principal may enter;
ii. Knowledge, whereby implications of actions of the Principal will be open to him;
iii. Courage, so as to act as and when appropriate on the Principal;
iv. Honesty, so that he will treat all things and men truthfully without exception; and
v. Discipline, so as to keep official secrets secret at all times.

If the president’s appointees turn out to be suitable men and women, then he is most likely going to succeed, for ‘a good official is like the ornament of the King’; but if they turn out to be unsuitable, then his regime will likewise turn into a kakistocracy and so most likely going to fail. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, said that when a ‘king’ has unsuitable [ignorant] advisers, his reign will be like a cloud which passes on without dropping rain. He then warned that since what is most important in the polity is the ‘kingship’ institution, no effort must be spared in getting the right adviser to help advance it.

Instructively, in our presidential system, it is the president that appoints all his officials. This means that the quality of input is also solely dependent on the kind of appointees the president assembles to himself. In appointing officials, the president’s skill or lack of it to distinguish the great disparity that exists between men and women who are suitable and those who are not itself can decide the ultimate destiny of his regime. To this extent, therefore, the president must necessarily have thought deeply, consulted widely and selected carefully in matters regarding his appointments; and thus in ultimately making these appointments ensuring that only competent and very skillful persons are chosen. As the appointments are being made, not only do we pray that they are rightly made, there is also on the part of appointees the need to prove their worth, so to speak.

As an analogy, the work of an official adviser to the president is like that of an aircraft’s pilot. Just as the pilot must ensure that the aircraft and weather are 100% without problem before taking off, so the president’s adviser must ensure that all matters are 100% inerrant before being presented to the president to decide. This way, mistakes on the part of the president will therefore primarily be the malfunctions of his official advisers. In fact, the analogy may even be in twist in favour of the pilot – for the extreme that can happen to the aircraft is to crash; the harm that can come to a nation with a slip of the president’s pen is better imagined.

This then necessitates the essence of ultimately appointing skillful suitable officials in the light of the emergent problems that can manifestly expend the political standing of the president, the popularity of the regime and the stability of the country. This action will help save the president, his regime and the nation from unwarranted and avoidable discomfitures. The president may well need to heed to Aristotle’s admonition; ‘good appointees are needed to help the King spare his reign’.