I shall explain how, and to do that, we only need to travel quickly to the United States where a useful lesson can be learnt about the process of nominations to high office in accordance with the fine traditions of democracy. The same week that Jonathan announced his nominee for the position of Vice President, US President Barack Obama needed to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court Bench and announce a nominee, and he did – Elena Kagan who is due to go through the rigour of Senate nomination hearings. A Supreme Court Bench seat in the United States is just as important as the Vice Presidency of Nigeria, and I invite you to compare and contrast how the two processes are being handled. Kagan’s name has been sent to the US Senate; Namadi Sambo’s name to the Nigerian National Assembly.
In the former case, both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are out there lobbying for both legislative and popular support for their nominee. In an internet posting, Joe Biden has taken the special trouble to explain again, only last Friday, why the Obama administration considers Kagan the best (wo)man for the job. He points out that the woman was interviewed for the job along with other possible nominees and she came out the best. She is also being put forward because of her character, her commitment to service, and her track record as a trailblazer. Joe Biden writes:
“This week when the President first told me he’d chosen Elena Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court, I couldn’t help but smile. I had a chance to interview many great candidates but Elena stood out. I met her nearly 20 years ago, when she took a break from teaching to join my staff in the Senate. She helped to confirm Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and even then, it wasn’t hard to picture a day when we’d be helping Elena to prepare for confirmation hearings of her own. Since that time, I’ve followed her career, and today, I believe Elena Kagan is an inspired choice for the Supreme Court.
Throughout her career, she’s been a trailblazer, breaking glass ceilings in both academia and government. She’s been a consensus-builder, earning praise for her work with Republicans in the Clinton White House and her support for the free exchange of ideas as the dean of Harvard Law. She’s flat-out brilliant, easily one of the best legal minds I’ve ever met. But most importantly, she’s also someone who understands that the application of the law holds real consequences for Americans in all walks of life. Now her nomination goes to the Senate, I’ve been through this process more than once, and I’ve learned that the success of any nomination is influenced by the public response in the first few days.”
Impressive? Persuasive? I think so, yes. In subsequent paragraphs, Vice President Joe Biden talks about Ms. Kagan’s character and public spiritedness; the whole purpose of his internet and e-mail lobby is to secure popular support for the Presidential nominee. It is a simple and cultured way of admitting that the people matter. The Obama Presidency could have ignored the people, offer no explanations and simply do a deal with the Senators, and get Kagan onto the Supreme Court seat. But what we are being told is that in a serious democracy things don’t work and should not work that way. Every process must be value-driven. Nomination to a Supreme Court Bench in the United States is a serious matter, as was clearly demonstrated by the Anita Hill sex and justice scandal which saw a brilliant man, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas almost losing a life-time opportunity because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut in the presence of a tempting, beautiful woman. It is through such rigorous screening in spite of attendant excesses, that society reminds everyone else of a national ethic of accountability.
The humility that shines through Joe Biden’s market place lobby for Elena Kazan is further confirmed when he says: “Will you stand with the President and me to support Elena Kagan? Sign on to help us show that the American people back her nomination.” A website is then provided: http//my.barackobama.com/supportkagan where anyone who is so persuaded can drop a word of support. Joe Biden’s lobby may or may not influence the process, as Elena Kagan seems certain to be taken through rigorous screening in and outside the Senate (her sexual orientation; her short hair, love of plaids and softball); her perceived support for expanded executive powers, her position on military recruitment, and her record so far as Solicitor-General.
But ordinary American people must feel good that their opinion is being considered. And I have not read any reports that Elena Kagan is being imposed on the Obama Presidency by any Godfather, former boyfriend or girlfriend, boss or colleague, or the Governors Forum, the Justices’ Forum or any such mongrel. She is the incumbent Solicitor-General of the United States, even that does not translate into automatic confirmation, nor is she likely to be asked to take a bow and leave (as is done in Nigeria); last year, she had appeared before the same Senate as nominee for the position of US Solicitor-General. Whether or not Elena Kagan gets onto the Bench eventually, everyone would have been convinced nonetheless that her screening process was thorough and that the American people had a chance to have their say in the matter.
Now quickly, let us compare this with the process of nominating and screening Namadi Sambo whose name has been sent to the Nigerian National Assembly for confirmation as Vice President of the Federal Republic. I have not heard anybody high up in government or politics trying to communicate the process of choice and nomination to the Nigerian people whose siren-bearing cars Sambo would soon start driving all over Abuja, whose Aguda House he will be occupying, and over whom he will preside as His Excellency the Vice President. Sambo is the Governor of Kaduna State but to the majority of Nigerians, he is a great unknown. Did anybody interview him for the job? Nobody has told us, and you can bet he didn’t need to be interviewed. He will be Vice President simply because it serves some people’s purpose to put him in that chair and they really don’t care what the Nigerian people think. From what we know so far about Namadi Sambo, he will emerge as Vice President (the National Assembly nomination screening is a rubber stamp process- it has always been!), not because he is “flat-out brilliant,” (in Nigeria, that will be a minus), not because he has been a “trail-blazer” in anything, (in Nigeria, you don’t need any special trails), not because he places service above opportunities, not because he understands anything or believes in Nigeria (who cares?) but because he fits into some other people’s calculations at this time. It is a measure of the integrity of our democratic process that this is what determines such high profile appointments.
I have tried to read all the media explanations as to the reason why Namadi Sambo has suddenly become the anointed one for Vice President and they are all reasons that should compel every Nigerian to shed a tear or two for this country. He is said to have worked as a professional architect and entrepreneur, leading three companies: Coplan Associates – a firm of architects and engineering consultancy, Nalado Nigeria Ltd, specialising in energy, water supply, and waste disposal; and Manyatta Engineering Services Ltd “which supplies hospital equipment and airport maintenance.”Anyone who is familiar with the Nigerian system will know immediately that all of this means the man who would be Vice President has been a government contractor, enjoying contract opportunities that the Nigerian system can throw up – from supplies (a very famous Nigerian engagement!) to design and waste disposal – a complete package that is designed to trap anything that is possible, including wastes! So what is the man’s track record? What and what has he done? What spectacular things has he done as an architect, as a public officer, as a supplier of hospital equipment and as a waste collector? Are his companies still operational and have they benefitted from contract awards in Kaduna state under his watch?
From being an entrepreneur, Sambo became a Commissioner for this and that and then in 2007, he was anointed by Ahmed Makarfi (then Governor of Kaduna State and now Senator), as the candidate for the Governorship position in Kaduna state and he won the seat. This doesn’t sound impressive to me. But what has he done as Governor since 2007? Sambo according to some newspaper reports introduced in Kaduna state, “Operation Yaki,” an anti-robbery squad which in the language of his image promoters “has stamped out armed robbery in Kaduna state” (I’ll rather ask the residents); he has also built an urban rail transit (which company got the contract?); and a 1, 000 bed hospital (I want to assume that the hospital equipment was not supplied by the aforementioned Manyatta or any of its subsidiaries or associates), the Sambo administration has also built we are told, a water works (hopefully his Nalado Nigeria Ltd has nothing to do with that!).
What we are left is the fact that Sambo has been nominated for selfish political reasons. First, he is from the North West. So that takes care of the rebellion of those who insisted that since the late President Yar’adua came from the north west, the vice president nominee must also come from that geo-political zone otherwise they will pull down the country. Thus, Sambo’s emergence is a triumph for the tribalists. In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae emerged as presidential candidates because Abiola who is from the same south West as the duo, died and the region needed to be pacified. How can Nigeria make progress in this manner? Second, the Northern Senators Forum had approached President Goodluck Jonathan with the name of Senator Ahmed Makarfi as their candidate from the North West.
This was meant to checkmate the Governors Forum, an increasingly powerful lobby group which had put out a statement that the next Vice President must come from among its ranks. In the selection of the Vice President, the key issue was not ability but politics and this was what happened in the end. Third, and so it happened, that the Governors had a meeting with Goodluck Jonathan and nominated Namadi Sambo, their colleague from Kaduna state, with the trade-off that Vincent Ogbulafor the PDP Chairman who has been indicted by the anti-corruption agency, ICPC, will lose his chair. The same Ogbulafor has now, following the script, resigned his position but he says he has acted “in the national interest.” He should tell that to the Marines, and thereafter, he must have his day in court.
Before us is a game of poker being played by mischievous children, trying to upstage each other and placing the cards badly. Although Sambo had been helped to office by Ahmed Makarfi, his predecessor, the two men soon quarreled and became rival contenders for the soul of politics in Kaduna state. By pushing Sambo forward, the Governors Forum have by that stroke neutralised the rival Northern Senators Forum and with Sambo as Vice President, Makarfi who is known to be interested in the 2011 Presidency has been smartly checkmated. Between now and 2011, Makarfi will be busy trying to hold on to his political base in Kaduna state, if Sambo allows him, and certainly the fight between the two will further divide the North West. It couldn’t have been difficult for Jonathan to agree to the Sambo recommendation! It serves his purpose, moreso as he must have been assured that Sambo will not try to upstage him in 2011.
Last Tuesday, Sambo reportedly went to the Presidential Villa with a “powerful delegation” from Kaduna state to pay homage to the new president. The vocabulary of common political discourse in Nigeria is cheap and stupid. Every delegation is “powerful,” every politician is either “honourable or distinguished,” and every idiot in the corridors of power is “a statesman.” By next week, we are likely to have a Vice President about whom the President may not be able to write up to two paragraphs, but who he is ready to accept because the Governors Forum that recommended him is such a powerful lobby group that will determine who gets the PDP Presidential flag for 2011. And Jonathan wants that. And the people don’t matter at all.
In the light of all this, it is clear that the so-called screening by the National Assembly of Namadi Sambo’s nomination is an organized charade. That is why nobody is explaining anything to the people or seeking their opinion. Close to a week ago, the House of Representatives had in fact told us that it was prepared to support anybody nominated by the President. Next Tuesday, the lawmakers will endorse Sambo and probably praise the President for his “wisdom.” But all the moves that Jonathan has made so far which give the impression that he is working towards his own full-term presidency in 2011 can only further heat up the polity, distract his administration, create enemies, and cause disaffection within the PDP. I saw an advert in the papers on Friday about a book titled “101 reasons why Goodluck Jonathan must run for president in 2011.” It looked like a voluminous book: Was that written in one week of the Jonathan Presidency? And the authors are planning to do a public launch (to collect people’s money certainly!) Why is Nigeria so unlucky?
This article was written by the now infamous Dr. Reuben Abati of The Guardian Newspapers in May 2010.