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How do we evaluate a presidency?


Noel A Ihebuzor

balance 2

The presidency of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been the subject of numerous formative evaluations and appraisals, some formal, some not so formal, some by presidential spokespeople, others by members of the public and others by vocal persons from the thriving Naija blogger community. I suspect that we are going to see an increase in the number of such evaluations in the coming months and years and I share these thoughts to invite reflection and discussion as to what should constitute relevant criteria in evaluating a president. So, here are my thoughts on these criteria to kick the discussions off.

  • Political and Policy leadership – what is the quality of policy under his/her watch?  To what extent has he/she provided steer and direction to policy and strategic policy changes?  To what extent does he/she exercise influence on the other arms of government – the judiciary and the legislature? Does he/she respect the doctrine of separation of powers?  Is leadership achieved through consensus building or through bullying and arm twisting?
  • Policy implementation – to what extent are agreed national policies and development plans implemented? And what has been the impact of the implementation of these on such socio-economic indicators as GDP, U5MR, MMR, Nutrition, Literacy, Poverty and Gender Equity, for instance? How has the nation fared in globally accepted measures of development – say the HDI, for instance? Have there been improvements or deterioration?
  • Related to the above, to what extent have the “hard” (infrastructure) and soft (process and behaviour change) components of development interventions been effectively carried out under his/her watch? Here we could look at the following – energy generation and distribution, water supply and sanitation provision, education and literacy levels, primary health care provisions? Who and which social class have benefitted the most from these? How has the rural space opened up?  How effectively has domestic space for dialogue and information been opened up? How have personal freedoms been respected under his/her watch?
  • Economic and Fiscal policy – Is there a discernible and consistent economic policy in place? How is this applied? Does the fiscal policy in place promote growth? Is it pro-poor? How does the policy impact the domestic economy? How does it impact foreign direct investments (FDI)? How is inflation?
  • Internal stability – how stable is the polity under his/her watch? What measures are being taken to stabilize the polity? How is internal security? What efforts are made to unite the different ethnic and religious groups that make up the polity? How neutral/objective is the president in matters of ethnicity and religion especially as these as affect governance? What is the speed of his response to internal security challenges? What is the default response mode to such challenges? Force deployment? Dialogue? or Graduated escalation?
  • How are governance indicators, especially corruption, accountability and people participation/voice, under his/her watch? How has the nation fared on measures of corruption, say by Transparency International? Has the nation’s ranking changed positively or negatively? Are measures in place to check and limit corruption and ensure accountability? Are these measures applied with consistency?
  • Presidential vision – what type of vision does the president convey? Bold, imaginative, positive and long range? Remember the passage – “my people perish for lack of vision”
  • Gravitas, Character and Integrity – how does he/she fare here? Gravitas is difficult to measure objectivelyJ! For Character and integrity, is he/she honest, dependable, trustworthy, steadfast and reliable, for instance?
  • Effective executive control – To what extent does the president project executive control but not micro-management. Micro-management is a negative. So, here we are looking for that “being in charge” leadership that is yet brave, confident and large enough to allow the president to delegate to and empower his/her ministers.
  • Presidential appointments – to what extent does the president attract persons of high technical/professional competence and probity to his/her administration? To what extent are geographical spread, diversity and gender recognised in these appointments? How fair and equitable are these appointments? Is balance sought in the use of excellence and inclusiveness as drivers in presidential appointments?
  • Problem Solving ability/Crisis management – How are problems solved? How is crisis managed? Are multiple stakeholders recognised and engaged? Are several options and scenarios recognised? How calm, composed, calculated and dispassionate is the response to crisis?
  • Emotional intelligence and social skills – How sensitive and adaptable is he/she? How does he/she reach out to convince, persuade and carry people along? How measured and guarded are his utterances? How motivational are his speeches? Public speaking and presentation skills are important here but the public must be on the guard against demagogy and populism. Leadership involves taking the occasional hard decision and staying with it, in a spirit of tough love! As the Governor of Edo state said during the oil subsidy debate, and I paraphrase, – leadership is not about a beauty contest! Some decisions may make a leader unpopular but they may still be worth taking in the long term strategic interest of the polity.
  • Perception by the other levels of governance – state and LGA. How well does he/she relate to the other levels of government? How well is he/she perceived?
  • External perception and foreign standing – how are the president and the country perceived and respected under his/her watch? In our specific case,  the key external institutions would be countries in our immediate neighbourhood, the ECOWAS, the AU and the UN. How is our standing with these? Are we recognised as a country as possessing a sphere of influence and are we consulted on matters involving countries in that sphere of influence?

These are just my suggestions on possible criteria. There could be others. Certainly, all the criteria do not carry equal weight and I have not presented them in any order. But I think it is important to recognise criteria such as these in any judgment/evaluation of a president. Perhaps more work involving a cross section of stakeholders will be needed to further refine, streamline and validate these criteria, including coming up with agreed indicators and guidelines on how to apply them. It is also important that in our choice of indicators, we focus, not just on indicators of input and output, but also on indicators of process, outcomes and impacts. Finally, relevant baselines and benchmarks would also need to be agreed upon and used to enable us reach more informed judgments even as we apply the refined and finalised criteria.

To conclude, we need a tool that would enable us to come closer to more objective evaluations/appraisals of political post holders. Such a tool would save us from the errors of bias and lead us to greater and demonstrable balance in our judgments. This is especially needed in our judgments and comments on persons holding the highest elected post in the land. The post of president is a heavy one. Evaluations of the performance of holders of that post must be done with some seriousness and not with levity.


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

3 thoughts on “How do we evaluate a presidency?

  1. Totally agree with this. We need a performance evaluation grid. It is cheap talk to say the President has failed or is working; which grid was applied?. Thank you Dede Noel for this.


  2. Maazi, me think this framework should be adopted by the Ministry of National Planning, but since it has now been subsumed under the budget and finance ministry, I don’t know who will bell the cat. Your postulated position in 2013 is as valid as gold in 2021, almost a decade later, shall we tell the president???


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