For Jonathan, I’m Embarrassed By Eniola Bello
Last week, three presidential statements and decisions, which were topical in the media, when taken together, typify the character of the Jonathan administration and its intelligence, or lack of it. The first was President Goodluck Jonathan’s May Day address at Eagle Square, Abuja. “The challenge of the country”, Dr. Jonathan told workers with flourish, perhaps on the authority of another doctoral dissertation, “is not poverty, but redistribution of wealth”. His evidence? Nigerians are the most travelled people. The nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is over half a trillion dollars. The economy is growing at almost 7 per cent. Aliko Dangote is one of the 25 richest people in the world. Nigeria is among the top 10 countries of private jet owners. Nigerians do not appreciate gifts of small amount of money.
The second was a presidential order closing down public offices and schools in Abuja for three days this week. And reason for the closure? Nigeria is hosting the World Economic Forum (WEF) Africa from today till Friday. For those three days, all public offices and schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are directed to remain closed for what the government expects will “ensure free flow of traffic in the city centre” during the WEF. And the last was the setting up of a presidential committee to join the rescue efforts of the female high school students abducted in Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents. The committee was charged to, among others, establish the actual number and identities of the girls kidnapped; ascertain how many of them have returned; and articulate a multi-stakeholder action for their rescue.
An examination of these issues will give an insight into why Nigeria has been bleeding on many fronts in the last five years Jonathan has been at the helm of affairs. True, Nigeria cannot be said to be poor with the country’s abundant human and material resources. True, the country’s wealth is concentrated in very few hands. However, the reasons Jonathan articulated in his dissertation, to explain away why he thinks the challenge of the country is not poverty, beggar belief. I’m embarrassed that my country’s president, with all the information available to him and the team of economic advisers at his beck and call, would analyse the pervading poverty of the generality of the people in relation to the nation’s wealth in such a simplistic manner. He says Nigerians are the most travelled people.
Is that an indication of how rich we are? I do not think so. In rich countries, their citizens travel either to seal multi-billion dollar businesses or to enjoy vacation at exotic resorts. Majority of Nigerian travellers are traders and those “checking out” in search of greener pastures as well as public officials who feed fat on the state. Rather than celebrate Nigerians as the most travelled people, a serious government ought to interrogate the who and why and how of this travelling enterprise.
Is the GDP of half a trillion dollars for a nation of 170 million people enough to say Nigeria is not poor? Could such a country whose annual budget is not as big as the budget of New York Fire Service said to be rich? What is the impact of the 7 per cent growth in the economy on the people? Citizens of some other countries whose economies grow at 2-3 per cent live a better quality of life in having uninterrupted electricity supply, in their children getting free and compulsory education, in accessing potable water in their houses and places of work, in receiving basic health facilities, and in living in a secure and almost crime-free environment. Rich countries have scores and hundreds of mega businesses of the Dangote type, creating employment opportunities and adding value to the economy.
Shouldn’t the president be scandalised that Nigeria is among the top 10 countries that have owners of private jets? How can ownership of private jets in a non-industrial economy like Nigeria’s be an indication of the nation’s wealth? Who are these jet owners? Public officials and politically exposed persons. Private sector operators who have turned rent-seeking to an art. Some Pentecostal pastors who merchandise miracles and prosperity. Indeed, the sharp increase in the membership of private jet owners is a development of the last three years when there has been huge theft of the nation’s revenue in the name of fuel subsidy, amongst other scandals that have dogged the Jonathan administration.
A serious government ought to be worried about how a consumerist economy like ours is able to produce so many private jet owners. A thinking government should, rather than celebrate this phenomenon, initiate policies that would force the owners of private jets and other extra luxury items to explain the source of their wealth. Do you blame Nigerians for not appreciating gifts of small amount of money when all they read about is scandal after scandal of billions of dollars stolen or unaccounted for? Should this lack of appreciation be a thing of pride for our president? Should it be an issue worthy enough to justify his the-nation-is-not-poor theory?
The presidential directive to close public offices and schools for the three days Nigeria would be hosting the WEF Africa rankles. The excuse – free flow of traffic in the city centre – is hare-brained. This government has scored a first in being the host nation of WEF, or any meeting of global leaders for that matter, to close public offices and schools to ensure free flow of traffic. And it is not an enviable record.
A serious government would worry about the cost of such closure to the socio-economic activities of the city, and for a federal capital, the nation. It simply defies logic. Everybody knows the unstated reason for this desperate decision may not be unconnected with Boko Haram activities, particularly the recent suicide bombings in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja. But then, the government may have sent an unintended message – that it cannot guarantee the security of expected participants at the Forum, despite repeated vows to the contrary. The closure of schools in particular, in a city where we have the seat of government, is, in a way, a moral victory for Boko Haram, an organisation whose campaign is built on the foundation that “Western education is sin”.
Even most pathetic is the presidential committee on the abduction of the Chibok girls. Immediately after the kidnap of over 200 female students became public knowledge, there were no presidential declarations of outrage; no rousing speech – the sort of inspiring statement and forceful directive that would have galvanised the leadership of the security services to immediately mobilise whatever was required in material and human resources to recover the girls from their abductors within 48 hours. Nothing.
Only the usual bland and tepid presidential condemnations released after every atrocity of Boko Haram; presidential statements that have become clichés and which nobody takes seriously. Jonathan was not even capable of something symbolic, such as visiting or receiving the mothers of the abducted girls, some of who have been in Abuja in the last one week participating in public protests. It took more than two weeks after the girls’ kidnap and growing pressures arising from local and international protests before the administration could be roused to action.
And what did Jonathan do? He set up a presidential committee charged with the task of sourcing for information one would expect our security agencies to already have. It would be strange, for instance, if the police and the DSS do not know the number and identities of the victims, information that could be readily sourced from the school authorities and the examination body, WAEC. That is one term of reference of the presidential committee. It would be strange still if the same security services do no have the required information on the number of the girls who had escaped and returned home! That is another term of reference of the presidential committee.
And what does the government mean when it asked the committee to “articulate a multi-stakeholder response for their rescue”? What is there to articulate? Aren’t there institutions of state funded and with structures in place to respond to crisis situations? Do the DSS, police, army and air force not have the wherewithal to handle the rescue? How about the National Emergency Management Agency, Ministry of Health, Borno State Government House, religious and social welfare institutions for the post-rescue mop up? Are all these institutions not multi-stakeholder enough? Or is the committee, just like other presidential committees of the Jonathan administration, simply formed to simulate motion while expecting no movement? Is it one of those presidential decisions to create the impression something was being done until another scandal is dug up to divert our attention?
The Economist of London aptly captures the incompetence of the Jonathan administration in the handling of the abducted girls. In an article entitled, “Where is the government?” and published on May 2, the magazine wrote,” The reaction of the Nigerian government to the abduction of more than 200 school girls by suspected Islamic militants began with confusion and has become increasingly shambolic, creating chaos that in other countries would see senior heads roll.”
What the editors of The Economist may not know is that in Jonathan’s peculiar style of statecraft, heads don’t roll for incompetence. Ministers and presidential aides are not fired for inaction and monumental mistakes. Indeed Jonathan protects his aides irrespective of how their decisions or indecisions impact negatively on his government, nay the nation. That is why the president would blame critics for mistaking mere stealing by government officials for corruption.
At this time of critical national crisis, I’m embarrassed Nigeria is saddled with a president who does not inspire confidence, who is indecisive, who blabs incoherently where he should be authoritative and assertive, and who cannot hold his ministers accountable for serious misdemeanor. I’m embarrassed for this president every time he allows his wife to ridicule his government by dabbling into affairs of state. Her intervention in the Chibok affair is so comical, yet so tragic for our nation.
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