My Grouse with President Jonathan By Simon Kolawole
You know the general election is around the corner when you see all sorts of groups springing up here and there, endorsing candidates here and there, and generally disturbing the public peace everywhere. Oh no, it is that time again. Yes, 2015 is here. The general election is a stone’s throw away. President Goodluck Jonathan obviously wants to remain in Aso Rock for four more years. Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar want to return to the State House. It’s a long and impressive list, with Kano Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal and Senator Bukola Saraki also featuring. Jonathan is the man they have to beat. I have never met him one on one.
I met him twice as a member of a group of editors in 2010 but I could not form a fairly realistic opinion about his personality. However, I am quite close to some of his aides and anytime we get arguing about the president’s actions, methods and tactics, it is not always pretty. I always come away thinking it is not the same person we are arguing about. Maybe I have a wrong impression about him. Many of those who have met or worked with the president normally describe him as humble, broadminded, calculative, well-meaning and sincere.
Those of us outside government are more cynical. There are certain things I do not dispute when I criticise Jonathan. I try to be fair-minded. I try to work with the facts. I will never dispute, for instance, that he has done tremendously well in the area of agriculture and I am not relying on his fans for my statistics. His policy of eliminating middlemen in the provision of subsidised fertilisers and seeds to farmers has increased food production significantly, in some instances tripling the income of farmers. When phones were to be given to about 6.2 million farmers some years ago, it was widely criticised and ridiculed. But it has become a potent instrument of eradicating decades of fertiliser subsidy fraud in Nigeria.
This holds massive implications for the economy. Food import bill, according to the official figures, has reduced from N1.4 trillion annually to about half of that figure. That should have a positive impact on forex demand, all things being equal. That also means a lot to the economy of farmers, who now spend less to produce more. They used to procure fertilisers and seeds at exorbitant prices and they would only do what they could afford in any case. Yield has consequently increased in rice, cotton and cassava farming, and I expect that in the years ahead we should enjoy the benefits in form of cheaper food. I expect farmers to start making sizeable forex from exports.
I also will not dispute many other facts. The railway system is being revived and modernised (I would prefer private sector management, though) and the rail now carries 5 million passengers annually, compared to one million some years ago. Nigerians are getting a better deal in the oil sector through the local content policy, which has seen them own about 400 crude transportation tankers, compared to just 10 per cent of that a few years ago. The creation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund is also a good development that tallies with my own idea of how petrodollars should be managed. I support the ongoing modernisation of our airports, especially if you remember that for nearly 30 years, no serious attempts were made to improve the infrastructure. Having said this, however, I am ready to publicly engage Jonathan’s supporters on a number of issues. I call these issues my “grouse” with Jonathan. They are nothing personal.
My biggest grouse against Jonathan is in the area of the antigraft war. Those who described President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government as very corrupt are now beating a retreat. They have handed the dubious trophy over to the Jonathan government. Somehow, I hear some people say Jonathan is not corrupt that it is his ministers that are corrupt but that he has failed to call them to order. Well, may I tell them that he appointed those ministers and if he can’t fire them and hand them to the police, neither can I. Whatever our criticism of Obasanjo is, he fought corruption at least symbolically. I know that there were many severe corrupt practices under him. I will not deny that.
The subsidy fraud did not end in his time. The waiver fraud went virtually unnoticed. NNPC was not a symbol of transparency. But, even if as a token, Obasanjo fired many ministers, including his bosom friend, Chief SM Afolabi, for corruption. He nullified the sale of government houses when he discovered that his wife had abused the process, in the process firing the Minister of Housing, Mrs Mobolaji Osomo, also his “bosom friend”. He fired his Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Tafa Baolgun, for corruption. Whether or not Obasanjo was sincere, these actions meant a lot to the anti-graft war.
If Jonathan can do half of that, I will not be here criticising him. My second grouse against Jonathan is the way he has handled Boko Haram. For a very long time, he kept saying terror was a new challenge to Nigeria. I agreed with him. He said we needed to develop a security architecture to fight the menace. I did not dispute that. But how long will it take us to prepare for the war that is virtually consuming Borno, Yobe and Adamawa? Will developing security architecture take a life time? I am baffled that the president does not seem to accept that something is not going well in the war against terror.
These guys are pushing back our soldiers all the time. It got so embarrassing some weeks ago that our soldiers had to embark on a “tactical manoeuvre” to Cameroon when they couldn’t handle the situation anymore. Like I said, I do not dispute Jonathan’s achievements. I know his administration has virtually eliminated polio, and guinea worm is now history. Almajiri and girlspecific schools are being built to tackle age-long socio-cultural issues. More universities have been established to address the lack of spaces for a growing youth population. We will look back in 10 years’ time and say thank God more universities were established. There is nothing bad I have to say about the commencement of work on the second Niger Bridge and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
I like what I am seeing on the Benin-Ore road, which cried for attention for over 10 years. I would say the power sector reform is progressing well, even if the results are still too dark to the naked eye. Elections are now more peaceful and credible. I can testify. But, Mr. President, without brutally tackling corruption and caging Boko Haram with everything at your disposal, the job is not yet done. We need to free our resources for development, and we need peace and security to attain that goal.
BRING BACK OUR SLOGAN
In December 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan launched his pet initiative, “Bring Back the Book”, to revive a reading culture among school children. It has also been launched nationwide. Thousands of books have been donated to libraries as part of the initiative. However, when the Chibok girls were kidnapped in April 2014, the slogan was twisted to “Bring Back Our Girls” in a campaign that caught global attention and overshadowed “Bring Back the Book”. Those who further twisted it to “Bring Back Our Goodluck” ahead of 2015 might have found it funny, but it’s poor humour. Thank God, it has been dropped. Tasteless.
I SHOOK THE SHERIFF
It was shocking, utterly incredible, to see President Goodluck Jonathan and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff smiling and shaking hands in Chad last week. Sheriff has been accused of sponsoring terror and is under investigation, according to the DSS (which has investigated and cleared former army chief, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, in record time). For whatever it’s worth, Jonathan shouldn’t be seen in public pumping hands with Sheriff until the former governor clears his name. Reports that Sheriff was on the president’s delegation were obviously not accurate, but the photo op was a PR victory for Sheriff and a minus for Jonathan. Embarrassing.
BORNO ELDERS AND SOLDIERS
How times change. A few years ago, a group called Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought wrote a stinging letter to President Jonathan demanding that soldiers, deployed to fight Boko Haram, be withdrawn from the state because they were committing untold atrocities. Today, the Borno elders are demanding more soldiers as the insurgents capture more towns and villages with eyes firmly fixed on taking over the state capital, Maiduguri, in pursuit of their Islamic Caliphate project. If the Federal Government had withdrawn the military back then, we certainly would have kissed Borno goodbye by now. We all underrated Boko Haram. Apparently.
BEWARE OF DOGS
A 67-year-old retired civil servant, Mr. Chukwujindu Aligbe, was recently arrested, detained in Keffi prison for two days and charged to court for breeding “dangerous animals” another name for dogs. His neighbour, a commissioner of police at the Force Headquarters, woke up one morning to hear the dogs barking and was so irritated that he asked the DPO to lock the man up. Aligbe has now been charged to a magistrate’s court in Abuja. His offence has an official name, according to the case file: “Criminal Conspiracy, Disturbance of Public Peace and Making Atmosphere Noxious to Health.” Wonderful.
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