This is Another Epistle to President Jonathan By Dele Momodu
Your Excellency, please permit me to intrude into your busy schedule again today. After my last letter, I was so sure there would be no need to contact you so soon. But I was encouraged to return by two developments. The first was your response to a mid-term analysis of your achievements and shortcomings as well as that of your cabinet in the past two years of Transformation Agenda. The impression most people have is that Nigerian leaders don’t read newspapers. As a matter of fact, that belief was corroborated by President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his brutally frank manner when he declared he had no time for nosey journalists and could not be bothered to read what they wrote about him. I was therefore gladdened to read your own assessment of what the newspapers published as well as the eloquent defence you gave of some of your hardworking Ministers. This gave me hope that you might stumble on this letter and find time to digest its content.
The second reason I chose to write to you again was the passage I quoted from the Holy Bible. As a devout Christian, I’m sure you must have studied the Bible as I did when I was a young boy. I had gone beyond that to take a few elective courses in Bible Studies at the then University of Ife. I often wonder why our leaders have made life so difficult for others and ultimately for themselves despite being soaked in the holy books that abound everywhere in Nigeria. We have refused to obey simple instructions and admonitions from the God we claim to serve so piously. In one of our classes at Ife, I became fascinated by the letters of Paul to the Corinthians and in particular the passage where he told them that these things were written down to serve as examples. This persuaded me that I should keep writing even if you won’t read and, if you do, won’t heed my advice. I found the 12th verse even more germane, that the fact that a man is standing firm is no reason to think he cannot fall. History is replete with stories of monumental tragedies. We even got one of the greatest exclamations of all times from the Bible: “How are the mighty fallen!”
Sir, let me shoot straight and raise my points quickly. There is no better time to do it than now that you are in the upbeat mood of pounding the chest about what you consider your giant strides since you took over the reins of power in Nigeria. I read somewhere that you said you have surpassed your own expectation through your accomplishments. With due respect sir, either you were lied to by the feed-backs supplied by your foot-soldiers or you deliberately chose to be hyperbolic, except, of course, if we live on different planets. As a former teacher like you, I know how difficult a self-assessment can be. There is no student who would voluntarily fail himself in any examination. It is in the character of Man so see only the good in himself. But according to Ola Rotimi in his classic play Kurunmi: “It takes a monkey to see the ugliness in the buttocks of a fellow monkey.” The reason is simple and straightforward. No monkey can see its own buttocks. It is the same with human beings. Most leaders failed because they lived in denial. Most ensconced themselves within a gilded cage and got permanently imprisoned and deluded. These traditional pitfalls can only be side-tracked if you keep things real and stay practical.
From what you say, there is no doubt that you have tried your best these past three years, against all odds, and your very powerful enemies. I appreciate your gallant efforts in the power sector. I pray that your gargantuan investments would not end up in smoke and evaporate like others before you. Too many resources have been squandered without commensurate results in the past and it has become a curse on us. The more we spent the worse the situation became. It is a big shame that we are still on the fringe of 4,000 megawatts despite all the humongous spending of the PDP-led Federal Government in the past 14 years. But that is apparently not a big deal in our clime.
In the area of Agriculture, I believe you’ve done well and can afford to beat your chest that you appointed one of the best Ministers ever. I pray that your politicians will not put pressure on you to reverse some of the gains you’ve made so far.
I must note the effort of your Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. She appears to me like someone who has ideas but lacks the necessary perfect finish. She needs to be encouraged to do more than she’s doing at the moment. The Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos remains a veritable source of embarrassment to mankind. The outer departure hall is a glimpse of hell with no air-conditioning in place. The ceiling that used to wear green paint now has white coating forced onto it. This unholy marriage is already cracking up. The conveyor belts are still epileptic and comatose in some parts. It still takes forever to get bags out.
Our immigration process remains the worst with an agent of State Security Service and Nigerian Immigration squatting inside the same cubicle and screening the same passports. The elevators are archaic and useless. The toilets are as odoriferous as ever. Security is very porous at the entrance where you are greeted by officers who make brisk business through begging and/or intimidation. The car park is a nightmare even in daylight. I have taken my time because this is supposed to be one of your most advertised landmarks. Please, let no one deceive you that paradise has been attained. No, sir, it is still far from it, but the Minister holds a glimmer of hope if she works harder and eschews waste. I use a lot of airports in Africa and think they are far superior to what we have on offer. Nigeria deserves a more befitting international airport. I don’t need to talk about the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. It currently lacks the quality and status of an international airport regardless of the vaunted efforts at refurbishment of your charming Minister.
The Ministry of Works has done nothing to attract any rave review. In three years, nothing significant has happened. Until you break the supposed jinx of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as well as that of Benin-Ore, those roads would continue to attract public opprobrium to your government. Our country still parades the image of an 18th century nation. Our environment is majorly ugly with no determined vision on ground to obtain a transfiguration sooner than later. A country as big and important in the comity of nations as Nigeria should be visitor-friendly. A drive from Lagos airport to the Third Mainland Bridge is like a welcome drive to the jungle. There is nothing to suggest that you’ve just entered an oil-rich territory or what ought to be the most powerful Black nation on earth. Our cities are nothing short of the most expensive ghettos.
Nothing illustrates our cataclysmic decline than the state of our education. It is very tragic because you are a scholar and we had great expectations. Sir, you need to urgently declare another state of emergency in that sector. You need no further proof and impetus than the mass failure that has become a way of life in our schools. No country in the world ever became a developed nation without investing heavily in education. That investment is not determined by injection of cash alone but by marrying resources to clear vision and ideas. Our biggest problem is our attitude of throwing money around for politicians to grab instead of finding people of requisite and appropriate passion to drive the crusade.
It is impossible to assess your government sir without touching on the atrocious collapse of security and its attendant impact on lives and properties in Nigeria. Sadly, our country has joined the unenviable company of Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others where violent crimes and terrorism seem to reign supreme. These dastardly acts will not go away by mere wishful thinking or force of arms. The root cause is the debilitating unemployment rate and its associated grinding poverty that has become endemic in the land. We must find the will to exorcise this cruel demon. Our youths need more than words to unleash their potential. They require leaders who would talk and do without recourse to unnecessary rigmaroles. All we see and hear on television are big talkers but small doers. Sir, don’t be hoodwinked by smooth operators who crawl from government to government in Nigeria and lie through the teeth.
The biggest problem with Nigeria today is the horrendous cost of maintaining our democratic institutions. Ours must be the most expensive government in the world without justifiable reasons. This is why politics has become the most lucrative business around and a matter of life and death. You need to play a visible and determined role in reducing the cost of governance in our country. Only a foolish people would continue to borrow money to fund non-productive projects. The world is watching us. And I must commend the effort of your foreign ministry headed by a very seasoned career diplomat whose quiet mien has ended the rambunctious flamboyance of the past.
Mr President, my worst assessment of you is in respect of your politics. As a technocrat first before being a politician, you’ve made the mistake of dragging yourself into what you don’t need. A President is a father of the nation. You stop being a regional or factional leader at that outstanding height so you must carry everyone along. I expected you to do business with those men and women who can offer quality advice even if you won’t agree with them always. Many Nigerians feel scandalised that you’re surrounded by those incapable of offering superior logic or argument. They find it more convenient and worthwhile to attack any of your perceived enemies.
I was greatly disappointed that you missed the opportunity of promoting your statesmanship in the past week when you chose to support the rascality of some governors who blatantly refused to accept the results of an election in which 35 out of 36 of them voluntarily voted. If 35 people cannot conduct an election and agree on the results, I fear for the so-called democratic principles we are trying to nurture. I have heard all the arguments from different camps and my position is that your supporters among the Governors made the mistake of allowing that election take place when they should have pushed for a consensus at all costs. And since they failed ignominiously, you should have risen to the occasion by congratulating the winner, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, even if you personally find it galling to do so. Denying that you were never an interested party in the matter is undignifying to your lofty position as Head of State and an affront to the astute citizens you serve. This is because in any event, your handwriting and signature were too legible to be missed or mistaken by keen observers. Trying to play a Pontius Pilate at the late hour was unfortunate and disastrous. Even if Amaechi is indeed your enemy, you sadly failed to provide for a Plan B and negotiate a fallback position in the event that your team lost by opening a window for dialogue and reconciliation. It is still not too late to do so as Amaechi has extended an olive branch to you.
You can’t afford to continue this war of attrition. Engaging in a roforofo fight two years before the main battle is an unnecessary diversion and distraction from what you may still achieve before the whistle blows for the commencement of what will clearly be explosive! It would serve you well to backtrack because it has become impossible to win this war in the court of the people. The best thing is to hide behind the directive of Christ by forgiving your enemies seventy times seven times.
May God grant you the grace, Sir, to see the wisdom in this possibility.
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