Why President Jonathan Should Be Supported By Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
“An empty sack will not stand upright.”
It now appears that the nation has missed the real import of the joint statement released two weeks ago by former Presidents Obasanjo and Babangida. In the period since the statement was released, it has been subjected to a deserving torrent of analyses, critical reviews, condemnations and commendations, which is to be expected. After all, this was a joint statement from two of the prime architects of the state of our current political framework, in a context which strongly argues that the present administration is more a victim of our inherited limitations than their designers. Neither President Jonathan nor his legion of spokespersons has even bothered to respond to the statement which draws attention to serious threats to the security of the nation, and widespread doubts over its ability to survive them. But we have heard thundering repudiations against calls for the President to resign, or even, the most laughable of all, against alleged calls by a Muslim group that he becomes a Muslim or face unending violent challenge.
The statement by two former Presidents who are walking encyclopedias on crisis management and mismanagement was a warning that the nation is tottering on the brink, and citizens need to step back and chart a course away from a future which promises nothing but pain and privation. The statement said nothing about the administration’s role in the perilous state of our security situation, a political environment which progressively polarizes the nation, and an economic management style which breeds unprecedented waste and corruption. Perhaps the two elders felt it was not their place to join the bandwagon of critics which President Jonathan seems to expand by the day. Or perhaps they have offered all the advise they can in private, and have decided to absolve themselves of blame for watching the nation burn and disintegrate in silence. So they turn on citizens, victims of a very weak leadership, and appeal to them to raise their levels of patriotism and commitment to the future of the nation.
Alhaji Ahmed Joda also raised his voice, but he went further to make specific demands on President Jonathan. In addition to convening a Constituent Assembly to knock together another constitution which will more appropriately reflect the concerns and challenges of contemporary realities, he asks Jonathan to fight corruption, eliminate waste, improve the quality of governance, address security issues more vigorously, improve the electoral process before 2015, and renounce any intention to run as President again.
Alhaji Joda acknowledges that President Jonathan’s administration has a major role to play in the manner our current challenges are resolved; and his person and political ambition are central to the resolution of these challenges in the long term. Again, the administration has not uttered a word, not even the customary condemnation of criticisms, in response to Alhaji Joda’s reinforcement of the two former leaders’ plea. Instead, it is digging in on a now familiar strategy of ignoring problems, or informing the nation that they do not exist; and if they do, they were created by past administrations, or are products of a northern-based insurgency; or are well on their way to being solved.
It is now imperative that the nation reassesses its approach to the many limitations of this administration. Critics of the administration need to re-evaluate their strategies, and in particular, ask whether criticisms alone can influence the way President Jonathan governs this nation. The simple truth is that the Jonathan administration is being swamped by the challenges it faces, and its capacity to deal with them is woefully inadequate. An attitude which suggests to him that he is doing well, but is not being appreciated by millions of citizens will reinforce a mindset which encourages more of the same. Similarly, critics who think pointing at massive deficits in competence, integrity and vision will be sufficient to raise the bar, or create a critical mass of hostility and resistance in the country are just as much a liability as the administration is to Nigerians.
What the nation needs is a strong push from politicians, civil society, professional groups, organized labour and youth to create a massive momentum towards real change, which will assist this administration with ideas, strategies, options and support to address the most critical of its weaknesses. Instead of accusing Jonathan of indifference towards a nation gradually falling apart, a political summit should be convened by elder statesmen, active and retired politicians, academia and civil society to attempt to rebuild bridges which have been crumbling since 2009. The summit should address the manifest challenges from the effects of JASLIWAJ (Boko Haram) phenomenon, the perilous state of the political economy of much of the north, the incipient challenges to the unity of the country from the south-south, and the issues relating to the clamour for a Constitutional Conference. Former Heads of State and other elders can spearhead this. It will be in the interest of President Jonathan and his administration and his party to work with and in the summit. If he chooses to ignore it, it should still go ahead, and let Nigerians know what it sees and advises.
Instead of accusing Jonathan of being clueless regarding the JASLIWAJ (Boko Haram) insurgency, the Muslim leadership should engage itself in a search over what could possibly have bred this insurgency; what its place is in mainstream Islamic doctrines; and what needs to be done to engage it by Muslims, non-Muslims and the Nigerians State. This challenge can be taken up by a few respected ulama, leaders and groups, but it must have sufficient scope and integrity to guide the Muslim community and the Nigerian state adequately in terms of how to relate to it.
Instead of locking ourselves up against resurging kidnapping, violent crimes, bombs and bullets, our senior retired heads of police and other security agencies should put heads together to examine the basic weaknesses of our law and order institutions. Retired members of the judiciary should examine why our judicial system is too weak to contain massive assaults on its integrity. We need expert and experienced hands to tell us how to re-invent our police, and provide answers to the many questions we ask over federal and state police, and the near-irrelevance of the police as a tool against disorder and crime. Retired Chief Justices can initiate this on their own. If the administration wants to be part of it, fine. If not, let them tell Nigerians what they think is wrong, and what can be done about it.
Instead of lamenting the theft of our nation by pervasive and politically-entrenched corruption, civil society, labour, professional groups and other patriotic citizens should work under a C.S.O umbrella to examine the reasons why corruption has enten so deeply into our value systems and institutions, and what steps the administration should take to begin to roll it back. If the administration wants to be part of this very important work, fine. If not, Nigerians should be told what, in specific terms, needs to be done to deal with current cases of corruption being investigated or being prosecuted, what needs to be done to dilute the intimate linkages between politics and corruption, and what needs to be done in the long term to reduce it to the barest minimum.
Instead of lamenting the sorry state of our economy, its poor management and the possibility that we will be up to our necks in debt once again, economic and business interests should facilitate a thorough soul-search for what is wrong with the way we manage our economy. We need answers to the impact of the size of government on the economy; to our perennial failure to execute our budgets as planned; to the persistence of an enclave economy which is dangerously vulnerable to external stimuli; to decaying and inadequate infrastructure which cannot support a growing economy; and to the search for vision and discipline in pursuit of long-term economic goals.
Our political parties should raise a think tank to identify the weaknesses of our electoral system, and how it can be plugged. Other Nigerians with insights, expertise or experience, as well as C.S.Os and professional groups should be involved in providing a blueprint for a thorough overhaul of our electoral system between now and 2015.
It will be very dangerous to continue to leave the problems of Nigeria on the doorsteps of this administration. The administration is likely to continue to open the door, see the problems, and walk back in locking the door, and preferring to believe it did not see what it saw. It is time for patriots, leaders and those who know about our problems to step up. This is not a favour to President Jonathan, and it should not matter that he may choose to ignore outcomes of some of these activities. This is a service to the fatherland, and there may be no other opportunities to salvage our nation. Those who are content with opportunistic and sterile opposition lose the opportunity to insist that identified viable and practical options must be pursued by the administration. A groundswell of demand for purposeful and strong leadership, strategies and options will provide the necessary pressure for the President to act more decisively.
President Jonathan needs help to govern. Those who love this nation should help him with ideas, suggestions and inputs. The best guarantee that this nation can survive its short term challenges lies in strengthening Jonathan’s capacity to deal with them. We have no future as a united, secure and prosperous nation unless we fix our current challenges. President Jonathan is one of them. He must not be isolated and merely bombarded with criticisms so long as he is leading us. Those who want him to go in 2015 may consider the thought that it will be easier for him not to run again in 2015 if he makes a fairly good job of his current mandate, than if he messes it up. Rulers who mess up big time tend to want to stay on forever, lest they are called to account.
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