Nigeria: What will President Jonathan be remembered for?
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies…something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die…It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. – Ray Bradbury
A WHILE ago, Dr. Reuben Abati, in his article titled, The Jonathan They Don’t Know, tried to reveal what he believed to be the true character of Mr. President amidst a behemoth of misconceptions. He painted the picture of a hardworking President who wakes up early and goes to bed late.
Howbeit, his effort at demystification and “re-imaging” of his much vilified principal would do nothing for the President’s cause if he –Jonathan – cannot assert himself and provide good governance. Unlike Abati, it is practically impossible for every Nigerian to dine at the President’s table. We, other citizens, may never really know whether the President eats wheat or cassava bread.
We cannot verify Abati’s claims as to whether the President fasts with Christians and Moslems; and the exposé on the President’s workout session in the gym may be the exclusive preserve of those in his kitchen cabinet. These avocations are immaterial to the purpose President Jonathan was elected. What really matters to us citizens is good governance and this is the only way he will leave a legacy to be remembered by.
Reading newspapers these days leaves me angry and frustrated at the same time. The last headline that got me pensive was the proposed N2.2 billion banquet hall in the Presidential Villa. The fact remains that a country that has over 60 million unemployed youths ought to have more sensible ways of spending money. Another headline reported the attack on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Headquarters in Abuja and on banks in Auchi, Edo State, by armed bandits.
I caught myself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this. This is not the fresh air we were promised.” Nigerians are closer to violence now than they had ever been since the Civil War. Week in, week out, we are inundated with countless reports of hapless events across the country: the Aluu massacre, Cynthia Osokogu murder, the Mubi massacre and the Jos killings are pointers to a disintegrating state and yet we carry on as though nothing is happening.
Nigeria is losing the anti-graft war; we have slipped further down in the corruption index put forward by Transparency International in the Jonathan era. The oil subsidy “cabal” alleged to have milked the country for personal gains are yet to be brought to justice. There is still no respite for those who lost their lives in the January protest. This is not what we signed up for. There cannot be lasting peace in a land where there is no justice.
This perceived aversion to punish crime will certainly promote criminality in future generations. How do we prevent youths from the destructive get-rich-quick path of crime they are certain to go if we do not punish those who have illegitimately amassed billons of petro-dollars? If we allow thieves “settle” by plea bargain, then have we not lost the war? Something definitive must be done to salvage the certain downward spiral we have embarked on, and the time to act is now.
Providing good governance ought to be the heart and soul of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. It is perhaps the only way he can assuage the seemingly implacable citizenry. If the President will be remembered for good, he must begin to think of a post-Jonathan era, when he would be venerated like Kwame Nkruma of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
This may be the only way to salvage his presidency. He must put an end to the needless politicking. He must consolidate on achievements of previous governments, no matter how small, and galvanize all resources (human and material) to ensure that Nigeria works. It is said that from whom much is given, much is expected. And so he should know that when millions of people trooped out to vote for him irrespective of ethnic, religious or party affiliation, they did so because they wanted change, and there is bound to be apprehension when it is perceived that these changes are not in sight.
President Jonathan must break free from the cocoon that has prevented him from taking affirmative action in key areas such as corruption, power and road infrastructure. If he fails, it would be his fault and he would be judged as a President who did not take advantage of the many opportunities availed him. History is rife with examples of true leaders who left legacies for others to remember them by. In the 1950s, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jnr. led civil rights movements, which helped to abolish segregation in America.
Mandela will forever be remembered for his tireless fight against apartheid – he is an African icon celebrated all over the world till date. Coming home to Nigerian politics, the mere mention of Biafra brings memories of Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, while June 12 will never be just another date on our calendars because of Chief Moshood Abiola. Pa Anthony Enahoro’s achievements resonate all through our history but he is most remembered for his contributions to our gaining independence from the British.
Ken Saro-Wiwa typifies the struggle in the Niger Delta, just as we equate the late President Umar Yar’Adua with amnesty and the rule of law. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, though usually maligned, will not be easily forgotten because of his efforts in paving way for the transformation and revolution in the telecommunications sector, confidence in the economy, which manifested in the boom in the capital market, and Nigeria exiting the Paris Club debt overhang.
Future generations may never see Gen. Mohammadu Buhari, but they will hear about the “War Against Indiscipline and Corruption.” Away from politics, when anyone mentions Microsoft, you think of Bill Gates, the same way Apple is synonymous with Steve Jobs. In social networking, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has taken interaction to a whole new level, and so on.
So then, one begins to wonder: what will President Jonathan be remembered for – wheat bread, having no shoes or the number of Facebook fans? What does the market woman think of him now? And what will Jonathan mean to our children in the next 50 years? What legacy does he hope to leave, is he even thinking along this line?
Some months ago, Nigeria attained a generation capacity of 4,400MW of electricity. Abati, in fact, regarded this as an “accomplishment” of the President. I consider 4,400MW an improvement and a step in the right direction and was particularly jubilant and excited at the progress. I would, however, have been slow to bring out the fireworks in celebration until the reform in the power sector was complete. In the past few weeks we have seen a decline in the generation capacity and electricity is actually worse compared to the pre-4,00MW era.
My candid advice is for the President to focus his attention on power. That way, even his most acerbic critic would agree he is performing. Keeping late hours at the office and waking up early are not achievements, transforming Nigeria into a tourist haven like Dubai is. Celebrating efforts above actual accomplishments would only promote mediocrity. The issues that touch the day-to-day lives of Nigerians such as road infrastructure, transportation and housing should feature on his priority list. If these favour the generality of the citizenry, then he would be remembered for good.
Abati was bitter over vituperations coming the way of the President, especially on social media, but he should know that no one would have sweet words for the President when they travel on Nigerian roads – it is a harrowingly sordid experience. I travelled from Delta State to Rivers State (Port Harcourt) recently through Ugheli, and it was impossible not to have ill feelings as we plunged from one pothole into the next. Even the road leading to Bayelsa, his home state, is in a deplorable condition. The entire journey took about 10 hours!
It is his job to ensure that Nigerians travel on safe roads from one part of the country to another. He should not stop at revoking the Bi-Courtney contract on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway but must also ensure that whoever is given the contract does the job properly. Too many sacred lives have been claimed on that road.
One may argue that President Jonathan inherited most of the problems currently facing the nation. He didn’t invent Boko Haram, nor did he start corruption, and he certainly cannot be blamed for the corruption and ineptitude of some past and present state governors. He may be excused for not being the cause but he cannot be extricated from the effects of these happenings. It was because of the corruption, poverty and poor infrastructure that he was voted in. What he does about these problems is what will define his presidency.
There were challenges to Barack Obama’s re-election bid because Americans didn’t believe he had delivered on all campaign promises, especially on the economy. But the Obama campaign stressed his achievements in his first term. Americans would not forget he was the one who gave the nod in the successful assassination of Osama Bin Laden. The passing of the bill ushering in Obamacare is another point of note that may very well resonate in the annals of American history.
Americans could entrust him with an extra term because they could see progress and sincerity of purpose even in the face of challenges. President Obama took the mantle of leadership at a tempestuous time – the economy was a huge challenge and a foreign policy disaster due to the war in Iraq had put America in bad light across the Middle East. Yet that didn’t deter him. His sincerity in tackling America’s challenge was palpable. His people could see and feel it.
Virtues such as sincerity, hard work and integrity are generic and not found only in America. If we perceive these from Jonathan, we will know and appreciate them. We all agree that Yar’Adua was sincere in his approach to the Niger Delta crisis. There are no half measures in this business. Once there is a compromise, then nothing can be achieved. Every action of government is now being met with suspicion and cynicism. The public distrust for those in elective office is at a record high.
The President promised to cut down the basic salaries of those he appointed government servants by 25 per cent but till date there are reports that this promise has not been implemented. This duplicitous disposition certainly does not help his cause. I strongly believe that most Nigerians want Jonathan to succeed. But we also recognise the path to success and we know we are not on that path.
We cannot succeed as a nation when our deficits keep rising and we keep borrowing. We cannot succeed as a nation when the No.1 citizen of the nation defends non-declaration of his assets with such inelegant passion. We cannot succeed as a nation if we do not punish corruption severely. We cannot succeed as a nation if innocent blood is continually spilled without justice being done.
Everything, they say, rises and falls on leadership. If the President thinks more about the legacy he is going to leave behind, then there may be hope for the country. I believe something in him wants to succeed. In fairness to Jonathan, his presidency is being defined more by the security threats posed by Boko Haram. Resources meant for infrastructure development have been used to beef up security around the country.
Nonetheless, he must rise up to the challenge and provide strong leadership in ensuring that Nigeria progresses in these trying times. Whether or not he becomes the change agent that would catapult Nigeria into her right place in Africa and the world, time, as they say, will tell.
• Otaigbe Ewoigbokhan, a pharmacist, wrote from Lagos
Source: The Guardian