The Challenge of a Nigerian President

By IndepthAfrica
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Oct 5th, 2012
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Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan speaks shortly upon his arrival late on August 9, 2012 in Accra, where he came to attend to attend the funeral of Ghanian President John Atta Mills. The latter, who died on July 24, five weeks ahead of polls in which he was to seek re-election, is to be buried on August 10. Some 16 heads of state and other dignitaries are expected to attend. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
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By Ademola Adeyemo,Thisday

Except he is a preternatural creature and does the extra-ordinary, an average Nigerian President can hardly impress his people, writes Ademola Adeyemo

Having successfully waltzed through the challenges that piled up his ascension to the presidency in 2010, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, may have relished in the illusion that his name- Goodluck- would brave many more encumbrances that might be lying ahead and subsequently administer on the polity, his transformation agenda.

Thus, in his inaugural speech, Jonathan listed as key concern of his administration, war against corruption, stability in the power sector, security of lives and property and genuine electoral reforms. “We must grow the economy, create jobs, and generate enduring happiness for our people. I have great confidence in the ability of Nigerians to transform this country. The urgent task of my administration is to provide a suitable environment, for productive activities to flourish. I, therefore, call on the good people of Nigeria, to enlist as agents of this great transformation.”

Unfortunately, the best the President has had was the period before, during and after his election in April, 2011. His then fast selling campaign slogan- a breath of fresh air evaporated on January 1, 2012 when the President, forgetting that no ruler has ever lived on past glory, removed subsidy from petrol which in effect, hiked the pump price of petrol. The dust since raised by that imperative but ill-timed policy initiative is yet to settle.

Ever since, the ‘goodwill that heralded the Goodluck era’ had remained on the downward slope with contradictory socio-economic cum political manifestations. And evidently, the President presently faces a lot of challenges in his bid to strike a difference by implementing his transformation agenda.

For example, activities of the Boko Haram sect, epileptic power supply, growing corruption and the fuel subsidy palaver are some of the vices militating against the change the President supposedly seeks to effect.

And since the January 1 announcement that provoked the rage of the Nigerian people, despite spirited moves to rationalise the action, it has become tougher for the President to consciously impress the citizenry as they eagerly look forward to what surprise he has to give at every turn, especially when such a date is historical.

Side-by-side with the subsidy crisis is the consistent insurgence of Boko Haram which mindlessness had increased in the early part of the year. From the bombing of Police Headquarter to UN building and several other heinous attacks, the siege occasioned by this development was such that the reaction of the President had almost become standard- some kind of template with hurried change in dates and statistics. That the President even reportedly said it was probably the nation’s turn to have a whiff of terrorism had earned him knocks from various quarters of the system.

It soon became another object of mockery amongst the people who seemed stunned that every statement by the President or the Presidency as the case may be on each occasion was literally the same. It further raised questions and cast aspersions on his media team. The President, till now, is yet to impress his people with his approach to the Boko Haram menace and his monotonous messages, save for the slow but improved security measures.

Such notion, perhaps, moved him to have said: “If I were in your shoes at this moment, I probably would have reacted in the same manner; I urge all Nigerians to eschew bitterness and acrimony to live together in harmony and peace.”

Coming from this inhospitable disposition of the Nigerian people, the President, again on May 29, 2012, thought to surprise his people and probably make up for some of his inadequacies when he announced the renaming of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to Moshood Abiola University. It was a gesture designed to honour and immortalise the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, late Chief MKO Abiola, but turned out an exercise in error.

Not only did the move meet with a resounding no from across the academic and political environments, some of those in government were also said to have hinted that there was no sufficient consultation to that effect. The UNILAG issue is already in court as alumni of the school had declined the name change, notwithstanding the excuses put in defence of Abiola- a man believed to have invested heavily in education during his life time and particularly, UNILAG.

As if scripted, what followed was the planned introduction of N5,000 notes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was bent on seeing through the initiative especially that he claimed to have secured approval from the government. Government also came out and admitted to having given a go-ahead to the CBN. But Nigerians, particularly the National Assembly maintained stiff opposition to the initiative and ordered its reversion. After failed attempts to rationalise it, government bowed to increasing public pressure as well as sentiment and stopped the apex bank from going ahead.

To mark the nation’s 52nd Independence Anniversary, Nigerians- both home and away- had looked forward to something cracking, at least, since it had become a tradition that they get a gift on historic dates from their President. But the President jolted many when he said nothing categorical but merely raised the hope of the people and appealed for understanding. Jonathan, in his nationwide broadcast, admitted that despite the determined efforts of his administration to make life better for the people, the nation still faces many challenges that are hampering its progress.

While some analysts gave the anniversary broadcast a pass mark, some obviously disappointed Nigerians had made issues from it, saying the message was bland. They said it was clueless and failed to address the issues on ground.

But the President had a few words for such innate pessimists. “The way Nigerians challenge and abuse me, yes the president has enormous power but if you use that enormous power to some extent, you will look like a dictator. In a democratic setting, you want to create an environment where people can create their opinion and that is why people are allowed to talk freely and demonstrate. But are we doing so properly?” Jonathan asked at a recent function in Lagos.

Yet, his statements at the event did not go without sparking controversy. Because the President insinuated that the January 1 protest that trailed subsidy removal was sponsored by the opposition, he subsequently came under serious attacks, especially from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

However, contrary to beliefs by Jonathan that he was the most criticised President in the country, observers believe he is merely going through his phase as the incumbent. Being Nigerian President, analysts contend, is not a tea-party and that no Nigerian President, no matter how hard he tried, has ever impressed the Nigerian populace except in cases of comparative analysis where one is accorded an edge above the other. Thus, the challenge of being a Nigerian President, observers say, is to do your very best in the face of distractions occasioned by criticisms and knowing that your only consolation is posterity.

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