By Paul Irikefe
President Goodluck Jonathan seems locked in a Sisyphean struggle with hard facts and the voices of well-meaning Nigerians. This has been an expected outcome from a president that promised so much but with so little to show for it, and whose better part in the presidency was his campaign and the inaugural address that came after.
He had ridden into office on a campaign of hope, and Nigerians have believed in it. In that inaugural address he had told an inspiring story of a 100-year-old man who had defiled odds to cast vote for hope; and another who had died – one Mr. Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba – out of the overwhelming joy his victory brought to him and the country. Nigerians from across the political spectrum had thought the moment had come. They believed in him when he proclaimed that “our country is at the threshold of a new era; an era that beckons for a new kind of leadership…. a leadership that reinvents government, to solve the everyday problems that confront the average Nigerian.”
In the end, the only true reinvention underway has been his person and his presidency, and Nigerians now know that hope is never a strategy. From the man with a humble beginning, to an acting president with good luck and immense promise, Jonathan has left a clear spiral of authoritarian turn. We were shell-shocked when he rebuffed calls to declare assets, saying he does not ‘give a damn’ to the same voices that brought him victory or whether his attitude was in clear violation of the Constitution and our bilateral agreement with the United States in the fight against corruption.
Then he had a follow-up with several further breaches of Nigeria’s bilateral agreements—Lufthansa, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, and others. Goodluck and his government have no use of foreign direct investment (FDI) or a set of behaviors that conform to international best practices. He unwittingly served the world a notice, and the world has a long memory.
Nigerians know that they have a nation with deep economic and political crises that continue to hobble progress and unity, an economy that is unproductive, a growth that is jobless, and a very rich country with very poor people.
They also know that what is needed is a leadership deeply committed to change, that will move with the ‘momentum of a revolution’ aware of the immense power vested in Nigerian-style presidency. Even the president had spoken to that expectation on declaring his candidacy: “The past four months that I have served as President of Nigeria have opened my eyes to the vast potentials of this office as a potent instrument for the transformation of our country,” he told a cheering crowd.
But now he tells everyone how impotent the No. 1 office is, and how intractable the infrastructural and social problems are. Further, they know they need a president in Aso Rock who will fight vested interests, but what we have seen is a president too willing to compromise, and was even willing to sacrifice a change agent, the former minister of power, Prof. Bart Njaji. We know we need a president who will sound a different drumbeat of governance and political order; what we have seen is a tone-deaf occupant of Aso Rock.
In the absence of bold and visionary leadership, the president has made up the vacuum with a ‘soft bigotry of low expectation.’ Taking a page from the military era, he has embarked on a systemic credibility stunt. For example, during the burial ceremony of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), late Gen. Andrew Azazi, he was quoted to have said that people die more on good roads than on bad roads, when the presiding prelate challenged him to fix the infrastructural decay of the country, especially the East-West road; during the Independence Day anniversary speech, he had vaunted about Nigeria’s status in the ranking of Transparency International as the most improved country in the world, second only to the U.S. in the fight against corruption, only to be rebuffed by that same institution; and finally in his midterm report, he tells a nation traumatized by decades of misrule and bad governance, whose teeming population live in absolute and dynastic poverty, that his government and the various agencies under him have done very well.
So cocksure and emboldened by fictitious figures of progress, he challenged his critics – anybody – who fails to see the optical illusion to develop his marking schemes and mark them!
According to Chinua Achebe, one of the marks of underdevelopment is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately this is the only world that Jonathan has convinced himself is workable and safe, both for his 2015 political ambition and for building a coalition that can realize that ambition. He backed a man at the helm of his party who assured the nation of being anxious to doing things he knows best come election time, a former Inspector General of Police who had earned himself ‘Mr. fix it’ as a moniker by bending rules and playing by dangerous field craft.
He granted state pardon to his clansman who stole his state blind, and ran amok with the nation’s image abroad. He equally convinced himself that Salisu Buhari, the former speaker of the House of Representatives who was indicted for certificate forgery in 1999 had a magic wand that is desperately needed at the governing board of one of Nigeria’s premier University, and poster child of its excellence, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Individuals and institutions that refuse to buy into this ‘project’ and help burnish the image of the presidency as a necessary tool for it can hardly be forgiven. They are the Amaechis, the Oshiomoles – whose aircrafts were grounded in controversial circumstances, and in the case of the former, whose house of assembly as been left in chaos and violence. They are also the party men and women who must be made to circumscribe friendship and cooperation within the circumference of party space.
In the end, it is a government completely in reverse gear. As Olusegun Adeniyi made clear in his narrative of Yar’Ardua government and its involvement with the Ibori’s affair in Power, Politics and Death, we can be sure that as every principle is submerged under 2015 and vested interests step in to deliver the presidency to Goodluck, even if he wins the election and takes power he would emerge totally and morally compromised to fight the very forces that broke every rule to deliver on their promises.
The only real looser would be ordinary Nigerians who are shocked to see that in their country history never ceases to repeat itself, then as a tragedy, now as a farce.
Rev. Fr. Paul Irikefe is the Assistant Cathedral Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Warri.
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