An epithet indolently and disrespectfully bandied about in contemporary discourse on Nigerian affairs centers on the notion that President Jonathan is 'clueless'. On the Nigerian Village Square (NVS), a supposed repository of some of the finest thinkers, one seeks to engage in dialogue on national issues but attempts at discourse very quickly become mired in maudlin mutterings as those who make that statement attempt, unsuccessfully, to swamp those they perceive to be 'beneficiaries' of the present administration with sobriquets. Rather than persist in pointless polemics, one sought an objective basis for assessing the president’s performance on the first anniversary of his ascension to Nigeria’s presidency and was reminded of a thread on the NVS where members had contributed THEIR ideas and suggestions to the then incoming president.
NVS Members Priorities
A poll summarized the following headings as indicative of NVS members' priorities in the approximate proportions below and these form the basis for assessment and discussion:
|3.||30%||Revitalize our Educational System|
|4.||21%||Lay Groundwork for the future|
|7.||16%||Come to Terms with the past|
|8.||05%||Foreign Policy & Nigerians Abroad|
|9.||05%||Interaction with the Public|
Electricity/Energy Issues: This was an 80% priority item to NVS members and, significantly, one of President Jonathan's first actions was to launch the Electricity Road Map whose details can easily be accessed online providing the searcher is actually interested in facts and not foppery. This could indicate that the president shares the priorities purportedly advanced by those who call him ‘clueless’. He has gone as far as sending soldiers into electricity installations in attempting to move that sector forward from merely awarding contracts for procuring generation equipment to building an interconnected infrastructure which is hoped to advance the power sector via foreign direct investment and in a way that will prevent the efforts from being reversed in the future. This is akin to what has happened in the telecommunications sector where it would be very difficult to reverse Nigeria to the era of 'telephones are only for the rich'. With alignment on an 80% share of NVS members priorities, what therefore accounts for commentators being so chronically misguided and calling the president clueless?
Justice/ Security Issues: The president appears to be maintaining a scrupulous firewall between the executive, the judiciary and the legislature and therefore justice remains the dominant preserve of the Judiciary. The separation of powers and authorities even led to public disagreements between the executive and legislature about budgeting processes and the passage of bills just before Democracy day 2012. Yet, due to a learned, historical and unhealthy addiction to the ‘halcyon days’ of ‘automatic effect’ and ‘immediate alacrity’, some people wail and complain incessantly and imprudently about the executive branch following 'due process' in many national issues. One can only imagine what would have happened in the fuel subsidy payment situation if the Attorney General had gone ahead to prosecute the case on the schedule of the commentators without proper investigation. It would have been interesting to see Farouk Lawan testifying on behalf of both the prosecution and the defence.
A full 38% of the 2012 budget is dedicated to Security amidst a simmering conflict that ‘coincided’ with President Jonathan’s victory in an election that, while imperfect, was seen to be largely free, fair and broadly representational of the electorate’s wishes. In response to the mayhem primarily occurring in certain areas of Northern Nigeria, certain commentators on and away from NVS might advocate that the president satisfies their blood lust. They recommend indiscriminate conversion of some of those regions into ‘parking lots’, and killing their innocent Nigerian brethren by the thousand, akin to the actions of at least one of his predecessors. Curiously, they voice these ‘powerful’, ‘progressive’ opinions while viewing events from afar and maintaining the option to cower in the ephemeral safety of their foreign haunts. Fortunately, President Jonathan is not inspired by that flavor of idiocy. Boko Haram and their backers - the instigators of the murders and mayhem - hardly receives the type of caustic criticism reserved for the president and interestingly, even when news of government attacks, killing or capture of Boko Haram members emerges, it is largely discountenanced by the ‘professional’ critics and the media who choose, instead, to embrace and uphold the actions of the murderous sect as their evidence of the president’s purported ‘cluelessness’. Again, what gives?
Educational System: 30% of responders on NVS urged the president to revitalize the educational system. When considered side by side with many other competing interests in the 2012 budget, the education sector had the second highest priority, attracting 16% of the total budget. In recognition of the challenge presented by a large uneducated population of youths, seemingly doomed to a childhood of hunger and adulthood of hopelessness, the president has inaugurated ‘almajiri’ schools to address a long-standing problem, baked into segments of Nigerian society far in excess of the 50-odd years of Nigerian ‘independence’. When the president mentioned facts that allude to the long-standing problems of Nigeria, a firestorm of thoughtless criticism erupted wherein he was called everything but a 'child of God'. His attempt to provide a certain segment of the population with alternatives for the future can be likened to the single step that apocryphally begins every thousand mile journey.
Groundwork for the future: 21% of NVS responders expected Nigeria’s economy to be diversified from the oil & gas mono-culture. From available news sources, one of the president’s priorities is improving employment via the agricultural sector. He has encouraged efforts by the agriculture minister to rationalize the entire agriculture value chain and results are already emerging. Even within the oil/gas sector, he in intent on increasing local content involvement. Combined with improvements in energy supply and distribution, educational improvements etc. hope begins to emerge for the future. The health sector has also received attention in terms of actionable policies that are aimed at improving the indices of human existence in Nigeria. However, he is but a single individual and no one person can move Nigeria from where it is to where it needs to be. The responsibility of the populace is to contribute beneficial ideas and actions to the collective rather than reflexive criticisms, bile and bitterness.
The Economy: This sector attracted the focus of merely18% of NVS respondents, a surprisingly low number in my view, considering that some of them are currently ensconced in ‘greener pastures’ in other climes, many for economic reasons. Economies, by their very nature are highly individual but interdependent, as the contemporary Euro crises and even American economies illustrate. Even the ‘Asian giants’ increasingly glance over their shoulders while reassessing their economic fundamentals. With that in mind and considering Nigeria’s historical economic dysfunction, the president chose not to coast through his presidency and push the problem of unsustainable budgetary structures to the next leader. Although he stood to gain nothing politically, he had the courage to take on a rent-seeking ‘subsidy payment’ ecosystem and that alone should have merited nothing but the highest praise.
What emerged instead? Those who should have commended him were instead assembled in bogus groups, under the guise of ‘occupying Nigeria’ and they would have been successful if indeed the expanse and entireity of Nigeria and the diversity of her many peoples could be equated to a small landscaped triangular depression adjacent to a landfill on the outskirts of Lagos. There, for a series of ‘free’ concerts, obsolete and embittered personalities sought to reinvigorate their flagging notoriety and in their myopia, embraced the folly of the national assembly ‘hurrying’ to convene on a Sunday without passing a SINGLE resolution to reduce THEIR obscene emoluments. Subsequently, the president has effected reductions of certain categories of salaries that are under his direct authority by 25%. Again, the thousand mile journey can be referenced and the question of just who is ‘clueless’ revisited.
When a single item (oil) is responsible for about 90% of a nation’s economic activity, it may be inferred that it is an inspiration for nearly 100% of the possible corruption therein. It emerged that this corruption was routinely enacted in the form of false invoicing and payments for petroleum products never imported. Since the drama of January 2012, we have learned that the 59-odd million liters of fuel purportedly consumed daily in Nigeria has fallen to about 35 million liters – surely not a mere coincidence, especially when viewed against the finance ministry’s determination to ‘scrutinize’ the payment regime closely. Threats abound of ‘fuel shortages’ and in a dynamic economy there may yet be shortages, but sanity appears to be flirting with that sector. It is early days yet but in hindsight, and with the emergence of the scandal involving Femi Otedola and Farouk Lawan, few sentient beings now object to the concept of rationalizing the petroleum industry’s downstream sector.
The government establishes, communicates and works towards economic targets of reducing recurrent expenditure and when the news recently emerged that Nigeria’s external reserves had attained a 21 month high, I pondered how this could be, under a ‘clueless’ president. Even the perception of daily corruption (induced by the soul-searing exchange of small change between citizens and the police) has reduced after the Inspector General (appointed by this president) instituted changes to the road block policy. Still ‘clueless’?
The issues of Open Governance, Coming to terms with the past, Foreign policy & Nigerians Abroad, and Interaction with the public, attracted 16%, 16%, 5% and 5% of NVS respondents attention respectively. We now know the names of companies and the amounts being paid as fuel ‘subsidy’. Unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. We also know that the refineries have been handed back to their original makers for maintenance rather than to a Turn Around Maintenance ‘cabal’ that refused to fix them. It is possible to point to the Freedom of Information Bill, the honoring of Ojukwu at his burial, the honoring of Abiola after 19 years, the government’s reaction to South Africa over yellow fever vaccine mass deportations, the evacuation of Nigerian citizens in Ivory Coast and Libya under threat from conflict, the Nigeria/UK airline landing slot saga, the foreign airline pricing discrepancies, the new visa regime to encourage foreign direct investment and many ministerial briefings and addresses as indicators of meaningful motion in these various directions. The government stopped awarding contracts at the Federal Executive Council without proper design and documentation in place to avoid the specter of project cost inflation and/or project abandonment. Many other items exist to be addressed in the nation but governance, worldwide, is a matter of establishing and pursuing priorities. This means that a person elected into office possesses the prerogative of pursuing items they deem to be priorities during their term of office. I imagine we each will benefit from that presumption of prioritizing if or when we attain positions of authority.
Can every index of national progress be improved? The answer to that question is a resounding YES, and longsuffering Nigerians have a right to expect speedy progress on all indices. However, on reflection, one question that emerges is exactly what responsibility individual Nigerians ascribe to THEMSELVES in advancing the development indices of the country? How many have actually applied for actionable information using the Freedom of Information Act? Or would that seem too much like actual WORK? Has the psyche of the average Nigerian been so debased over time by a succession of violent, visionless and vacuous ‘leaders’ that he is incapable of independent thought and assessment? Is it impossible for many to actually observe what is going on in real time in the country and analyze it for themselves? Is it impractical to sit up, shut out the echo chamber that passes for ‘common knowledge’ and engage in actions that actually produce results and not relentless recrimination? Or is it just easier to exert zero intellectual effort, receive and slothfully consume the dregs that emerge from bitter, twitter ‘activists’ and online ‘reporters’?
When will the ‘social media influencers’ inform and direct their ‘followers’ ire and attention to those who actually affect them on a daily basis? People like their garbage collectors and their dog catchers? Their ward chairmen, state assembly members, local government chairmen, representatives and senators in the national assembly and their governors? Is it benign intellectual indolence that confines social media ‘mavens’ to pathetic, personality-based, pot shots at the president or is it craven cowardice and a desire to billow in the backwaters of zero personal responsibility? Are they addicted to the cheap allure of high-fives from their doting followers that result from their ineffective, lowest denominator, crowd-pleasing screeds? It is no longer enough to say ‘they’ said so-and-so. Who is ‘they’ and how or why should they know more than you or me? With the surfeit of information available in a Google-enabled world, there is simply no excuse for so many people to be willfully ignorant and depend on ‘others’ opinions to arrive at their own conclusions. Personal responsibility for obtaining, assessing and analyzing information for oneself is a fundamental human requirement of the 21st century.
Increasingly, many commentators in the public domain appear to base their contributions, opinions and attribution of the term 'clueless' to President Jonathan not on easily available and verifiable facts or analysis but on misplaced sentiments du jour. While entitled to their opinions they should realize that national progress will not emerge from the corrosive contents of their hearts but from the creative output of their pens and keyboards. A venerable African proverb reminds each person pointing a finger of responsibility at someone else that at least four are pointing back at them. When President Jonathan’s priorities and performance after year one of four are assessed side by side with items that some NVS members themselves declared to be their priorities, it quickly becomes evident that many who ignorantly, impotently and impudently emote the term ‘clueless’ are chronically craving a clue themselves.