IT feels like one of those situations where one of your family's much older relatives, refusing to let go of an elusive youth, keeps trying to be "yuppie" ÔÇô to blend with you and your much younger peers. He wants to impress your lot, but he keeps doing it the wrong way. He inserts himself into your conversations with your friends, often saying things that make you and your friends grimace as you exchange knowing glances. At other times he's just outright annoying, but you know he's family and you're stuck with him. So you grin and bear him, and hope that he'd give up trying sooner rather than later.
For the most part that is how I now see Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan. It won't be out of place to expect that this man with an easy smile and an amiable disposition means well for Nigeria, just like his most recent predecessors, even as many Nigerians disagree with these leaders' approach to championing the interests of Nigerians. He probably wants to leave his positive imprint in the sands of Nigeria's time. A lot his comments and public addresses show that he knows that there is so much that is wrong with Nigeria, and that he wants to do his part to fix as much as he can in this regard.
It is even possible that given the strong opposition (for a range of reasons that range from the selfish to the altruistic) to the idea of his candidacy from sections and interests from across Nigeria, President Jonathan never intended to run for office on his own merit after serving-out the remainder of the term of office of his late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who died after serving only 2 out of his 4-year mandate. But Mr. Jonathan probably joined the contest with the belief that he owes it to Nigeria and its peoples to run for president, convinced that he can make a positive impact in leadership.
Now, a year into a presidency that was borne of an election generally adjudged by local and foreign observers to be the freest and fairest in recent times (of course by Nigerian standards), the groundswell of popularity that heralded President Jonathan's emergence has badly eroded. The feelers here is that although Nigerians are disappointed in a man whose education and trajectory of public service make him one of the most educated and experienced persons to emerge as president in recent times (he is a post-graduate doctor of Zoology, and has served as deputy governor, governor, vice-president and acting-president before winning the presidency), Mr. Jonathan's fellow citizens may still be open to being impressed by his leadership.
Unfortunately, goodwill for Jonathan's leadership continues to erode, and the erosion has been mostly due to a continuing series of miscues and blunders that, even for an inexperienced of leadership, should be easily avoidable. The latest decision to use the occasion of a highly unpopular, government-imposed ÔÇśdemocracy day' to rename one of Nigeria's oldest institutions, the University of Lagos, after a respected martyr of the June 12 struggle in Nigeria, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, is a case in point. The president made the announcement in a nationally televised address earlier today.
How specifically has the Jonathan government misfired this time? Well, for one, the University of Lagos, popularly known as UNILAG, is an iconic Nigerian institution in whose identity (both in nomenclature as "UNILAG" and in reputation) the students, alumni and host community take much pride! For many people, being associated with "UNILAG" is as hip as it is stylish. The pride in this identity extends from the name "Lagos," which Lagosians love to flaunt with pride.
The answer to the question posed to the Lagosian as "Where do you live?" is often delivered with as much verve and pride, as to the question posed to the UNILAG student as "Which university do you attend?" Now that the institution has been renamed, not even the memory of the dimpled philanthropist and charismatic martyr that is M.K.O. Abiola will be enough to assuage the ego of the people who identify with UNILAG ÔÇô especially those who like to be identified as ÔÇśLAG babes' and ÔÇśLAG boys'. Some of these people may revere the person of Abiola from here to afterlife, but I doubt if that is enough for them to accept renaming UNILAG after the late politician.
As I write, protests have begun, spontaneous as expected, barely hours after the announcement. It is proof that eople are not stupid, even if their government chooses to act stupid. Of course it is noteworthy that the Jonathan government has demonstrated that it is not shy, unlike some of its predecessors, to acknowledge the place of Chief Abiola in annals of Nigeria's pro-democracy movement. But the whole idea of renaming the University of Lagos after Abiola, as good intentioned as it might be, only comes across as patronizing to those whom it is meant to serve. And that may be contributing to the spontaneity of the protests that has so far greeted President Jonathan's announcement.
The Jonathan government continues to show its incapacity to learn from previous missteps. The protests that greeted last January's overnight announcement of the removal of subsidies on petroleum in Nigeria should have been a learning experience for the government, as the same mistakes that earned the government widespread reproach then, will also cost the same government more raps on the head now, only 5 months later.
As with the case with the subsidy issue, a simple research on public opinion about renaming the University of Lagos after Moshood Abiola would have gone a long way in helping the government reach its best decisions in the interest of everyone. This is not to say that government should simply base its policy decisions on public opinion, no. It is, instead, to factor-in the opinion of the public on general issues and specifically on sensitive issues. More than anything else, it enables the government to carry the people along as an informed citizenry, making the job of public administration much easier to manage than having to deal with the headache that accompanies governance otherwise.
Even political campaigns for leadership positions make space for heavy mining of public opinion to arrive at the best decisions for successful political campaign administration. That is why in places like the United States, a political campaign as the one run by the Obama-Biden team invests such enormous amount of resources in mining public opinion. Before the Obama team endorsed same-sex marriage officially, it knew that public opinion for the issue had crossed the 50 percent Rubicon, and that whatever backlash it would get, even if substantial, would not be enough to undermine the prospects of the campaign in the forthcoming November 2012 presidential election.
Why then does the Jonathan government continue to commit these endless strings of strategic blunders in managing the affairs of Nigerians? Is it that the president has bad advisers, or the government is really as "clueless" as many are saying it is? As pointed-out earlier, the so-called "Democracy Day" is hugely unpopular. Very few Nigerians give a damn about it. The day is a creation of a military hegemony; it is of an era that too many Nigerians want nothing to do with. Nigerians didn't vote for May 29 to be their ÔÇśDemocracy Day'; it was simply imposed by the military on its way out of power (?).
It therefore amounts to being incurably tone-deaf to tie the memory of a powerful symbol of sacrifice and freedom to a day as today. Better yet, it is insulting to Nigerians to do such a thing! And it also speaks to a growing perception of being clueless on the Jonathan Administration's part, never mind its best possible intentions. It would have earned President Jonathan far more honor and recognition as a leader if he announced that that Democracy Day has been changed from May 29 to June 12, to be known henceforth as MKO Abiola Day, not only in memory and honor of the single most important figure of the watershed election moment in Nigerian annals, but also to consecrate that day as the wellspring from which Nigeria's democracy flowed.