It is the season of goodwill but for President Goodluck Jonathan it must be a season for deep reflections. It is also the season of promises, promises about how he plans to transform the nation in 2013. Ever since Jonathan was elevated to the position of Vice President to former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from his lesser role as Governor of Bayelsa State, he has never stopped promising. The problem is the more promises he makes, the fewer promises he fulfils. These inconsistencies have helped to construct the image of Jonathan as an unpopular president.
Many people have lost faith in a government that talks a lot but achieves little or nothing. A president who is conscious of his responsibilities as a national leader must be concerned about how the public perceives him and his government. Jonathan’s poor performance record has led many people wondering whether the man reads newspapers or follow discussions in online forums. If he does, could he be unaware of the numerous problems that require urgent federal attention. Is Jonathan ignorant of critical media comments about his government and suggestions about how he could step up his performance in order to endear himself to the people?
It is possible that Jonathan does not read Nigerian newspapers or follow online discussions. It is possible that he has nothing but scorn for the newspapers and those who criticise him in online forums. It is also possible that he has developed a body armour against all adverse comments directed at his government. No one should be stunned that Jonathan is less concerned about the adverse vote of confidence the public has passed on him. After all, former president Olusegun Obasanjo once shocked the nation when he admitted to journalists that he does not read Nigerian newspapers. That was on Sunday, 19 August 2007, when Obasanjo was honoured at the Ogun State Government House in Abeokuta with an award known as “Life Achievement Award”.
In his post-award speech, Obasanjo spoke angrily against the Nigerian press. He said: “I don’t read Nigerian newspapers. When people ask me, ‘have you read the papers today?’ I reply by asking them ‘for what?’ If they don’t write about me, they will not sell.” That was Obasanjo’s bloated ego at play in a public forum. Obasanjo’s outburst against the press exposed his personality flaws – a self-absorbed man who likes to project himself as the tower of strength and the undisputed spring of wisdom in Nigeria.
In August this year, Jonathan used an official ceremony in Abuja to express his dissatisfaction with the Nigerian media and their owners. Jonathan said the media was ill-equipped to dispassionately evaluate the performance of his government. He made the observation at a ceremony to mark the Performance Contract Agreement he signed with ministers. Jonathan said he could no longer depend on the media for an impartial assessment of his government’s achievements because the Nigerian media have become self-serving instruments used by their owners to achieve their personal goals.
Specifically, Jonathan said: “Before, the media used to be the voice of the ordinary people but now, the media is the voice of those who own the media houses and those who own the media houses have private jets and those who own private jets are not ordinary people. So the media is now the voice of the powerful people. So, we have to have a way of assessing ourselves.”
If Jonathan is an avid reader of newspapers and if he cared about growing criticisms of his government, he would see reason to change the course of his government, to identify key national problems that he would tackle to make a positive impact on the nation. Top on that list must be the troubled power sector, endemic corruption and deteriorating infrastructure, not forgetting healthcare, roads, agriculture, higher education reforms and economic development. Unfortunately, Jonathan and his advisers in Aso Rock seem to believe that newspaper commentators are unwarrantedly too hypercritical of the president. Not only that, they believe that criticism against Jonathan and his government must never be regarded as an accurate benchmark to measure the president’s performance.
Right from the early days, Jonathan’s defenders had argued that the man had not been in office for long and that he should be given time to grasp the rubrics of governance so he could take the nation to the Promised Land. All that convenient excuse no longer makes sense to a cynical audience long used to the president’s blank promises. It is now 20 months since Jonathan was sworn in as president following his election in 2011 and yet the government has not shown much in terms of tangible or substantial achievements.
Despite evidence of poor performance, Jonathan has continued to roll out promises. At a ceremony to mark the establishment of the Living Faith Foundation Bible College in Kaduna last Sunday (23 December 2012), Jonathan dug into his bag of promises and told the audience that next year would be better than the outgoing year. He said: “Let me assure all of you and indeed all Nigerians that 2013 will be better for us than 2012 in all aspects of the nation’s history. The New Year shall be better for us in terms of job creation, wealth creation and improved security among others.”
If you believe this pledge by Jonathan, you would believe anything. The man has been in office for nearly two years but already his record of unfulfilled promises has exceeded those of his predecessors. And we are still counting. There is nothing in Jonathan’s promise to lift the miserable mood of the nation or to make the public to switch off increasing concerns that the nation is approaching the precipice of disaster.
To be blunt, Jonathan has no realistic plans to improve security, to create jobs, and to improve the overall wellbeing of the citizens. The president might use empty rhetoric to play a confidence trick on the nation at this time but closer to 2015, when we start to weigh up his achievements, the same rhetoric would serve to expose the hollowness in his government.
It is unthinkable that Jonathan would promise to create, just a few days to a New Year (the year 2013 is already six days away), job opportunities that were unavailable in 2012, wealth that he could not invent in 2012 and greater security that had eluded his government and the nation for close to two years. Jonathan must be a magical president. Can a president whose government has been overwhelmed by growing insecurity across the country, a rising army of the unemployed and an impoverished population find, through some kind of magic, unique ways to improve instantly the welfare of the citizens, an immediate end to insecurity and long desired job opportunities?
When a political leader such as Jonathan makes an unwise and unreasonable promise, civil society must ask vigorous questions to expose the lies that underpin his worthless assurances. How would Jonathan improve the people’s welfare, create jobs and eliminate or reduce insecurity in one calendar year when the government could not deal with these issues in the past 20 months?
When the public expresses increasing cynicism over the ability of Jonathan and his government to deliver the basic needs of the people, it is because the president and his ministers, special advisers and assistants have established a persistent record of telling lies in the public domain. This is the context in which Jonathan’s latest pledge to transform the nation in 2013 must be treated with the degree of derision that it deserves.
To be certain, this is not the first time that Jonathan and the mind managers at the Presidency would point to 2013 as the year of salvation for all Nigerians. In August this year, Jonathan told the nation to await his miraculous transformation of the country in 2013. He spoke in Onitsha, Anambra State, when he commissioned a brewery in late August. At about the same time that Jonathan spoke, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) appealed to the nation to be patient with the government till 2013.
PDP National Publicity Secretary Olisa Metuh admitted the Federal Government had failed spectacularly to improve the economic conditions of the people, and has not been able to deal with the serious security challenges that confront the country. Metuh said at official celebrations to mark the 14th anniversary of the founding of the PDP: “There have been some shortcomings, it has not been smooth all the way, there have been some hiccups; we are not an excellent organisation, Nigerians should exercise patience, it will be okay next year.”
Why has 2013 been elected by Jonathan and the PDP as the year of great expectations? It is basically a plot to buy more time. In 2013, Jonathan would ask the nation to wait for his special miracle in 2014. By 2014, Jonathan would urge everyone to await his transformation agenda in 2015. This rigmarole would continue till the 2015 general elections when Jonathan would argue that four years was never enough for him to implement his programmes and policies.
As I argued in a previous essay (5 December 2012), Jonathan must go beyond promises and aim to demonstrate practical achievements that will serve as unalterable evidence of what his government has handed down to the Nigerian people. He is running out of time to carve out a glorious name (if he could) for himself and his government.