The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense

It seems safe to say that President Umaru Yar’Adua is healthier. He is making a lot of speeches.

At the United Nations last Monday, however, he should not have insisted on speaking. Days after presidents capable of their own words spoke, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister read his president’s speech in a Foreign Minister slot. Other presidents had left for home.

Through Ojo Maduekwe, however, Yar’Adua suggested that although many nations might not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, Nigeria would. “Mindful of the importance of (the MDGs) for our development,” he told the half-empty Assembly, “Nigeria is determined to do everything to ensure the realization of the MDG targets.”

You are either going to ensure that something is done, or you are not. In one and a half years in office, as he continues the scorched-earth policies of the Peoples Democratic Party begun by Olusegun Obasanjo, Yar’Adua has not invested sufficiently in our capacity to do much. That is why Nigeria is listed as one of those nations that will miss almost ever MDG target.

But since we like to look good before the world, here is one more example of what Yar’Adua told the United Nations: “The recent steep rise in global food prices has presented us with a monumental challenge and the global embarrassment of compounds of misery sharing increasingly crowded space with compounds of affluence in our global village…How can it be said that the genius that permits us to make living in outer space feasible, looks the other way in the face of over one billion people in the world going to bed hungry, and more than six million children dying each year of hunger and malnutrition(?)”

How? It can be said, and repeated, because of nations like Nigeria. No nation on earth is guiltier than Nigeria of these crimes against its people. No nation on earth ignores the palpable suffering of its people while permitting the excesses of its powerful and influential. That is why former Governor James Ibori is on trial, but Yar’Adua permits him to go abroad and party. Nigeria can feed every Nigerian today not just with food, but with opportunity. It is governments such as Yar’Adua’s that stand in the way.

Back home, Yar’Adua gave at least two other speeches last week. One celebrated the Eid-el-Fitri, and the other our National Day. Strictly speaking, they were not speeches; each was a cache of clichés.

Evidently, the President is concerned at his rapidly collapsing credibility. But he confronts this challenge with the same things he said at his inauguration one and a half years ago. He fails to understand Nigerians why scoff at such terms as: “reaffirm my personal commitment,” “taking steps,” “process of revitalizing and repositioning our administration…”

In his National Day message, he said: “Our appreciation of the enormity of our national transformation drives our steadfast pursuit of the ideals of democracy, good governance, free enterprise, and the rule of law. Our Seven-point Agenda is aimed at a structured approach to tackling the challenges which we must overcome if we are to sustainably raise the living standards of Nigerians, achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and realize our Vision 20-2020.”

He added: “We are resolved as an Administration, not to resort to quick-fix methods and short-cuts in approaching fundamental problems which require methodical and sustainable solutions. The review of key sectors of our national economy, which we have embarked upon so far, points to the wisdom of this approach…”

Really? Exactly what have “democracy, good governance, free enterprise, and the rule of law” meant to Nigerians in the past 17 months? I know that Mr. Yar’Adua has preached them, but has he really practiced them? Why is our landscape loaded with leaders and former leaders and their friends and collaborators who stole their people blind but are flowering under Yar’Adua? An effective leader is one who is honest with his people. If Yar’Adua cannot tell Nigerians he is so sick he must hand power over to the Vice-President as dictated by the constitution he swore to uphold, why should Nigerians believe him in other things?

Preaching further on Wednesday, Yar’Adua said: “Our commitment to the entrenchment of transparency and accountability in the conduct of Government business remains unwavering…Our ultimate goal is to engender a culture of prudence, diligence, honesty, sincerity, decency, transparency, selflessness and accountability in our polity.”

He speaks of the rule of law, but cannot bring himself to probe his predecessor because it is inconvenient. He surrounds himself with such people as Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro, Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa, former Governor Ibori, and Patience Jonathan, the wife of the Vice-President, men and women with extensive corruption issues. How does Yar’Adua reconcile what he is saying with what Nigerians are seeing? Who, exactly, does he take Nigerians for?

If Yar’Adua wants to arrest his eroding credibility, perhaps he ought to start with the person who wrote his National Day speech. Otherwise, it is a joke without a punch line for him to speak of honesty, sincerity, decency, transparency, selflessness and accountability.

There is none of the newness or energy or integrity that Yar’Adua promised on May 29, 2007. What we are seeing is a worse form of the muddle that he inherited. To claim that he is being “slow” in order to do ensure that things are done right is two slaps in one, like an innocent suspect being handed over to the hangman before he has been tried.

What are the principles that define Yar’Adua’s Nigeria? There is nothing he claims to have accomplished that is attributable to him. He is not shifting the focus and resources of Nigeria from its criminals to its honest citizens. He is not courting excellence over mediocrity. He has not told this nation that when he hands out important jobs or National Honours, that they will find only men and women of unquestionable character or patriotism.

And he thinks our people will follow him? “Fellow Nigerians,” he said on National Day, “we have defined for ourselves a clear national objective to which we are totally committed: the transformation of our country into a strong, stable, democratic, and progressive major player on the global stage by the year 2020.”

We will not follow a man who serves us platitudes. We have no hope if our leader is either scared of the truth. We have no chance if our leader thinks his party and his friends are more important than his nation.

On this point, it is good to see that President Yar’Adua is finally talking about adopting a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. I am not sure he is capable of it as it means he will take off his rule of law mask and hunt corruption far and wide…beginning from the folds of his agbada.

Finally, the President did a strange thing in his National Day address. He spoke extensively in the first person plural, “we.” Sometimes, he was speaking of Nigeria as a people, at other times, of his government.

I think this is wrong. There is no “we” in disillusionment or in disappointment, the intersection at which Nigerians now try to find meaning. This is why Yar’Adua should resist the temptation of talking about 2020 when he has not been able to move Nigerians from 2007 to 2008.

In 2007, he ended his inaugural address with the following words: “The time is now.”

Now cannot wait.

By Sonala Olumhense

[email protected]



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