President Umaru Yar’Adua has passed on after a long battle with illness. May God grant his soul eternal rest and also grant his family and the whole nation the fortitude to bear the loss. What we must now do as a people and as a nation is look ahead. What do we see? What do we want?
First, the singular most important beneficiary of this would be Goodluck Jonathan. The death removes a big yoke from his neck (the illegal Acting Presidency) and now he lawfully becomes a substantive President. It also removes the yoke the godfathers have put on his neck by not allowing him go the full length of claiming the full presidency earlier for fear that he might not listen to them again. They have used the Acting Presidency as part encouragement and part blackmail before this time and they had hoped to do so till 2011. But now, they can’t stop Jonathan because he has the presidency by right, unlike the Acting Presidency where they had to suborn this, cajole that, twist one arm here, break one there and finally seize it unlawfully via the National Assembly. His godfathers have duly claimed credit for that. However, they can’t with this one. It’s granted by God, unblemished! The question is what can Jonathan do now that God has given him a second chance of asserting himself and showing leadership, rather than being slaves to others’ interests?
Now, what new threat can these godfathers pose? It will first come in the form of the person they will choose as his Vice President. The godfathers will choose this for him and again attempt to use the result of this process as a joker. They will choose someone from the North and tell him if he continues to cooperate with them, they will support him for the position in 2011; but if he doesn’t, they will go back to singing their PDP arrangement of zoning and say it is still the time of the North to complete their own second term and put forward his Vice President as their candidate. The question is can he call their bluff and do what he needs to do to break the Nigerian curse?
And what does he have to do? He has to prove now that he is his own man by taking charge of the situation right away. He has to immediately sacrifice the 2011 they are dangling before him, because he is bound to lose once he gets into bed with the interests capable of granting it to him under the dastard system still in place. He has to look at this substantive presidency as something granted to him by God – not by any godfather, not by any power block and he does not have to pay for it with the blood of Nigerians! It’s pure! He now needs to look deeper in himself and ask why God has given him this power and how to use it within the short time he has it. If he is a sincere man, only one answer will come – use it for the good of Nigerians! Use it to free Nigerians! Use it to show Nigerians that the office you occupy can do good and bring good things to them!
If Jonathan dedicates the little time he has between now and May next year – one full year – to concentrate on making Nigerians see that government works. If he leaves the power-hungry people to carry on with their deathly battle within the PDP and elsewhere and simply concentrate on governance and then deliver, Nigerians will ensure that his work and legacy continue one way or the other. For instance, he gave himself the power and energy portfolio. Let him begin with that to set examples. Let Nigerians see that he is out there trying to solve the power problem and scattering the generators-cabal and their ilk that have ensured that there should be no light. Let him put a comprehensive programme together and pursue it with everything he’s got.
He must see electoral reform as a priority now and he needs not make things complicated for himself. The Uwais Report may not be perfect, but it is the best thing we have going now. He should not bother tampering with it, because that act alone will show sincerity and garner him a lot of goodwill at home and abroad. It will also signal to everyone, including the National Assembly that he is prepared to change the game to the people’s advantage. With the elections a few months away, it would be difficult for any legislator to put himself or herself against the President’s agenda, especially when he’s fully backed by the people and more especially as the bill before them can be seen by everybody as not of the President’s making. But no matter what pressure he receives behind the scenes, he will need to stand firm here, because, much like Barack Obama’s health bill in America, this would be his own flagship achievement – something history will always remember him for. Forever! It is priceless.
Let him look at the Niger-Delta. Amnesty is not the issue, but development. He has to begin to think of what he can do in one year to change the face of the Niger-Delta dramatically. He can do something like choosing eight or nine towns across the region, representative of all sections and declaring them Federal Development Territories (FDTs). He can then begin to pour federal money there for development. If he does this for six months, be guaranteed that the private sector will hitch on the bandwagon and before you know it, a full-throttle development wave would seize the place. The militants and their demands would be history.
Related to the above also is the issue of the Niger-Delta environment and the callous destruction of the ecosystem and habitat in the name of oil exploration by the transnational corporations. He will have to read them the riot act! First they have to stop all forms of destruction going on now environmentally, starting with gas flaring! He has to give them a programme of environmental regeneration that he will draw up and seek how the Federal Government and the operating companies can raise capital, including with the involvement of international community, to address the environmental and human damage that has gone on there for too long. He must also strive here to fully involve the people in every affected community because they know their environment and they know some of the simplest things to do to get it back to what it was and they would be the ones to maintain it after repair.
He can look at security with emphasis on the police. He can get a mini-national conference going on this, so that Nigerians decide what type of police force can protect them. It is obvious that it is too central and unwieldy and that is a huge factor in its slow operation and mobility. Should we have state police? How do we want to fund it? Let Nigerians decide in that min-security conference. A police force that is created by the people and whose members live amongst them instead of in secluded barracks, a police force they pay for and maintain and that they can control in the form of civilian oversight bodies will do the work they are paid to do.
Next, he has to make a bold economic statement and it is called diversification. He can start with an economic diplomacy to the west coast to explore the cocoa business between Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana. He can begin to discuss with the leaders of those countries a plan to seize the cocoa trade because between the three countries they virtually produce all the cocoa that go out there into the international market. So, why can’t we control it from production of the raw thing to manufacture into anything? Why can’t we dictate the price and export it to the cocoa-loving people all over Europe and America? I’m not saying he will do all this in one year, but he can lay the foundation.
As a corollary to the above, he has to look at means to make finance available to the operators of the informal sector and small-scale industries. These people employ over 75 percent of the population and it would be great to make an economic statement for their benefit. For instance, establishing development banks solely for their purpose would be a nice start. It would be the catalyst for the true industrial regeneration of the country, because Nigerians are very hardworking and industrious people. A little help here will go a long way.
Finally, he’s got to look at education. He has to recognise the level of decay there right now. Fact is tertiary education is not giving us the return we need as a nation and it’s all tied down to the bad economy, loss of our moral bearing, attack on good social and civic values, etc. Obviously, a lot of money is needed here, but it depends on what you are spending on. There must be clear-eyed targeted spending. First, he must push the agenda of university autonomy fully, but must also realise that public education in Nigeria is too costly for the average person and for that reason, a lot of people who should be in school and who would have been useful to the nation in the development of special skills are by the wayside. Again here, a mini national conference would not be amiss to get a real educational development programme going. Emphasis though should be on technical education and how we can fully explore information technology at the secondary and tertiary levels.
Obviously, the nation needs a lot more, but what I have done above is briefly touch on areas I think anyone who takes over now and wishes to work sincerely without having any distractions can deal with and make impact. People will wonder why I didn’t mention war against corruption. I believe that is unnecessary as the President’s personal example and how he noiselessly goes about ensuring that corruption does not torpedo his programme will send stronger message than having EFCC chase after political enemies. He can actually help EFCC by simply throwing its establishment legislation to the legislature to make it more autonomous and to have the position of its head statutorily protected and the powers of the Attorney General over the organisation removed. The point is programmes like this or efforts at judicial independence, federalism, etc are things he can show with his own practical examples. If people don’t get negative pressure from him to act in a particular way, they will understand they have to take positive initiative and answer for it. The point is he does not have all the time in the world and he has to prioritise to get the best and biggest possible impact.
Now, having said all this, I have a problem. I do not see Jonathan as capable of pulling his weight. I think he is too timid, provincial, uninformed and totally lacking in courage. I don’t think he has proper vision for leadership. Jonathan would rather wait for his godfathers to seize the initiative again from him in the name of protecting him. They will be interpreting Yar’Adua’s death as strengthening them and they will simply keep Jonathan in front of the curtain as they gladly play the ventriloquists behind. For Jonathan to succeed, he will have to do a big personality transformation and move like a whirlwind. It may look stressful at the beginning, because every sector and every power block will put pressure on him. But he really should not bother with them or fear them if he has his goals and if his conscience is clear. Yes, he has nothing to fear, because no matter what he does, they will still let him complete the remaining term in which he was elected along with Yar’Adua. It’s what happens in 2011 that is their problem. He shouldn’t even bother with that. He should think about Nigerians and how much he can do for them in this short time before the locusts return. If he does that, Nigerians would be the ones to bring him back to complete the good job he started and keep the locus away. Yet, as I said, I don’t see it in him. But I would be the happiest mortal if he proves me wrong.
God Bless Nigeria!