When we use the expression, “pushing your luck,” what do we mean?
I think the answer is: Goodluck Jonathan.
Rising dynamically without any particular effort on his part, he inherited the political leadership of Nigeria earlier this year. He has now indicated that he intends to acquire the title of President on his own in next January’s election.
Considering how easy it has all been for him, it is very likely that he will win. After all, he will be both player and referee. Not just any referee, but he will enter the fray controlling the armed forces and the security agencies, including the police.
Evidently, Jonathan is “hosting to win,” as they say in Nigeria sport. Contrary to the impressions he labored to convey earlier in his presidency, I do not think that he is as interested in “free and fair” elections as he is in staying president. If elections are truly free and fair, he may not win; voters know that it is his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is responsible for Nigeria’s despondency.
But he has begun to stock up on ammunition. Last week, he declared Nigeria will have electricity in 2012, perhaps his first statement made with an eye on winning votes.
I was anticipating such a carefully-worded line: another cheque that Nigerians may only hope to cash following another PDP-managed election.
Jonathan’s record on the electricity question is not good. It was only last year, on 23 November 2009, that he promised Nigerians they will have full and unfettered electricity in 2010.
He was still only Vice-President, but Jonathan, who spoke in Kaduna, was making the statement because he needed to apologize at that time for his government’s prior promise of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December 2009. And so, here we are, in 2010, and Jonathan, who last May promised to get the federal government out of electricity generation and distribution next year, and only into transmission, needed a new promise.
Electricity promises in Nigeria, particularly in the PDP, are as long as electoral promises. In February 2008, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua launched the Presidential Committee on the Accelerated Expansion of Power. He promised that by July 2009, Nigerians would finally be getting all the electricity they needed—all 6,000 megawatts, he said.
That, of course, was a political promise; the PDP is designed to expend power, not provide performance. And so, massive failure staring him in the face, Yar’Adua conveniently re-engineered the validity of his promise in July 2009. Electricity, he then said, would now be available in December. It was to that new fiasco that Jonathan was “apologizing” in November 2009, on the eve of Yar’Adua’s departure for Saudi Arabia for the final time. At that time, Nigeria was generating even less electricity than when the prevailing promise had been announced.
Yar’Adua’s predecessor had set the pattern. Coming into office in 2000, Olusegun Obasanjo made this unforgettable promise, “On my honour, by the end of 2001, Nigerians would begin to enjoy regular, uninterrupted power supply”.
Not only did Obasanjo come nowhere close to honouring that promise, he spent eight years on a haphazard plan that merely distributed up to $16 billion to those he favoured.
Although Yar’Adua admitted Obasanjo’s monumental perfidy, he neither tried to recover the funds nor punish the criminals, most of whom belong to what they call the PDP “family.”
My fear is that it is the same kind of political terrain that Jonathan is traveling in the power sector, among others. Under his electricity plan, private operators, supported by $6 billion from the government, will build new, natural-gas power plants; the 11 Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) distribution companies will also be privatized.
"We need a revolution in the power sector," Jonathan said in unveiling these critical changes.
The changes are certainly revolutionary, but will they work? It is like putting a new constitution and amending the electoral law, but announcing that anyone that is able to manipulate them for his own benefit cannot be sent to jail because it is the holes in the law that are to blame.
None of our efforts have worked so far largely because of the weakness, even a vacuum, in our political leadership. And so, while Jonathan is right about the need for a revolution, he has identified the wrong sector.
The first revolution we need must be in the political power sector. Unless there is a revolution in the political power sector which causes power to be used responsibly and transparently, there can be no revolution in the power sector, or any other.
In our country, the issue has never been the absence of good ideas to get us out of the electricity mess. The issue is the dearth of strong, committed leadership.
It is this same issue that affects, and afflicts, other sectors. It is this same problem that led to the preachments Obasanjo offered for eight years on electricity, in place of performance.
It is this same issue—poor leadership—that is responsible for our atrocious elections, our killer roads, our terrible schools, and the insecurity in the land.
It is this same issue—poor leadership—that is responsible for our loss of stature in the international community, the preponderance of mind-numbing wealth amidst so much poverty, our endless brain drain, our dearth of heroes.
Unless Jonathan is capable of a frontal assault on the issue of bad leadership, he is just another politician playing the lying game, and in the end, the large funds he is identifying for electricity will be largesse for the PDP. It happened throughout the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua years: a regrettable period in which Nigerians heard far more empty promises than they enjoyed electricity. We have yet to hear of any remorse within the PDP or the government that is now Jonathan’s.
While this has been going on, Ghana has achieved “uninterruptible electricity” status and conducted internationally-acclaimed elections. Ghana’s status in the world may be measured not only by the fact that President Barack Obama chose that nation for his visit to Africa last year, but by the fact that Nigerians are scrambling to live, work and establish businesses there.
Jonathan has had everything given to him so far—by fate, his admirers say. Ideally, he should perhaps have maintained that pact with fate and not chosen to run for the presidency next year. That would have set both of his hands free to work on the fundamental changes Nigeria needs—such as electoral reform, electricity and curbing (not merely ‘fighting) corruption—without being a part of the question.
But Jonathan must now earn his manhood. In full view of the world, he will play in a soccer match in which he is also the referee. He must deploy the linesmen, keep time, and ensure that all the rules of the game are obeyed. He must determine when yellow and red cards are merited, including for himself as a player.
Let us hope, for the sake of our beloved Nigeria, that this time, he has not pushed his luck too far.