I read Malam El-Rufai’s latest piece on Nigeria’s current affairs entitled ‘Jonathan’s Tough Choices’. Reading the piece, one could be forgiven if you thought you were reading the biblical book of Lamentations! Let me state immediately that Malam El-Rufai is a friend of mine and we have collaborated on a number of civil society and charitable projects including the G-53 group of Eminent Nigerians who advocated for power to be transferred from the ailing former President Yar'adua to the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and the Council for Youth Empowerment a charitable foundation founded by Malam El-Rufai and nurtured by my humble self.
Having said that, let me state that I do not believe that Malam El-Rufai’s piece is an accurate account of current realities in Nigeria and I will carry my readers along by comparing his views with some facts and leave them to consider who between President Jonathan and Malam El-Rufai has a tougher choice to make because while it is a tough job to administer the affairs of Nigeria, I do believe that electing to be a statesman who gives an objective account of the state of one’s nation is an equally tough choice to make especially when your political interests are not furthered by objectivity. And whatever may be going through Malam El-Rufai’s mind, I want him to know that he has no choice but to be a statesman because of what Nigeria has given to him in the past.
i. World’s Fourth Fastest Growing Economy
For instance, when Malam El-Rufai says “Under Jonathan's watch, massive election spending, fiscal expansion, policy reversals and falling exchange rates have pushed inflationary trends upwards, left the economy unproductive and scuttled domestic and foreign investments in many sectors” is he referring to the same Nigerian economy which two weeks to the April Presidential Elections was acknowledged as the world’s fourth fastest growing economy by independent sources including the British government? There is no basis in reality for describing an economy that has been forecasted by the IMF and the Nigerian Central Bank to grow by 7% this year as being “unproductive”! There has been a 20% expansion in the productive capacity of our Oil and Gas sector stemming from the peace in the Niger Delta, the Telecoms Sector has announced growth this year, IMF testifies that the Nigerian Banking Sector almost miraculously survived and has expanded after last year’s World Financial Crisis, non-oil exports which were at $200 million in 2000 are at $2.3 billion this year, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the first quarter of 2011 has collected more tax than they did in the same period last year collecting a total of N1.248 trillion (N841.61 billion of oil tax revenue and N406.80 of non-oil tax revenue ) and as such the ONLY verdict that can objectively arise from the reality on the ground is that Nigeria is on an upward trajectory economically.
ii. Reduced Spending
Certainly, the facts on the ground cannot support the assertion by Malam El-Rufai that “Addressing the infrastructure deficits is also an urgent priority. Electricity shortages have crippled both small businesses and multinational corporations. Yet more funds are allocated to run the legislature and the office of the National Security Adviser than on investments in electric power provision.” Now this is most uncharitable to Mr. President firstly because it is not accurate and secondly because it ignores President Jonathan’s celebrated and successful efforts that compelled the National Assembly to reduce their budget by 30% (45 billion Naira) before he agreed to sign the 2011 Appropriation Bill (the Budget) into law. This is not to say that we do not have electricity shortages as Malam El-Rufai asserts. We do. But this is to say that the present administration is not the cause of those shortages and contrary to what Malam El-rufai said, the current administration has NOT allocated more funds to the National Security Adviser's office than to power and IS very active in finding a solution to an age long problem that arose principally because apart from the Obasanjo civilian administration NO OTHER administration between 1979 and 1999 made significant and sustained efforts to address the infrastructural challenges in the power sector.
iii. Power Sector Reforms
Malam El-Rufai may have failed to take into cognisance the fact that by virtue of President Jonathan’s Roadmap to Power Sector Reforms, the Private Sector is now the driving force behind the growth of the power sector as it is indeed meant to be. Malam El-Rufai who had a stint at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission is not unaware that the focus of the Roadmap is to privatise the existing distribution and generating firms that make up the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (PHCN) with government retaining control of only the Transmission end of the business. As a matter of fact, what I have just mentioned about the power sector where actually promoted by Malam El-Rufai himself in March of 2011 in a speech he gave at the Distinguished Visitor’s Programme of the NERC where he also called for a 400% increase in electricity tariffs in Nigeria.
iv. Investment in Rail Infrastructure
So when Malam El-Rufai writes that “Virtually every infrastructure deficit suffers the same depreciated attention. Few countries have road networks that are as poorly-maintained as Nigeria’s; the country has no functional railway system; seaports are decrepit and inefficient - and in need of massive investment and yet, there is no sense of urgency in government to attract much needed private investment in these critical sectors – and to take advantage of the employment opportunities they create. The result is one of the most underdeveloped infrastructure system in Africa – and one of the most expensive countries in the world to set up and run a productive business” his readers and mine should place this criticism against the fact that the Nigerian Railways Corporation has in 2011 under the Jonathan administration for the first time in over a decade resumed regular rail services to several destinations after taking delivery of six brand new state of the art diesel locomotives and that President Jonathan himself on the 12th of March, 2011, personally undertook the 98km train ride from Iddo Terminus in Lagos state to Abeokuta Station in Ogun State. The question to Nigerians is this-when was the last time that route was operated by the Nigerian Railway Corporation?
v. New International Airport and Total Radar Coverage
Malam El-Rufai neglected to mention that from four International Airports the current administration met upon its ascension in 2010 Nigerian now has five airports. Certainly we ought to celebrate the progress in our aviation sector because it is worth appreciating and the United States government does appreciate it and put its money where its mouth is by granting to Nigeria a Category 1 certificate which is the Highest aviation certification in the world and which allows Nigerian registered aircrafts to fly directly to any U.S. airport.
Whereas there used to be only 2 airlines flying direct between Nigeria and the U.S pre-2010, that number has increased to four (Continental and United airlines came on board last year) since the advent of the elevation of Nigeria’s aviation sector to Category 1 status in 2010. Not only that, for the first time ever, Nigeria is now fully covered by radar by virtue of the successful completion of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria Project (TRACON) which explains why there have been no commercial airplane crashes in Nigeria under the Jonathan administration.
vi. Road Network
Talking about roads, no one can truthfully say that Nigeria’s road network has not improved since 2007? We remember the state of the Lagos-Ore road and other roads before 2007. I suspect that the public is not unaware that the present administration has made a tangible effort to tackle both the deficiency in road infrastructure and youth unemployment by allocating 50 billion as seed money for a Public Works Programme in the now passed budget for the sole purpose of road construction via direct youth labour.
Finally, Malam Nasir El-Rufai made what I consider to be his greatest misstatement of facts when he wrote that “In the last 4 years, the Yar'Adua-Jonathan administration and the ruling party governors have spent over $200 billion of oil and non-oil revenues, including over $23 billion the previous administration left behind in the Excess Crude Account (ECA), with little to show for it. Not a single major infrastructure investment or policy initiative has been concluded in four years!”
To put things in perspective, I will now list 50 tangible infrastructural investments and policy initiatives that have been completed within the short period Mr. President has been in office.
Malam Nasir El-Rufai could not have better epitomized what Margaret Thatcher meant when she said that if her critics saw her walking on the River Thames they would say she only walked on water because she could not swim! This administration as detailed in the tangible achievements listed below has achieved so much that Mr. President could be said to have walked on water.
Malam El-Rufai set the bar for public officials in Nigeria in my opinion. He is an exceptionally brilliant manager of men and resources. What he achieved in Abuja as FCT minister could be described by some as a super human feat.
Having said that, I need to say that since his return to Nigeria under the Jonathan administration Malam El-Rufai has gotten bitter instead of getting better as a statesman and being so bitter only contaminates his brilliance.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the achievements of Nigeria in the last year and a half, but I crave the indulgence of the reader and Malam El-Rufai to read through and determine if it is true that “Not a single major infrastructure investment or policy initiative has been concluded in four years!”
1. There has been a Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) completed in 2010, as a result Nigeria has known no commercial airline crashes under the Present administration.
2. From four International Airports we now have five.
3. Nigeria now has a US Category 1 Certificate which is the highest aviation certificate granted to a nation by the U.S. and which allows any Nigerian registered aircraft to fly direct to any U.S. city.
4. Nigeria now has four airlines flying direct between the U.S. and Nigeria, United, Delta, Continental and Arik. Before this administration we had 2 airlines.
5. Nigeria’s banking industry has been rescued and stabilised by the establishment of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) in the year 2010.
6. MasterCard made Nigeria its regional headquarters for its West/East and Indian Ocean islands zone raising the profile of Nigeria’s e-commerce industry.
7. Nigeria’s GDP grew by a record 8.29% during the last quarter of 2010 and by the first quarter of 2011 Nigeria had verifiably become the fourth fastest growing economy in the world as recently attested to by several multilateral bodies and trading partners.
8. This administration revived the Textile industry by granting a 150 billion Naira Textile Industry Bailout as a result the United Nigerian Textile Limited was reactivated amongst others and 2000 employees were reengaged.
9. Non oil exports in 2010 were ten times what they were in 2000 as a direct result of this administration’s intervention in the Textile Industry and REAL Sector.
10. Militancy has been curbed in the Niger Delta leading to a 20% increase in activities of the oil and gas industry which has multiplier effects on the economy.
11. Fuel queues are a thing of the past in today’s Nigeria and public and private efforts are ongoing to expand Nigeria’s refining capacity.
12. As a result of the launch of Mr. President’s Gas Revolution Agenda on the 24th of March, a new Central Gas Processing Facility (CPF) is being built by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Oando Nigeria Plc while a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed with Saudi Arabia's Xenel Industries Limited to construct a world scale petrochemical plant at the Koko Free Trade Zone (FTZ), Warri Delta State with an output capacity of about 1.3 million tonnes per annum.
13. On Mr. President’s instruction, the Nigerian Army revived its Brigade in Ohafia to tackle the menace of kidnapping.
14. Incidences of kidnapping and insecurity in some parts of the nation have been tackled and economic activities have picked up as a result in the Southeast.
15. Close Circuit Televisions were introduced in major cities and forensic training and laboratories built for the Police and other Law Enforcement and Intelligence services in the wake of the bombings of 2010.
16. Unlike other incidences of bombings in Nigeria, persons have been arrested, and are being tried for some of the bombings that occurred in 2010.
17. Nigeria received worldwide commendation for the detection, seizure and investigation of the Iranian arms at the Tin Can Island port, Lagos.
18. A new Electoral Act was supported and signed into law by the President on the 20th of August, 2010 which granted true independence and financial autonomy for INEC.
19. INEC had a new team of men and women of proven integrity headed by Professor Attahiru Jega appointed by Mr. President.
20. Nigeria conducted an election that was universally acclaimed as Nigeria’s freest, fairest and most credible elections till date in April 2011.
21. As a result of the fact that those elections were free, fair and credible and seen to be so, by the deadline for filing election petitions in 2011, election petitions in 2011 were 70% less than the 2007 figures,25% less than the 2003 figures and 15% less than the 1999 figures.
22. Unlike the past, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was given complete independence and played no part in the processes leading up to the 2011 elections.
Rule of Law
23. There has been no Executive/Legislative tension under this administration leading to harmony between both complimentary arms of government.
24. This administration has upheld the Rule of Law by obeying EVERY court order bar none.
25. There are no political prisoners in Nigeria or people forced into exile by this administration rather known exiles have been allowed to return home and given free rein to support or attack the administration that provided the enabling environment for their return.
26. For the first time in over 2 decades, Nigeria has allocated the highest amount in her 2011 budget to education.
27. Nine new universities are being built and under this administration there is now no state of the federation without a Federal University in existence or being built.
28. 100 model schools known as Tsangaya are being built for those itinerant scholars known as Almajiris with the very first already commissioned in December by Vice President Namadi Sambo in Gantsa, Jigawa state.
29. Mr. President launched the Bring Back the Book Project in December of 2010 to resuscitate the fading reading culture in Nigeria, a project that has since received the endorsement of Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, and the Association of Nigerian Authors and has been bought into by the youths and the entertainment industry.
30. This administration has provided a $200 million credit facility for the exclusive use of the Entertainment Industry and has followed this up by providing those in the industry who want to access these funds training provided by the Lagos Business School aka Pan African University.
31. On the 26th of August, 2010, Mr. President launched a coherent plan to reform the power sector described as the Roadmap to Power Sector Reforms.
32. Nigeria now generates power at her highest level in 10 years.
33. New power stations and turbines are being built or have reached completion stage in Sapele, Delta state, Olorunshogo, Ogun state, Egbin, Ogun state, Mambilla, Taraba state and various other places.
34. A brand new National Super Grid is being built to improve on electricity transmission.
35. Nigeria returned to the front burner in International Relations with the participation of Mr. President at the 65th United Nations General Assembly
36. Nigeria was removed from the U.S. Travel blacklist which she entered as a result of the Abdulmutallab incident due to the activism of this administration in engaging the U.S. on a Presidential level.
37. Nigeria provided leadership that led to the resolution of the impasse in Cote D’Ivoire.
38. Nigeria was the FIRST nation to airlift her citizens from Egypt during the crisis there which marked the beginning of the Arab Spring Uprising.
39. Nigeria was one of the first nation’s to airlift her citizens out of Libya when the uprising spread to that nation.
Engaging with citizens/Openness and Transparency
40. Mr. President on the 6th of June became the first Nigerian leader to engage with Nigerians on social media sites including facebook.
41. By December 10th, President Jonathan had become the second most popular world leader on facebook second only to U.S. President Barrack Obama.
42. Mr. President listened to Nigerian youths and rescinded his order for the NFF to withdraw from International Football after Nigerians made passionate appeals on his facebook page.
43. The Nigerian Defence Academy on the instruction of Mr. President has begun to accept female cadets.
44. 35% of all Political appointments have been reserved for women to ensure gender balance in Nigeria’s body politics.
45. On the 19th of August, 2010 Mr. President swore in Nigeria’s first female Chief Economic Adviser in the person of Mrs. Precious Kassy Garba.
46. Nigeria’s railways are being revived and it is now possible to travel by rail between Lagos and Ogun and in certain other parts of the nation with plans on the way to extend that service nation wide.
47. The Nigerian Railway Corporation took delivery of 6 new Diesel Powered Locomotives to add to her fleet.
48. Under this administration, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has enjoyed complete independence which has seen the conclusion of previously troublesome cases involving several former governors and ex government officials including three convictions in high profile cases.
49. Previously untouchable cases including those involving the Siemens and Halliburton bribe cases were revived and persons charged to court.
50. Nigeria projected her anti corruption efforts beyond her borders by charging former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney for the Halliburton bribe scandal and reaching a plea bargain that not only brought in funds back to Nigeria but displayed that Nigeria was no banana republic.
51. Nigeria’s ranking on Transparency International’s listing improved under the present administration.
52. Finally, under Mr. President’s level headed stewardship over Nigeria during the trying times this nation went through between November 2009 and June 2010 we were able to navigate stormy political waters without the breakdown of law and order a pointer to the fact that Nigeria is under capable hands under the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Reno Omokri is the founder of the Build Up Nigeria Project http://www.buildupnigeria.com/, http://www.facebook.com/buildupnigeria