I have had time to reflect, in the last two weeks or so over the sudden removal of Oil Subsidy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, and the consequent mass rallies by Nigerians. To be sure, the protest that greeted this harsh government policy is the first of its kind in the country’s modern history, spanning across regional, religious and even class stratifications. Although, the week-long strike has long been called off, it is obvious that the mood of majority of Nigerians has hardly been pacified by the downward review of subsidy removal.
With the present national mood, care must be taken to avoid further government actions that could trigger a worse mass revolt, as it would seem that Nigerians, especially the youth, majority of who are unemployed have now been properly inducted into the culture of sustained protest, with the last experience.
In all fairness, the preponderance of economic hardship and near total infrastructure collapse in Nigeria cannot be blamed on President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) alone. These woes predate his administration. However, he is, and will continue to be at the receiving end of a transferred aggression and display of frustration by Nigerians, who have had to endure endless hardship under succeeding dispensations. As the saying goes, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Having said that, one pertinent question Jonathan and his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) should ponder over is this: why will Nigerians suddenly troop to the street against a government that received a pan-Nigeria mandate less than 9 months ago? No one should attribute the protest to the removal of subsidy alone. It was a spontaneous reaction against failing and unproductive authority at all levels. How for instance, can anyone justify the huge importation of gasoline by a country that produces 2.5 million barrels per day and consumes only 279,000 barrels or 44 million litres daily? If it takes about three years to build and have a refinery running, Nigeria could have built at least four new refineries in phases as well as maintain the existing ones in the last 12 years of PDP rule. The multiplier effect of locally producing premium motor spirit (pms), otherwise known as petrol is enough to significantly raise the standard of living of Nigerians. Jobs would have been created for the teeming unemployed youth roaming the streets or resorting to crime. The pump price of petrol would have been substantially low with attendant low price of essential goods and services. With eight functional refineries, Nigeria would have been exporting gasoline to most countries in the West African sub-region, while still exporting its crude to western countries. The foreign earnings will be more than enough for government to provide adequate infrastructure to the citizenry. But, the culture of corruption and lack of will-power of succeeding leaders have subjected 70% of Nigerians to abject poverty, each barely living on less than $2 a day.
However, Jonathan’s ascension to power became a source of hope in the country. During the last electioneering campaign, the president was dressed up as a man Nigerians could trust: well educated, compassionate and mild-mannered. Jonathan himself reinforced this with an image of meekness that was amplified by his soft-spokeness and an inspiring story about how he had no shoes as a child. Many Nigerians could relate to his rags-to-riches tales, and therefore embraced his candidacy. Even when the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) led by Adamu Ciroma painted Jonathan in a garb of an untrustworthy fellow, who could not abide by PDP’s constitution on zoning, Nigerians were not dissuaded. Many voters who had been disenchanted by PDP’s wasteful years even claimed to have voted for the person of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) and not his party. So palpable was the goodwill Nigerians invested in the Bayelsa-born son of a fisherman, and he, in turn promised an era of Transformation to justify the confidence reposed in him.
However, the first major policy thrust of the new Jonathan administration took many aback. Those who had believed he would hit the ground running were perplexed with his 6-year single-term proposal, in the face of a plethora of daunting socio-economic angst bedeviling the nation. How could a matter of tenure top the agenda of a man who promised to transform Nigeria? Close observers quickly began to extrapolate that Mr. President is either bereaved of quality transformational ideas or had been hijacked by no-do-well professional hawks, who feed fat in the midst of leadership ineptitude. From that point on, many political analysts started painting a picture of a mediocre in power.
Barely three months into the new administration came the first litmus test of the stuff GEJ was made of. A fringe movement that started with a group of Islamic preachers on the streets of Maiduguri few years back, suddenly began to unleash terror on the Bornu State capital and its environs. The ever-smiling president assured Nigerians and the international community that the sect will be summarily smoked and flushed out. But, rather than smoke out Boko Haram, as promised by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim, it was the police headquarters in Abuja that burst out in flames after a deadly suicide bomb attack carried out by a devout member of the Islamic sect.
Reacting to this attack, with a smile on his face, President Jonathan told a bewildered country that, “they (Boko Haram) are not just after the IGP; they could actually come after me”. By his reaction, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces failed to send a strong warning to the militants, rather he presented a picture of a timid and surrendering leader. Thereafter, there has been no let in Boko Haram’s bomb attacks across the Northern part of Nigeria with heavy human casualties. Many called for a shake-up in the leadership of the nation’s security community, but all fell on the president’s deaf ear, further re-enforcing the notion of a weak Jonathan, scared to move against the tides. Aside from this perceived weak disposition, the obvious failure of GEJ’s administration to efficiently tackle Boko Haram in the North, kidnappers in the South East and armed robbers all over the country must have considerably depleted Jonathan’s popularity to an all-time low.
On Christmas day, 2011, the world woke up to yet another suicide bombing of a church in Madalla, Niger State, leaving 37 dead and 57 seriously injured. The resultant national mourning in the country was predictable. The Nigerian Christian community had never had it so bad. All they needed at such an inauspicious time was government’s sympathy and a deliberate action against the perpetrators. But, guess what. Exactly a week later, precisely on New Year day, Jonathan raised the pump price of gasoline by about150%. The effect was instant and so was the national rage. If anything was left of the massive goodwill the president brought into office it was completely eroded as Nigerians embarked on a weeklong street protest and national workers’ strike. By and large, Jonathan became the victim of a long bottled-up anger of a people brutalized over the years by hunger, poverty, insecurity and near total blackout.
One major set-back Jonathan seems to have irretrievably suffered from the last street protest is that he has been exposed as callous, greedy and not better than his predecessors. The leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress and a coalition of Civil Society Organizations made a huge success of drawing attention to the bloated size of the Federal Cabinet and presidential Special Assistants, as a demonstration of GEJ’s lack of fiscal discipline. They also pointedly unearth frivolous contents of the 2012 Budget to show that Jonathan, on his part was not ready to sacrifice his comfort, while asking Nigerians to bear the strangulating effects of fuel subsidy withdrawal. In a country where majority live on $730 a year ($2 a day) before subsidy removal, Mr. President budgeted a staggering $6m (N992.57m) for feeding himself and his Vice alone. This amount will be sufficient to feed one million Nigerians a year, and equals President Barrack Obama’s six month wages. Wonderful! He also budgeted the following:
N280 million for two bulletproof Mercedes Benz saloon 600 E Guard at N140 million each,
N356.72 million for new vehicles in the presidential fleet, Mercedes Benz 350 (semi plain/partial bullet proof) at N25 million each, 10 jeeps (assorted – Range Rover, Prado and Land Cruiser) at N10 million each, and accessories for these vehicles will cost N25 million
N57.43 million to upgrade facilities at the Presidential Villa
N127.50 million to overhaul power generating sets
N512.385 million to refurbish the family wing of the main residence
N97.95 million for extension and expansion of State House car parks (The more SUVs and cars you accumulate the more ground you need to park them in!) These among other bogus allocations do not portray the President in complimentary light, to say the least. Yet, many Nigerians, resilient as they are would have looked the other way if Jonathan had not visited the January 1 economic tragedy on them.
Now, that the dust of protest has settled, it will be easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mr. president to enjoy the confidence of Nigerians, both at home and in the Diaspora. The menace of Boko Haram continues to threaten to engulf the country. Armed robbery of banks and on highways has heightened. Kidnapping in the South East continues unabated. Most Nigerian roads look like they are defaced by a long-drawn war and general infrastructure are begging for attention. The Health sector is not any different and the economy is on a dangerous downward trend. With all this overwhelming challenges, it is doubtful if much can be expected from a seemingly bemused administration before 2015 when its colourless tenure ends. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s first Ph.D. holding president might not get a prime spot among the list of ex-leaders in the nation’s history, and many will wonder why a combination of goodwill, good luck and education failed to transform a failing nation. Sad!
Lucky Lanre-Ojo (Lanre-Ojo is publisher of Eaglesworld International magazine, Canada)