It is not strange, to me, that there is a loud argument over the report of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force chaired by Malam Nuhu Ribadu.
What is new, to me, is that the government is angry. Actually, anger is hardly the emotion: the government seems to be outraged that there would be Nigerians, anywhere, who fail to see its good nature and achievements.
The government is so disappointed that the presidential spokesman Reuben Abati employed rather uncouth language last week in an article, Jonathan and the Ribadu Report. I will not repeat his choice of metaphor.
Of the main issue, Abati explained: “The committees in question and the probe into the Petroleum sector were initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure transparency and accountability in the extractive industry; the goal was to transform the sector and raise levels of integrity accordingly. Every step that has been taken by this administration in this regard has been in fulfillment of this well-stated principle. This includes the decision to completely deregulate the downstream sector, which has now resulted in the exposure of oily deals in that sector, with consequences for the indicted persons.”
The spokesman then went off to reaffirm his worship of Jonathan, listing a batch of praises that include political will; mature response; clear directives; and leadership.
Evidently, Abati has grown in the mischief industry. Otherwise, it was a conscious choice to chase the smoke rather than the fire.
In the real world, outside the magnificent gates of Aso Rock, none of the current rancor and clamor and rabble-rousing is really about the Ribadu Committee report. It is not about oil or the committee or the petroleum sector.
That part is the smoke. The fire is much deeper. It is about character and leadership. When Nigerians doubt Jonathan’s motives and question his methods, it is because they know he wants them to accept a reality other than what they are witnessing with their eyes. It is because they know he wants them to accept the portrait of his praise-singers and sundry assault dogs hired for the purpose.
Thus, when a government official says, repeats or regurgitates such drivel as “President Goodluck Jonathan [wants to] to ensure transparency and accountability,” it sharply contradicts what Nigerians know.
What do Nigerians know? To begin with, that their President, in his own words, does not give a damn.
Before the whole world—and with the immediacy, pungency and urgency of the Internet and the social media networks—Mr. Jonathan declared that he does not give a damn about declaration of assets; that is: about leading the way, in practice, on transparency and accountability.
In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. Jonathan went further to explain that when he declared his assets in 2007, it was because President Umaru Yar’Adua compelled him to do so. In his magnanimity, he stated that he does not want to declare his assets and impose on federal officials the obligation to do so.
“The Federal Government has not done anything to stop or discourage the prosecution of indicted persons,” Abati wrote. “We have made the point, again and again, that in this on-going fight against corruption, there will be no “cover ups”; and no “sacred cows,” and that President Jonathan’s only interest is the people’s interest.”
It is not true that there is an “on-going fight against corruption.” Nor is it true that there are no cover ups (in quotation marks), and no sacred cows (wink-wink).
Let me cite just five examples, in addition to Mr. Jonathan’s refusal to declare his assets, to debunk this propaganda.
First: the corruption-related reports that include two Halliburton reports and of several presidential commissions which have remained unimplemented. You cannot have better examples of cover-ups or sacred cows.
Second: the several Ministers in Mr. Jonathan’s cabinet that have been accused of corruption and excessive spending, including the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke. It is one of the mysteries of official hypocrisy that the same Minister is the one that set up the committee the report of which is setting the country on fire. Mrs. Allison-Madueke may well be innocent, but from where does she obtain her credibility? Certainly not from the people of Nigeria, who are wondering whether they are supposed to laugh when someone says the same Minister is rooting out corruption and deepening reforms.
Third: federal officials are quick to point to the oil subsidy scam as “proof” that Mr. Jonathan’s government is combating corruption. It is not true. The oil subsidy revelations were forced by the people through last January’s protests when the government found itself on the verge of being unseated. Even then, everyone has seen how the prosecution of the scammers has been hampered by the government’s lack of interest in putting them in jail. Only last week, the EFCC was reported to be negotiating a plea deal with some of them, including the son of the chairman of the ruling party, Bamanga Tukur. Surely, that decision was not the EFCC’s to make, unless the commission also carries a PDP card.
Fourth: Let us remember that long before the oil subsidy protests of January 2012 and their aftermath, there was the KPMG audit report of the NNPC which exposed widespread financial and managerial malfeasance in the NNPC. And let us not forget that for over one year, until demanded by a Senate subcommittee, this “transparency and accountability” government had kept it hidden.
Fifth: Transparency and accountability? First Lady Patience Jonathan, a Bayelsa State civil servant by choice, this year disappeared abroad for nearly two months at public expense. The President did not say one word to the nation about her disappearance, although there were credible reports of hospitalization. That is exploitation, not only of public expenditure, but also of the democratic process. That is not how to spell accountability.
But there is another critical level at which the propaganda about the character of the current government must be calibrated: the quality of Jonathan’s word.
Last year, one week before Mr. Jonathan took office, I detailed hundreds of his electoral promises. Today, nearly two years later, only one of those pledges has been redeemed: ONE. Mr. Jonathan does not even refer to them any longer.
Similarly, while he describes his government as a government of transformation, I have repeatedly observed that he has not published his transformation plan. That leaves the transformation talk in the precincts of propaganda.
Let us also remember Jonathan’s many promises on jobs, which I have also detailed in this column, as well as his many vows to the public, one of them being to defeat Boko Haram last June. None of these promises has been redeemed, and the geography of Nigeria continues to shrink around Abuja, while the quality of life plummets.
Regrettably, the government cites Jonathan’s committeeing practice as demonstration of his goodwill and evidence of his success, State House officials condescendingly trying to force-feed the propaganda to the public.
It is clear that the people are not buying it. Committees may be good for Mr. Jonathan’s ego, but their effect has always been to Delay, Defer, Discourage and then Discontinue.
The condescension emerging from Aso Rock, which recently found new sharpness in connection with the Ribadu report, is a sad turn. It is this government which has dug for itself the credibility canyon in which it lives, and it is only the government—through courageous decision-making and dogged implementation—which can redeem itself.
To be clear, Jonathan cannot achieve such an objective by claiming the ethical mountain-top his aides are pointing at. He cannot achieve it by placing in charge of the storehouse Nigerians of dubious or doubtful records.
What Nigerians are asking is someone who will inspire them through character and consistency. Unfortunately, they continue to have thrown at them champions of compromise and accomplices to the crime.
That road is guaranteed to lead back, to January 2012, not the future.