Tuesday, 4 March 2014
President Jonathan Grappling With Credibility Issues By Christopher Okonkwo
His unassuming mien endeared him to many. His ‘I had no shoes’ speech resonated with millions of Nigerians who shared similar backgrounds to his poverty-stricken past. Convinced his meteoric rise to national prominence had more to do with the fulfillment of the destiny conveyed in his name (Goodluck), and less to do with the devious manipulations of his political party, his approval rating soared. Voting for him as president was an unlikely entente cordiale, given his affiliation with a political party so often maligned for being responsible for many of the ills bedeviling the country.
Nineteen months later, and a majority of Nigerians are regretting they voted for a president they feel has failed woefully in keeping to his own side of the agreement. Nigerians are aggrieved that President Goodluck Jonathan has failed them in all aspects and are responding in kind. No longer is this son of a canoe carver seen as the messiah. He is now the spineless and clueless leader, the impresario of anti-populist entertainment, one who has reduced the anti-corruption war to a public spectacle.
Pastor Tunde Bakare, former vice-presidential candidate and convener of the Save Nigeria Group, had this to say about the endemic corruption in the country: “Without doubt, if corruption remains king, violence its deputy and insecurity the treasurer of the ill-fated status quo in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we might as well write the epitaph today: ‘Here lies the remains of a potentially great country whose ruin came because leadership did not give a damn.”
In his Christmas message, President Jonathan promised Nigerians better days ahead in 2013. "The New Year shall be better for us in terms of job creation, wealth creation and improved security among others,” the president said.
The message was, however, met with an instinctive shrug of the shoulders and an all too familiar nose-thumbing at what Nigerians generally regard as yet another empty rhetoric from the president.
Nigerians no longer believe in the president’s promise of a better future. What they want to believe in, what they want to see, is what the president can deliver in the short-term, in his policy of the here and now. If the president promises improved power supply, they want to see an instant improvement in the power supply.
There are ample reasons for this lack of belief.
The president promised Nigerians improved security. In the north, ethno-religious conflicts are at an all time high; in the south, kidnapping is a thriving business. Just a few days after the president’s Christmas message, in which he also assured Nigerians of a peaceful holiday period, 12 people were killed by unknown gunmen during Christmas Eve services in two churches in northern Nigeria.
President Jonathan has reiterated the commitment of his administration to bring the perpetrators of the fuel-subsidy fraud – the president highlighted the fraud perpetrated in the oil sector as the reason for removing subsidy on petrol, with the removal precipitating the ‘Occupy Nigeria Movement’ in January 2012 – to book. No one has been punished since about half a dozen committees were set up to investigate the fraud.
President Jonathan promised improved power supply to Nigerians in 2012. Improved power supply is still a mirage.
President Jonathan promised to create jobs for millions of Nigerians. The army of unemployed Nigerians is growing by the day.
Apologists of the president’s economic policies continue to appeal to Nigerians to be patient, claiming the administration is still relatively young and Nigerians would start to feel the impact of the policies soon. Counting from when he took over from the late President Yar’Adua, President Jonathan has spent close to three years in office.
By all justification, this is time enough for any leader to have successfully charted clear-cut policies that people can easily identify with.
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has spent a little over two years in office, but her stance in the fight against corruption is not in doubt. In November federal police raided government offices in Brasilia and Sao Paulo and arrested six people for running an influence-peddling ring that sold government approvals to businessmen in return for bribes. The arrests of the top government officials were spectacular in themselves, but the pièce de résistance was the fact that Rousseff had also sanctioned the investigation of former personal secretary of ex-president Lula Da Silva, her political mentor.
In Nigeria, investigating top government official is one thing, persecution is another. If an official of a serving government is under investigation for corruption, they are almost never brought to justice. As critics continue to accuse the president of running a highly corrupt government, the administration is sadly doing little to dispel this notion.
An incident that shows the accusations are not about to dry up anytime soon is the recent appointment of Chief Anthony Anenih as chairman of the juicy Nigerian Ports Authority. A controversial figure during Obasanjo’s administration, Anenih was derisively referred to as ‘Mr. Fix it’ by his critics, with his success to persuade the state governors to back Jonathan’s presidential bid being one of the numerous things he was able to fix. As Minister of Works under the ex-president, his ministry was accused of embezzling about two billion dollars meant for the repair of federal roads.
When the small matter of one hundred million dollars that the official residence of the vice president would cost is thrown into the mix, the credibility issues this current administration faces is further compounded. Doing the rounds recently in Nigeria was the issue of approval of an extra nine-billion naira for the completion of the vice president’s official residence. According to reports, the residence had been meant for the current president when he was still vice president and seven billion naira had been approved for the construction. But when Namadi Sambo became vice president, it became imperative for the extra cost to be incurred because his ‘religion and culture were different from his predecessor’s+.
The vice president has denied any involvement in the issue. But the fact that the issue is coming up at about the same time when eight hundred thousand Nigerians, including Ph.D. and Master’s degree holders, applied for one thousand five hundred entry-level vacancies at the nation’s electoral commission is an indictment of the Nigerian system.
It is not all gloom, however. The president comes across as someone who wants to leave a lasting legacy before he quits the political scene. His signing into law of the Freedom of Information Act in 2011 was lauded as a major step toward ensuring greater transparency in government. The Petroleum Industry Bill, albeit controversial, has the potential to bring about people-oriented changes, if signed into law and properly executed. In addition to sanitizing the down-stream oil sector, the bill can bring lasting peace to the crisis-prone Niger Delta, the oil base of the nation.
The president still needs to do more, though. If he must project the squeaky-clean image that his administration is so keen on, he must put an end to the folderol of his asset declaration by going ahead to declare to Nigerians how much he is worth. He must, as stipulated by the Transparency International, set up an independent investigatory panel that has the scope and power to investigate and prosecute the people responsible for stealing the over five trillion naira of government funds reportedly missing since he became president.
If the president can achieve all this, then he’d be taking a giant step towards repairing his battered image and making Nigerians believe in him once again.
Christopher Okonkwo, author of Concentric Circles and a public affairs analyst, writes in from Abuja
Follow him on twitter: @ obumchris
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters