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Non-Governing Governance (4 of 4): Fasten Your Seat Belt By Sonala Olumhense

It is an irony of many colours that last month, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) again failed to win the coveted Lagos State governorship.  It is also, I predict, a very eloquent statement about the future.

It is an irony of many colours that last month, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) again failed to win the coveted Lagos State governorship.  It is also, I predict, a very eloquent statement about the future.

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In each election since 1999, the PDP has begged, borrowed and bribed Lagosians for their votes; in every election, it has cajoled, coaxed and praised Lagosians; in every election, it has imported its biggest guns, the craftiest whiz-kids, the most expensive advertisers and the smoothest liars; in every election, it has deployed guile, bullying, arrogance, federal might. 

Still, it has lost Lagos each time.  In fact, the result has been increasing failure, and in last month’s contest, it lost by a higher margin than it did in 2007.  The answer is not difficult to find: Babatunde Fashola declared himself to be electorally invincible the moment he demonstrated to the wise voter that he can make government work for the people.

So successful had Fashola been that, as the country prepared for the April 2011 election, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo inadvertently sent him the ultimate cross-platform political endorsement.  The “Oloja of Otta” suggested a constitutional amendment that would permit hardworking governors to be “posted” to states suffering from pretend governance. 

It was not the brightest idea in the world, and in a moment of senility Obasanjo may have forgotten he was no longer wearing a military uniform.  Nonetheless, his comment emerged as the most profound criticism of floundering PDP governments yet.  As a testament to the Lagos of Fashola, Obasanjo’s compliment doomed whatever flickering hope the PDP candidate in Lagos may have nurtured.  When it was over, the PDP candidate could only share about 19% of the vote with 13 other candidates.  The grateful people of Lagos gave Governor Fashola the deserved elephant’s share of over 81%.

That voting pattern said eloquently that performance speaks louder than words.  The question for Jonathan, when he is sworn in this morning, is whether they can claim the same political relevance on the basis of his performance over the next four years. 

Jonathan will be assuming the presidency at a most critical moment for the country but also for his party.  It is a job he did not need, but wanted.  In the next four years, for both his friends and his foes, he will be the most-watched leader in Nigerian history. 

He has a tall mountain to climb.  When powerful leadership was required, his predecessors turned in performances ranged from the pathetic to the apathetic.  If the high expectations Jonathan has caused Nigerians to nourish in the past few months are any measure, he certainly agrees with this assessment: among others, he wants a “revolution” in the power sector; a new education policy; a new foreign relations policy; a new road network; an airport in every state; a university in every state; a job for every youth.

When I researched the avalanche of promises he threw at Nigerians throughout the electoral campaign, some of which were published in Part 3 of this essay, I was deeply troubled that he may have misunderstood the job description.  He did not sound as though he was just campaigning, but as though he was bragging.

But today is the day he starts to prove himself beyond rhetoric.   A leader with drive and determination can accomplish a lot in Nigeria because very little has been accomplished.  And Jonathan has assured Nigeria that his electoral promises were not just for votes. 

One must, however, be cautious of Jonathan’s sense of honour: In 2007, he was exceedingly reluctant to declare his assets, and only the intervention of ordinary Nigerians screaming loudly changed his mind.  His declaration of assets this week—or lack of it—should be very interesting. 

Jonathan’s commitment should also be fun to observe: When he became Acting President, he immediately sacked the notorious Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa.  I thought Mr. Jonathan was trying to tidy up the kitchen, in which case he would not only have sacked more of the administration’s more ignoble personnel, but caused them to be stripped of their loot, and prosecuted.

Not only did he did not, at that time, in March 2010, Jonathan set up a 17-man presidential project assessment committee to “investigate reports of abandoned projects” nationwide. It was headed by a former Minister, Mr.  Ibrahim Bunu, and given 30 days for the assignment. Jonathan said the committee was essential to development because it would assist the government in ensuring project completion and the effective utilisation of scarce resources. Still, the committee, after being subsequently awarded an open-ended mandate, simply disappeared.

One final point on the issue of commitment: In a speech in Minna in July 2010, Jonathan lambasted corruption, illegal acquisition of wealth, absence of productivity, dependence on oil, and evasion of taxes. “Unless Nigeria retraces its steps,” he warned, very soon the system will collapse.”  Still, a couple of months later, he approved a “National Honours” list for 2010 loaded with the dishonourable, the infamous, the undistinguished, money-launderers, looters, and 419-ers—economic and political.

But the hope is that the Jonathan who takes power this morning will somehow be different: a Jonathan who can rise above rhetoric; a Jonathan who understands that only boldness in decision-making and sleeplessness in gritty, hands-on implementation will restart Nigeria.

Let me conclude, then, with three issues that are somewhere on Jonathan’s shopping list.  First: electricity.  There is no reason Nigeria cannot achieve 24-hour electricity, for the simple logic that it is not magic.  It has been achieved all over the world and all we have to do is eliminate the factors that have kept us from reaching the same goal.  That would include the wealthy cabal his government said it had identified that was working to keep electricity from Nigerians. 

Part of the question, and the second issue, is corruption.  Jonathan can make a thousand speeches, but unless he can tackle corruption, he is merely playing the same old game.  He has said he will fight corruption by “strengthening” the anti-corruption agencies.  This sounds good, but it is escapist.  History shows us that fighting corruption begins and ends with a determined, committed leader who leads by example and gets his hands dirty.  Fighting corruption fails in Nigeria because corruption is protected by Nigeria’s leaders.  Nigeria’s leaders are superintendents of an institutionalized cover-up that no anti-corruption agency can wander into. 
But yes, he should strengthen the agencies.   For me, that would mean unbundling the EFCC because its assignment is too broad for one agency, inserting credible leadership, and providing broader judicial backup. 

Third, Project 20-2020: Nigerian officials enjoy talking about this subject.  The truth is that while it is poetic, it is absolutely meaningless.  Why? Part of the experience I referred to in Part 1 of this essay about Murtala Muhammad International Airport was of a desperate old man who could not even find tissues in the toilets!  We cannot run a simple airport but think we can be one of the world’s top economies in nine years?
The reason is that as an institution in Nigeria, governance is a joke.  Government officials see themselves as lords, not as servants.  Think about it: yesterday, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, our Minister of Aviation, was chieftain over a 64-million inauguration church service at the same time children were screaming to death in the heat of her prime airport. Certainly, such an airport cannot attract either business or tourism, but does Mrs. Njeze consider that her concern?   Does Foreign Affairs Minister Odein Ajumogobia have any idea care how long it takes to register a business in Nigeria?  Does the Minister of Works, Sanusi M. Dagash, know how many man hours are lost in city traffic in Nigeria daily, and does he care?

Ours is a country betrayed by its leaders who only mouth such clichés as development, transformation, rule of law, and reform.  Governments are the biggest 419 of all because the only substantive thing they do is award contracts.  They are unwilling or incapable of ensuring that projects are completed, promises fulfilled, mechanisms work, and the people served.   
The challenge of the four years that open this morning is therefore quite simple: Nigeria can no longer absorb official incompetence, indolence, or indifference.  If the federal government cannot provide performance, in 2015 there may well be performers from other political parties armed not only with the can-do certificate of satisfied voters, but also the anger of the betrayed.  

I have fastened my seat belt.

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