Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
When a presidential spokesman begins to react to beer-parlour gossips about his principal with a full-page newspaper article, then you know the rumour mongers are in good business. Some of the title-tattle Dr. Rueben Abati was responding to last Sunday had been on the shelves for years. While I was still trying to digest Abati’s apologetics, President Goodluck Jonathan joined the fray. Speaking at a conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), he described himself as “the most criticised president in the whole world”. He said of the criticisms: “Sometimes I ask: Were there roads across this country and Jonathan brought floods to wipe them out? Or, we had power and I brought hurricanes to bring down the infrastructure? Were there massive irrigation projects in the North where agriculture can thrive and massive farms, and Jonathan brought drought to wipe out these farms under two years?”
Abati’s apologetics and Jonathan’s rhetoric can only point to one fact: criticism is getting to the president and his team. There is no need to be in denial. So I am tempted to ask: is the heat in the kitchen getting too hot for the president? What exactly is going on in his mind? Why does he think he is the most criticised president in the world? Does he think the criticisms are unfair? Does he think anybody would be president of Nigeria (and any country for that matter) and would not be criticised? Has he done, or is he doing, anything worthy of criticism? Can the president determine the kind of criticisms that he should get from the populace? Is criticism in itself bad? Really, it is one thing for the president to grumble within his circle that he is being unfairly criticised; it is another thing for him, or his spokesperson, to go public with the complaint.
I can’t say for a fact that Jonathan is the most criticised president in the world, but I know that the age of social media has not helped his cause at all. Past presidents and heads of state have been severely savaged by critics, but this was done primarily in the newspapers and at village squares. Now, almost everybody has access to mobile phones and the internet, meaning they can give vent to their feelings via SMS, BBM, twitter, facebook and blogs. It would therefore be impossible to determine the most criticised president. I do know that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo got far more than a fair dose of umbrage from Nigerians during his eight years in office (I think I filled my quota of Obasanjo-bashing to the brim and had to borrow space from others). I do know that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was ruthlessly pummelled, even on his sick bed. To determine who goes home with the trophy will therefore be pretty difficult. But, for the benefit of argument, let’s say it’s Jonathan.
If I were to advise President Jonathan, I would tell him he has not seen anything yet. Criticism—informed or ill-informed, fair or unfair, constructive or destructive—comes with the presidential package. The critics come in different packets. There are those criticising Jonathan because, by nature, they must criticise. That is what they are very good at. They are perennial critics. That is how they maintain their prominence in the media. There are also those criticising him because they are not benefiting from his government. If he gives them “something” today they would stop talking. (Conversely, there are those praising Jonathan because they are getting “something” from his government. If the pepper soup stops flowing, they will become public affairs analysts.)
Furthermore, there are those who believe that Jonathan usurped power by failing to abide by the “zoning formula” of his party. They, therefore, can never see anything good in him. They will criticise him till the world comes to an end. This category is not really bothered about his performance in office, but it helps if it is poor. You also have people who just hate him. Simple. They just cannot stand him. If Jonathan loses one of his arms in the service of Nigeria, they will ask: what is he still doing with the other arm? Everything he does must be wrong. Every word he utters must be condemned. What’s more, you have the opposition parties which, by definition, must oppose him. It is part and parcel of democracy. They will stop being opposition the day they start praising him. That means they are digging their own electoral grave.
But there is a final category: there are those who genuinely criticise Jonathan out of love for Nigeria. They are worried about the Nigerian condition. They want action. They want progress. Some have given up on Jonathan’s ability to deliver the goods as promised in his campaign; others are still giving him a benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, they will continue to criticise him for as long as there is no steady power supply, for as long as we are importing fuel, for as long as insecurity persists, for as long as unemployment is pervasive, for as long as corruption is not treated as leprosy. This is the trick: Jonathan should not fall into the mistake of grouping all his critics together. He will be missing the point if he regards anyone who raises any issue with his administration as an enemy.
Of course, people criticise him with different motives, even though we may all be saying the same thing and using the same words to express our feelings about the performance of the administration. But does the motive really matter? The president should respond to all criticisms—whether good or bad—with unrivalled performance in office. If he performs extraordinarily well, nobody can argue against it. If we have 24-hour electricity, if our schools are back in top shape, if the federal roads under his care are first class, if the corrupt persons in his government are flushed out, it would be difficult for us to deny these things. That is the best way to shame his critics.
The president ended his speech at the NBA conference thus: “I can tell this noble audience that before I leave, I will also be the most praised president.” That is the spirit! Action will speak louder than words.
And FourOther Things...
NNAJI’S SUDDEN EXIT
The exit of Prof. Bart Nnaji as Minister of Power came to me as a shock. He was often accused of having a conflict of interest because he was a player in the power sector. Everybody in the world knew he was the owner of Geometric Power before he was made minister. I thought the modalities had been worked out when he accepted the job but this obviously wasn’t the case. For transparency sake, Geometric should not have participated in the privatisation programme with him as minister. Going forward, we must resolve issues around conflict of interest properly in appointing private sector players into government.
THE $15M QUESTION
Another twist has been introduced into the alleged $15 million bribe said to have been offered to the former EFCC chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, by the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori. Weeks after Delta Sate made efforts to reclaim the money, declaring that it was from the state treasury, a businessman named Chibuike Achigu has surfaced to claim the cash, saying the money was meant for PDP campaign in 2007. Reminds me of one Ochuko who surfaced from nowhere in 2003 to claim that he, and not Ibori, was the person who was convicted for stealing roofing sheets. He, like Achigu, said he was not aware of the media brouhaha until he woke up one morning. What a coincidence!
Who leaked the details of key SSS officials, both serving and former, on a website last week? The personal details of about 60 operatives were published. The leaked information contained names, bank details and addresses of operatives, including those of the DG, Mr. Ita Ekpeyong. Who did this? There are suggestions that it was the handiwork of a Boko Haram sympathiser in the service. Whether it is true or not, there is a clear indication that national security is being breached every day. And we seem to be helpless. Should we be scared then? Shouldn’t we?
THE CHEVENING EFFECT
I was privileged to address the 2012-13 Chevening Scholars last Thursday at the British High Commission in Abuja. Having benefited from the scholarship in 2005 and having enjoyed the honour of taking a Master’s degree from the University of Sussex thanks to the generosity of the British government, I always feel pained that the process of selection for Commonwealth scholarships by the Nigerian government has not been as transparent as anyone would expect. The Chevening process is very open and competitive and I hope we would learn from this and change our ways.The coinage is obviously clumsy but certainly not malicious. It is only fair for me to clarify the issue here.