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Jonathan, Don’t Drop the Ball

25 Nov 2012

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Simon Kolawole Live!: Emailsimon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com


Increasingly, it appears two major things will eventually define the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan: the power sector and the anti-graft war. Don’t misunderstand me – we need massive infrastructural development, a sound educational system, healthy hospitals and agricultural revolution. Jobs and jobs and jobs will be a natural consequence. But look at those things closely: they take time and require more than Jonathan to achieve. States and councils are empowered to build roads, run schools, equip hospitals and promote agriculture. That means all tiers of government must play their roles for us to see results.

However, for Jonathan, the importance of the power sector can never be exaggerated. No country has developed in the modern world using candles and generators. For all of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s achievements, he left Nigeria literally in darkness. Surely, he could have addressed the problem in eight years if he desperately wanted to. Although President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua virtually brought everything to a standstill during his short reign, President Goodluck Jonathan has already spent two and a half years in office and has no excuses to leave us in darkness by 2015. If he fixes the power sector, even his worst critics will give him some credit.

On the anti-graft front, we don’t need to deceive ourselves – we are going nowhere if we do not confront this monster. It is not just about correcting the global perception that Nigeria is a rotten country – a fact which chases away many self-respecting investors – but also about freeing up resources for development. Too much money is wasted or stolen, and you cannot but wonder how many more roads or schools or hospitals the loot could have built. The money usually spent on building 20 kilometres of roads will end up on two kilometres after a lot of pilfering and pillaging at several road blocks mounted by government officials, bankers, accountants, traditional rulers, pastors, imams, juju priests, journalists, activists, lawyers and layabouts. Everybody is contributing their quota to the destruction of Nigeria.

After Jonathan’s uncertain start in the anti-graft war, I believe he was presented with a rare opportunity of “seizing the moment” when the fuel subsidy scandal broke. There is an impression that Jonathan is treating corruption with kid gloves. Agreed, Jonathan alone cannot fight corruption. It is so endemic. The war is further complicated by the activities of the elite who hijack and pollute the system and the institutions. The judiciary does not also help matters: some unscrupulous judges (and lawyers) make sure justice is delayed and ultimately denied. The justice system in serious countries takes out criminals in no time. In Nigeria, the big thieves always get away. For instance, how many former governors or ministers or commissioners are in jail here?

I admit that we cannot blame Jonathan for everything but at least he should not leave us in doubt that he means business in this war on graft. When the Aig-Imoukhuede-led Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments came up with the damning report on the fuel subsidy scam, my initial response was typical: nothing will come out of this. But I braced up and urged the president to act. The report is so comprehensive that even a primary school kid could see how Nigeria has been milked of trillions of naira by fuel importers. When the suspects, many of them connected at the highest level in the society, were charged to court, most sceptical Nigerians said: it’s all a ruse; government would soon find a way of freeing them. In my mind, it was like: no, that would be daft.

You can then imagine my shock and surprise two weeks ago when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reportedly agreed to strike a “plea bargain” deal with the suspects. This will allow them part with some loot and regain their freedom. I screamed: Hell, no! If Jonathan agrees to such a deal, he would not only be playing into the hands of the cynics, he would have sufficiently shot himself in the foot and he should never expect anybody to take him seriously again. The whole war would just become a joke. The cynics are already saying: “Didn’t we tell you?” Personally, the benefit of the doubt I harbour for Jonathan would evaporate. I am still assuming that the plea bargain matter is all rumour. It seems our prisons are only configured for those who steal tubers of yam. The big hitters have all the fun – and all the luck. They often roam the streets triumphantly.

There is also something going on about Ifeanyi Ubah of Capital Oil. The more I read the stories, the more appalled I am. Is that how easy it is to become a “billionaire” in Nigeria? Why then should there be anything called hard work and integrity? If the allegations made by the chief executive, Coscharis Group of Companies, Dr. Cosmos Maduka, are to be our guide, then corruption in Nigeria has gone from serious to ridiculous. How is Ubah unable to account for four cargoes of petrol, valued at over $180 million which happens to be Maduka’s money? Over N29 billion worth of imported product gone just like that, without a trace?

Maduka, who was apparently playing “Nnewi parapo” thinking Ubah was unjustly frozen out by the banks, said he fell into a well-prepared trap by lending money to Ubah. The initial transactions were “successful”. Apparently, it was banks’ funds that were being paid to Maduka as “profits”. But, of course, the bubble eventually burst. Now Maduka is struggling to recoup over N20 billion stuck in Ubah’s wallets. The story goes on and on about how similar “transactions” had been done and dusted in the past, leaving the victims with high blood pressure and trauma. And while a UK court has granted an order freezing Capital Oil’s assets because of the international dimension to the case, our courts are playing games. We have become a global laughing stock.

Maybe the time has come for us to properly define what we want in this country. Do we really want to fight corruption? Do we want Nigeria to change at all and be rescued from chronic underdevelopment, planted and watered by the political and business elites? Clearly, Jonathan must deliver on the anti-graft war and the power sector. He has all the chance in the world to seize the moment, right the wrongs and write his name in gold. Enough said.

And Four Other Things...

Cheerful Givers
My faith in this country was strengthened by the response to my last week’s article on the flooding disaster that ravaged 20 states. Nigerians are not bad people! Many have expressed their willingness to give, the only problem being how to get the materials across to the victims and avoid all the government “bureaucrats” (read: thieves) and many marauding NGOs. It’s a dilemma, I admit. I learnt MTN had donated materials directly to the victims – mattresses, stoves, pots, food, disinfectants, etc – despite the logistic nightmare. It’s so sad that so many people want to give but are afraid of the system.

Bye Bye-Courtney
It’s good news that the Federal Government has finally terminated the PPP agreement with Bi-Courtney for the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Bi-Courtney’s inability to commence major works for several years has been a source of concern to Nigerians. I had celebrated the “imminent” commencement of work when Bi-Courtney took its South African partners to President Goodluck Jonathan last year. But nothing has changed. I don’t know why Bi-Courtney failed, but the heart-warming news is that we are about to put the nightmare behind us. A modern motorway is all that matters to road users now.

Mubarak is Back!
When Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square last year to unseat dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, in the so-called Arab Spring, I was not that excited. In the Bible, when Israelites asked Prophet Samuel to appoint a king “so that we can be like other nations”, he asked them: “Do you know the implications?” As things stand, Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Mursi, may turn out to be a worse dictator. He has just passed an omnibus decree that empowers him “to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution”. Meanwhile, disillusioned Egyptians are back to Tahrir Square. And, goodness me, they have been duly tear-gassed…

Chevening Calling
I’ve been inundated with inquiries about the 2013/2014 British Chevening scholarship ever since I gave a talk to the 2012/2013 scholars at the British High Commission, Abuja, earlier this year. Well, I think I can have some peace now! Applications are finally open at www.chevening.org. The scholarships are usually awarded to “outstanding scholars” with “leadership potential”.  I am encouraged anytime I see the number of Nigerians willing to further their education abroad. My wish is that one day, the good ones will return to be part of the process of freeing Nigeria from underdevelopment.

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