Jonathan’s Bare-Knuckle Slugfest

04 Mar 2013

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BEHIND THE FIGURES by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu

In the not-to-distant future, Nigerians will be heading back to the polls to elect or re-elect a president, state governors and legislators for the state and national assemblies. Yet President Goodluck Jonathan’s common refrain on the 2015 general election is that it is still too far off for him to declare his candidacy; he would rather not be distracted by 2015, and would prefer to concentrate on governance.

But it is glaring to anyone but the blind that the president has firmly set his sights on 2015. Accordingly, it will be advisable for Nigerians at this juncture to stop reading Jonathan’s lips and focus on his body language. Whist a year ago his approach towards 2015 was subtle and partly concealed, in recent weeks he has bared his fangs like a wounded hound.

A number of factors have forced the president to take off his gloves for a bare-knuckle slugfest: The first is the possible coalition of opposition parties to form the All Progressives Congress as well as a series of meetings of 11 of the opposition governors desirous of wresting control from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. The second is the clear and present danger of some PDP governors, discontent with the ruling party, pitching their tent with the APC. The third is the all-too powerful Nigerian Governors’ Forum, which serves as a springboard for the 36 governors of the federation to chart the socio-political and economic path of this nation. From the narrative above, it is obvious that the governors have featured prominently as a common denominator.

I have never been a great fan of the governors as a collective, even though there might be a few I privately admire for their brainpower and commitment to governance. My cynicism over the governors as a collective stems from the belief that they are motivated mainly by self-interest. To be fair, there is no country in the world devoid of special interests pushing for a common goal, but when it is one focused primarily on getting more money, which must trickle down from the centre, or a power grab that locks out other qualified Nigerians from contesting for the highest office in the land, then we have major problem on our hands.

Jonathan, himself, once a short-lived substantive governor, has taken on the very difficult task of doing what his predecessors before him never contemplated. He has decided that the governors’ forum must be reined in and kept in check. Even the almighty Olusegun Obasanjo, an ill tempered retired army general, stopped short of dismantling the governors’ forum. At best, he used the apparatus of state to hound those he considered an irritation, albeit on an individual basis. Perhaps, Obasanjo had the smarts to know that the governors, be it those seeking second terms in office in an election year or those preparing to step down, having completed their terms of office, still controlled the political structures of their states at the time of an election and had a major role to play in determining the outcome of the polls.

Jonathan, on the other hand, has taken on the governors (save for a handful who have outwardly aligned with him) in one fell swoop. According to the president’s political strategists, Jonathan’s goal is to whip the governors, especially those on the platform of the PDP, into line to prevent them from going astray. To achieve this, he intends to adopt the carrot and stick approach by dangling before them their hearts’ desire and threatening to unleash the apparatus of state on them. Given the number of skeletons the governors have hidden in their closets, achieving the latter might not be too difficult. However, it is yet to be seen how he intends to accomplish the former.

But what Jonathan and his strategists have not banked on is that not all the governors can be frightened into submission. Some in the PDP will be prepared to keep up appearances, walk the walk and talk the talk, until the last moment when their true colours will shine through. Others, particularly those from the north, could take their chances by damning the consequences, walking away from the PDP and forming a power bloc that both the ruling party and APC would have to reckon with. While those from the opposition will continue to make the right noise and hope that they lure as many defectors from the PDP to give them the leverage required to unseat the ruling party from power.

Despite my mistrust of the governors’ forum, I do not envy the task or approach Jonathan has taken. By forming a PDP Governors’ Forum as a counterbalance to whittle down the influence of the NGF, he has opened up his flanks. The north and south-west zones, being the most populous voting blocs in the country, are extremely important for anyone seeking to become the president of Nigeria. Keeping the governors of these two zones on his side, including those in the opposition, for the purpose of winning the presidential election, should have been the ultimate goal of the president and his minders.

By balkanising and disenfranchising the governors, the president has chosen the more difficult path to re-election. It is painful, bare-knuckle contest from which everyone will come out bruised, bloodied and weakened.

t was Jim O’Neill, an economist and retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management unit, who coined the term BRIC in a seminal 2001 paper on the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China as the new symbols of global economic power in the 21st century. The term was later amended to BRICS to accommodate South Africa.

But in recent times, the BRICS, with the exception of China, have been rather disappointing. Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa have recorded lower than expected economic growth, rising inflation, weak governance structures and have not been as competitive as the G7 economies. South Africa even suffered a ratings downgrade in the last quarter of 2012.
The global chairman of KPMG International, Michael Andrew, who was in Nigeria last week, blamed this on the inconsistent regulatory environment and poor returns on investment by companies and investors that placed their bets on these countries. He said capital and investors are now turning their focus on the next batch of emerging economies, which he termed the MINTs as well as the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) region. MINT stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

I was not entirely surprised that Nigeria fell into the next category of major emerging global economies. After all, the country has all that it takes to become one of the largest economies in the world in the foreseeable future. Indeed, Goldman Sachs, in 2012, predicted that Nigeria could surpass Britain and several other European countries to become the 12th largest economy in the world by 2050.

Yet Nigeria still has a long way to go before it can emerge the true Giant of Africa and a global economic powerhouse of reckoning. Its leaders would need to take note of Mr. Andrew’s brief assessment of Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa – inconsistent regulatory environment – a problem associated with Nigeria. The other being corruption, which has contributed in no small measure in stunting Nigeria’s development.

The combination of an inconsistent regulatory environment/government policies and corruption are bound to result in low returns on investment for those wanting to take a risk on Nigeria. So if its leaders are sincere about elevating Nigeria to the lofty economic heights, which everyone believes the country is capable of attaining, they would need to turn a new leaf to avoid the pitfalls of the BRIS.

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