By Reuben Abati
A loosely bound group of yesterday’s men and women seems to be on the offensive against the Jonathan administration. They pick issues with virtually every effort of the administration, pretending to do so in the public interest; positing that they alone, know it all. Arrogantly, they claim to be better and smarter than everyone else in the current government. They are ever so censorious, contrarian and supercilious. They have no original claim to their pretensions other than they were privileged to have been in the corridors of power once upon a time in their lives. They obviously got so engrossed with their own sense of importance they began to imagine themselves indispensable to Nigeria. It is dangerous to have such a navel-gazing, narcissistic group inflict themselves with so much ferocity on an otherwise impressionable public. We are in reality dealing with a bunch of hypocrites.
With exceptions so few, they really don’t care about Nigeria as a sovereign but the political spoils that accrue from it. And so they will stop at nothing to discredit those they think are not as deserving as they imagine themselves to be. President Jonathan has unfairly become the target of their pitiable frustrations.
Underneath their superfluous appearance, lies an unspoken class disdain directed at the person and office of a duly elected president of the country. It is a Nigerian problem, perhaps. In the same advanced societies which these same yesterday men and women often like to refer to, public service is seen and treated as a privilege. People are called upon to serve; they do so with humility and great commitment, and when it is all over, they move on to other things. The quantity surveyor returns to his or her quantity surveying or some other decent work; the lawyer to his or her wig and gown; the university teacher, to the classroom, glad to have been found worthy of national service. When and where necessary, as private citizens they are entitled to use the benefit of this experience to contribute to national development, they speak up on matters of public importance not as a full-time job as is the case in Nigeria currently.
What then, is the problem with us? As part of our governance evolution, most people become public servants by accident, but they soon get so used to the glamour of office that they lose sight of their own ordinariness. They use the system to climb: to become media celebrities, to gain international attention and to morph into self-appointed guardians of the Nigerian estate. They mask self interest motives as public causes and manipulate the public’s desire for improvements in their daily struggles as opportunity for power grab.
They are perpetually hanging around, lobbying and hustling for undeserved privileges. They exploit ethnic and religious connections where they can or join political parties and run for political office. They even write books (I, me and myself books, packaged as cerebral stuff); if that still doesn’t work, they lobby newspaper houses for columns to write and they become apostolic pundits pontificating on matters ranging from the nebulous to the non-descript. Power blinds them to the reality that we are all in this together and we have a unique opportunity to do well for the taxpayers and hardworking electorate that provide every public official the privilege to serve.
Unsatisfied with the newspaper columns, they open social media accounts and pretend to be voices of wisdom seeking to cultivate an angry crowd which they feed continually with their own brand of negativity. They arrange to give lectures at high profile events where they abuse the government of the day in order to gain attention and steal a few minutes in the sun; hoping to force an audience that may ‘open doors’ for them, back into the corridors of power. These characters are in different sizes and shapes: small, big; Godfathers, agents, proxies. The tactics of the big figures on this rung of opportunism may be slightly different. They parade themselves as a Godfather or kingmaker or the better man who should have been king. They suffer of course, from messianic delusions. The fact that they boast of some followership and the media often treats them as icons, makes their nuisance factor worse. They and their protégés and proxies are united by one factor though: their hypocrisy.
It is in the larger interest of our country that the point be made that the government of the day welcomes criticism and political activism. This is an aspect of our emergent democracy that expands on the growing freedom of expression, thought and association but there is need for caution and vigilance, lest we get taken hostage by the architects of odious disinformation. Nigerians must not allow any group of individuals to hold this country to ransom and no one alone should appropriate the right to determine what is best for Nigeria. The accidental public servants who have turned that privilege into a life-long obsession and profession must be told to go get a life and find meaningful work to do.
Those who believe that no one else can run Nigeria without them must be told to stop hallucinating. The former Ministers, former Governors, former DGs, and all sorts who have been busy quoting mischievous figures, spreading cruel propaganda must be reminded that the Jonathan administration is in fact trying to clean up the mess that they created. They want to own the game when the ball is not in their possession. They want to be the referee when nobody has offered them a whistle. They seek to play God, forgetting that the case for God is not in the hands of man. One of the virtues of enlightenment is for persons to have a true perspective of their own location in the order of things. What they do not seem to realise or accept is that the political climate has changed.
When one of them was in charge of this same estate called Nigeria, he shut down the Port Harcourt airport and other airports for close to two years under the guise of renovation. The Port Harcourt airport was abandoned for so long it was overgrown with weeds after serving for months as a practice ground for motoring schools. It was reopened without any improvement and with so much money down the drain, and the pervasive suspicion that the reason it was shut down in the first place was to create a market for a new airline that had been allowed the monopoly use of the other airport in the city. Under President Jonathan, airports across the country are being upgraded, rebuilt and modernized; in less than two years, the transformation is self-evident. Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy from our see-no-good commentators comes from the one who superintended over the near-collapse of the aviation sector who is now audacious enough to claim to be a social critic.
For the first time since 1999, the Nigerian Railway Corporation is up and running as a service organization. The rail lines have become functional from Lagos to Kano; Ewekoro to Minna, and very soon, from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, Abuja to Kaduna and Lagos to Ibadan. They couldn’t do this in their time, now they are busy looking for money that is not missing with their teeth. When questions are asked, they claim they invented the ideas of due process and accountability. They once promised to solve the crisis of electricity supply in Nigeria. But what did they do? They managed to leave the country in darkness with less than 2,000 MW; abandoned independent power projects, mismanaged power stations, and uncompleted procurement processes.
The mess was so bad their immediate successors had to declare an emergency in the power sector. It has taken President Jonathan to make the difference. Today, there is greater coherence in the management of the power sector with power supply in excess of 4, 200 MW; a better conceived power sector road map is running apace, and the administration is determined to make it better. They complain about the state of the roads. Most of the contracts were actually awarded under their watch to the tune of billions! They talk about corruption, yet many of them have thick case files with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the courts and the police on corruption-related charges. One of them was even accused of having awarded choice plots of government land to himself, his wives, his companies and other relations when he was in charge of such allocations! Really, have we forgotten so soon?
These yesterday men and women certainly don’t seem to care very much about the Nigerian taxpayer who has had to bear the brunt of the many scandals this administration is exposing in its bid to clear out the Augean stable. They’d rather grandstand with the ex-General this, Chief that, Doctor this and ex-(dis)Honourable Minister who has no record of what he or she did with the funds the nation provided them to deliver results to protect our interest so that we don’t end up continuing to make the same wasteful mistakes.
It is enough to make you shudder at the thought of any of them being part of government with access to the public purse; but then we’ve already seen what some of them are capable of doing when in control of public money, authority and influence; and to that the people have spoken in unison – they have had enough. Nigerians are wiser and are now familiar with the trickery from these persons whose claim to fame and fortune was on the back of their public service.
Our point at the risk of overstating what is by now too obvious: We have too many yesterday men and women behaving too badly. We are dealing with a group of power-point technocrats who have mastered the rhetoric of public grandstanding: carefully crafted emotion-laden sound bites passed off as meaningful engagements. That is all there is to them, after many years of hanging around in relevant places and mingling in the right corridors, all made possible through the use/abuse of Nigeria. Our caveat to their audience is the same old line: let the buyer beware!
• Dr. Abati is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Goodluck Jonathan