Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu.
Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, made a recent intervention in the media. He wanted Nigerians to know and understand their president better and took on those he felt were running their mouths on various platforms. One view of his intervention is that the behind-the-scenes revelations, if any, about the personal proclivities of Mr. President should not have been brought to the podium of national discourse; and that it did not get his boss any positive image, or media, mileage. Another view is that Abati did a most commendable thing by seeking to clarify the image of his boss and quash rumours that mischief-makers were cheerfully marketing about the man. The third perspective is that Abati’s newfound activism has much to do with Doyin Okupe’s rampaging, hands-on, no holds barred, media visibility. The view here, however, is that the presidential spokesman has put the question of whether Nigerians really know their president on the table.
It has often been noised about that President Goodluck Jonathan has always been a lucky man and that he knows nothing. This is the predominant view among opposition politicians, who can be divided into (1) people seeking power/position and belly aching over who is wielding it at the moment and (2) those with genuine ideological differences who have a different approach to leadership and governance. But they all seem to chorus the opinion that the president has never had to struggle for anything whatsoever in his life. The corollary to this thesis is that he should not be taken seriously. It is this presumption that has been the undoing of his foes.
Is it really true that the man has always been lucky? It must have been luck, good or bad, that led him to his parents at birth. Luck saw the gaping ‘vacancies’ in the homes of many of Nigeria’s millionaires and billionaires of those days, but did not bother to dispatch him in their direction. For good measure, he had to go barefooted for a time, while growing up under his ‘lucky’ circumstances. And, mind you, there were better and more advanced societies all over the world when luck brought him to Nigeria and into somewhat troubling material circumstances. It is curious that his own species of good luck waited until he had managed, really managed, to survive extremely inclement currents and then kicked in.
Was good luck on casual leave when the young man was prancing around and battling with the usual challenges which majority of Nigeria’s poor face! Luck was also not in sight when he was a lecturer at a College of Education, eking out an average teacher’s existence. Luck should have shoved him up to the position of provost, even before he applied to be a lecturer. Good luck did not bring him a doctorate degree, but allowed him to study for it, forcing him to leave his teaching job in the said College of Education to enrol and struggle in a university. Good luck was also out of town when he worked in several establishments, including OMPADEC. That is why he was not made the head of those organisations, but had to make do with several layers of authority above him. Let’s get real – and to the point.
I recall a private forum, during the last presidential elections, when the person of Jonathan came up. One of the speakers gave the profile of the president in very derogatory terms, capping his submission with this declaration: “Look, the man is not known in his state or in national politics. He has always been lucky, that is all!” Subdued laughter and embarrassed murmurs greeted his delivery. But the floor was still open. It would have been all right to sit quietly by the corner as an observer, but this was discourse. There is something fundamentally objectionable in allowing an opportunity for a good argument, especially with its opportunity for revelatory insights, to go scot free. So we set about looking at the ‘credentials’ of the president, as advertised by some of the speakers.
It is curious that a ‘nobody’ could be somebody enough to be part of a political engagement of any sort at all. He was also somebody enough to be picked as deputy governor. It is only a curious and peculiar brand of nobodyness that will enable somebody to emerge with any improved relevance in the political process. This is more especially so in an environment like ours, where people fight to the death with tonnes of cash. If luck gave him the ticket, luck did not take the trouble to register on his behalf as a party member. Luck also did not attend political meetings etc., on his behalf.
Is he cowardly? Perhaps yes, but one is worried about the type of cowardice that translates into a resolve not to back down on anything one feels very strongly about. Many expect Jonathan to jump before a moving train in a place filled with incoherent and unstructured opposition, in addition to predatory and dishonest co-travellers. We may yet be led (willy-nilly of course) to the point where we shall all admit that the Nigerian constitution forbids anyone being discriminated against on account of the place and circumstance of birth. The cheerful violation of this explicit constitutional provision has remained a cardinal principle of party politics in Nigeria, with no evidence that it is in the interest of the people.
Aviation and Soludo’s Sleepover
Hurried, harried and even a little harassed, we clambered down the uncomfortable bus and began immigration formalities for departure from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Down the hall was the unmistakable form of former Governor of the Central Bank, Chukwuma Soludo, who was also in the process of removing his person from Ethiopia through the said airport. He had some engagements across three countries, with two of those engagements in two separate continents. He was pressed for time. Like everyone else who boarded Ethiopian Airlines from Nigeria to various destinations, Soludo had a sleepover in, of all places, Addis Ababa. The sleepover was not by choice.
It is routinely inflicted on you by Ethiopian Airlines, following its now-established practice of carrying whoever boarded their national airline to their country and making the hapless travellers pine away (in sometimes dreary accommodation) until the next day. The processes surrounding how passengers get herded into their not-very-comfortable buses have not improved, after several decades. Seeing Soludo at the airport around 6.30 am, looking a little out of his element only reinforced the awkwardness of having to always sleep in Addis and lose valuable time each time one board Ethiopian Airlines.
Ethiopia has perfected the art of using its aviation sector to create wok for its people, driving its tourism, marketing local crafts and leveraging a nation that may well be at its wits ends in terms of revenue generation. The compulsory sleepover is under arrangement with their hotels, which gets paid for bed space and two meals out of each passenger’s ticket money. Those hotels get hundreds of customers in this way every day. The uninitiated regard their unsolicited hospitality as free food and boarding, but it is not. They paid for it when they instructed their travel agents, or staff, to buy an Ethiopian airline ticket.
You are simply lured into the country so that you spend some money and create jobs for their people. It is near impossible not to buy something once you disembark from a plane in another country. First there is the matter of some extra personal effects, besides the temptation of buying ‘just this small thing’ before getting to your actual destination and doing the real shopping. The money you spend in this way would not have dropped into the Ethiopian economy if you had not disembarked in Ethiopia. They are no fools, you know. Those sallow looking bus drivers and other airport hands would most probably be out of job if the Ethiopians were more interested in saving your travel time than in servicing their national interests. You are interested in getting to your destination, while they are interested in ensuring their survival as a people.
It is against the background of the foregoing that one is constrained to point out that the Aviation Minister’s efforts and focus should be understood and contextualised. Nigerians are getting uncomfortably close to a time when anyone who sneezes too loudly in the privacy of his room may be accused of an anti-North or anti-whatever-enters-my-mind agenda, by an irritated neighbour. The minister may need to sharpen the economic argument, especially for major stakeholders and potential mischief-makers. Let the dust settle and let us deal with the real matter of making the best from the known fact that Nigerians are the bulk of Africa’s travellers. Yet they are the most kicked around. The minister should put a strategy behind her understandable trajectory, so that a good thing is not ruined by ‘the circumstance and place of birth’.