ENGAGEMENTS By Chidi Amuta.
President Goodluck Jonathan may have intended his last media chat as an assertion of some sort of strength. For far too long, the perception had stuck that he is not only an effete administrator but also a weak president with scant personal electricity to bear the burden of apex political authority. Following closely on his overdue but dramatic firing of his incompetent National Security Adviser (NSA) and clueless Defence Minister, therefore, the media chat was prime PR opportunity. But I am afraid the president’s handlers misread their subject.
The man blew the chance by donning borrowed robes: appearing tough on the wrong issues and weak on the right ones. It may have been politically convenient to down play the security threats to the continuation of Nigeria occasioned by the Boko Haram and allied terrorist acts. Against the backdrop of partisan and patriotic reservations, the president defended his decision to jet off to Brazil in the midst of a series of massive carnage resulting from a string of Boko Haram bombings and reprisal actions.
I am afraid that both the partisan opponents to the president’s Brazil junket and regime talkative who defended the act got it wrong. Most Nigerians have got to that point where they think Jonathan is so ineffectual that Aso Rock might as well be vacant. So, it no longer matters that much whether the man is physically present in Nigeria or perennially air borne. His presence neither frightens Boko Haram and other contestants for armed superiority with the state. The beauty in this seeming tragedy is that the essence of the Nigerian nation endures in spite of what some see as an embarrassing lack of effective leadership presence.
So, let the president travel to wherever he likes. He can carry an entourage in hundreds. It is part of his job description and a continuation of a tradition of governance as perennial festival and relentless clowning. What ought to concern the man’s handlers is that even at those fora where
Nigeria is represented at the highest level, our presence no longer makes a difference. No remarkable speeches. No innovative diplomatic initiatives. No charisma on the part of those who have to fly our flag.
Gone are the days when Nigeria’s voice commanded respect and carried regional and sub regional gravitas. The world today has no time for countries that deliberately choose to be nothing. Even here in Africa or even West Africa, Nigeria does not matter that much anymore except as the repository of a few million barrels of oil. Of the 36 states of the federation, sovereign control of as many as 10 is directly or indirectly compromised by terrorist eruptions. Check: Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Kano, Taraba, Gombe, Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are directly in the theatre of terror. For each of these states, add at least one neighbouring state that is made insecure by collateral fear, kinship damage and security forces hot pursuit tactics.
That gives you a frightening 22 states that are literally in the ring of fire. So president, your effective and unchallenged control of the Nigerian territorial space is less than 50 per cent. Just do a mental mapping of the percentage of Nigerian states (including the federal capital) where troops in battle fatigue carrying long guns are now the new normal. Those who want to believe government and go about its business in these places risk being kidnapped or blown up. Nigerians from other states have been migrating from these places and not returning in any hurry.
The NYSC, a veritable instrument for national integration, has suspended postings to some of these states. Since 1966, we have not had this number of internally displaced persons in Nigeria. And no one is keeping a headcount or providing relief except the affected states who mostly provide transportation and thereafter leave the refugees to their own fate. In the process, whole lives are being tragically re-arranged and futures truncated with the attendant abortion of hope. If Jonathan asks for proper statistics, he will be shocked to find that the majority of the elite of the Northern half of our country has fled the ‘theatres of war’ to places like Abuja, Lagos, Dubai or London as the case may be. Those who remain are either in hiding or move around in mortal fear.
Once you take away the free mobility of persons, capital and services, you cannot seriously speak of a national economy. If Nigerians can no longer go to parts of their country to invest, live and work, how come we are spending so much money in silly junkets to look for foreign investors to come here? And yet the president insisted on talking about ‘the economy’ in his chat. Which economy? The only economy left are in three spheres: the money changing hands in Abuja’s political industry; the money from oil royalties which is being used to oil the political industry and, thirdly, the religious industry which feeds on the fears of the multitude of victims of the encircling insecurity. The latter includes the takings of the industrial churches as well as the money from across the desert, some of which is funding fanatical insurgencies like Boko Haram.
When the secular sovereign is so diminished, ineffectual and almost irrelevant in the lives of the people, the human hunger to believe in something takes people to church or mosque. But now death from Boko Haram or reprisal brigades lies in wait in both places. These happenings in themselves have dangerously compromised the very foundation of our democratic aspirations. People cannot even go out freely to worship. Nor can anyone openly discuss or criticise Boko Haram without dire consequences from an army of armed youth that we all created
through our greed and insensitivity. The challenge on the ground is how to re-assert sovereign control over the entirety of Nigeria in such a way that no aspect of citizens’ freedom is threatened or abridged. Incidentally, this is the most fundamental obligation of the state and the very basis of sovereign power.
The law, as it is today, does not compel anyone to make public what he or she declares to the ICPC. But in our national history, those leaders who have gone public with their asset declarations have accumulated a great deal of moral asset. The late Murtala Mohammed went public with his assets and voluntarily renounced whatever he owned that might have been ill gotten. He was not elected but felt compelled to impress the nation with his moral credentials in order to lead a crusade for the review of our public morality. In like manner, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, an elected sovereign, opted for public asset declaration. The public applauded them for it even though Yar’Adua did not live long enough to show what he wanted to do with the corrupt politicians and regime oligarchs that funded his campaign.
So, Jonathan may not be wrong in insisting that he will not go public with a declaration of his assets. But he appeared to be insufficiently aware of the rising public concern that corruption and national security are the overriding issues that will define his presidency. Perhaps no other presidency in recent Nigerian history has been wracked by so many corruption scandals as the one presided over by Jonathan. In effect, Jonathan carries a huge moral burden on the pervasive corruption in today’s Nigeria. That burden is not made any lighter by the frequent fingering of high government officials and regime-friendly oligarchs in the raging scandals around petroleum subsidy, the Malabo oil field arrangement, the pensions scam, the SEC scam etc. While the president may not be personally culpable in this forest of scandals, there is a sense in which these scandals and the overall atmosphere of unbridled corruption under his watch have continued to erode and diminish his presidency.
Therefore for Jonathan to declare on national television that he does not ‘give a damn’ about the public interest in open declaration of his assets is insensitive and arrogant to say the least. Those who do not want to ‘give a damn’ about matters in the public domain have no business vying for public office. The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is far too serious an office to be occupied by people with an ‘I don’t care’ attitude to serious public concerns. The matter gets even more serious if we are prepared to see corruption as a national security challenge.