Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Anytime I look at President Goodluck Jonathan in the face (on TV and in newspapers, that is), I see a man under enormous pressure. He came in under a heavy cloud after all the controversy over zoning (power rotation) and post-election violence. He came in at a time the Nigerian youth elite had established a powerful tool in social media, which means they can easily mobilise public sentiments against those in authority. With power supply so erratic and elusive, and poverty nowhere near being curtailed, Nigeria looked like an impossible project. This is worsened by corruption – a roaring monster devouring our development. With such massive and mounting challenges, sometimes I wonder why anybody would want to be president of Nigeria.
As difficult as these challenges are, however, moments always present themselves that the leader can seize and make a mark for life. It is not easy to predict what the moment can be. The moment may not even be a moment. It may be an issue, a policy or a decision. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, many of us agree, made his impact in the first two years of this second term. The remaining years were largely forgettable. But setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to fight corruption – despite Obasanjo being caught in his own contradictions – revved up the tenor of his administration. The explosion in the telecoms sector did his government a world of good. He initiated economic reforms – some good, some bad. You certainly couldn’t accuse him of lacking impact. We will continue to debate Obasanjo’s legacy but we cannot deny him his “moments”.
What would be President Jonathan’s pivotal year, that moment when his administration finally gets a pass mark from Nigerians? What can he do to allay our fears and put smiles on our faces? These things are not difficult to name. We want electricity. We want security. We want good roads. We want an all-out war against corruption. We want food on the table and water in the cup. We want budgets that will deliver the goods. Of course, some of us recognise that no one person can solve all our problems. The president is there to do his bit; the governors are there to contribute their quota; the councils are supposed to be part of it all; and so on and so forth. So we are not saying Jonathan can solve every problem. But we need to be assured and reassured that the ship of state is heading in the general direction of progress and development under his captainship.
When the fuel subsidy face-off brought the country to a halt in January, I did write an article urging the president not to waste the crisis. It was an opportunity for him to clean up the system.
There were insinuations that the subsidy funds were spent on financing his presidential campaign last year (a claim he has denied), and I argued that he needed to take action to dispel such insinuations. Tackling the subsidy fraud can be the “moment” Jonathan needs to gain momentum. The subsidy regime has been largely sanitised now and – given what we know of the calibre of suspects on trial on allegations of fraud – it seems to me that the president means business. If the EFCC and the police are able to secure jail sentences for the suspects, then it would be a major success for the president in the fight against corruption.
What we are hearing is that the president has refused entreaties, even from traditional rulers, to stop the prosecution of suspects. The Aig-Imoukhuede Committee, the police and the EFCC reportedly enjoyed a free hand during the investigations. The president must go the whole hog. It could be his “moment”. It all depends on how we proceed from there. One thing, for sure though, is that many Nigerians will begin to take this administration more seriously in the anti-graft war. We have been let down many times before and we find it difficult to believe that any government is really serious about fighting graft.
Or could the electricity situation could be “the moment”? Personally, I have noticed a lot of improvement in the last three months. Many people are attributing the improvement to increased water levels at the hydro stations, although I would say the rainy season did not make much difference in the last two years. So maybe there is something being done right this year. Maybe the investments in the power sector over the years are beginning to yield positive results. If that is the case, then the complete turnaround of the power sector must continue. The privatisation must be properly and transparently handled as we seek to replicate the revolution in the telecoms sector. Any president that solves the power problem will certainly gain popularity with Nigerians. If I were Jonathan, I would seize the moment and give it whatever it takes to brighten up the country. I would not relent for a minute.
Or is killing off Boko Haram going to be “the moment”? Insecurity has been a major problem since we entered the Fourth Republic in 1999. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo stepped in at a time Nigerians were ready to explode, having been caged for decades by the military. The new-found freedom of expression led to the atomisation of ethnic agitations – Egbesu Boys, Bakassi Boys, MASSOB, OPC, MEND and all sorts. Sharia, too, was one sensitive and sore issue up North. The Boko Haram insurgency is perhaps the most challenging security situation in our country since the civil war, but even if the menace is contained by Jonathan today, I don’t think it would define his government.
Jonathan needs a “moment” to define him. He must look out for it carefully and seize it for the good of all. He must focus on addressing the power shortages, containing corruption and delivering budgets that can crush poverty and deliver prosperity to Nigerians.
And Four Other Things...
Why did the dastardly killing of four University of Port Harcourt students generate so much backlash? The previous week, dozens of students were mowed down at Mubi Polytechnic, Adamawa State, but the outrage was insignificant, compared to the Aluu killings. I have been asking myself: why? I came up with two possibilities. One, it was recorded on video and posted on the internet. That is, the barbarism was televised. Two, where were the police? The lynching obviously took place for hours and went unchallenged, while the policemen were probably extorting N20 from motorists by the roadside. The country continues to fail its citizens every day.
There is No Country
I’m enjoying myself as Igbos and Yorubas exchange acidic words over Professor Chinua Achebe’s civil war memoirs, There was a Country, which basically accused Chief Obafemi Awolowo of committing genocide against Igbos. I’m having fun because I thought some people said Nigeria should be broken into two: North and South. They said Igbos and Yorubas would be happily married in the Republic of Southern Nigeria! For the life of me, I am ready to bet that the ethnic acrimony in the present-day Nigeria will be child’s play compared to the one that is to come if Biafra and Oduduwa form one country. Hahahahaha…
Fuel Crisis Continues
Are you still asking why the fuel crisis continues? You obviously did not read my article, Here Comes Another Fuel Crisis, three weeks ago. What I did not state explicitly is that the queues would not disappear until 2013. We under-budgeted for fuel subsidy in 2012. The marketers are being owed. They have decided to cut down or stop importation altogether. Federal Government cannot go to the National Assembly for supplementary budget for fuel subsidy. We will tear them to pieces. So the 2012 subsidy arrears will be built into the 2013 budget. Payments will be made next year. Brace up, fellow Nigerians, the queues will not disappear soon...
Many Nigerians are angry and bitter over the decision of the Federal Government not to appeal the Bakassi verdict. I asked two weeks ago: what new evidence do we have to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to review its 2002 judgement which handed the peninsula to Cameroon? After agreeing to abide by the verdict, Nigeria was being asked to repudiate it. We had a pre-verdict agreement, lost the case, and indeed started implementing the settlement claims. Nearly 10 years after, we now want to go back for a review. Let’s fight only the battles we can win.