By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the story you’re about to read is a true account of the reasons I criticise President Goodluck Jonathan these days. I don’t want you to believe all the cheap blackmail that it is because we lost an election or wanted favours and attention. While I may not know why other columnists criticise him, mine is very simple and straight-forward. The sad thing about men of power and their supporters is no one ever remembers when you praise a leader. You will never receive a simple thank you message. What is worse is that some of your readers would conclude that you’ve been settled like others with some stupendous gratification.
On the other hand, when you criticise the leader, you instantly become an enemy and persona-non-grata. You must have been sponsored by some mischievous members of opposition. These days the agents of government swarm all over the place. The best way government knows how to create employment in our clime is to engage the services of those who are incapable of persuading anyone with superior logic. The only qualification needed is the ability to spit bile and hurl insults at enemies of government. But a columnist who’s not venomously attacked is not worth his salt and the ink of his pen.
Now, this is how the story started. Sometime around November 2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua completely disappeared from radar. And no one could tell what had happened to the perfect gentleman who despite his grave ill-health was making every strenuous effort to put Nigeria on sound footing. What made matters worse was the fact that his Vice President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appeared lost in the Aso Rock wilderness. We were daily regaled with salacious tales of how he was being dribbled by some powerful cabal who had cleverly hijacked power in the absence of the President. The only story that was factual was the fact that the President was detained inside the intensive care unit of the King Fahd Hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Dr Jonathan’s situation and ignoble treatment had attracted attention and serious opprobrium from far and near. This was why the social activists decided to rescue him from the hands of his tormentors. The first group to rally support for him was the Save Nigeria Group which had as Arrowheads Pastor Tunde Bakare, Professor Wole Soyinka, Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade, Mr Solomon Asemota (SAN), Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Pastor Sarah Umaku, Dr Yunusa Tanko, Malam Uba Sani, Hon. Wale Osun, Mrs Ayo Obe, Mr Yinka Odumakin, Dr Mrs Joe Okei-Odumakin and Mr Charles Oputa. Their agitation for disclosure on President Yar’Adua’s condition had reached a frenetic level that they decided to hold a mass rally on the streets of Abuja. This they achieved on Tuesday, January 12, 2010. But it yielded no response from the almighty cabal, as they were called then.
There was a repeat rally by the same group on Thursday, March 11, 2010 to further put pressure on those holding the President hostage to speak to Nigerians as well as make it possible for the Vice President to take charge of governance in Nigeria. A few days later, on Sunday March 14, 2010, to be precise, Mr Ohimai Godwin-Amaize was at my house in Abuja to solicit my support for a planned Enough-is-Enough Rally by some youths and celebrities come Tuesday, March 16, 2010. He didn’t have to preach to a convert, as I was tired of the chicanery that was going on.
I woke up that March 16 to receive my good friend and brother, Mr Charles Oputa, in my house. He did not know I was planning to march with some young Nigerians to the National Assembly after our meeting. He became suspicious when he saw me wearing a red top and jeans and wondered where I was going. I had to tell him my mission and he immediately offered to join us but he had to go home to dress for the rally and also pick his power-bike.
We started the rally at the Eagle Square but Charly Boy joined us at the main road leading to the National Assembly where some special anti-riot security officers in red berets were on ground to break up our rally. Rumour had it that they were Israeli-trained. As I write this I wonder why they can’t unleash them on Boko Haram. Charly Boy and I tried all the tricks in the books to persuade the police officers to let us go in to deliver our message but we didn’t succeed. I don’t know where the courage came from, I approached them finally and announced that I was going to walk through their barricade and they were free to shoot.
I did not know how bad the risk was until I saw the scary shots recorded for posterity by my great friend, the Thisday Photo Editor, Mr Sunday Aghaeze. I was so possessed by raw anger that I did not realise the police had grabbed my neck and were trying to snuff life out of me by throttling my throat. We pushed their iron-curtain and their crude Berlin wall collapsed. We enjoyed our triumphant march but the main gates of the National Assembly were firmly shut against us. I will never forget how Audu Maikori of Chocolate City Entertainment Company defied a policeman who pulled a menacing pistol at him. I was proud to see star actresses Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde and Stella Damasus-Aboderin walk under that scorching heat with other volunteers. We were not fighting for personal gains but a better Nigeria.
We returned to our homes, far and near, satisfied that we had contributed our quota. The good news came the very next day that the Federal Executive Council finally found the courage to approve Dr Goodluck Jonathan as substantive Acting President. And our joy knew no bounds. Some of us had placed our optimism on the foolish belief that the Acting President would appreciate the burden placed on him by Nigerians who fought for the restoration of his relevance in the scheme of things. Only if we could see the future!
A very close friend and confidant of Dr Jonathan had called me shortly after. He’s one man I believe had implicit faith in him to be a very good President. We had met in London and drove around the city in one of his fabulous cars to discuss the intractable problems of Nigeria. His ideas sounded lofty, even fantastic. He said he was sure Jonathan will be President but that it was only a matter of when. He said he owed it to his friend to help him to succeed. But not many people reasoned like him.
For example, he dreamt of a star-studded cabinet for Jonathan. I told him matter-of-factly that the hawks in PDP will never agree. And even if they allow him to pick the best Nigerians that litter everywhere in the world, the hawks will still frustrate them. Brilliant Nigerians hardly know how their country works and those behind the wheel of fortune, the Nigerian Mafia, live far up in the control towers away from the prying eyes of ordinary Nigerians. They hold their nocturnal meetings in the dead of the night and they have their stooges everywhere especially in the civil service. Some of the wealthiest Nigerians don’t look the part. You pass them all the time on the corridors of those Ministries but won’t smell the crazy wealth on them.
President Jonathan’s friend dreamt of a total of nine years in power for him. I told him he would achieve that if he performs. To perform, he would have to square up to the many demons buzzing around Abuja. All the leaders before him failed because they couldn’t do that. The only one who had the uncommon sense to quit when the ovation was loudest was General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Jonathan would have to jettison politics and concentrate on rebuilding Nigeria. He should not worry about how many terms he serves but what legacy he bequeaths to future generations.
I started having my doubts when I saw how Jonathan blew money on his campaign like no one before. A source within his Presidential campaign said they burnt about $1.5 billion. That was how much it cost to build the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building in Dubai. There were indications that the fuel subsidy payments went out of the roof as a result of Africa’s most expensive presidential campaign. May be the rumour-mongers are right after all because, curiously, we lost all that money and nothing happened. Not even President Barack Obama would have survived the anger of Americans if such a dastardly act happened under his nose.
I was still slightly hopeful after the 2011 elections that President Jonathan may surprise us. I wrote him an open letter on June 11, 2011 and gave my candid advice:
“The task at hand for you is tantamount to the sacrifice made by Christ for humanity. The problems of Nigeria are manifold and to succeed, you must be prepared to sacrifice everything. You will fail if you are afraid of taking difficult decisions. There is really nothing to fear if you reciprocate God’s love for you… Please, look at the faces of most people around you today, many of them must be very familiar people. The reason is simple. You’ve been seeing the same faces since you were probably in secondary school. .. Please beware of them. You won’t need these godfathers because you already have God the father. If you look back in history, you will realise that they really have nothing to offer. They’ve always spelt doom for your predecessors.”
On July 2, 2011, I wrote yet another open letter to Mr President:
“Your choice of Ministers I believe is impressive, minus a few controversial names… I’m particularly impressed about the fact that most of your cabinet members are well educated. They are also young and cosmopolitan… I assure you that if you remind yourself constantly of millions of Nigerians who are suffering as a result of bad leadership, you may be forced to do things differently. If you live by example, you will be able to enforce discipline, combat corruption, and confront criminals… Most of the faces you see hovering around the corridor of power are bad people. Like vampires, they will devour everything in their wake. You must do everything to navigate away from them. Rather than allow the whales to swallow you like Jonah, you must swallow the whales. You may not wake up like like Jonah if you choose to sleep in the belly of a whale.”
On July 9, 2011, I wrote an open memo to the new ministers and highlighted the urgent and priority areas they must tackle with all seriousness:
“At the end of your assignments, Nigerians would be waiting to judge how well you have improved the quality of their lives or how much you have contributed to taking us closer to the precipice. The essence of my memo therefore is to assist in reminding you of your responsibilities as well as the expectations of the people…”
I’ve written several such memos to government offering free and unsolicited advice in the hope that we can all lift our nation up. I lost hope in the Jonathan administration after the lackadaisical way he treated the fuel subsidy crisis. The second reason is the manner the Federal Executive Council comes out every Wednesday to announce fresh billions to be spent on frivolous projects in a country where most of our youths are unemployed. The third is how the President behaves as if he’s not supposed to be in charge of the whole of Nigeria but simply a remote part of Nigeria and a few wealthy individuals. He simply abdicated power to terrorists and retreated to the innermost recesses of Aso Rock. I’ve been greatly alarmed at the dictatorial tendencies of Mr President who now behaves like the Presidency is his personal property and is ready to run all opponents out of town.
The way this government is amassing new debts is absolutely scandalous. I can never understand why a government that is frittering away resources is not ashamed of borrowing money. I’m not impressed that the Niger Delta region has not witnessed any appreciable growth since its own son became President. With all the money being pumped into the Niger Delta projects, there is really nothing on ground to justify such gargantuan investments. The people still live in penury. NDDC is commissioning boreholes in the 21st century. All the promises made to Nigerians by President Jonathan remain in the realm of phantasmagoria.
There is neither the will nor the resolve to create positive change. Like all others who love Nigeria, President Jonathan’s friend and confidant must be cringing at the shambles that “Oga” is presiding over. Is this how they hope to spend their nine years in power?
I rest my case on this note.