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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nigeria, its President and the many problems

I'm a Twitter activist. Yes! You know those people who always make revolutionary type statements on the internet but never surface at the real life revolution. In my defense, I would say I live in England which makes it difficult to get involved with rallies and protests going on in Nigeria.

Over the past year, during my forays into Twitter activism, Goodluck Jonathan has borne the brunt of my displeasure. 2011 was always going to be an important year for Nigeria. After the Yar'Adua debacle of 2010, Goodluck Jonathan was able to gain the most important job in the land without standing for election. 2011 was the year we would discover if he had done enough to genuinely gain the mandate of the people. Elections did hold in April and he gained that mandate. It was in the buildup to this that my Twitter activism would gather pace. I was firmly anti Goodluck. The PDP have had numerous opportunities to effect some change in the country but it is worthy to note we have gradually regressed. Whilst I was initially unsure on whom I wanted Nigeria's next leader to be, I would support Nuhu Ribadu as the Elections came closer.

My anti-Goodluck stance was further helped when our presidential coward chickened out of the Presidential Debate. With that, the doubts I had over him were confirmed. I mean, which candidate worth his salt would duck the chance to go head to head with his opponents and pick holes in their ideas? After agreeing initially to participate and having the venue go through security checks worthy of his status as incumbent President, his campaign team declined participation saying that the NN24 debate did not possess “wide coverage and reach.” To make matters worse, an interview hosted by music artiste and self-anointed representative of the youths, D'Banj was staged. To say the interview was a joke would be stating the obvious. To make it more grating, D'Banj had already endorsed and made a campaign jingle for Goodluck. What ever happened to the principle of neutrality? 

D' Banj and Jonathan
Goodluck Jonathan fails to instil confidence in the average Nigerian. He has to be one of our more colorless leaders. Obasanjo was and still remains a very witty and intelligent character. Even Abacha had some form of 'swag'. Those aviators and tribal marks inspired by Adidas's '3 stripes' slogan would surely count for something. Mr. Jonathan's oratory skills are pretty ordinary. Intellect wise, I would also say he leaves a lot to be desired. However, I would acknowledge that there's an attempt to compensate for this with the selection of a leading light like Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in his cabinet.  

'Her Royal Highness, Dame Patience'

I struggle to take Mr. Jonathan serious. His case is not helped by his wife, Patience popularly known as 'Dame', an allusion to the President's status as a knight who is well known for her numerous crimes against the Queen's language. Her rap sheet would include statements like “Our politics is without bitterness, my husband, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and Sambo is a very good people!”, “The people sitting before you here were once a children” and “A good mother takes care of his children” amongst others. It's an open secret that the Dame is quite the domineering figure. A leaked Wikileaks cable asserts that the First Lady “runs her own show and the husband has little or no control over her.” One story goes that she once slapped the President in the presence of aides and Aso Rock staffers. How true this is, is another matter entirely. Another source tells me that Diepriye Alamyieseigha, the man whom Goodluck served as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa and whose impeachment laid the foundation for Goodluck's rapid rise to power summoned him to a meeting where he chastised him for not being manly. "You're a man, how can your wife be controlling you? You have to take control".  If our man can't even garner the respect of his wife, how could he possibly hope to have that of the nation and control it in the way he should?

On the 1st of October 2010, the day of Nigeria’s 50th Independence celebration a bomb blast took place. The Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta would go on to take responsibility for the bombing. Based on this, it is safe to assume that the right thing would have been for the President to direct the law enforcement authorities to go after the perpetrators of the crime. Imagine my surprise when I would read days later that Raymond Dokpesi, the popular businessman and media mogul behind Ray Power and AIT was arrested. The reason? Mr. Dokpesi was serving as the Campaign Director for Ibrahim Babangida’s presidential bid. Clearly, Goodluck and his cronies saw it as ample opportunity to undermine a leading political opponent by pinning the bombing on them.

That episode encapsulates a characteristic, the ‘right’ leader should not possess. The bomb blast recorded at least 10 casualties. Independence Day, our 50th one at that should have been one where people put aside their grouses with the government and entered celebratory mode. Instead, people had to get their heads round the idea of never seeing people they held dear. I understand that MEND’s action wasn’t within the President’s control. However, he has to take responsibility for the mishandling of the Independence Day bomb blast. Meeting with the families of the lost and assuring them of his resolve to hound down the terrorists would have pacified them somewhat and earned him some goodwill. Instead, it was exploited to win a political battle. People’s lives should never be used for such. Before this incident I was open minded but I started reflecting and became highly skeptical. In fairness, arrests would go on to be made of a group of people which included Charles Okah, the younger brother of MEND leader Henry Okah. Court proceedings were instigated and are still going although hamstrung by Okah’s poor health. (He’s reported to be in a coma). 
An arrested Charles Okah

Fast forward to 25th December 2011, Boko Haram the Islamic extremist sect strongly opposed to the Western world, which has wreaked havoc on the nation in recent times would take responsibility for bomb blasts at churches in 4 different cities in the Northern part of the nation. The Boko Haram epidemic is one which has gone on for too long. Besides the Christmas day bombing, it has been responsible for bombings at the United Nations office building and the Police Headquarters in the capital city of Abuja. Again, I do not see the President as the cause of this. However, I find the situation poorly managed. In the case of the MEND Independence day bombing, some effort was put towards actually dealing with those behind it. The government has been largely passive towards Boko Haram. More effort and resources have to be put towards stemming this trend. It’s all too easy to take your time and then issue a press release which keeps in circulation the cliché “We would prosecute the people behind this crime”. We have to see some urgency in our leader. We have to see willingness towards curing the numerous headaches inflicted upon us. We need to know they care. At the moment, things are too lax and focus is being given to the wrong things. Upon rising to power, one of Jonathan’s initial moves was to initiate a bill promoting a 6 year single term of which he could possibly benefit from. Surely, there were more pressing needs to attend to. Until there’s some evidence to suggest Mr. Jonathan actually cares about us (the fuel subsidy removal does little to help this), I would advise my fellow Nigerians to brace themselves for hard times are here.

This brings me to our President’s New Year present unto us: the removal of the fuel subsidy. Nigeria’s a country built on erratic power supply. As a result of this, power generators serve as an alternative. These generators are maintained by petrol and diesel and are a key cog in the wheels of most business enterprises. Many a time, I’ve heard my father and his friends moan about how these costs affect their businesses negatively. And all this took place whilst the subsidies were being employed. Now, the subsidy has been removed fuel has risen from 65 naira to 145 naira per litre. This could have dangerous repercussions on the economy. With increased business costs, prices are going to rise left, right and center. Even in the unlikelihood that businesses are not affected by this, the free market economy system would see business owners increase their prices in a bid to exploit the situation and increase their profit margin. This could eventually stimulate a bout of Hyper Inflation.  However, it’s argued that in the long run, the removal of the subsidy would serve the country well. It is believed that as soon as the nation’s refineries are in healthy conditions, the prices would have no way to go but down. Personally, I remain hugely skeptical. A report by Anthony Uche of African Oil and Gas Report declares “Nigeria’s state-owned refineries all have very poor maintenance histories, are technically inefficient, and are unreliable for uninterrupted domestic production of petroleum products, even at the very best of times.” Based on this, how can one then base the future of something as delicate as economic growth on something “inefficient and unreliable”? Wouldn’t that be like building your house upon shaky foundations?

Another issue I have a gripe with is the inactivity on the side of the opposition. The main opposition party, the ACN ideally would issue a statement through its PR Officer decrying the conditions in the nation. Besides that, what else do they do? In its stronghold, Lagos state, the Toll issue is threatening to undo all the credible work by the Fashola government. For years, the opposition and criticism of the establishment has come from the likes of Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Kuti, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Fawehinmi and Kuti are now late. Achebe spends more time abroad and still rejected a national honor recently. Now, if the PDP were the ones behind the Lagos toll, Professor Soyinka would have been quick to talk. However, he’s a fan of the Fashola government thus making it easy to turn a blind eye to it taking the wrong steps as it has done recently. Based on this, one can judge that the opposition in Nigeria is poorly organized. Those who should know better have let the people and the values they stand for down. These days, no one is genuine in their opposition efforts and this has led to the super force that is the PDP being able to inflict such trauma on the people and getting away without facing much threat. Much is left to be desired and the polity requires a major shakeup. In the absence of that, I fear what would become of the land I call home.

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