Unarguably the most criticized leader in the world, Nigeria’s President Jonathan has the tall ambition of becoming the most praised president in Nigeria’s history by the end of 2015. It is not in doubt that he would achieve this feat, considering that in the last 6 years, he has played key roles in governance in the capacities of vice president under President Yar’adua when the acting president became incapacitated, and then president.
The question now is if in this period he has not earned the praises of the majority of Nigerians, what are the odds that he would become the most praised President in the barely 2 years that is the remainder of his tenure?
One of our favorite past times in Nigeria is criticizing our leaders. No one sees any good in them. In response to the people’s clamor for the President to declare his assets, he said during a media chat last year that ‘he did not give a damn’ and as if that was not answer enough, Nigerians went ahead to complain, accusing him of being insensitive.
In January 2012, the president removed subsidy on PMS which saw a resultant price increase of about 100% on all major indices including food prices, transportation and accommodation. He tried to convince Nigerians that the subsidy removal was in their best interests. The only problem was that Nigerians had grown to mistrust their leaders. The president had already asked for their trust severally, and did not understand why they were not offering it.
Nigerians were even audacious enough to suggest that the easier alternatives would have been to fight the ‘Fuel Cabal’ or even alienate corruption in the fuel importation and distribution systems. When it was clear he would not listen, Nigerians accused him of losing touch with the people and demanded his resignation. It may have been the people who lost touch with themselves; did they think the president owed it to them to listen?
Again, in January 2013 with growing terror in Nigeria’s North, kidnappings in the East, threats from militants in the South despite a very controversial amnesty program and the very porous borders surrounding the entire country, the president approved the deployment of troops to fight the growing insurgency in Mali, this is by every means a major ‘accomplishment’ and may even earn him the praise he so badly craves.
Even with all these actions, newspapers like Thisday, Peoples Daily and Guardian dedicated their back pages for the most of 2012 to criticizing the actions of Mr. President.
Ignoring the fact that these newspapers find issues to harp on every week, the Presidency, armed with the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, and Information Minister Labaran Maku, would describe these criticisms as attempts to smear the image of the government, and as such, always have appropriate responses ready for them.
Most vocal has been former Minister for FCT, Nasir El-Rufai who has analyzed everything from rising unemployment to poverty, abandoned projects to the recent allegations that N5trn or $31bn had been stolen in the first 31 months of the Jonathan presidency.
At the time the N5trn allegation was made by Punch newspapers, most Nigerians simply could not fathom the idea, but in retrospect, with the increased earnings of the Federal Inland Revenue Service and more oil profits than Nigeria can manage, it is easily comprehensible why some more experienced and perhaps wiser Nigerians would decide to store up these funds in secret accounts within and outside the country.
Even more recently, while delivering a keynote address at the 42nd Convocation Ceremony of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, another former Minister, Oby Ezekwesili stated that Nigeria’s President Jonathan, alongside his predecessor squandered some $67billion or N10.6trn handed down by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. As was probably expected, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku has described Ezekwesili’s claims as ‘fallacious and betraying a surprisingly limited understanding of government finances’.
It is easy to understand his point of view; after all, serving the government as Minister of Information, he should have a better understanding of government finances than a Chartered Accountant who has experience working with the World Bank, the Center for International Development at Harvard, and is a founding Director of Berlin Based Transparency International. As things stand, the minister who served in both the capacities of Minister of Solid Minerals and Education has challenged Mr. Maku and other governmental officials who claim she falsified figures, to a public debate. The boisterous and street savvy Okupe has since ruled that out. He knows more dirty details would come out.
For within government, there exists a phobia for engaging in debates. Recall the NN24 2011 Presidential Debates, and you would see that even Mr. Maku’s boss has a reputation of avoiding them. The NN24 situation was even worse, as Jonathan, a self-professed youth, instead of debating with fellow presidential aspirants on policies as they affect Nigeria, decided instead to grant a possibly rehearsed interview with a music celebrity. Then again, one might wonder, is it not too much to ask a sitting president to debate fellow aspirants? Of course, they were mere aspirants. And what would have been the point of the debate? Do Nigerians seriously think they know their needs more than the president?
After all, the president did not wear shoes when he was a child and had to walk for miles to reach school; he had no access to safe drinking water or electricity. With all the unfairness and hardship that he went through in his childhood, should Nigerians not consider themselves more fortunate? Would it be wrong if he simply wants us to go through the same things he went through? Perhaps Jonathan is even more a victim than most Nigerians – a victim unwilling, unable and incapable of bringing about any form of transformation. All praise the president!