JONATHAN'S US VISIT: AN UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS
It will be appropriate to attempt to recount the hopelessness Nigerians had been subjected to before the intervention actually started. In fact, December last year appeared to be the worst month in the annals of our country in recent times. It was in that month that what was left of Nigeria's image was taken to the drycleaner's with the inglorious attempt by Abdulmutallab Jnr., to blow up an American airliner. That singular event threw a spanner into the relations between Nigeria and the United States after it (the U.S.) listed Nigeria as a terrorism-sponsoring state. The consequence of the listing was the intensification of security searches on Nigerian travellers coming into the United States. As was expected, some other countries, especially those vulnerable to terrorist attacks, started treating Nigerians with greater caution and disdain.
As if that was not enough, the president's ill-health exacerbated the tension in the polity and created seeming polarization of the country into two broad political camps: Pro-Yar'Adua and Pro-Jonathan. The Jos mayhem, which led to wanton loss of life and property in February, was the last straw that broke the camel's back and propelled the National Assembly to take a drastic and unconventional measure to put things under control.
The application of the Doctrine of Necessity by the Senate was the first immediate response to the challenges posed by the vacuum created by the absence of the President. It has to be acknowledged, though, that the evocation of the doctrine was what really started the process of dousing the tension in the country, which had reached a point of frenzy. The emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President was another fallout of the application of the doctrine.
Jonathan, beyond everybody's imagination, swung into action to bring the precarious security situation in the country under control. He dissolved the Federal Executive Council and appointed a new one. In addition, he sacked the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and appointed a new one the same day.
After inaugurating a new Federal Executive Council and ensuring that tension in the polity had reduced drastically, Jonathan left for the United States to honour the invitation by President Barack Obama to attend the World Nuclear Summit.
The invitation by Obama for Jonathan to grace the occasion, in which other 47 heads of government were in attendance, was seen by political pundits and commentators as a masterstroke.
Probably, it will be right to state at this juncture that the appointment of a new Group Managing Director for the NNPC was one of the most effective decisions the acting president made before he jetted out to the United States. The seeming intractable fuel situation, which had almost paralysed commercial activities in the country, was tackled head on by the new helmsman at the NNPC. The vexatious lingering fuel queues at filling stations and the anti-economic activities of black-marketers got his hammer. Within one week the situation was normalized with fuel in every filling station.
I must place on record that for the first time in 10 years fuel was sold at the official pump prices in every filling station in Abia State, especially in the state capital, Umuahia, where the activities of black-marketers had become a thorn in the flesh of the state government.
Even though the impact of the new onslaught on sharp practices in the oil industry is yet to be felt in the prices and availability of kerosene and diesel, Shehu Ladan (GMD, NNPC), has performed creditably. What he has done at the NNPC in less than three months of his appointment shows that Nigeria's condition is curable. It also sends a strong message to the international community that Nigeria's potentialities to assume its leadership position in Africa are still intact.
This position was reinforced by the acting president himself in all the fora he addressed during his one week trip to the U.S. I watched every engagement of Jonathan in the U.S and state, without any fear of contradiction that he performed very well. His first meeting with Obama was the clincher. He did not show any complex whatsoever while facing the World's No.1 leader. He rather looked Obama right in his eyes as he delivered his message. Perhaps, he realized early that he might not be able to get that kind of opportunity again any time too soon, which was why he had to put every foot right. I am sure President Obama himself might have marvelled at the intellectualism, courage and finesse exhibited by Jonathan – going by the warmth and camaraderie he showed to him (Jonathan). As if that was not enough, he engaged the business community with all the tact and zeal required. He powerfully sold to them the enormous investment opportunities in Nigeria and tried at every chance to dispel the fears of the international investors about certain negative things they heard about Nigeria.
I refuse to agree with the critics of that visit that the acting president was rattled by the questions posed to him by the Cable News Network (CNN) fabled Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Contrary to their jaundiced position Jonathan's performance was textbook-like, incisive and penetrating.
I must not fail to mention his quiet but resilient mien, intellect and depth of knowledge and richness of ideas. He combined these qualities so beautifully that I was dazed that a first-time outer could perform with so much precision, boldness and acuity.
In diplomatese, what Jonathan did could be likened to taking the bull by the horns. He went to the spirit world and came back unscathed. This has left his detractors benumbed, dumbfounded and flabbergasted.
The benefits of the visit are multifarious, just as they are variegated. In the first place, it has opened the floodgates for investment inflow from abroad, especially the United States, which has always seen Nigeria as a huge market for its products. Two, the visit has somewhat changed the perception of the world towards Nigeria, particularly in the wake of the failed attempt by a Nigerian youth to bring down a Detroit-bound flight. I got it from a reliable source that security agencies at the airports abroad now treat Nigerians with some respect unlike the period before the visit by the acting president when Nigerians were being ruffled and intimidated. Three, the visit has raised the stature of Jonathan and made a deep impression on Nigerians that he is an achiever. The perception of many Nigerians before the visit, especially when he was the vice president, was that of a weakling, a neophyte. But Jonathan has dazzled them with his ingenuity and dexterity.
His grasp of international politics was another area many did not give him any chance to excel. He delved into complex international politics and diplomacy, leaving his listeners mesmerized and stupefied. Four, the visit provided Nigeria a big opportunity to rewrite its chequered history and reposition itself for the new challenges facing it. One of these challenges is the need to re-warm itself into the heart of the international community, which before now was continually distancing itself from us.
Permit me to observe that Jonathan's quick intervention saved the country from unexpected political and economic expediencies. This is where I commend the conduct of the military for comporting itself well, despite the yawning vacuum that existed. I have said it on a number of occasions that Nigeria's military is becoming increasingly professional unlike in the past that many of its men were insufficiently exposed to modern demands of their profession. The entrenchment of democracy across the world takes root in the professionalism of the military. The continual intervention of the military in Nigeria's political life accounted for its sluggish development, because the military has never been known to do well in governance. The democratization of our polity and the effort to institutionalize tranquil, social order can better be achieved without the meddlesomeness of the military in politics.
It is heart-warming to know that some of those who did not give Jonathan any chance from the outset now see some reason to believe in his capability to bring our economy out of the woods since after the U.S. visit.
For those who did not know, the visit has gradually smoothened out the rough edges in relations between the two countries. The eagerness with which the president of America and his officials received Jonathan and the pledge of further cooperation are indications of better things to come for Nigeria. To further cement the gains of the visit, the Ag. President received in audience at Aguda House, Presidential Vila, Abuja, last Sunday a top emissary from President Obama, Mr. William Burns, a deputy under secretary of state, who delivered to him a message of solidarity on behalf of the U.S. President. Addressing the State House Correspondents, the special envoy assured that the United States would cooperate with the present administration in Nigeria to deepen democracy and ensure the success of relations between the two nations.
I gathered recently from reliable sources in the U.S. that more high-ranking officials are scheduled to visit Nigeria soon while some European countries are planning similar visits to Abuja. This is good news for all of us, more so now that the Federal Government is working round the clock to reposition Nigeria's image globally before the dawn of 2011 elections.
It is my intention to use this medium to urge the Acting President to redouble efforts in sustaining the huge gains of his U.S. visit. Having succeeded in rekindling the interest of the U.S about Nigeria, it is significant for him to keep the fire aglow and avoid anything that will jeopardize it. I am aware of the plan of the Federal Government to expand bilateral relations between it and the United States, primarily in the areas of trade, business and security. This is a welcomed move, considering the grave challenges that insecurity poses to the nation.
It is a thing of joy that Ag. President Jonathan has narrowed his areas of priority to three - anti-corruption, power and electoral reform. These items touch on almost every facet of our national life - contributing significantly to the shape of its politics and economy. The anti-corruption crusade underlines an important aspect of our national development and challenges the government to demonstrate practical commitment to change the way things are done in public life. Corruption has, no doubt, eaten deep into the fabric of the nation -threatening its very existence. It has since been proved that corruption is responsible for the negative image the country has outside. This has made it very hard for foreigners to do business with an average Nigerian without fear of being duped. It is unfortunate that some administrations in the past paid lip-service to the fight against corruption. Instead of fighting corruption, they turned it into a weapon of cohesion and vendetta against perceived political opponents. The result being that the war is not taken seriously by Nigerians let alone the international community.
I read recently of the dropping of charges levelled against the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, by the Federal Government. Ribadu was being tried by the ICPC for not declaring of his assets while in office as the EFCC boss. I do not find this story funny at all. There was no reason for the Federal Government to drop the charge when the man should be tried to serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. As far as I am concerned, the Federal Government has sent the wrong signal about its anti-corruption crusade by creating the impression that some persons are sacred cows before the law. What moral justification will it have to prosecute anybody who commits a similar offence in future? I have nothing personal against Ribadu, but his tenure, as EFCC boss, was a monumental failure. He left the ideals for which the commission was established to pursue personal agenda of some politicians bent on cutting their pound of flesh from their opponents.
On electoral reform, the acting president has a moral duty to ensure that next year's elections are free and fair.
Even though it was one of the demands made of him by the U.S. he will write his name in gold if he succeeds in attaining this uphill but achievable task. The best way to realize this goal is by taking greater interest in the activities of the National Assembly Committee on Constitutional Review and by ensuring that all the agencies and commissions charged with election organization in the country operate without any inhibitions and in accordance with the extant laws establishing them.
Coming to power, this is one area he should devote 60 per cent of his attention. I think he can repeat what he has done in the petroleum industry in the power sector. Reports reaching me indicate that there has been a significant improvement in electricity generation and distribution across the country. I am glad that the Federal Government has given a commitment to redirect its energy to ensure that the problem of security is solved within the shortest possible time.
Those who create the erroneous impression that the government would not be able to achieve the target of regular power supply in 12 months are just being mischievous. Already, the institutional framework for the actualization of the goal is in place. What is needed is the completion of works on the enabling infrastructure, which can be realized within the specified period with proper funding and supervision.
Let me, in conclusion, congratulate Ag. President Jonathan on the rare feat he achieved with his visit to the U.S. I wish him well as he grapples with the onerous task of taking Nigeria to the next height.
Journalists: Now an endangered species
I received the news of the murder of The Nation Newspaper's judiciary correspondent, Mr. Edo Sule-Ugbagwu, by unknown gunmen last Saturday right, in his residence at Egbeda, a Lagos suburb - a few kilometres away from where The Guardian Newspaper's Assistant Editor, Bayo Ohu, was killed in almost similar circumstance seven months ago. The death of Sule-Ugbagwu had all the trappings of a well-calculated and executed assassination, since no single item was removed from his house or his person.
It is no longer doubtful that some persons are against journalists and have decided to wipe them out in instalments. For how can one reconcile the precision and brutality with which the onslaught against journalists is being executed? Since the death of the fabled Dele Giwa on October 19, 1986, journalists have not been having it too easy. It has been one murder after another.
Of recent some famous journalists had met the same fate. In December 2006, the editorial board chairman of ThisDay Newspaper, Mr. Godwin Agbroko, was killed in cold blood by assassins. The death of Abayomi Ogundeji, member of the editorial board of the same ThisDay, took the same dimension when he was gunned down by unknown persons on August 17, 2008.
The most worrisome aspect of the whole situation is that these cold-blooded murders had gone without identifying or arresting the perpetrators. This has somewhat emboldened the men of the evil world to embark on a killing spree.
I recall, with deep pain, the death of Dele Giwa in hazy circumstances and the human loss the nation suffered as a result. Dele Giwa was a fine gentleman and one of the arrowheads of modern journalism in Nigeria. Newswatch, which he jointly founded with Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbase, remains today the indestructible legacy for which his name will be remembered and immortalized by future generations of journalists.
Those who carry out these dastardly acts should have a re-think and realise that those they had killed did not pose any threat to their existence or those of their sponsors (as the case may be).
Journalists are just ordinary and innocuous men and women eking a living from writing to create awareness and propel humanity to be conscious of their responsibilities towards one another. Killing them will not dissuade them from fighting the ills that retard our growth and development as a nation.