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EYES FORWARD

By NBF News
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He should intensify the search for mediation and resolution with the insurgency, and overhaul and improve local-level security operations which are proving incapable of dealing with violent crimes. 'Democracy is four wolves and a lamb, voting on what to have for lunch.' -Wilma Brown.

Just when you thought it was safe to draw a line around President Jonathan's full bloodied first anniversary for some meaningful review, bang comes up another story on large scale sleaze, certainly large enough to obliterate neat boundaries. The nation is being regaled with the story of the sharing out of $1.1billion belonging to the public by companies alleged to have close links with high government officials. This story will have to take its place behind other stories of mind-boggling fraud and outright theft around fuel subsidy, pensions scam, the privatization programme and sundry allegations involving billions which have left their footprints visibly on the Jonathan presidency. For a President who pulled the plug on fuel subsidy on a case he built that it will improve transparency and eliminate abuses in the oil and gas sector, and who experienced one of the most widespread and genuine resistance by citizens, these revelations may make him wish he left the subsidy in place. The fiasco which followed the subsidy removal was bound to take its own prisoners, and it took much more than even the President could have bargained for. The national assembly seized the opportunity to open up the can of worms, and they turned up with very large worms indeed. Between a mobilized civil society infrastructure, a latent political resistance and an enraged citizenry, there was no room to hide.

Using its superior instinct for opportunity, and nose a for public approval, the national assembly opened business on the subsidy issue, and in a matter of a few weeks, shocked the nation with revelations of numbing proportions in the manner we lost huge fortunes to a few people in the business of importing subsidized fuel. President Jonathan watched and agonized as detail after detail came tumbling out, and his officials walked over each other to explain how little hold they had over an elaborate scheme to milk the nation. Citizens now understood, and were then confused over why petrol cost so much, or so little; who did what with our money, and who did not; and why regulatory agencies failed to do their jobs, or pitched in as active collaborators. In the end, so much blood had been spilt that the only obvious path for the president was to promise not to cover up what the national assembly dug up.

The catch, of course, is that it is his job to translate findings and recommendations involving extremely wealthy and well-connected people into prosecution. If he says he needs a rigorous legal basis for doing this, Nigerians will say he is stalling. If he rushes the findings as they are, the courts are likely to throw them out at the behest of extremely expensive and experienced legal minds. Again, citizens will blame president Jonathan.

This last explosion of chilling allegations involving N155 billion could not have come at a worse moment. Certainly, it will dampen the celebratory spirit, and block from the view of many Nigerians, the list of achievements which President Jonathan has been flashing before us these past few weeks. Perceptions about political will and competence of the administration will be further confounded by Chief Edwin Clark's insistence that President Jonathan will run again in 2015. He still has three more years to go. Three years to make a difference in the manner corruption is tearing up the fabric of the nation, and plundering resources that should be used for investment in basic infrastructure and the development of human capital. Three years to get a handle on the Boko Haram insurgency, and other violent crimes which are stretching the nation's security assets to breaking points. Three years to provide the type of leadership that will reduce the gaping holes in our democratic system, improve the electoral process and restore some cohesion around the basic elements of our political system. In short, three years to stop the dangerous slide towards the complete failure of the Nigerians state to perform its two basic functions: protect lives and property of citizens, and pursue their welfare.

The next three years are therefore going to be tough for President Jonathan. Indeed, it is quite possible that his first year may be his easiest of the four he so desperately wanted as president last year. Fortunately, the first one year has also set out his task for the next three years, so it should represent an agenda for him. If President Jonathan has room for advise, mine will be to say don't run the nation, for the next three years, in the manner it has been run in the last one year. I would give him a wish list that will test the strength of his character and political will, and his commitment to the transformation of the nation which he so dearly wants. These will be included in the wish list:

i. President should distance his person and office from investigations and further action on sleaze and other forms of corruptions around the oil and gas sector;

ii. One authentic Petroleum Industry Bill should be forwarded to the National Assembly to pass into law before July this year;

iii. He should replace all government officials in charge of Ministries and agencies in the oil and gas sector with others whose integrity and competence have not been questioned;

iv. Heads of anti-corruption agencies should be appointed by a joint body of the national assembly and the judiciary under Jonathan's presidency. Serving heads should be subjected to critical scrutiny in terms of their capacity to withstand political pressure, and their terms of appointment should be amended to shield them from damaging influences of the executive and legislative arms;

v. President should assure current heads of anti-corruption agencies of his personal and official support in investigating and prosecuting all corruption allegations;

vi. President should re-visit the unhealthy relationship between the office of the Minister of Justice and anti-corruption and other regulatory agencies, so that they operate with wider autonomy and transparency;

vii. President should resist the temptation to embark on the review of electricity tariff as is currently being contemplated, until he assures Nigerians that it is the best way to achieve sufficient stable and affordable power supply;

viii. President should examine the reports and recommendations of the Committees under Shiekh Ahmad Lemu, Justice Alfa Belgore and Adamu Fika, and implement them to improve the capacity of the Public Service and institutions of governance. He should re-visit the Justice M. L. Uwais committee's report on reform of the electoral process, and implement many of its recommendations long before the 2015 elections. He should be wary of acting on the Steve Oronsaye's committee report, in view of the possibility that it was written without due consideration of its full impact on the political economy;

ix. President should re-assess the nation's entire security infrastructure, and current strategies to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency and endemic violent crimes in many parts of the country. He should intensify the search for mediation and resolution with the insurgency, and overhaul and improve local-level security operations which are proving incapable of dealing with violent crimes.

x. President should facilitate the emergence of a forum with substantial autonomy from government, to discuss the nature of the Nigerian federal system; revenue allocation; the electoral process, corruption and security issues, and use the outcome as input into the current initiatives to amend the constitution;

xi. President should assess the quality of his closest advisers and ministers, and take bold steps to improve on their inputs into governance;

xii. President should engage the national assembly towards revisiting the cost of governance, which is clearly irrational under our circumstances. He should work to radically reduce the proportion of our resources which go into paying salaries and allowances of political office holders and the bureaucracy;

xiii. President should resist the temptation to run for office in 2015, and focus his attention on doing well between now and 2015. He should prevail on people close to him not to speak for him, or put him in difficult situations. He should do this himself, if he wants to do so. That is what leaders do.

I have just gone over this wish list, and I can hear some people already say, 'some wish!'

Dr. Baba-Ahmed is Visiting Reader in Political Science Usumanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto