JONATHAN'S 6 MONTHS SCORECARD
In the last three months, Nigeria has become politically alive, as a result of the preparations for next year's general elections, which will usher in a new set of leadership to manage the affairs of the country at different levels of governance. Like every political exercise, the actors are gradually orchestrating the process, each one deploying strategies that would either strengthen his chances or provoke new initiatives that would altogether alter the political apple cart. Beyond all the voiced sentiments and political campaigns that have taken over the political space, the nation appears to be racing against time, as result of the complacency and belligerence of the actors in the electoral process.
The electoral umpire has its own headaches as well as the National Assembly. While the constitution has been going forth and back, the nation waits with bated breath over the uncertainty hovering around the elections. But like a tourist would say, 'this is Nigeria, where all the manifold parallels and complexities are given a meaning as the ideal.'
But talking more seriously about the 2011 elections, I think there is so much to be done in order to create the right environment for credible elections.
Even though the President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government has not shown any clear-cut policy direction, with regards to a number of issues, Nigerians must make it a duty to demand explanations and accountability from those who lead them. It is no longer a secret that the Jonathan presidency lacks colour, style, ambience, aura, charm and charisma. It also lacks the courage and experience to midwife the challenges confronting us as a nation.
From poor education and decrepit health facilities to decaying infrastructure and backward-looking economy, the nation is being bogged down by the burden of non-creative and phlegmatic leadership. Our schools are in shambles, security situation is remorseful, and unemployment rate has sky-rocketed, while the political space has been conscripted. Aside from the above, the debt burden hanging on the noose of the government has also assumed a debilitating proportion, to the extent that the country was recently handed a negative rating by Fitch. According to the Fitch rating report, the country's excess crude account has been depleted from 20 billion dollars in the last five months to less than 500 million dollars. Public sector motivation has ebbed. The fear of the unknown grips everyone, especially after the October 1, 2010 bomb blasts, and kidnapping has become another 'sector' of the economy, while armed banditry has taken capital flight. All of these economic disincentives and investment repellents have taken away the shine from government business and the nation is dripping away in the fullness of time, like an awkwardly overgrown adult struggling to walk straight. And the level of profligacy in government circles worsens the entire scenario, thus making government business slow and ineffective.
It is instructive to note that the country truly needs an experienced and courageous leadership to contend with the numerous challenges enunciated above, particularly in the face of ongoing economic problems and misplaced priorities. Every Nigerian desires good governance and accountable leadership, but the Jonathan administration, five months on, is yet to show any policy direction and sense of purpose. At best, the actions of President Jonathan are further deepening the level of poverty and want in the society. The accumulated domestic debt, which is nearing N3. 6 trillion is as frustrating as the reality that nothing points in the direction that the debt would be offset soonest.
The initiative and motivation to drive the private sector is already adumbrated by the fact that so much is owed by government to local investors and hence cannot drive their individual and collective enterprises. No government survives in the global landscape if the domestic investors and employers of labour are asphyxiated by government unfavourable policies and programmes.
On a number of occasions, we have had cause to raise concerns over President Jonathan's flip-flop approach to handling sensitive national issues. Rather than unifying all our disparate interest to cement the bond of unity that should ordinarily exist in us as a nation of several nationalities, the actions of President Jonathan have further expanded the gap of differences and intolerance. The nation is currently going through a phase, which some critics have rightly dubbed, Ijawnisation of the country. Such 'southernisation' policy of the Jonathan administration is gradually eroding the gains of this democracy, as some Nigerians are beginning to raise concerns about the intentions of Mr. President. The foreign affairs portfolio is managed by a Nigerian of Ijaw ethnic stock; ditto for the Petroleum Ministry and Niger Delta Ministry. Again, the National Security Advisor and the Director General, State Security Service are all Ijaw and South-southerners. The nature of appointments is pointing in the direction that Nigerians should expect more of such skewed arrangement and power imbalance.
It is to be understood that leadership comes with an unusual sense of discipline and respect for the laws of the land, no matter how scripted. According to the former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, the fact that President Jonathan is breaking the laws of the Peoples Democratic Party, which he rightly belongs, indicates that he will not respect the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The PDP Constitution provides for zoning of all elective offices, but the president has given his own interpretation to the effect that he will not respect the zoning formula. That alone has polarised political discourse in the country and the country appears divided along this thought of a North-South affair. Undaunted by the outcry of this political backlash, President Jonathan has stated, without mincing words, that he will run the 2011 elections, irrespective of what the party's constitution says and yet promises that the elections will be free and fair. How possible?
Yet undone with the flip-flop dance around government circle, President Jonathan reportedly announced to the whole country that he will not visit any state in Nigeria, where he feels insecure. According to him, it was disheartening to note that security presence in his home state amounted to about 80 per cent when compared to the 50 per cent in other states, an indication that he does not enjoy any robust support from his home state of Bayelsa and a clear admittance that there are certain parts of the country that he cannot preside over, on account of their 'insecurity.' During the president's visit to Bayelsa, youths vented their anger over the near-complete neglect which the state has suffered and called on the president to justify his Bayelsa status. The Bayelsa story of neglect is the same for all the other states in the country. Federal Government presence in the states across the country is almost absent. Apart from the efforts of some state governors to advance the development discourse, the Jonathan administration has paid little or no attention to the several issues begging for attention in the polity. His presidential aspiration has also rubbed off on any meaningful and genuine intention to give attention to these issues. Yet, the country drips away, like a sore foot, limping and struggling to make any headway.
Great nations in the world are not developed by luck, whether good or bad. They are developed through serious and meaningful planning, determination to push through all the rolling plans, commitment to set goals and objectives, patriotism, perseverance, and above all, ability of the leader to take very courageous and bold decisions, in the face of pressure and daunting challenges. On several occasions, President Goodluck Jonathan has faltered on policy issues and government pronouncements. This attribute cannot attract any pass mark from any rational examiner. He bowed to FIFA within 48 hours, conceded to the PDP executives within 48 hours on the issue of e-registration of members, he genuflected on the issue of zoning having been a signatory to the decision in the first place, he exonerated MEND from the Abuja bomb blasts on October 2, but reversed himself on October 12 that he was misrepresented. On June 17, presiding over the FEC meeting, he cancelled the second Niger Bridge contracts for 'several undisclosed reasons.' Only a week ago, he re-awarded the contract again for 'political' reasons? There are several others of such fluctuating pronouncements. Under such a scenario, the nation suffers certain deprivations.
The President Jonathan administration has been very unfriendly to other presidential aspirants within the PDP and outside it. There have been cries of threat to life by the Director General of the IBB Campaign Organization and other directors in the organisation have also raised similar alarm. There were reports that the campaign billboards of General Babangida were pulled down in the FCT, Abuja on the instruction of the minister, whereas those of President Jonathan and his vice presidential aspirant litter the streets of Abuja and its environs. Government has shown so much insensitivity and intolerance to opposition viewpoints. There are high level intimidation and harassment and coercion going on and the ordinary investor, conscious of his investments lurks in the corner and watch over all these developmental anomalies. One of the reasons given by Fitch for the negative rating of Nigeria was the uncertainty over the 2011 elections which will make an average investor to express some degree of caution.
What about government non-challant attitude towards fighting corruption and the apparent manipulation of the process, using the EFCC as a tool to hound political opponents. On three occasions, the president has dropped corruption charges against persons that were accused of sharp practices and corruption. The Halliburton case is a ready reference. He also dropped corruption charges against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Three times now, President Jonathan has stopped the courts from carrying out its constitutional functions. First, it was Ribadu, then El-Rufai and now the Halliburton scandal is swept under the carpet by a president that says it has Zero Tolerance for corruption. This Halliburton Scandal implicates a former president. Something in the region of about 180 million dollars 'flush funds' is involved. Less than a week ago, the Federal Government reportedly dropped all charges against those implicated and only former President Obasanjo's errand boy is left facing trial.
Nigeria's 2010 budget stands at N4.079trillion. Out of this huge appropriation, N1.370 trillion is earmarked for capital expenditure while N2.011trillion is set for recurrent expenditure. The sum of N517.07 billion is also set aside for debt servicing. For a country that is infrastructurally backward, with so much decay in the different sectors of the economy, the capital expenditure set aside appears insufficient to cater for that sector. What appears more worrisome is the fact that a larger percentage of the budget has not been released to the respective sectors of the economy and the year is already coasting to an end. The volume of expenditure on the President Jonathan campaign is also worrisome, when viewed against the backdrop that there are no visible landmark achievements in the last six months to warrant the depletion in the excess crude account and the foreign reserves. The government will have to come out clean on allegations of corruption and sharp practices and the heavy financial commitment to the Jonathan campaign. There are instances where the president embarked on a state visit but later turned into campaigns for him, with state resources and paraphernalia of office deployed in the process. That is not only an abuse of process but an infraction of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
With the level of security concerns across the country, coupled with the fact that so much has been left unattended to, the present administration has shown lack of capacity to contend with our developmental challenges. The roads are bad everywhere; the health sector is in shambles; education sector is decayed; strikes abound everywhere; there is no housing policy in place, near-absence infrastructure, epileptic power supply, and growing unemployment in the country; yet, the nation trudges on in the face of all these challenges.
Since the declaration of President Jonathan to contest the 2011 elections, attention has been shifted from governance to politicking and this has affected performance of government at all levels. President Jonathan must show Nigerians his capacity to deliver on promise, to avoid further pitfalls that would help to undermine development and growth of the nation.
Abubakar is of Campaign for Better Society, Ogba, Lagos.