Reflections On The Jonathan Presidency
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The events of the last few months in Nigeria have confirmed the fears of most of us even before the April 2011 presidential elections that voting in Dr Goodluck Jonathan as president could turn out to be an exercise in futility as the best he could do was to
maintain the existing statusquo of bad leadership OR even make it worse. The latter seem to be the case so far.
On personal terms, I have great respect for the president on his easy-going and crisis-averse disposition. The president seems to have mastered the art of staying away from critical and tough issues except of course, the removal of fuel subsidy. Remember, he had once told a large gathering that since he is not a military man, people should not expect him to use a stick and compel directors at the Abuja secretariat to report to office on the official hour of 8 a.m. The president has also once told the respected sheikh Ahmed lemu after receiving the report on the post election violence that his government is only interested in the corrective aspect of the report and not the punitive aspect.
The president has created so much distance from his job of governing the country that one is tempted to agree no less with the prolific writer Dele Momodu who recently asked ' Who is in charge of Nigeria?
Recently, the president has given himself in as a weak and to borrow the words of the Nigerian labour congress (NLC), dull leader who apart from being minimally endowed has a far below average understanding of the challenges facing Nigeria. A weak and dull leader is to say the least, a danger to the corporate existence of any nation including our dear country Nigeria.
There are several challenges facing Nigeria some of which started OR gained prominence during President Jonathan's tenure. These challenges came up begging for solutions from our president, who had hitherto promised us a 'journey to transformation during his electioneering campaign. Although these challenges were many, the most prominent were the Boko haram debacle and the fuel subsidy imbroglio. Another issue that deserves response is the 2012 budget.
The provisions of budget 2012 further affirm the widely held belief that president jonathan doesn't understand Nigeria's problems. The allocation of about N1 trillion to security as against a paltry N78 billion to Agriculture goes a long way to expose a calculated debauchery to take Nigeria on another journey as 'usual'. This is more so when juxtaposed with the fact that the president mentioned in his budget speech that he is going to give high priority to agriculture to create jobs. Actually nothing has changed and there are no indicators that anything is going to change in the near future.
Insecurity cannot be tackled by pumping even the total budget figure of N4.749 trillion into the security sector. Only social justice can guarantee security. For an end to the continuing orgy of lawlessness in the country occasioned by kidnappings, Boko haram, MEND etc, the wealth of the nation must be rescued from the control of a select few who find themselves in public office and this wealth must be directed towards freeing more than 70% of Nigerians from economic slavery imposed on them by their own leaders.
The budget is glaringly lopsided and disproportionate with 72% allocated to recurrent expenditure a.k.a payment of salaries and estacodes for public officers and their domestic staff as against 28% allocated to capital expenditure. The president allocated about N1 billion for his food and entertainment allowance including those of his vice with another N2 billion voted for foreign travel for the president and his deputy for year 2012. This proves the point that the Jonathan administration is on a wild goose chase in its 'transformation' mantra.
Only jobs and other options for economic empowerment will guarantee security and keep the youths at zero level of susceptibility towards kidnappings, terrorism and related vices. A large security vote in the budget will only end up in unrelenting corruption and self aggrandisement. More money in the private pockets of those in government!
On Boko haram, the most prominent solution administered by the president to the seemingly intractable Boko haram quagmire is to, at the slightest opportunity attempt to reassure a highly sceptical and disenchanted public that his government is ' on top of the situation'. The president and his security advisers didn't seem to have a clue as to how to tackle the Boko haram issue other than leaving the police to do 'their job' of providing internal security with the help of the army.
As we have seen since 2009 particularly during the most recent Boko haram onslaught in the last 6 months, the Boko haram isuue is much more than a problem to be tackled with only force. Force cannot crush Boko haram but will only lead to more bloodshed. It is very difficult if not impossible to crush an ideological agitation. Henry Kissinger the respected former U.S secretary of state has once said that a conventional army can never defeat a guerrilla force. So far we have not seen a pragmatic approach from the president in tackling Boko haram. The president seems to hinge his hope to end the Boko haram on a wishful thinking that 'it will fizzle out naturally'. Instead of fizzling out, what we have witnessed within the last half of this year was a Boko haram that grew from strength to strength, out manouvering our security agencies and causing havoc at will. They choose not only where but when to attack as they so wish. All of us have resigned to faith and many a Nigerian will tell you that ' we leave the Boko haram issue to God'.
The president had earlier set up a high powered committee to look into and profer suggestions on how best to deal with the Boko haram issue. The committee was chaired by the respected Ambassador Galtimari. The committee submitted its report to the government and since then the only thing we heard was that ' Mr president has thanked the committee members for their efforts. Nigerians were later informed that a white paper will be released, till date the government has not released any white paper from the Galtimari committee report.
The Galtimari committee recommended that the government should dialogue with the Boko haram sect on the condition that the sect lay down its arms. This same strategy was used to dilute the terrorist militant activities of the movement for the emancipation of the Niger delta (MEND) by late president Yar'Adua and it worked. The late president granted a general amnesty for MEND in return for MEND to lay down its arms. The recommendations of the Galtimari report if implemented early enough, may have saved some of the several lives that have been lost since the report was submitted. The Boko haram have vowed that they are not interested in a dialogue with the government saying that the same option was used against them in 2009 only for the government to kill hundreds of them.
The onus is on the president to fire the first shot by offering to dialogue with the sect and more importantly to allay fears that this dialogue will be different from that of 2009. I also think the president should reintegrate some of the moderate book haram members into the society by offering some lures as done in the case of MEND. These lures should include a conditional release of these moderates within the Boko haram network with an undertaking from them that they will renounce violence and be productive members of the society. The government should also respect the court orders obtained by the sect against it including the N100 million compensation that the court granted the family of the late 70 year old Baba Fuji Mohammed who was executed by the Nigerian police after turning himself in on the invitation of the force. This will smoke out the sect members and prove to the sect that the government is friendly and ready fo dialogue.
Some of the several people in detention today in the name of Boko haram actually have nothing to do with the sect. A lot of them are only victims of circumstances caught up in the web of the confusion that attended Boko haram attacks. After any attack by the sect, security agents simply come around and either kill or arrest any male on sight. The government is nonetheless not looking at this angle, preferring to punish even the innocent and their families.
If the government doesn't negotiate with terrorists, why did they negotiated with MEND when President jonathan was serving as Vice president? We should also not listen to any foreign nation that tells us not to dialogue with Boko haram and instead ask them why are they dialoguing with the Taliban?
Boko haram and MEND are both agitations that can only be resolved through dialogue hence it is not true that one cannot apply the same solution to Boko haram as in MEND. It is surprising that while the government acted promptly to nip the MEND problem in the bud by initiating dialogue, the same government is hesitating in the case of Boko haram. More surprising it is when one considers that the MEND agitation was materially based involving application of resources while Boko haram is an ideological agitation involving losses of lives almost on a daily basis. If the MEND activities deserved a quick fix, so also the Boko haram problem.
Most Nigerians are sceptical when government says they do not know who the leaders and sponsors of Boko haram are. A section of the public feels that government actually knows the leaders and sponsors of Boko haram but is lacking in the will to arrest and prosecute them for political reasons. So many people feel that the sponsors of Boko haram are actually in government hence the government is treating the issue cavalierly. The case of senator Ndume is a reference point. Despite his alleged offences which border on terrorism, senator Ndume of the PDP still managed to secure bail under the PDP government while his partner in crime Ali umar sanda konduga a.k.a ' Alzawahiri'i was quickly convicted and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment
The Boko haram issue looks to drag on for too long, unfortunately though. The issue is one that exposed president Jonathan's glaring weakness. As president, he could not display that strength of character which would have giving Nigerians that strength that they so desperately need in the course of these endless Boko haram attacks. At some point, the president said that he is also not safe as the Boko haram can bomb anybody including the president himself.
Another critical issue that exposed the president's glaring timidity and wrong judgement is his handling of the debate leading up to his removal of the fuel subsidy issue. I used the word removal because technically, fuel subsidy has been removed because it was not captured in budget 2012. This was further testified by the NNPC GMD, Engineer Austen Oniwon. However, the national assembly can still remedy the situation and write their names in gold by putting the subsidy back into the budget, though reducing it drastically and religiously monitoring how it is expended in 2012.
Renowned pastor Tunde bakare called the fuel subsidy debate a 'great deception. The debate has also gone to confirm the fears of many of us that Jonathan doesn't have the character build up and strength to stand up for Nigeria in the face of pressures from the world bank and IMF. By insisting that he must remove the subsidy on fuel even against popular opinion as expressed by virtually all Nigerians, the president has turned into a full blown dictator. Many Nigerians now view GEJ as a lacky of IMF and the world bank.
By going ahead to remove the subsidy on fuel, the president has demonstrated that what matters to him is the interest of world bank and IMF and not that of Nigerians Or better still that his mandate is with the western nations and institutions and not with Nigerians. The IMF chief Chrisitine lagarde recently came to Nigeria and told the president to remove fuel subsidy. When she left, our finance minister, the world bank 'guru' , Okonjo-Iweala who actually instigated the removal of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, told us that their government is not implementing IMF's policies. The question is, If they are not implementing IMF's policies, then why did they remove fuel subsidy? Removal of fuel subsidy is a World Bank and IMF policy and not that for Nigerians.
Meanwhile Mrs Okonjo - Iweala (If you ask me she isn't fit to be our finance minister and coordinator of our economy because she uses too much grammar on every issue with her world bank mentality) is telling a sceptical public that the fact that the subsidy has not been included in the budget 2012 doesn't mean that it has been removed. She said the president is still 'consulting with stakeholders'. Our question to her is that is she the one that will pay for fuel subsidy from her pocket for 2012?
The main reason why Nigerians are collectively against the removal of the subsidy on fuel is that it will lead to the skyrocketing of prices of goods and services which are already at an unbearable rate for the average Nigerian. The Nigerian economy (even the global economy) operates such that the prices of goods and services are inextricably tied to the price of fuel.
Under the present subsidy regime, a litre of premium motor spirit (PMS) currently sells at an official rate of N65/litre although the black market rate also thrives where the unofficial rate revolves around N90 - N100/liter depending on circumstances. The fear is that the official price of fuel will hit N140 if there is no subsidy in place. The president has confirmed that the 'actual' price of a litre of PMS is N139. The price at the black market could even hit any figure around N200/litre. The black market is expected to thrive even more with the removal of fuel subsidy because of the attendant hoarding of the commodity that has already started up and down the country. This means that prices of goods and services are on their way to a 100% rise. Several Nigerians go to bed with an empty stomach under subsidy, what will happen now with the removal of the subsidy?
The president has enjoined all Nigerians to tighten their belts and be ready to make some sacrifices with the removal of subsidy which according to him will be a temporary pain. If Mr president wants us to tighten our belts, then he should also tighten his by returning the N1 billion he allocated as food allowance to himself and his vice. The N1 billion food allowance to the president is simply an outrage! Does he actually interact with ordinary Nigerians as he claimed to feel the emptiness of their stomachs? The vice president is also reported to have been allocated N3 billion for him to spend on stationaries!
Removal of the fuel subsidy means that government will import refined fuel and sell it at the cost of importation. In the first place, the subsidy regime exists because the refineries are not working. The question then arises. Why shouldn't the government fix the refineries before removing the fuel subsidy? Of course if the refineries are working, there is no need to subsidize fuel since we can produce refined fuel. The information minister has said that the government will not remove fule subsidy before fixing the refineries, then the presidents should put back the fuel subsidy into the 2012 budget and suspend all consultation and debates about the removal of the subsidy until the refineries are fixed. It leaves well enough chunk of bile in my mouth when I think that our country Nigeria, produces oil, actually the 6 th largest oil producing nation in the world but it cannot refine its own oil. We simply cannot maintain our refineries all of which are completely destroyed by the greed and selfishness of our leaders who swore to protect our institution including these refineries.
To sum our predicament in a sentence, Nigeria sells crude oil to ivory coast which doesn't produce oil, ivory coast ferries this crude to its own refineries and refines the crude. Nigeria then purchases this refined fuel from Ivory Coast at an exorbitant price. What a shame that we have this story about our country. Of course the leaders are to blame.
For god's sake, this is a democracy and the good people of Nigeria who voted the president into office have said it loud and clear that THEY DONOT WANT FUEL SUBSIDY TO BE REMOVED so on what moral and constitutional basis should the president press ahead and remove fuel subsidy. Did the president include the removal of fuel subsidy in his campaign promises based on which he was voted into office? Virtually every Nigerian is opposed to the removal of fuel subsidy. The notion that the money from the subsidy will be geared towards improving infrastructure simply does not hold water because it is the same deceitful notion that was used on Nigerians by our leaders several times in the past. We are very familiar with that statement which was used to deceive us in the past. Instead of an improvement in infrastructure, what we see is public officers making more money for themselves and their families while the ordinary Nigerian groans under the shackles of poverty.
Nigerians on the streets, NLC, NBA, senate, house of representatives, NMA, students, civil liberties organisations, human rights organisations, Gowon, Buhari, OBJ, Bakare, market women and several other Nigerians from all works of life have all voiced their clear opposition to the removal of fuel subsidy.
The president was playing the ostrich when knowing full well that he has already removed fuel subsidy from the budget 2012, he went ahead to invite civil right organisations, students, the national assembly and other stakeholders for 'consultation'. This clearly adds salt to injury.
The only reason proffered by the president and his team for removing fuel subsidy was that an oil cartel has hijacked the subsidy and it is not getting to the ordinary Nigerians. The president also said ,albeit without giving any figures or economic indicators, that if fuel subsidy is not removed, the Nigerian economy will collapse within 2 years. This reminds one of the sensational statement credited to the former military president Ibrahim babangida who said that he was surprised that the Nigerian economy has not collapsed despite the level of corruption during his regime.
At another forum the president was asked about what is subsidy and its implication from an economic viewpoint, he couldn't demonstrate a clear understanding of what subsidy is neither could he give a convincing answer. If the president doesn't have a good understanding of what fuel subsidy is, how could he justify its removal and also be so adamant that he must remove it?
Of course the oil cartel reason for removing the fuel subsidy has since been rejected by Nigerians. It is simply an admission of failure for a government to tell the good people of Nigeria that an oil cartel has hijacked fuel subsidy and it (the government) cannot do anything to checkmate this cartel and bring it to justice. Now the question to ask is who's duty is it to identify and apprehend this so called oil cartel, is it the government or ordinary Nigerians? The assertion by the president that economy will collapse in 2 years lacks substance smacks of an attempt to scare Nigerians into supporting the removal like Tony blair's legendary 45 minutes gimmick. Why didn't the president backed this notion with facts and figures?
In reality, there are 3 reasons why the president removed fuel subsidy. One is that the IMF and world bank tod him to do so, secondly, the powerful state governors needed more money to pay the N18,000 minimum wage bill, thirdly and more importantly, the president doesn't understand the problem of the average Nigerian.
The government said the total subsidy on fuel for 2011 amounts to about N1.3 trillion. This amount can be saved by drastically cutting down the size of government without having to touch fuel subsidy. It cannot be overstated that the subsidy on fuel is the only direct impact the government has on the Nigerian people. Many Nigerians believe that there are too many senators (109 in total), house of representatives members ( 360 in total) , ministers, special advisers, senior special advisers, principal advisers, senior principal advisers all with their own SAs, SSAs, PAs, PPAs down the line. Realistically, most Nigerians believe that several positions are unnecessary and only serve as conduit pipes to siphon our money and provide 'something for the boys'.
The president said and rightly too, that the number of ministers and senators is a constitutional matter hence he cannot cut it down. However, can't the constitution be replaced with a brand new constitution that will fit our peculiarities? The average Nigerian feels that he/she is not effectively captured in the Nigerian constitution. The respected statesmen Alhaji Umaru shinkafi, Prof Ben Nwabueze and Dr Tunji Braithwaite have both recently called for a brand new constitution for Nigeria. With the present level of poverty, it is simply illogical that the constitution provides for 3 senators per state and several representatives. Nigeria of today needs only one senator per state and maximum of two representatives per state. State assemblies should also follow suit.
This is because the last time I checked, the basis of democracy is to improve the leaving conditions of the people. So when the government spends about N1 billion per annum to maintain a senator while leaving about 70% of his constituents to survive on less than a dollar per day is not democracy. It must be another system of government. Most Nigerians even feel that we donot need the office of the senate president which is viewed as a drain pipe on the economy. Even the U.S where we copied this democracy doesn't operate a senate president's office. Sanusi lamido sanusi has told our senators and representatives that they gulp about 25% of our budget (and they are just 469 persons out of about 160 million Nigerians!). This makes them the most lucrative jobs on offer in Nigeria where the unemployment rate is at an alarming rate of 25%. The president needs to be reminded that it is this overbloated size of government that could crash the economy and not the fuel subsidy.
We all know that the subsidy on fuel cannot be open -ended. However, there are preconditions that must be satisfied before the government can justifiably remove the subsidy. The removal also has to be phased and not at one go - 1 st of January or 1 st of April etc- as if someone somewhere is venting his anger on Nigerians. The precondition for removal of fuel subsidy is that our refineries must be fixed to run at maximum production capacity after which a 10 year phased plan of removal of the subsidy should be implemented whereby 10 % of the subsidy should be removed each year. The phased approach will cushion the attendant hardship that the removal will bring to the generality of Nigerians. Some government officials are also trying to confuse Nigerians by using another connotation for the removal of fuel subsidy which they now call DEREGULATION. This is an attempt to deceive Nigerians and should be retracked. Removal of fuel subsidy and deregulation are not one and same.
May be the president should be reminded again that there is pervasive and endemic in poverty in Nigeria that is threatening to grind the country to a halt. According to the GEANCO foundation based in Chicago U.S, Nigeria has the third largest number of poor people in the world living on less than one dollar per day. This is despite the enormous resources in the country including a huge oil revenue. Unofficial figures suggested that Nigeria made about N10 trillion from oil in 2010 alone. If the president cannot tackle the problems of mass poverty and unemployment, then his government will just be yet another merry-go-round and a wasted effort. The revenue that accrued to Nigeria from oil between 1999 to 2010 is more than the total revenue that accrued to the nation since independence. This revenue was wasted by Obasanjo during his inglorious tenure as president.
The GEANCO foundation also confirmed that the number of Nigerians living on less than a dollar per day exceeds the total population of South Africa, Kenya and Malawi combined! This simply hurts especially when juxtaposed with the fact that our senators, representatives and ministers are the largest paid in the world. Nigeria is simply not leaving within its means . Nigeria is a country so rich yet so poor. To solve Nigeria's present socio economic and security challenges, 2 things need to be done. First, there has to be a pragmatic redistribution of the country's wealth through a comprehensive social security system in which every Nigerian who is not gainfully employed will have a stipend of between N5-10,000 per month to start with ( Kudos to Ekiti state that started a social security through the payment of N5,000 stipend to persons above 65 years of age). Secondly, the government has to provide jobs to our teeming youths through allocating at least 25 % of our budget to agriculture which will enable the promotion of small and medium scale enterprises.
To implement a social security system in Nigeria, the president needs to drastically cut down the size of government. To cut down the size of government and create a working system in Nigeria, we need a brand new constitution and for a brand new constitution, we need a referendum. This referendum will enable Nigerians to vote a YES or a NO for a new constitution. The referendum will give the legitimacy to the constitution making process.
A social security system will certainly empower Nigerians to ask their leaders to account for their actions in office. It has the potentials to solve the lingering Boko haram problem as our youths will be engaged in productive activities. The president should also use his might to rescue the petroleum industry bill (PIB) that has been held hostage by a team of gangsters who are working against Nigeria and for foreigners. These gangsters want to kill the bill and are in both the senate, house and the federal executive council (FEC). To make the best possible revenue from our vast oil reserves, Nigeria needs to renegotiate the existing joint venture agreements with the oil operators. We also do not have a system to monitor our partners. For one, even the NNPC cannot give you the right figures on how many barrels of oil SHELL drilled. We simply collect what they give us as compensation! This lacuna coupled with the corrupt connivance tendencies of our own officials means we are getting less than half of what we are due as revenue from oil
Moreover, Nigerian jobs in the oil industry are taken over by foreigners when there are skilled and trained Nigerians who can do it. The expatriate job quota is being abused. The government needs to refocus on our local content policy. No foreigner should be employed where there is a Nigerian who can do it. The petroleum ministry should peg a percentage of jobs that must be given to Nigerians in the sector. The president did very well in his condemnation of the call for state police which is a tool that our politicians are waiting to use against their opponents and nonindigenes to further balkanise the country. State police is a platform towards disintegration of Nigeria. The president also seems to possess the right shock absorbers during crisis, at least so far.
The president needs to develop the right courage to tackle Nigeria's problems without fear or favour and no matter who's ox is gored. At least the president has proved wrong, all those who thought he was going to take his files every weekend to Ota farms. He needs to step up his flair and swagger and really get into his job. He will be judged by the number of Nigerians that he rescued from economic slavery and not by the number of presidential aides he took to CHOGM in Australia on 3 jets filled to capacity. The president has to redefine his focus and fight poverty and joblessness head on. Anything short of this will prompt the good people of Nigeria to continue to pop the question :
' Is Nigeria proving too difficult for Jonathan?
Abubakar Alkali Sokoto.
Councillors Quarters, Sokoto.