A President In (Economic) Chains! By SOC Okenwa

The system is damn too corrupt and President Jonathan must give a damn this time around! No country makes any progress in such criminalised system

As the President of the supposed Giant of Africa, a corruption-ridden country Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is an interesting character indeed. His ’embattled’ presidency is, of course, interesting in more than one way: cluelessness, regular gaffe-spewing interventions, corruption scandals here and there, Boko Haram and the terrorist blend, cocktail of scandals bordering on mediocrity and fiscal indiscipline. Yet, the greatest challenge facing President Jonathan is how best to ‘transform’ Nigeria from what we are used to before his emergence: epileptic power supply, dilapidated network of roads, lack of pipe-borne water, primitive diseases like malaria and cholera, dearth of good medical facilities etc.

Whereas Jonathan could be excused for saying he never sent tsunami to the north to destroy the food stockpiled there or earthquake to sweep away good roads across the country he must be held to account for what he has done towards ameliorating those terrible conditions inherited from his myopic predecessors. Whereas the people in his village cannot afford to buy bottled water or packaged food, according to him, something the Occupy Nigeria protesters in Lagos were supplied abundantly with when the anti-subsidy heat was on earlier this year we shall always remind the president that when he was going to school in Otueke village he had told the nation how his poor parents could not afford to buy him a pair of shoe; his duty here, therefore, faced with this misery, this indigence stalking many homes a Nigerian is to create a conducive environment for self-actualisation by creating new job opportunities, by providing constant power supply and by checking corruption that has blossomed into a Frankenstein monster.

President Jonathan might not be a General, a Pharaoh or a dictator (like Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha or Adolf Hitler for example) but good things could come out of these characters — we have examples around the world to prove this point. While ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo could be blamed partly for foisting GEJ on Nigerians Nigeria, since flag independence in 1960, has never had any good leader well prepared for the task of leadership at the apex. Alhaji Shehu Shagari never bargained for the presidency in 1979 but OBJ dragged him into it; the late Umaru Yar’Adua never had any ambition of becoming Head of State but OBJ ‘muscled’ him into accepting the poisoned chalice that quickened his demise. GEJ was content governing his oil-rich state of Bayelsa but OBJ sought him out and ‘coronated’ him as Yar’Adua’s Vice only for death to ‘crown’ him with the ultimate prize as ‘king’.

Not blessed with rhetorical gifts the President commits gaffe after gaffe attracting criticisms from his opponents and critics. Nationally acclaimed as a ‘bad’ public speaker often given to articulating defensive personal issues with the opposition than important issues of the day President Jonathan is clearly overwhelmed (if not intimidated) by the ‘sophistication’ of his office and the huge task ahead. So sometimes he tended to serve out a cocktail of incoherent rantings unbecoming of a president.  But instead of gaining sympathy or understanding from those opposed to his style and mediocrity he provides openings for more attacks and skepticism.

Verbal gaffes aside we are worried lately that President Jonathan has become a glorified ‘victim’ of economics, politics of economics; he is apparently held ‘hostage’ by economic hawks and barracudas in and around his uninspiring presidency. The Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas, Sanusi Lamido Sanusis, Olusegun Agangas are seemingly in control exploiting the novice status of the Ijawman to their advantage. Bamboozled or mesmerized out of his wits with bogus ‘facts’ and figures presented by these ‘economists’ the president, instead of confessing his bewilderment, plays along by acquiescing. When a Commander-in-chief is such naive a lot of forces unpatriotic tend to hold the nation to ransom.

But folks let us not confuse issues here. We are not saying that a president must be an economist before he performs creditably. No! What is at issue here happens to be the ability of an elected president to master his brief and seek to presidentially be in total control of his entire impulse discharging his duties without fear or favour, and striking without compromise when dereliction of duty occurs from any quarters. GEJ is a PhD holder in zoology but that cannot be an excuse for failure unless he is telling us that working in the zoo or the classroom should have been a better vocation for him.

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However, GEJ is damn right in one point: the rot in the land never started with the advent of his presidency. Even before Shehu Shagari, who never wanted to be president, was made one by OBJ’s obsession with mediocrity General Yakubu Gowon had declared gracelessly, made temporarily ‘mad’ by petro-dollars that came in torrents, that Nigeria of the 70’s had no problem with money but what to do with it! After killing millions of Biafrans (Igbos) in an organized pogrom nay genocide misnamed war of unification, something that should have been qualified as war crimes with Jack thrown behind bars, Gowon, in his martial best element, betrayed greatness Nigeriana by squandering millions of dollars in white elephant projects.

Let us just consider two policy failures that exposed GEJ’s lack of control of his economic elements; that gives some truism to our stand that the President is one executive in economic chains. Last January (infact on new year’s day) the President, acting blindly on a bizzare recommendation by the fiery trio, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido and Diezani Alison-Madueke, had removed the so-called fuel subsidy on petroleum products increasing the pump price of PMS by well over three hundred percent and throwing Nigeria into a state of anarchy that lasted for weeks. Occupy Nigeria demonstrations were spontaneously organized across the cities especially Lagos igniting the can-do spirit of Nigerians.

The President was forced to back down ‘capitulating’ at the last moment after heated negotiations with the labour unions. But he succeeded in stamping an increased price of close to fifty percent thus accentuating the suffering of Nigerians. In the end, months after that epic battle with power, we have found out the mind-boggling fraud that is “subsidy”! Trillions upon trillions of Naira paid out by smart corrupt government agents to phony companies and oil cartels masquerading as importers of fuel! Today, no one has been jailed for this monumental scam of the century perpetrated against a nation with active connivance of the PDP ‘gods’ in power.

In the last three years or thereabout over $6.8 billion had been looted from the petroleum sector by smart crooks working in all impunity. The system is damn too corrupt and the President must give a damn this time around! No country makes any progress in such criminalised system in which executive robbers steal billions and retire in palatial homes without any hint of justice running its course. President Jonathan can stop corruption in Nigeria if the will is there, but there is none on the horizon unfortunately. On the other hand however if he himself is embroiled in the web of intrigues surrounding the off-shore/on-shore conundrum then Nigeria is finished! He might, then, be the veritable undertaker sent by horrified gods to right the Lugardian wrong of 1914.

Recently there was some controversy nationwide over the planned minting of a higher denomination of the Naira: five thousand bill. Whereas the CBN Governor Mallam Sanusi Lamido has succeeded in convincing the President on the necessity of putting the faces of three late women leaders on the note (with one wearing dark sunglasses like a mafian-amazon) and circulating same early next year the House of Assembly kicked against the move. With vociferous disapproval from the opposition and critics Jonathan again ‘surrendered’ to superior economic arguments eating a humble pie once again.

When ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo rose, in his usual interventions, against the move Sanusi Lamido shot down his arguments with arrogant gusto even calling him a “good farmer but a bad economist”! Olusegun Obasanjo might represent everything awful found in any leader but his patriotism is never in doubt! OBJ loves Nigeria from his heart and we recognise that to be true. So whenever he intervenes in our national affairs he must be listened to and given some respect due him. Sanusi cannot pretend not to know OBJ’s pedigree in the Nigeria’s tortured road to destined greatness. That twisted journey to nationhood had taken every sacrifice thrown its direction including blood of martyrs and Gashua prison experiences of the late legal icon Gani Fawehinmi.

With all the socio-economic and political problems besetting Nigeria one wonders why introducing another Naira denomination should be considered a priority. President Jonathan must sit up and take charge! The Nigerian project requires more of some radical approach and less grandstanding and megalomania. We pray daily for the success of his transformational programmes so that the lives of Nigerians could transform without cassava bread or ‘ogogoro’.

As Nigeria celebrates yet another Independence anniversary, the 52nd down the road, (‘sans gloire ni grace, sans espoir ni esperance’) we ask patriotically and nostalgically: Whither Nigeria? When cometh the special breed? And as ‘Presido’ GEJ ruminates ostensibly on the next step in the project Nigeria we wish millions of our compatriots — especially the jobless, homeless and ‘foodless’ — less pain and more happiness as they toil daily to make ends meet in a nation that has continued for decades to betray their aspirations. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria @ 52!

SOC Okenwa

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