Growing up in my village in Nigeria, my friends and I had a favourite game. We called it Asesebhor — “Are we there yet?”
It was a game of trust. You picked a playmate to lead you to an undisclosed spot. You’d close your eyes and, like a blind mendicant, rest both of your hands on his shoulders as he walked.
“Asesebhor?” you would keep asking. “Are we there yet?” To which he would respond, “Eiyeh” — “No.”
Others whom you passed would play along, chanting and hailing, without revealing your path or destination. When your guide stopped moving, you had arrived.
Often, you would open your eyes and be amused to find that you were in another part of the village. But sometimes, a rogue playmate would lead you into a bush of thorns or brush of poison ivy. So you learned to be on your guard. If your guide was in the habit of such tricks, you learned to slyly take a peek during the game. Though this ruined the fun of surprise, it kept you from getting hurt.
I cannot help but think that this is precisely the situation that the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has placed himself in now — playing a game of Asesebhor with the untrustworthy associates in his cabinet and in other positions of influence and power.
To a close observer of his administration, it is obvious that most of the ministers, special advisers, special assistants and a host of others are in his government only to bleed the country dry. And from all public indications, it would appear that our president is oblivious to their deceitful games.
That is the kindest interpretation I can put on Mr. Jonathan’s inattention to the blatant corruption all around him. The alternative is that he is complicit in the corrupt actions that are clogging the wheels of progress in the country.
One thing is sure: Whatever trust the president stubbornly continues to hold in his cronies and kingmakers, whatever political debts they are collecting, whatever benefit he stands to reap by ignoring the deadwoods in his administration, it only hurts the ordinary Nigerians who voted him into power in 2011.
And whatever game he is playing with the voters’ trust, he should stop now and systematically clean up his administration.
Mr. Jonathan is not incapable of making tough decisions. He recently fired five military commanders in one fell swoop, partly because of their failures in combating the Boko Haram insurgency and partly to consolidate his power in advance of next year’s elections.
But in the area of corruption, the president has turned a blind eye.
In one recent scandal, Stella Oduah, the minister of aviation, was accused of spending 255 million naira — about $1.6 million — on the purchase of two armored cars that were worth perhaps one-quarter as much, as well as of falsifying an academic credential from an American college.
But the president has not yet acted against this minister. She continues in office while a report by a committee that was set up to investigate this case is gathering dust somewhere in the presidential offices, without having been made public.
The president’s refusal to take action against her only lends credence to the widely held suspicion that some members of his administration are untouchable. No matter their offense, the president treats them as if he trusts them blindly, while he and his cronies engage in diversionary tactics.
A few weeks ago, for example, the president asked Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to resign from his post, a demand Mr. Sanusi has resisted. Mr. Sanusi had written a letter asking the president to look into a case of $49.8 billion in receipts from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation that are now unaccounted for.
Whereas a minister accused of misappropriating public funds is allowed to remain in office, a central bank governor has been hounded for seeking the president’s intervention in a case that strongly suggests corrupt practices in a government-owned corporation.
When the president acts — or fails to act — in this manner, ordinary Nigerians wonder where just exactly he is going, or where his advisers are leading him.
Recently, Mr. Jonathan signed into law a ban on same-sex marriage, even as another bill, which many Nigerians believe would curb corrupt practices in the oil and gas industry, suffered setback after setback in the Parliament.
The result: Nothing has been done to end corruption involving the single most important source of funds for the Nigerian government, but horror stories of gay-bashing by law enforcement officers have already become rife.
And gross failures in vital services like power supply, health care and education continue to get almost no effective attention.
In Nigeria, corrupt elected and appointed government officials typically do not resign from office unless they are forced out. So it is the duty of the commander in chief to clean a corrupt house.
Even Mr. Jonathan’s mentor, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was behind Mr. Jonathan’s rise to power, criticized him for tolerating corruption in the oil industry and other sectors and mismanaging the fight against Boko Haram. Mr. Jonathan rejected Mr. Obasanjo’s attack in an open letter.
It is time for Mr. Jonathan to open his eyes, stop the dangerous game he is playing, and fire his corrupt playmates before the voters take the matter out of his hands in the general elections scheduled for next year.
This was first published in Wednesday’s online edition of the New York Times. We have the author’s permission to republish.
Victor Ehikhamenor, a writer and artist, is the author of an essay collection, “Excuse Me! One Nigerian’s Funny Outsized Reality.” He writes a weekly column for PREMIUM TIMES. You can interact with him via his twitter handle @victorsozaboy
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