The president and the well-digger By Salisu Suleiman

Five years ago, Nigerians were waiting earnestly for a new beginning as Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years as president petered out with ignominy. It was in sharp contrast to the optimism when he assumed office in 1999. That year, Nigerians had been filled with hope that the country was preparing a new charge towards much-delayed greatness. We had the human capital and natural resources: Obasanjo was to be the catalyst to merge the two. For the first few years of his presidency, Nigeria stumbled along without actually falling, but when the allure of power proved too much for him, Obasanjo showed his true colours – a despot willing to do anything and to sacrifice everything to remain in power.

In the end, popular will defeated him, though according to a former top official in the Obasanjo government, ‘if money could buy a third term, Obasanjo would have gotten it easily’. This was in response to the massive inducements allegedly passed to anyone who was thought to be able to influence the process. It is very disingenuous for Obasanjo to now claim that he never wanted a third term. He desperately wanted it, and to placate the ‘international community’ (whatever that means), hurriedly and unconstitutionally ceded Bakassi to Cameroun. But then, considering Obasanjo’s history, no one should be surprised.

As at the time he left office, few Nigerians could have imagined that the country would ever suffer through a more unpopular and corrupt leadership. As a well-digger, Obasanjo was a catastrophic failure, except for the few that his policies (and ambitions) made multi-billionaires. In any other country but Nigeria, this man would probably be back in his old cell at the Yola Prisons. Whoever gave Obasanjo the task of dissuading Abdullahi Wade of Senegal from contesting a third term was probably mocking him. The irony was of course lost on the would-be statesman.

Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s inaugural speech in 2007 was a soothing balm. For Nigerians, after eight mostly wasted years under Obasanjo, the apparent humility of a president who acknowledged coming to office through a flawed process was enough to endear him to us.   It didn’t take long to realize that his frail health and regional outlook put the duties of a president way out of Yar’adua’s pay grade. As a well-digger, he never learnt how to handle the digger, beholden as he was to the forces that brought him to power. The politics of his death is one that Nigerians hope never to see again.

Enter, President Goodluck Jonathan. This well-digger started by breaking a world record. The 2011 presidential elections, in terms of ‘mobilization’ to get disparate groups to support the bid proved to be the most expensive in the history of democracy. No one will ever know what it cost the treasury – or who got what, where and how – but at the end of the elections, Nigeria was practically broke. The President’s insistence on removing fuel subsidies was no accident. All the money was gone.

Still, many expected more from this well-digger considering his humble beginnings, supposed experience and advertised academic qualifications. Again, he didn’t take long to disappoint Nigerians. For example, last year, the federal government spent an average of 2 billion naira every day on security alone. It was the highest peace time spending on defence and security in Nigeria, yet the year proved to be one of the bloodiest our history. It is debatable if the government and security agencies really have a strategy, yet in the 2012 budget, will spend an average of 3 billion naira every day to ‘protect’ you and I. Perhaps part of the security strategy is to barricade every public or security related building.

Apart from deteriorating security, Nigeria’s economy remains in the doldrums. While the government likes to claim figures and statistics like 7 – 8 percent growth, the fact is that poverty and unemployment remain high. Even the Minister of Youth Development acknowledges that 20 million Nigerian youth (41.6 Percent) are jobless. The total figure of unemployed Nigerians is at least 25 percent. The president may not be entirely responsible for the high unemployment rates, but it is his job to fix it. Where are the plans, policies and programs to create jobs? The epic nature of the task at hand is probably beyond the imagination of this well-digger.

In the 13 years since the return of civilian rule, the well-diggers at the Villa have yet to strike the water that would bring succor, peace, prosperity and stability to Nigerians. While we wait, many have died. Many have been driven from their homes. Many live in fear. And many have come to realize that unlike real the well-digger, whose progress is measured by how fast he strikes water, the deeper the Nigerian president digs, (by spurious claims of achievements we can neither see or feel), the deeper our levels of insecurity, indebtedness, unemployment and poverty.

Maybe this well-digger should come up for some the fresh air he promised Nigerians.


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