Abati passes a swipe at Dele Momodu’s wife via THISDAY


Jonathan: A Radical President

By Reuben Abati

I have always regarded Dele Momodu as a man of very passionate convictions, but lately, I have begun to wonder about the motives that drive his recent contributions to the public discussion of the state of our nation. I started to worry when he suddenly decided he wanted to be President of Nigeria. A day after D-Day, the joke on Twitter, Facebook and online (the essential scourge of our time) was that Dele Momodu got only one vote at the polling booth in his ward, and that even his wife who followed him to the polling booth voted for someone else – Goodluck Jonathan, most probably. But he has trudged on since then like a man of faith, proclaiming his undying faith in Nigeria.

Dele Momodu has made it clear since then that he is very disenchanted with President Goodluck Jonathan. I have also noticed a strange and inexplicable streak of extreme radicalism in his ThisDay column in recent times, and I have had cause to call him to express my amazement. He is ordinarily right of centre, but he is gradually shifting to far left of centre. I confess to not being very certain about what could have caused this sudden shift to extremism by Bob Dee, but frustration, anger, mischief, misinformation, partisanship, and expediency have been suggested.

He fully advertised his “apostasy” in his piece titled “In Search of A Radical President” (Saturday, January 28). What was missing in that fallacy-laden analysis, as in most criticisms of President Jonathan, is a proper contextualization and deconstruction of the current Presidency. Momodu says the “fad in government today in Nigerian government circles is to label every critic as an enemy of government”. But there are truths and there are fallacies. What needs be noted is that President Jonathan does not consider any critic of his administration, an enemy.

President Jonathan, it must be remembered, signed the Freedom of Information Bill into law, whereas at least two Presidents before him demurred on the same issue. During the “removal of fuel subsidy” protests, the President repeatedly acknowledged the average Nigerian’s right to protest. He publicly declared that he is prepared to take unpopular decisions in the long term interest of Nigerians, at the risk of being abused in the short-term. The President’s conviction is that every Nigerian should enjoy the right to know, and the right to differ, and that Nigeria is a collective enterprise. He is a man who truly believes in the rule of law and the sovereignty of Nigeria.
However, when people talk about the disintegration of Nigeria, or regime change, it certainly bothers President Jonathan who rightly insists that he will not preside over a Nigeria that will disintegrate. The problematic in Momodu’s analysis is thus to be thrown back at its source. The true enemies of our country are the anarchists who insist that Nigerian must disintegrate. The real enemies of the Nigerian project are those who for opportunistic reasons seem to have resolved that they will not allow the present administration to have a moment of peace. Democracy yes; but anarchism, no. Where exactly does Momodu stand?

I go to the second level of Momodu’s very apparent discontent. This goes back to the circumstances of President Jonathan’s emergence as President: how he was the underdog without shoes that nobody gave a chance, the man that everyone including Professor Wole Soyinka, Pastor Tunde Bakare, the Save Nigeria Group and our very own Dele Momodu helped all the way to the throne, and now that he is there, he no longer remembers those who made him king! As Momodu puts it: “…we expected to see a President full of gratitude to man and God. We had hoped to have a radical President who would use his exalted position to correct the ills of our nation and heal our wounds…”

The sub-text of Momodu’s assertion is that too many people think Dr. Jonathan is President because of their own personal sacrifices, and Momodu makes that clear. And he is not alone. The attendant verbiage is like this: we fought for him to be President, when the Yar’Adua cabal did not want him; and he doesn’t seem to be showing us enough gratitude. Or the other face of it: he is using our term; if Yar’Adua had not died, he would not be President now. Or as the royalists put it: where is he coming from? How did we allow a minority to emerge as President?

Of course, the truth is that the essential Jonathan persona has not changed in any negative way since he assumed the mantle of national leadership. The President remains a perfect embodiment of humility who fully appreciates that it is a great privilege to be entrusted with the leadership of our great nation. He has certainly not forgotten the millions of ordinary Nigerians who voted to elect him and he constantly proclaims that God has been very kind to him. Nobody in Nigerian history has been so significantly historic, given the awakening of his emergence and its illustrative dimensions.

But he asks for one favour: the “shoe-givers” should allow him to walk with the shoes and effectively implement his agenda for national transformation. President Jonathan sincerely wants to transform Nigeria. They should allow him to do so. The most ardent critics have spoken about declining goodwill and declining legitimacy. The latter is fictitious because the legitimacy is real and incontrovertible; the former is contrived, and can only be redressed by the learning of appropriate lessons on both sides. President Jonathan has a four-year tenure; those who want his position should wait till the next election to stake their claims, and not seek to sabotage Nigeria for selfish reasons. Those are the enemies Dele Momodu should worry about.

He says “a true radical”, according to Abiola, is “a man who was ready to put his personal comfort at risk.” That is precisely what President Jonathan is doing. The Presidency of Nigeria is a difficult assignment: it is not easy to lead such elite “shoe-givers” mentioned by Dele Momodu. He has however, offered “a few tips free of charge” to make the task easier, albeit he is mostly preaching to the already converted. He says President Jonathan must cut budget and slash all salaries and allowances of public officers by at least 50 per cent. But that advice is belated and not very original. The President is already doing that and more to redirect national resources away from wasteful and unproductive expenditure to critical areas of national need such as power supply, infrastructure, education, healthcare, agricultural development and employment generation.

I give a personal testimony: before my arrival at this post, the Nigerian President used to travel abroad with a retinue of independent journalists. That has been slashed to just three under Jonathan and two weeks ago, I was asked to go and reduce that figure by 25 per cent. I still can’t figure out the calculation: 25 per cent of 3, translated into individual representation!

Dele Momodu adds that the President: “must stop all frivolous contracts and concentrate on revamping our disgraceful infrastructure”. Sir, President Jonathan is already doing so too. It may have escaped your notice, but he set up a high-powered committee months ago to review all contracts and on-going projects, and he is diligently implementing the recommendations of that committee. I was there when that committee first presented its report. It was a comment on Nigeria. President Jonathan has inherited projects that were awarded over 50 years ago, and that are still in progress! I have never seen him so incensed. Momodu should ask: Is this President being fought by “enemies” because he resolved publicly to change the order of things?

Momodu also wrote that “…Our ragtag police are begging for serious attention.” President Jonathan has said that much and has set up a Special Committee to do just that. Momodu says: “The Presidential Villa need not be a Saudi palace.” As anyone who has been to Saudi Arabia knows, it certainly is not. Momodu also says “All foreign travels must be kept to the most essential ones as determined by the Foreign Ministry.” Mr. President already said so, two weeks ago in a national broadcast and has since acted accordingly. “The biggest task before our President is how to cut waste and increase revenue at all levels,” Momodu adds. That is precisely what Mr. President is doing. In addition, he is fighting corruption, tackling Boko Haram, encouraging investment and the diversification of the economy.

Dele Momodu complains that “we are spending trillions of Naira every year without any visible progress.” Progress is being made, and President Jonathan is as much in a hurry as every Nigerian. President Jonathan understands the great historical opportunity that he has to make a difference, and he is not relying on luck but hard-work, diligence and dedication as well as the continued support of all truly patriotic Nigerians.

•Abati is Special Adviser to the President on Communication.

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