Musings on the Presidential Media Chat – Karshima Shilgba
One of the responsibilities of a president is to inspire his citizens, to give them a reason to look forward to a better life. I watched the presidential media chat on Sunday, November 18, 2012, expecting to get answers from my President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, on certain national problems. I came away without answers. I was saddened the more that my President provided nothing refreshing on the menu. It was a disappointing episode of self-confession of incompetence and helplessness. In fact, it would be true to characterise Jonathan’s answers to pointed questions, particularly from the editors of the Guardian and Sunday Mirror newspapers, as evasive and rambling, a presidential lamentation.
Jonathan’s answers are a good example of what a president should not say. A president must at least give the citizens a reason to have confidence in his abilities through presentation of clear bullet point solutions that he has for specific problems. He is not only to acknowledge that there are problems, but he should provide his solutions to those problems. He should have confidence in those solutions, and be courageous to make them open to public scrutiny. He is NEVER (I emphasise this word) expected to tell his people why it is difficult to implement a law or an act of the national assembly; rather he should tell steps he has taken or is taking to implement those. If a president laments and stops at that, what should the people do?
The Editor of The Guardian newspaper, Mr. Martins Oloja, asked what the President was doing to correct the disappointing rating of Nigerian universities. President Jonathan responded by painting a more disappointing scenario, and concluded that state governors should also be shown the report of a committee he had set up to compile a report on the state of both federal and state universities. That’s it! Did the President offer any solutions? He offered none! Any defence for Nigeria’s rating? President Jonathan said that he noticed that there were quite a number of countries in the world whose universities were not well ranked either!
Nigeria deserves better. In 2010, in my article titled, Goodluck Jonathan: Luck is not enough, I wrote: “If I stood before the unapproachable throne of the Almighty and He asked me to choose one item from the list—Luck, Strength, Courage, Understanding, and Grace, I would definitely not choose Luck. Let me tell you why. There is an illusion that comes with luck right unto the doorsteps of a man’s soul. Luck creates an illusion of achievement where there is no labour. Luck disarms a man of the necessary barometer of self-assessment; it darkens the thin veil that shields human faults. You have not arrived on the wings of luck; rather the journey has just started when luck pushes you unto the dais which is only fit for those who have tasted both the bitter pill of defeat and the sweet wine of success. Luck carries with it the burden of responsibility, to prove yourself to those who hold the consensus that you are undeserving.
Luck does not qualify a man for leadership; it questions his ability to lead. Luck does not necessarily come with excellence; it makes you the cynosure of prying eyes, coloured with the question, ‘Can you excel; can you distinguish yourself now?’ The burden of leadership cannot be borne by those who never prepared for the opportunity. Truly, if you did not prepare for an opportunity before it came, you might waste it. Luck could be a wonderful thing, but that is if you prepared for it. The winds must have blown in your direction the suspicion that the opportunity was coming. That nudge that whispers the question: ‘What if…?’ must be unmistaken.” I am more convinced of the rectitude of those words now!
The President was asked again why his government was not implementing the monetisation policy without formally taking steps to put it aside. Mr. Oloja cited two examples how the official houses of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives were bought by those public officers and yet Jonathan’s government permitted new budget votes to build new official quarters for the current holders of these offices, which votes the current officers claim are not sufficient. Jonathan replied by saying that the policy “is good in theory” but difficult to implement. He gives an example of a government project supervisor who needs an official vehicle to supervise public projects. To him, that justifies the abuse of public office that the monetisation policy sought to correct, which resulted in improvement in capital expenditures above recurrent expenditures. This beats me! Do you remember when during the Yar’Adua-Jonathan government started chipping away at the cornerstone of the monetisation policy, first with buying a “pool of vehicles”, which was contrary to the Certain Political, Public And Judicial Office Holders (Salaries And Allowances, etc.), Act 2002? Because Nigerians kept quiet, President Jonathan has come out boldly to declare that an Act of the National Assembly cannot be implemented. The growing cost of running government, with expanded number of ministries post-2007, increased number of cabinet-level ministers, surging number of assistants, special assistants, advisers, senior advisors, among others and the concomitant bloated overhead costs all combine to shoot up recurrent expenditures of the Federal Government under President Jonathan. And he spoke in a cavalier manner about this.
When you heard of N480bn statutory transfers in the 2013 budget proposal of the Jonathan government, know that this is because of the negligence of the Act I have referred to above and the breach of the monetisation policy, which makes beneficiaries of such transfers (the National Assembly, judiciary, and commissions recognised by the Constitution) to take scandalous sums of money, yet producing nothing or little in return. Who can check this abuse when the legislature and judiciary in Nigeria collaborate with the executive to waste our commonwealth? If Nigerians will not collaborate, in spite of their mutual suspicions, and work together to enlighten the uninformed about the extravagance and lack of good conscience of the ruling party, and stir them against supporting the party, only a violent overthrow shall redeem this nation if it will not violently come crashing down.
When reminded by the Editor of the Sunday Mirror, Gbemi Olujobi, how Nigerians were fascinated by the personal story of his humble background, and voted for him, only to be disappointed by the extravagant lifestyle of his government, epitomised by lavish expenditures on feeding by the Presidency, Jonathan responded by naively saying that, “I eat only twice a day.” How did Nigerians get for themselves such a President who fails to understand simple question? He surprised probably not a few when he claimed ignorance of how much the Presidency spends on food and drinks! That nails it. Our President is not leading; he has surrendered governance to those Nigerians did not vote to be their president. President Jonathan, went on to say that, “Nigeria is an important country,” implying the expenditures on food and drinks that some folks are complaining about are none issues.
When asked why his government was prevaricating about trying culprits entangled in the Halliburton bribery scandal, President Jonathan used an old and stale line: “It is better to let criminals go free than to punish one innocent fellow.” This is an incongruous dictum adoption. The fact is that Nigeria does not have a government that is ready to punish rogues; and when punishment against evil is delayed, men do not learn to do right. President Jonathan would need decades to sort out the “innocent” from criminals before taking the Halliburton scandal criminals to court. In my article, “A Lessons on power for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan” (2010), I wrote about the President: “One obvious mistake Dr. Jonathan has consistently made since the resolution by the National Assembly on February 9, 2010, making him the Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation is to still think like a Vice-President. Until a man changes both the content and construction of his mind upon the thrust into the limelight of power, his efficacy in the new role will be mediocre. Until Dr. Jonathan re-creates himself, he shall remain insipid, boring, and of no positive effect whatsoever to the exigencies of the time. My reading is that Dr. Jonathan is scared of many ministers of the Federation and certain individuals whom he considers ‘very powerful.’ You cannot be an effective leader when you are afraid of the people over whom you should preside.”
President Jonathan was asked why he did not care to visit the troubled region of Nigeria (North-Eastern states such as Borno and Yobe, which have been hard hit by Boko Haram). He rather spent time talking about some incidental reference to the Odi raid of 2000. He provided no answer for his failure to visit Nigerians in Borno and Yobe states who don’t feel they have a President who cares; neither did he provide hope about resolving the security challenges of Nigeria.
On electricity power supply in Nigeria, I guess you have read how the Jonathan government has promised to grant tax holiday to manufacturers that can generate their electricity! Do you know the implication? The leadership failure of Jonathan’s government will lead to loss of tax revenue because of this holiday. You may have noticed that in some parts of Nigeria (I say this advisedly because I don’t know where you are reading this article from), electricity supply has deteriorated in the past few weeks since the exit of Prof. Barth Nnaji. The President promised during the media chat that he would fix the electricity problem and repair the Benin-Ore Expressway (on which one of his ministers shed tears about two years ago). This statement was made in response to a comment by a Nigerian viewer who had tweeted that if President Jonathan could fix the road and electricity problem of Nigeria, he would become a great Nigerian president. I would wish for Jonathan to become a great Nigerian president. But he cannot become one without showing a good knowledge and understanding of what our problems are, without having the will to tackle them without fear, and without a sense of urgency that Nigerians expect of him. His answers were uninspiring. He did not speak to the fears and discouragement of Nigerians. He failed to show he was on the side of the people. Jonathan has lost (if at all he had it in the first place) any moral authority to engage the National Assembly on their excesses, for they bear the same kind of spots. The Nigerian judiciary is openly corrupt (Jonathan was reminded during the chat about the latest rating of Nigeria as the second most corrupt country); and anarchy has set in the land. The Presidential media chat was a reminder to Nigerians that they should be ready to suffer all manner of indignities and torments for the next two and half years. The three arms of government have collaborated to oppress Nigerians. Now they govern by “committees”. The President spoke quite a bit about committees he has set up, and how ignorant Nigerians are for not noticing when he is implementing the recommendations of those committees. Well, I know that committees have never been helpful, at least in my adult days in Nigeria. When a matter has been handed over to a “committee”, it is only a euphemistic expression of taking it off the public menu of engagement.
Every nation that practises governance through elected representatives must define so clearly what democracy should mean to its people. Such definition comes in form of rituals that distinguish it from other nations. The ability to invent forms of governance that are specific, meaningful, acceptable to the majority of the people, realistic, and time-bound sets a nation apart as intelligent in its conduct. A nation consists of people who have agreed to live and interact together on the basis of laws, not necessarily given by a divine being, but given by the people to themselves in the form of a constitution. And if the people have given to themselves a constitution, it is then a given that such a constitution should not be injurious to their interest, not be restrictive on their aspiration, and not vitiate provisions that are generous to them through some other clauses in the same constitution. Is this the best we can afford for ourselves? Is this the best president we can have for ourselves? Is this the best legislature or judiciary Nigerians are deserving of? The President said that, “The PDP is the party to beat.” If this is true, then I don’t know Nigerians; they must be truly a queer group.
– Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria (firstname.lastname@example.org)