OPINION: What Nigerians want from Jonathan in 2013
Dear Mr. President,
I wish you and your family, fellow Nigerians, and my readers at home and abroad a Happy New Year.
It is heartening to note that you have reflected on public perception of your administration in the last 18 months. But if “slow” speed is all you thought the public perceived, it is either you did not fully understand the people or you did not listen hard enough. Your administration’s public scorecard during the period also included uncomplimentary descriptors, such as “inept”, “corrupt”, and “fail”, to name a few.
Your explanation for slow speed is also deemed unsatisfactory. “We need to think through things properly”, you said, “if we are to make lasting impact.” What about “short-term” impact, such as fixing bad roads, equipping and staffing schools, and fixing numerous vexing problems with Murtala Muhammed International Airport? If the last 18 months were spent on thinking through the much publicised “transformation agenda”, what stops the conclusion that the agenda was not properly conceived in the first place?
The citizens are also concerned that you have wasted the time, energy, and brains of many well-meaning Nigerians who assisted you in “thinking”, by serving on various committees and probes whose recommendations you have sidelined or totally ignored. As a result, many high profile culprits named in the reports have yet to be apprehended.
There are resources for improvement at your disposal. However, time is running out. Looking down the calendar through May 29, 2015, it would appear that 2013 is about the only year left for you to make things happen. Much of 2014 and the first half of 2015 will be taken over by presidential electoral politics, which would make you a lame duck president. Your focus on governance would be further diminished if you decide to run for a second term, but that’s a matter for another day. President Barack Obama of the United States realised this dilemma quite early. That’s why most of his major first-term achievements, including health care reform, were accomplished within the first 18 months, the same amount of time your administration has spent “thinking”.
In order to move Nigeria forward, an important message is being delivered to you today on behalf of fellow Nigerians. It is a two-part message, containing a list of complaints during the past year and a list of the remedies for 2013.
As their messenger, I am struck by their desperation, especially those among them who have no voice. They are genuinely concerned about their own well-being and about Nigeria’s future. Some of them have no jobs. Some have no place to sleep. Some have no food to eat. Some are sick and have no idea how they could receive or afford appropriate medical treatment. Some lost their breadwinners to accidents on bad highways or unregulated air traffic; some to floods or pipeline explosions; and others to armed robbers or terrorists. Even those who could afford a roof on their head and food on the table often have neither water nor power supply. Many of them have stagnated for years because of rising food, housing, and fuel costs and prohibitive bank loan interests.
If everyone in the country were in their situation, they probably would have resigned to their fate. But they see the top one per cent live in sumptuous luxury, while about 70 per cent live in squalour. The erstwhile middle class between the have-too-much and the have-nots has become the shrinking “struggling” class. Most of its members ride tokunbo cars, make do with low-voltage generators to power their appliances, and struggle to give their children the best education they can afford. They live from pay check to pay check, while members of the top one per cent, which largely feed fat on the state, jet from one country to another for holiday, birthday celebrations, weddings, medical treatment, or to visit their children in various schools abroad.
The complaints by fellow Nigerians, echoed in various columns and editorials in 2012, fall into seven categories, namely, national, personal, and property insecurity; food insecurity; poor infrastructure; inadequate schools and hospitals; mass youth unemployment; escalating corruption; and poor governance owing to weak leadership. It is not the case that your administration has not made advances in some of these areas. However, such advances are still dwarfed by the deficits that remain.
These deficits are not peculiar to Nigeria. What is peculiar is their increasing intensity and co-presence under your administration. Yet, more than many other nations, Nigeria has enough natural and human resources to avoid these problems in the first place, or to at least overcome them. That’s why poor leadership and escalating corruption top the list of citizens’ complaints, because they are viewed as the root of the other deficits. Nigerians are worried that the convergence of weak leadership and corruption in your administration will make it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve meaningful change.
Nevertheless, change is not impossible. There are many leaders like you who inherited worse situations and still made a significant impact. However, there is a noticeable distance in political will and passion for positive change between you and such leaders. They also do not indulge in the extravagant waste of public funds that has come to characterise your administration. They do not condone corruption and they are quick to combat threats to national security and stability. They often act decisively and they do not say what they don’t mean.
Nigerians are not mumu. They know when they are being deceived. They know you have made far more promises than you could possibly keep. However, they cannot understand why you have not kept any of them satisfactorily. That’s why they don’t want you to make further promises.
Instead, they want you to fulfil at least four of the numerous promises you have made. First, curb corruption, especially in high places. Start with the reduction of aircraft in the presidential fleet from 10 to five. Do not build a new banqueting hall or a new VP lodge. Make all culprits of the fuel subsidy, pension scheme, and the Security Exchange scams return all ill-gotten funds. And then tell the nation how much extra money we made from all the crude oil we sold above the budgeted barrel price in 2012 and how it has been, or will be, spent.
Second, provide adequate power supply in order to save money on generators, which could then be spent on other sectors of the economy. It will also help manufacturing industries, small businesses, hotels, and other investors to thrive. These are the institutions that create private sector jobs, not the government.
Third, improve on infrastructural facilities. Building roads and bridges, rail lines, airports, and parks do not only ease transport and leisure; they also create jobs. At the height of the economic recession in the United States in 2008, such projects formed the core of Obama’s Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
Finally, ensure food security by investing in sustainable agricultural projects rather than one-off cosmetic programmes, such as fertiliser supply. There are lessons to learn from Brazil, Costa Rica, and Malaysia in this area.
It will help to reshuffle your cabinet to include appropriate professionals and technocrats who can help you in these areas. The time to act is now. Happy New Year!
– by Niyi Akinnaso
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