@Judgeiyke: Mr. President, Nigeria cannot be transformed in a day but… (Y! FrontPage)

by Ikemesit Effiong

In a measured Independence Day broadcast to the nation, President Goodluck Jonathan said amongst other things that “we were in a sober moment in our country”. It was a tone hardly recognisable from a President who has spent much of his tenure being the optimistic, go-lucky guy who could pull a nation burdened by a myriad of systemic and structural impediments to a political and economic Nirvana by the sheer force of his personality.

This was a Jonathan with a somewhat generous helping of reality slammed into his expectations. A cursory reading of his speech reads like a roll call of his battles since riding on a crest of near stratospheric nationwide expectations into the country’s most exalted office in 2011 – the Boko Haram insurgency, the vagaries of Nigeria’s poisonous electoral politics, Ebola, a halting economy (comfortably forget his talk of it being “big, strong, influential and robust”).

At times, the old, overly optimistic Jonathan crept in when he referred to the “many accomplishments of our administration” (Just how is ‘many’ quantified?). He understandably trumped up his administration’s palliatives in helping victims of the Boko Haram insurgency (including the Gordon Brown led Safe Schools Initiative), the ‘Nigerianisation’ policy in the oil and gas industry, the recent rebasing of the economy, agricultural and power sector reform and reducing extreme hunger as defined by the United Nations.

All these negate a salient point – for the majority of Nigerians, our nation feels like it is at a standstill.

The facts are that things are changing, for the better, at a creeping pace. And that infuriates a lot of our countrymen. There isn’t a genuine sense, a ‘feel’ that the nation is headed in the direction of real political and socio-economic progress. For them, all of the President’s initiatives have at best, served to move Nigeria, in incremental huffs and puffs, in the right direction. There is a decidedly numbing lack of excitement about this stage of our national development. Gone are the catchy phrases, expensive, colourful extravaganzas or bold headlines in the press heralding yet another national milestone. For now, we’re left with the daily grind of eking out a living, even when it seems a lot of our countrymen are barely enjoying their lives.

The slight catch with the tenor of the President’s speech has nothing to do with form, but a lot to do with intention. It felt more like a regurgitation of talking points that we are all familiar with than an impassioned plea intended to spur national greatness. Parts of the speech seemed borne out of a cruel realisation that the hard work of pulling Nigeria from the brink and setting her on the path to fulfilling her huge and promising potential was harder than he, and his team thought.

And therein lies the futility of this circus that has characterised much of the President’s time in office – for a lot of political watchers, observers and self-styled Nigeria ‘experts’ have seen, known, and said that this was exactly going to be the case – that turning Nigeria around was going to be dirty and nasty, grinding and unsexy.

But then, it wasn’t We, The People, who chose our political and policy mantra to be the ‘Transformation Agenda’. That glory belongs to none other than Mr President. He set his bar way too high, delivered way too low according to some, and for much of the rest of us, we are stuck in a suffocating, uncomfortable middle.

Contrast that with India, a nation of 1.2 billion souls and counting, with its own humongous human, social, political and economic challenges. On every indicator of national needs, India’s requirements make Nigeria’s challenges look like a walk in the park. For one, it hosts the world’s largest number of poor people – a number almost twice the entire Nigerian population. However, there is a palpable excitement in the air. You can breathe the optimistic verve which this entrepreneurial nation applies itself to the hard work of pulling itself to where it feels it belongs – with the global big boys. And it celebrates every achievement along that long, torturous road.

Every Indian, poor, rich, old, young, celebrated the successful entry of its space probe, Mangalyaan into Mars’ orbit, the first country to achieve the milestone at its first attempt. Its Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is a national rock star. Long before his colourful political introduction to the world at New York’s Madison Square Garden, I was harried by two Indian schoolboys on a hot Mumbai afternoon about their new leader. The pride with which they spoke of their country’s prospects provided an interesting contrast to my private pessimism about my country’s current state.

To be fair, Modi has been in office for barely four months, firmly within the honeymoon period for any national political leader. Jonathan was very much the national favourite four months into his tenure. So was US President Barack Obama, Brazil’s Dilma Rouseff and France’s Francois Hollande. Political realties have brought an assessment of their legacies crashing back to earth. Whether Modi will join the very exclusive club of world leaders who still enjoy a broad swathe of national approval years into their term of office, folks like Germany’s Angela Merkel, we will soon discover.

As we stare the next 54 years of our existence as an independent nation, and the next hundred as a collective entity, it will serve us well to remember the President’s observation that “the first one hundred years were marked by triumphs and tribulations, benefits and burdens, opportunities and challenges.”

It behoves of every Nigerian – home and abroad – to gird up and apply herself to the hard but good work of making this country fulfil its ultimate and worthy goal – of providing a reasonable form of existence for all of us.

For our political leaders, especially the President, while We, The People, do recognise that Nigeria cannot be transformed in a day, to echo the words of Labour Party leader, and Jonathan apologist, Dan Inwayanwu, we do have a sense of what transformation feels and looks like.

And we cannot much of that around us.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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