by Stanley Azuakola
In case you missed it, President Jonathan’s Strategy and PR team led by the inimitable Oronto Douglas, this week released a new 155-page book titled Sure and Steady Transformation: The Progress Report. It was a brilliant piece of agitprop (now that’s a fine word for you.)
The brilliance of the work was not in its truthfulness but in the effective application of two very important neutralisers – beautiful images and sheer volume.
The pictures in the book were some of the most flattering we’ve ever seen of the president and his cabinet. All of them looked good, working. The team understood the captivating power of images, but just in case using images was not going to be enough, they filled the pages with high sounding ‘achievements’ (we’ll get to that.)
We do not have a fact checking culture in Nigeria. Our media houses are understaffed and overstretched; and our political scientists and developmental experts are a tad lazy. So, in producing this large publication, the president’s team understood that unlike the one page press releases and opinion pieces Reuben Abati drafts or the 5-minute TV slot Doyin Okupe arranges, a 155-page document would prove much harder to dissect and thoroughly critique. They were right.
Several days have passed since its release, yet the angle most newspapers have used is basically what Oronto Douglas said during the book launch: “The president says politicians shouldn’t distract him with talks of 2015. He is too busy with the task of governance right now. And you see he’s already delivering.” To prove it, he directs you to the 155 pages of Sure and Steady Transformation. Who can argue with that?
Personally, I’ve only had a cursory look at the book, and truthfully, I came across a few fine achievements.
The Finance Ministry says it has made “remarkable progress in building buffers against economic shocks. Excess Crude Account balances have improved from $4.22 billion in August 2011 to $7.3 billion in August 2012,” and the Trade and Investment Ministry says it has “achieved a 24-hour timeline for registration of new businesses. A total of 6,838 companies were registered within the second quarter of 2012.” I wish this could be verified though.
I also saw plenty howlers and discrepancies in the book which makes me wonder what would come out if a proper dissection is done. Let’s consider a few.
1. It is high time we come to the realisation in this country that not everything qualifies as achievement. Information Minister, Labaran Maku, shamefully listed that his ministry produced and distributed ‘Federal government calendar and diary’ as an achievement. Every single ministry had at least five such bizarre ‘achievements.’
2. The president recently claimed at the Independence Anniversary lecture that the January subsidy protest was stage-managed. So it was no surprise reading in the book how the ministers congratulated themselves over the matter – the Labour Minister, for his “deft handling of the fuel subsidy removal crisis,” the Petroleum Minister, for setting up a “special task force” following the crisis, and the Information Minister, for developing “a multi-media communication plan to sell the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector, the implementation of which led to the PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE of the process, the major objection being that it was ill-timed.” Hilarious!
3. Something else that’s worrying is the total absence of usable figures. That’s why Agric Minister, Adesina thinks he can get away with simply saying that “the transformation agenda sets out to create over 3.5 million jobs in the agricultural sector” in four years, but doesn’t say how many jobs have been created so far this year. And the Youth Affairs Minister, Abdulkadir, says he has done well because N1.2 billion was appropriated for the implementation of the Youth Employment Program (YEP). How many jobs did the N1.2 billion bring? Sure and Steady Transformation did not tell us.
4. Princess Stella Oduah, the Aviation Minister even managed to put a failed deadline as an achievement. The deadline for Phase 1 completion for remodelling and reconstruction of 12 airports was May 2012. None of the 12 airports was completed, but she recorded it as an achievement.
5. It was also surprising to see the Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, listing the fact that “60 and 33 athletes have so far qualified for the Olympics” as an achievement, when we have already gone and lost at the Olympics. They were so sloppy that they couldn’t even update it. If the loan Nigeria obtained only last week from China’s Exim Bank for the development of 4 new international terminals was also listed in the book, there is no reason why Bolaji Abdullahi and Oronto Douglas could not have updated the achievements of the Sports Ministry.
6. Then there were flat-out lies. Like the Minister of Youth Affairs, Inuwa Abdulkadir, claiming that he holds monthly tweet-meets with youths on social media. Abdulkadir, to the best of my knowledge has never held a tweet-meet (I stand to be corrected.) The former minister used to do it, but even he stopped at some point. The book also claims that anti-graft agencies have been revived and rejuvenated under this administration. That too is a lie.
Surprisingly, in Jonathan’s new book, there is no record of his ‘Bring Back the Book’ campaign, a sign that the campaign has failed, just like many before it. Neither did I see anything on our SURE-P mass transit scheme. Where did those buses go? Questions for another day.
So yes, in case you missed it, President Jonathan has released a pretty new book of achievements called Sure and Steady Transformation. I’m just not sure about some of the transformations; far from being steady, they seem mighty wobbly.