And so here we are, on Democracy Day, Mr. President is suffering from the withdrawal that often comes from aspirational elections, especially among young urban Nigerians, who had loved him when he became the Facebook President.
Last week was Democracy Day in Nigeria, and rarely have I seen the full ugliness and beauty that the democratic process offers. The president listed on Facebook all his achievements since he took office. On the same day the president renamed one of Nigeria’s most popular higher education institutions, the University of Lagos, in honour of the late politician MKO Abiola’s contribution to democracy, in an obviously self-serving attempt at statesmanship. Very few stakeholders of the school were happy, which must be shocking to Mr. President. Both events serve as a teachable moment for those who wish to go into politics.
The 2011 election showed President Jonathan at his best, with his use of a remarkable political marketing tagline that along with PDP’s ferocious organizational and geographical reach, he won the election. He told Nigerians, “I had no shoes”. This phrase, resonated in the hearts of those 70% of Nigerians who might not have had shoes, or currently have children without shoes, an allegiance that he assumed would be never ending. He told them that he was like them, and that he knew their aspirations and that his administration would do all it can to make sure their children too could aspire to the Presidency.
With his message, President Jonathan captured the hearts of the Nigerian people, so much so that, people justified their choice of voting for the candidate of the most hated political party in recent history, by saying that they chose him and not his party. It was a simple message, and an efficient one. This is the most obvious of this administration’s political strategy. He used it with the “cassava bread” and “Abakaliki rice” movement, except to clumsy results, since cassava bread is not a sign of possibility but poverty. No one wants to be reminded that they are poor.
And so here we are, on Democracy Day, Mr. President is suffering from the withdrawal that often comes from aspirational elections, especially among young urban Nigerians, who had loved him when he became the Facebook President. They thought him weak and incompetent. Nothing he did about Boko Haram worked, he tried to remove fuel subsidy, he did nothing about education and health, and, above all, corruptions seems to have flourished under his watch. And so the president tried again to use a cheap trick, and he lost. No one bought it. They did not want name changes; they wanted jobs, security, and a society that encourages them to aspire to the best.
Reading this administration’s “List of Accomplishments” is a lesson in discipline. It was uninspiring, terrible, and plodding. New airports and airlines, without increased safety, reliability, and low cost is no achievement. Nine new universities without improved quality in current ones is also no achievement. Improved economic growth coupled with glaring income inequality so that 70% of the population lives on $1 a day is no growth. The Bring Back the Book project did not result in increased literacy, swearing in a female Chief Economic Advisor is certainly not going to count when maternal mortality is high and female access to human and economic resources is still appallingly low.
While few of the proposed but not accomplished strategies might result in better opportunities for Nigerians in the long run, they certainly cannot see it now. So Mr. President turned to cheap tricks, and it backfired.
I hope I haven’t been overly pessimistic. I have great hopes for this administration yet. I know that he has brilliant people working for him. However, leadership requires incredible clarity of purpose and he needs this now more than ever. If may be so bold as to suggest something to Mr. President, please focus on quick rapid wins! For the next 3 years, prioritize things that can be seen, felt, and referred to. It works.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.