by Dele Momodu
Culled from Thisday Live
A good leader must know when to fight and retreat.
Fellow Nigerians, I’m now convinced that we are in a bigger trouble than most of us realise. I have listened to, and watched carefully, the arguments, and the high drama, of members of The Kool and The Gang of Nigeria, comprising the President’s innermost cabinet. They represent the Politburo of Jonathan’s Kremlin. They are the ones with unrestricted access to the President, and his sprawling villa, in the rocky forests of Abuja; unlike the other unfavoured ministers who have to be thankful for the weekly Federal Executive Council meetings, every Wednesday, where they can catch a glimpse of the Lord of the Manor.
At such meetings, we are told, no one speaks unless they’ve read the mood of Mr President and are ready to tell him what would make him happy. Every sentence is often punctuated with that magical prefix of Mr President. You don’t have to wonder why. The President of Nigeria is the Alpha and Omega. He’s capable of turning a certified pauper into an instant billionaire, with just a stroke of the pen. The Constitution of the Federal Republic is his, and he is the Constitution.
In a Federalist system, the other tiers of government defer to him. It is not unusual to read such heresies like “The President summons the Governor of Lagos”, who ordinarily should never report to him. Even in matters of protocol, the Governor, or his representative, must welcome the President, his wife, and the Vice President, every time they visit. The entire city is usually paralysed during such visitations, which shouldn’t be so. But we have inadvertently ascribed such privileges to him. This is why most people try so hard to be in his good books. Only God can maintain the sanity of anyone with such monstrous influence and authority.
Nigeria is a Mafiadom, and most of our leaders are products of godfathers. Unfortunately, the godfathers are never in the habit of selecting the best of their godsons for the job. President Jonathan himself had confessed to a former American ambassador that he was not the best choice at the time he emerged, almost mysteriously, as a Vice Presidential candidate. His main credential was the fact that he was a quiet man they thought would be pliant. It was the same criteria that worked in favour of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was forced on Nigerians despite his acute and obvious ailments. The personal interests of our Al Capones always supersede that of the country. Jonathan knew his limitations and did not hide it. He knew that to move forward and win the election, he would have to acquire many things. And fortunately, he had access to vast resources and was ready to purchase whatever he lacked.
Thanks to some smart spin doctors, he was dressed in borrowed robes. Before our very eyes, the world was told Jonathan brought Facebook to Nigeria. We were told he was our own Obama who controlled the social media. Artists fell over themselves to sing songs of praise. Nollywood community named him the best promoter of Entertainment in Africa. His billboards littered everywhere. He flew over Nigeria and made promises that would be impossible to fulfil. He never blinked as he hypnotised his captive audience. To cut a long story short, he won. It would be a waste of time to argue otherwise. Politics in Nigeria, after-all, is a make-belief.
His handlers knew they had to continue the spin. They told him to buy into the equity of some famous Nigerians like Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dieziani Alison Madueke, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Aliko Dangote, Atedo Peterside, and others, to form the new nucleus of power. They were desperate to secure the services of Dr Okonjo-Iweala in particular. Her portfolio as Managing Director of the World Bank was intimidating enough. Many Nigerians had wondered if she would be foolhardy to return to the murky political terrain in Nigeria after the ignominy she suffered in the hands of President Olusegun Obasanjo. If some of us thought she won’t take the offer from Jonathan, our hopes soon evaporated. She took the job and instantly became the Head of Jonathan’s Economic Team. The President handpicked his new friends, several times, to join his economic team, while we looked on in utter bewilderment because most of his appointees have substantial interests in the economic activity of the nation.
This powerful team definitely succeeded in brainwashing the President that subsidy removal is the only and final solution to all of Nigeria’s problems. And for a President who seems to suffer from a kind of inferiority complex for these privileged kids, he must have swallowed their arguments hook line and sinker. This is reflected in his actions and body language. The President we see today is a different person. He’s no longer that simple, meek and harmless gentleman he portrayed during his campaigns. The new Jonathan is an obstinate, haughty, mean-spirited leader, who would not bother to reach out to his fellow-citizens as they continue to occupy the streets and even get killed in the process. This is unfortunate. He has certainly been transfigured, and disfigured, beyond recognition. If he looks in the mirror, what he would find is a total stranger. And I doubt if this was what he planned for himself, and his government, when he set out on this epic journey. It is even doubtful if he can ever recover the substantial equity he has wasted, and lost, to this self-inflicted crisis.
Members of The Kool and The Gang have been making media rounds trying to justify a government blunder that would be difficult to correct. The more I looked, and listened, to them, the angrier I became. They engaged in theoretical postulations without any consideration for the practical side of life. Everything was about making more money for government but nothing about how the people, who were already over-burdened, would find the money to pay their new atrocious bills. All their promises were futuristic, we will do this, we would do that, and we have no choice but to live on hope and promises. We were told to make sacrifice for our future but did not tell us how they would cut government spending. Speaker after speaker compared the price of oil in Ghana, Togo, Benin and others to that of Nigeria. That is a great shame.
I live partly in Ghana and can confirm to these government apologists that they are wrong. First, the price of oil in Ghana includes huge taxes. And the quality of petro in Ghana is superior to what we buy in Nigeria. These are facts. Two, Ghana is not yet an oil-rich nation like Nigeria. Three, Ghana enjoys a better infrastructure than Nigeria. I don’t have a generator in my house. My water does not come from a borehole. The roads are far better and regularly maintained. The level of corruption is lower even if it exists. Four, Ghanaian politicians are better disciplined than our own. They are not able to steal in arrears and in advance like people do in Nigeria. There is crime and punishment to a large extent in Ghana. The President of Ghana cannot live like an Emperor. President John Agyekum Kufuor lived in his own home for the eight years he governed. We lived, and still live on the same street, and never was our road ever blocked to human or vehicular traffic. The incumbent President of Ghana, Professor John Atta-Mills lives in his own house till this day. The house is even located in a popular housing estate. We should never compare sleep to death.
It is an insult to label other West African nations as a comity of thieves. One of the reasons these geniuses want us to suffer the fuel subsidy removal is because of the way our products are smuggled across the borders. That is a fat lie and a worn-out sing-song that we’ve heard since we were young. Petrol trucks are not like millipedes that can crawl through the bush. I know Benin Republic very well and know that their smugglers don’t really carry trucks but some miserable tricycles with tanks which they off-load into some cylindrical bottles along the streets. Despite their smaller economy, their current President Yayi Boni has managed to construct new roads, maintain old ones, build fly-overs, and attract investments and tourists. The Pope recently visited our next door neighbour without dropping by to say hello to us despite the huge number of devout Catholics we parade here. The road from Lagos to Seme border is hell on earth but the moment you cross into Cotonou you are in a different world. I must not forget to mention that President Boni also goes to work from his modest personal home. When are we going to have SUCH SELFLESS LEADERS?
The argument that our fuel is cheap is neither here nor there. It is not our fault that our existing refineries are comatose. It is to the eternal shame of our various governments that we have not been able to maintain old ones or build new refineries. It is the duty of the Central Bank to maintain a stable economy and keep the exchange rate low at most times. If our exchange rate stood closer to N100 to a dollar, our price would have been as low as possible. Now the poor of our country are to be punished for the inefficiency of government. In case these guys are still living in the past, I’m glad Nigerians bruised their ego this week. Something has snapped, and no matter what happens now, Nigeria will never be the same.
A good leader must know when to fight and retreat. This is one such occasion because the voice of the people is loud and clear on the issue of fuel subsidy removal. Not many Nigerians are persuaded that there was ever a subsidy in the first instance. Those who believed it did exist are not convinced about the figures being bandied around by the proponents and exponents of fuel subsidy removal. They are querying the veracity of a subsidy that developed wings and flew from about N400 billion to a dizzying height of N1.3 trillion, within the twinkle of an eye. President Jonathan needs to find those who can tell him the truth about this monumental scam. He has wasted most of his goodwill on this unnecessary muscle-flexing. He would have to decide urgently if he wants to be the local champion or a world statesman. If the latter is his choice, he would have to stop behaving like an ethnic warlord.
I pray it is not too late to achieve that tall dream.