Tolu Ogunlesi: It’s not yet time to write Nigeria off (YNaija Frontpage)

In spite of the fact that #ThisOurCountryIsNot(Really)ACountry, there remain strong pieces of evidence for the belief that real change is possible. We are far from where we ought to be, but also far more capable of making inspiring leaps forward than we like to think.

I think it is safe to assume that the average Nigerian doesn’t care much for the celebration of national birthdays. Apart, of course from the public holiday it offers, and the chance for professional composers of Blackberry broadcasts (combining Independence and Happy New Month) to go out and manifest their (sadly not God-given) talents, is there really anything to get excited or hopeful about?

Simon Kolawole thinks there is. In the “And Four Other Things” bit of his ThisDay column yesterday, he writes: “The evidence before me suggests that greatness is ahead of us and only a reckless gambler will write Nigeria off.”

I totally agree with him. In spite of the fact that #ThisOurCountryIsNot(Really)ACountry, there remain strong pieces of evidence for the belief that real change is possible. We are far from where we ought to be, but also far more capable of making inspiring leaps forward than we like to think.

On that note, a few (random) comments on some of the things I’ve observed about Nigeria, that make me certain that writing Nigeria off at this time would be a huge mistake:

The Gospel of Continuity. All of the power sector reform of the Jonathan administration is built on the Power Sector Reform Act of 2005, an Obasanjo legacy. Now, back when that piece of legislation was being written, it was all talk and ink. Acts of the National Assembly do not by themselves change a country. But they end up serving as engines of reform.

So (leaving aside the debate over how much money was stolen from the billions of dollars earmarked for the NIPP) Obasanjo gives us brand new legislation that rewrites the power sector landscape, and also leaves behind a bunch of uncompleted power projects. Then Jonathan comes along with a vision of providing Nigeria with enough power. He already has Obasanjo’s framework. He doesn’t need to start from scratch.

One lesson in this is that governments ought to run and operate in continuity. The king is dead, long live the king. President Jonathan should go back and dig up the archives of the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua presidencies, and find a way to connect the past to the present. Nigeria’s immediate past is full of sparks of presidential vision and wisdom that unfortunately got left behind, for some reason or the other. What, for example, happened to President Yar’Adua’s “Conditional Cash Transfer” scheme, launched at the Villa a few years ago? Or the New Mineral and Mining Act of 2007? Or the 2009 Land Use Act Amendment Bill?

Raising standards. Many of us are concerned by the general mass mediocrity in governance standards across the states. Apart from a few exceptions many state governors should not be allowed to run street-corner shops, not to talk of entire states. This is where the President comes in. It is the duty of the president to set and raise Nigeria’s standards of governance. If a president chooses mediocrity it will be hard to blame state governors for following suit. At least that’s what I think. This country has such a strong tradition of “follow-follow” that if the President were to impress us by his vision and ambition, in no time the governors would be compelled to up their game.

The uses of presidential power. President Jonathan has described himself as the “most insulted President in the world.” (Of course he’s kidding, and shouldn’t allow Barack Obama or David Cameron hear this. Or even Vladmir Putin, in a Pussy-Riotous age).

The truth is that the president has taken a great deal of criticism in the last ten months. Not all of the criticism is fair, let’s face it. But it is the nature of politics. He should deal with it. On a hopeful note there’s a part of me that thinks that someday he will look back and be grateful for the events of January 2012. Because that period might go down in history as the moment that woke Nigeria up. The citizens woke up to their responsibility to resist government foolishness, and the government itself seemed to wake up, post-resistance, to its responsibility to stop taking the citizens as inconsequential fools.

One other thing that should be good news: the President should realise that as President, he does not have to be the smartest, or most knowledgeable, or most eloquent, member of the government. What he needs to do is look for the smartest, most knowledgeable, most passionate, most driven, and most political-savvy persons (in the minefield that is the Nigerian public service, knowing how to play the politics is as crucial as having a leadership vision as well as technical competence) that he can find, and commission them to carry on the work of creating change.

His real job as president is to monitor these people, set deadlines for them, and, perhaps most importantly, give them his full backing in the face of the myriad “vested interests” that seek to assail them.

And of course not hesitate to show them the way out when they start to demonstrate a penchant for messing things up.


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


Comments (3)

  1. Nice article. On point.

  2. And I guess you must have heard the President's claim that "Transparency International's recent report places Nigeria as the 2nd most improved country in curbing corruption" is false…..

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