Fellow Nigerians, I’m amazed that the fad in Nigerian government circles today is to label every critic as an enemy of government. Please, permit me to speak for myself for now. I’m not an enemy of President Goodluck Jonathan. I have no reason to be. He did not engage me to demonstrate against the Yar’Adua cabal that did everything possible to prevent him from acting as President during the incapacitation of our former President. I had voluntarily queued behind some young Nigerians who marched confidently towards the National Assembly in Abuja. No one paid me before or after. And I will do it again, whether the person affected is from the North or South of Nigeria, or even a Nigerian of Mongolian descent. I believe we must rise above this pettiness of ethnic jingoism. My participation was, and would always be, on principle.
Dr Jonathan was the Vice President at that time, but I did not hear him or his cronies speak against the rallies that were organised by the Save Nigeria Group and the Enough-is-Enough crowd. I did not see soldiers and police officers shoot guns into the skies or fire tear-gas on eminent Nigerians. We were so sure those crude days of high-handedness were gone. As a matter of fact, Dr Jonathan rolled out the red carpet to activists like Professor Wole Soyinka and Pastor Tunde Bakare. I did not hear him call the demonstrators such odoriferous names like miscreants that my dear Sister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chose to label us recently. It was cool then to risk our lives for a man we did not know bore any iota of dictatorial instincts. Even some Federal Government officials came out publicly to address the huge crowd made up of some Lagos celebrities. How easy it was to fool us into thinking a civilised government was about to be born in Nigeria.
For a man who claims to have suffered so much in life, and for someone who didn’t have to lift a finger to occupy the highest office in our country, we expected to see a President full of gratitude to man and God. We had hoped to have a radical President who would use his exalted position to correct the ills of our nation and heal our wounds. Again we were fooled. It is ok to be fooled once but when you are fooled a second time, you are a fool indeed. Our President wasted no time in showing that it was going to be business as usual. When asked if he would contest the Presidential election, his first body language was that of a disinterested person. As days climbed days and months mounted months, it was obvious the man was more than interested. He actually craved the high office, and very desperately for that matter.
President Jonathan dived into the Presidential race like a poor swimmer. His decision would soon split his political party down the line. It endangered our unity and divided us into North and South, because of an unproductive zoning formula that had been enshrined in their PDP Constitution by the godfathers, in order to perpetually rotate our commonwealth amongst themselves. The zoning arrangement was never about attracting development to the geo-political communities. It was all about wanton greed and unbridled selfishness. But that battle for the body and soul of Nigeria would be very costly. According to facts emerging from the sources, President Jonathan, figuratively, opened the vaults of our Central Bank to fund what has been described as the most expensive Presidential primary in the world. It was not a clash of the titans but now a clash of Dollars. Our politicians are no longer interested in Ghana-must-go bags.
If the money spent to win that war was atrocious enough, the amount spent to restore peace to the party was sinful. And it did not end there. Jonathan was fighting a battle of his life on all fronts. He had the most ubiquitous Presidential candidate, General Mohammadu Buhari, to contend with. It was Buhari’s third and, possibly, last attempt. And it was going to be a battle royale. Again, President Jonathan blew money as if it was going out of vogue. Fortunately for him, Nigeria was never a country where people worried about such prodigality. Many people trooped out to try and catch their own manna from heaven. In that season of giddiness, Jonathan became the quintessential Santa Claus. Everywhere he went, he made unusual promises that would be impossible to achieve in several lifetimes rolled into one, and it was incredible how otherwise intelligent people fell for those old tricks of politics.
The elections came and some of the results were predictable. The stage was well set for the coronation of the biggest spender in Nigeria’s chequered history. I did not waste time in accepting defeat. And even went on to offer my congratulations. I was deeply encouraged by examples from Ghana where President John Agyekum Kufuor contested three times before victory smiled at him. The incumbent President of Ghana, Professor John Evans Atta-Mills, also suffered the same ordeal three times before he eventually won the race. The story of America’s Abraham Lincoln was all too familiar.
It takes time to convince a nation of substantial doubters about the seriousness of any mission. When I came to live in Lagos in 1988, Chief Moshood Abiola was one of the most abused human beings in Nigeria. He was called names his parents did not give him by political opponents. He was even told, sarcastically, that the Presidency was not for sale. But the brilliant, and extremely generous man, must have been a good footballer. He knew that to score a penalty, you had to keep your focus totally on the ball and the net and not the crowd.
For me, the fact that I went all the way and did not blink was a great achievement. No one would ever doubt my good intentions and qualifications. I saw what the uninitiated would never see. I gained a wealth of experience, and a better knowledge of my country. So I had no reason to begrudge Jonathan. There is always the hand of fate in human journey. There would have been no Olusegun Obasanjo without Murtala Mohammed. There would have been no second coming of Olusegun Obasanjo without Moshood Abiola. There would have been no Umaru Musa Yar’Adua without his elder brother, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo. There would have been no Goodluck Jonathan but for Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Barely 48 hours ago, no one would have dreamt that five Governors would soon fall from grace to grass. Such is the way of God. There is always a reason for every situation. Who knows if God raised up Jonathan to keep Nigeria as one or to break it up. It took a Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev to change the history and configuration of the Soviet Union. Our own President Jonathan loves to call himself a transformer. Either for good or for bad, a transformation must lead us somewhere. Any discerning mind can see that Nigeria is headed in a direction I’m sure Jonathan himself did not contemplate. I had no doubts in my mind when such a man broke all of Nigeria’s political records in one fell swoop that God was up to something again. The ground was being prepared for our next leap into the orbit.
Anyone who has followed the stories of my life would attest to the fact that I have been in the struggle since the Ali-must-go days in 1978. I love my country with an uncommon passion. While I may not wear the looks of a typical radical, I have always been ruled by my conscience. It would have been easier to use my contacts to my personal advantage but I’m reasonably convinced that that alone would never guarantee my happiness. I have always chosen to speak on behalf of the voiceless. A true radical, according to Abiola, was a man who was ready to put his personal comfort at risk. The Soyinkas, Fawehinmis, Agbakobas, Falanas, Shehu Sanis, Joe Odumakins, and others have friends in high places but this did not stop them from speaking the truth. Our duty as citizens of Nigeria is to seek good governance and competent leadership.
A critic is not an enemy but a friend who keeps a smart leader in check. If the leader succeeds, all the glory would go to no one but the leader. How can those asking you to do the right things become your enemy? What I expect President Jonathan to do is to first transform his person before he can transform Nigeria. And I will give him a few tips, free of charge.
He must be ready to radically change the way government is run in Abuja. It starts from cutting our budget drastically. He must slash all salaries and allowances of public officers by at least 50 percent after a meeting with political leaders. He must stop all frivolous contracts and concentrate on revamping our disgraceful infrastructure. The Presidential fleet of aircrafts should not be expanded beyond what it is at the moment. Our Air Force needs all the money it can get to become the pride of our nation. It is the same with our Navy. Our armed forces in general parade very bright officers but are handicapped by lack of modern facilities and incentives. Our ragtag police are begging for serious attention.
The Presidential villa need not be a Saudi palace. It should be a place where we assemble our best brains to think through our complex problems. All foreign travels must be kept to the most essential ones as determined by the Foreign Ministry. The biggest task before our President is how to cut waste and increase revenue at all levels. I have had the great privilege of working in poorer African countries and can see how they are managing their poverty well. Why can’t we manage our own wealth to the benefit of our citizens? The President would do well to stop being a ceremonial leader. Let him jump in his jeans and shirt and go on the streets, and in the woods, to see reality first hand. He can study the life of Chairman Mao of China and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. The PDP way of doing things will never lead Nigeria to greatness. The road to greatness is always littered with thorns and pains. The jamboree in government must stop.
It is shameful that we are spending trillions of Naira every year without any visible progress. Nigerian politicians have no respect for money. We call figures that most calculators would find difficult to unravel. And yet we have nothing to show for it. That is the reason the anger of the people is turning violent. That is why the army of unemployed youths would find comfort in sleeping at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park endlessly. It is the only hope they can see. And government must protect their rights too. The recent crisis has thrown up fresh challenges, that if President Jonathan must succeed, and survive in power, he needs more than luck. He would have to demonstrate that the people of Nigeria would never be taken for granted again.
Culled from Pendulum By Dele Momodu in ThisDay