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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Questions For Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Ph.D by Peter Oshun


The more I consider the unenviable position of President Goodluck Jonathan in this fuel subsidy crisis, the more I am reminded of Zulu Sofola's play, King Emene: Tragedy of a Rebellion. The play itself resembles closely Ola Rotimi's The Gods are not to Blame  in that most of the dramatic tension is provided by the awareness that there is a cancer at the heart of the throne, and the drive by the dramatis personae to locate that cancer before disaster overtakes the realm. The trouble of course is that, the closer the investigators get to locating the ticking time-bomb, the more obvious it is that the king, the embodiment of the soul of the kingdom, is inextricably bound up in the roots of the problem, to the point of culpability. King Odewale, in The Gods are not to Blame, has killed his father in error and married his mother unknowingly, fulfilling the chilling prediction of the oracle at his birth. In King Emene's case, his mother had cleared the way to his accession by poisoning his half-brother, incurring the implacable wrath of the gods in the process. Both rulers acquire their tragic essence by aspiring to solve the visible problems in their line of sight without recognising that their lack of courage to look inwards and identify themselves as the true problem constitutes their fatal flaw.

I have no problem believing President Goodluck Jonathan is a nice man. He is a successful politician after all, and he lacks the bluff charisma of someone like, say, OBJ, which allows him to get away with being a thoroughgoing s.o.b. He seems to have built his political stock by being the affable guy who can be counted on never to rock the boat and who gets along by going along. In a less challenging context, one might even refer to him as a good man, if all that means is a vacuous tendency to goodwill to all men and the lack of a ruthless streak necessary for pursuing personal goals against all opposition. Alas, being a nice man is not one of the pre-requisites for being an effective President of Nigeria. If you ask me, I would put rock-solid integrity as the first characteristic of such a President. I rate it above communication skills, decisiveness, intelligence and even vision. You may not agree, so let me explain.

Much has been said in the last few days about the main problem of this government being a lack of trust by the people that it will deliver on its promises concommitant with the deregulation of the downstream oil sector. If that is true, then you can write this government out of the history books immediately, because governance is impossible without public trust. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius  when asked by Tzu-Kung about government, answered as follows:
Confucius: Give them enough food, give them enough arms, and the common people will have trust in you.
Tsu-kung: If one had to give up one of these three, which should one give up first?
Confucius: Give up arms.
Tzu-kung: If one had to give up one of the remaining two, which should one give up first?
Confucius: Give up food. Death has always been with us since the beginning of time, but when there is no trust, the common people will have nothing to stand on.

In other words, you can do away with security, do away with a functioning economy, but for as long as you retain the people's trust you can still call yourself a government; for their relationship with you is premised on the belief that you are looking out for their interests. Break that trust, and in their eyes, you are no better than an armed robber, to be treated as such if they get the opportunity and pluck up the courage. Steven Covey talks about an emotional bank account that feeds all relationships. You credit the account by adding value in some way to your partner, e.g, by showing respect, consideration, or self-sacrifice. You make withdrawals from the account everytime you stress the relationship, such as by making inconvenient demands, or acting selfishly. But there comes a time when if care is not taken, the account is so overdrawn that no amount of subsequent crediting can restore the emotional bond that sustains the relationship. One sure way of incurring emotional bad debts is breaking trust.

If Dr Jonathan did not know it, someone should have told him before now: the relationship between the Nigerian people and its government is dysfunctional. It has been so for decades. Military tyrants have been succeeded by civilian thugs in an endless cycle, all of them so busy sharing easy oil money and protecting themselves from justice that there was no time to address the pressing task of governance. To presume to govern without addressing that well-grounded suspicion that Nigerians now hold their government in, is to engage in self-delusion. I generously assume he wants to go down in history with some tangible achievements to his name. I frankly state that being who he is, and given the circumstances in which he acceded to the presidency, he will fail to achieve any significant positive impact on Nigeria's fortunes in his term(s) of office.

My reasoning is simple. Remember where we started from, the requirement of unyielding integrity if you want to effectively govern Nigeria? Well Jonathan has not got it, and that is why he will fail. The man who will save Nigeria must not only have a well articulated vision and agenda for change, he must be determined to face down all the vested interests who will lose out if the nation moves forward. Just for a crude example, think of the hell the Republicans put Barack Obama through last year over the simple issue of preventing America from defaulting on its sovereign debt. The Republicans were not criminals (I think!); their opposition was based on ideological differences and an understandable greed for power. Our own President has admitted that known criminals are swindling the nation out of billions of vitally needed dollars, and he has no proposals for bringing them to book. Why? Because he can't! He cannot because he was compromised long before he became President, and by the terms of the unwritten conspiracy which put him in power, there are some things you just do not do as President, such as put high-level thieves in jail.

My father gave me a lesson in integrity several years ago. He told me, drawing on his own experiences, that when you get into a new office as the boss, there will be very helpful P.A.s and underlings who will be constantly plying you with advice on how to work the system to your own financial benefit. They always know the dubious accounts you can access, and slush funds nobody outside the office knows about. He said if you avail yourself of their advice and start sticking your fingers into money that doesn't belong to you, you are a spent force. See, they weren't really being generous; it was merely in their interest to see that you are visibly implicated in their small-small conspiracies so they can get on with the serious business of large scale looting, knowing that since your fingers are also soiled you have no moral right to call them to order. What I learned, extrapolating the lesson onto the Nigerian political scene, is that you are never trusted with political authority by the powers that be, unless you are fully enmeshed in their criminal conspiracies. That way, you can never be liable to an attack of conscience and blow the whistle on them.

Anyone who thinks I'm being too fanciful should go and read Azubuike Ishiekwene's the Trials of Nuhu Ribadu, paying special attention to the emergence of Umar Musa Yar'adua as PDP's presidential candidate and the role James Ibori played in sponsoring his nomination and eventual election. Was it any wonder then that subsequently, in spite of the staggering amount of evidence the London Metropolitan Police amassed against the said Ibori, that the Nigerian government was most reluctant to extradite him to face justice in the UK? Does anybody seriously think Yar'adu was handpicked by OBJ, Ibori and the other PDP scallywags merely because they liked the shape of his nose? Do recall, GEJ was part of the package, by one believable account at least, waiting in the wings for the death of the President to take over on behalf of his backers. I believe that tale, because I heard it from a trade union official in the office of my then employer, Bamidele Aturu, three days before Yar'adua collapsed at a campaign rally. He said the plan was to pick a South-South running mate for Yar'adua, who was not expected to survive one year on account of his kidney ailment.

That was how an otherwise unelectable South-south indigene was to be smuggled into Aso Rock. But if a South-Southerner, why not Donald Duke, who had gained credibility as the only southern governor given a clean bill of health by anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu, and who had an impressive track record of governance? Why not Peter Odili, no matter how sleazy, who at least had more administrative experience and clearly wanted to be President anyway? Why this soft-spoken zoologist who had only become governor when his boss had been carted off to jail for plundering the Bayelsa State treasury and who by his own wikileaked admission, had no administrative experience? The answer, GEJ was reliable. He could be relied upon to keep the rascals out of jail. Not for nothing had his wife earned the sobriquet 'The greediest woman in Bayelsa State.' For added insurance, Ribadu's files at the EFCC were always one phone call away. 

I may be wrong but I think the ethnic dimension Turai's gang introduced into the whole arrangement when Yar'adua fell ill and GEJ was prevented from taking over was what changed the game radically. The Nigerian people and civil society recognised he was being shabbily treated and rallied to his support. That gave him a national mandate as acting President that went beyond the narrow brief he was originally supposed to execute, namely, see no evil, hear no evil and let the looting continue. I think Nigerians were so intoxicated by their handiwork in successfully giving the finger to the 'Northern Cabal' that the 2011 election was framed as the declaration of the South-South's right to produce a president, rather than as an opportunity to deal with the corruption that was crippling governance. GEJ on his part, was beginning to think in statesmanlike terms; he had no shoes growing up, every Nigerian child should be entitled to Air Jordans, 'I will not let you down.'

The economic team he assembled after his election was testament to his ambitions for the country, and his heart-breaking naivete. Nigeria's problem has never been a lack of ideas from economic geniuses and World bank MDs, it has always been the lack of a leader with clean hands who is ready to die in the fight to ensure the right thing is done. Early on we were treated to the embarrasing spectacle of a government employee who was braver than his boss when CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi confronted the greedy fat cats in the National Assembly and told them they were part of Nigeria's financial problem. The President did not deem it fit to take up the cudgels in support of the CBN governor. Our current budget is a joke on misplaced priorities. The only road he can see to the economic eldorado he promised us is to impose a crushing burden on the Nigerian masses by removing a so-called subsidy that by all accounts has gone to wet the beaks of the same crooks who financed his election in the first place. Why? Because he is too afraid to confront evil in its den. Our President has seen Goliath, but he has no lion and bear kills on his CV.

I bought an Olympus camera last week. That's a company that made the news this week on account of its former CEO, Michael Woodford, stepping down from the board finally over a $1.5 billion accounting shenanigan. No, Woodford didn't steal the money. He stepped in as CEO last year and immediately blew the whistle on a massive corporate loss that was being covered up by company executives. For that he was fired by the board who were inclined to keep these things secret from the shareholders. Immediately he was fired the stock plunged 24%. Today, Woodford is regarded as a hero by the Olympus shareholders, who gave him their full backing in his long, bitter fight to get the board to admit the truth. Though he finds it impossible to take over again as CEO, he has made a lasting impact on the Japanese corporate scene where for far too long secrecy was used as a cloak for poor corporate governance. That's a man with integrity. That's what happens when you want to do the right thing; corruption fights back.

My questions for GEJ:
  • Were you elected President of Nigeria for the good of the people, or were you elected President of Nigeria for the corrupt enrichment of a few rogues?
  • Do you understand that if you find it impossible to confront a few corrupt marketers stealing our oil money, nobody will take you seriously when you start rolling out your grandiose developmental programmes?
  • Do you finally understand that you have no hiding place in Aso rock, that siddonlook fence-sitting is no longer a viable strategy and that Nigerians who elected you as President expect you to be Presidential?
  • Do you realise thatover the next few days you will have to act with breath-taking ruthlessness to crush a Nigerian populace that has finally had enough, otherwise you will have to act with equally breath-taking ruthlessness to crush the Goliaths you spent last year snivelling about?
  • Do you appreciate that the matter has gone beyond the issue of subsidy and has ramified into questions of acountability, good governance and the rule of law in its truest sternest sense? The French Revolution started over a bread shortage. The American Revolution was ignited by an increase in taxes. The Russian Revolution was sparked by hardships from a bloody war. The Philistines are upon you Jona!
"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" Jeremiah 12:5

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