Today, May 29, is celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria and it is significant for two reasons. In Nigeria’s political history, this day 15, years ago, marked the end of military dictatorship and the enthronement of democratic governance. After years of military rule defined by state sponsored brutality, repression and impunity, Nigeria entered a new democratic phase on May 29, 1999. It was also on this day in 2011 that President Goodluck Jonathan assumed the leadership of our country. But his Presidency had begun two years earlier when he succeeded the late Umaru Yar’Adua. Now, the Jonathan Presidency is five years old. His emergence is reputed to be significant for several reasons. He is Nigeria’s first minority president in a country where power had long rotated among the political elite from the main ethnic groups whose ranks had been dominated by a rapacious and vicious group of power elite that had shut out the minority groups.
The repression of the minority groups in the Niger Delta under past military regimes unravelled in the Fourth Republic with violent agitation for resource control. The candidacy of Jonathan was then seen as a fulfilment of this yearning. The groundswell of support for the President also meant that Nigerians desired a change and had expected, through his Presidency, a drastic and fundamental shift in the way government business is run. Having emerged from the recklessness of the Obasanjo years and the lethargy of Yar’Adua’s, Jonathan had represented a new beginning – or so it seemed. His election was a very inspiring event for the country. Nigerians had thought, finally, that after 50-plus years of discrimination and repression, a minority politician had finally become the president. They thought they had a true role model. But this, unfortunately, has turned out to be misplaced.
No doubt much has changed since Jonathan was sworn into office. During the past several months, I have written extensively about the administration’s shortcomings and missteps on this column. I had argued that Nigerians are disappointed in almost every important area. In over five collective years in charge, the desultory policies and initiatives of the Jonathan administration have resulted in a dizzying array of dismal economic realities. As it stands now, this administration appears headed towards an economic legacy that may very well surpass that which has brought us to this sorry pass. No doubt, his Presidency may have ushered in a once-in-a-generation power shift in the political landscape, but the status quo largely remains.
The paradox of the 2011 elections was that despite the freshness and open-minded approach promised by the President, a worst culture of business-as-usual seems to have taken a permanent stranglehold on the nation’s political map. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. And this is the point being tragically missed by this administration. The siege mentality of “everybody hates us” as against the acceptance of genuine criticisms to move the nation forward is at the heart of our present dilemma. The President needs to question himself on how his administration has frittered away the goodwill that swept him into office. If Nigerians are now disappointed, it is because they had high hopes which have now been dashed by a leader who held so much promise. The criticisms are not because they hate the person of the President or that they are being manipulated by the opposition. Many Nigerians have agreed that there are serious problems that are challenging the country. Most of the issues, however, relate to the actions, missteps and pronouncements of the President.
Leadership and character are two of the critical skills required to be an effective leader. Jonathan’s policies on the fiscal affairs of our country, along with his indecisive response to insecurity have taken a terrible toll on our reputation at home and abroad. These have led many to question his leadership capability. Even while we admit he did not create the problems, his actions seem to have complicated them. Now many things have changed in our country. Nigeria is unravelling at a stunning speed and to a staggering degree.
The Jonathan Presidency has done very little, in spite of criticisms and continuing rhetoric to control waste in government spending. Yet, his administration keeps borrowing more. The waste is mindboggling. From huge spending on recurrent expenditure to outrageous allowances of government and political functionaries, our country is bleeding. This mismanagement of resources has cost taxpayers dearly in recent years. Our country is spending far more than it is generating, a problem that has grown exponentially under Jonathan.
Jonathan era has also redefined corruption as we previously knew it. Apart from “killing” the war on a scourge that has laid the country prostrate, the President believes what we had thought was corruption is now ordinary “stealing”. Under Jonathan’s Presidency, corruption is no longer Nigeria’s problem. In his epoch, we are also a rich nation where the ownership of private jet is a measure of the citizens’ worth.
Under Jonathan, our ethnic and religious fault lines seem to have become even more pronounced. Many have accused the President of not doing enough to douse ethnic mistrusts preferring instead to play the “victimised ethnic minority president” for political reasons. But this tactic of blaming everybody for a plot to bring down his government has hurt his Presidency and weakened its powers. The position of the President commands legitimacy and all the full complements of state apparatuses. The lamentation of a President who has the control of all the tools of persuasion and coercion is seen as a sign of a weakened Presidency. In Jonathan, we have an administration that continues to live in denial, debunking all claims of Nigeria’s bleak economic and social realities. The administration’s characteristic reaction to international and local reports of our dismal economic and social outlook is to brand them as political.
Under Jonathan, Nigeria has also evolved on social Issues and religion. This country was founded on the values of religious people. For the most part, our forefathers relied upon religious dogma to create laws and rules that govern us to this day. Our secularity needs to be reinforced because under Jonathan religious dogma has crept into power succession and many debates among politicians.
What does this all mean? Our country really needs a change. I do not know whether a new president is the answer. But I am confident that a decisive president who can relate to Nigerians, fellow politicians, other leaders and the opposition and do not engage in blame game will be much more productive.