This Day (Lagos)

30 May 2012

Nigeria: Will Jonathan Lead State to Its Breakout?

opinion

Intriguingly, it is what President Goodluck Jonathan said yesterday towards the end of his broadcast that has attracted more attention than other issues embodied in the detailed speech. The President announced the renaming of the 50-year old University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University to honour the memory the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. This effort at immortalization is coming 13 years after the restoration of civil rule. Jonathan elected to break the silence in Abuja on the place of Abiola in history.

This symbolic gesture of government was, however, greeted with a spontaneous protest from the university community and the alumni. The issue, of course, is not whether Abiola's memory deserves honour. That is hardly a matter for debate. The man died in custody while resolutely defending his pan-Nigerian mandate. The most rational point being raised hinges on the lack of consultation before the step was taken.

It is certainly thoughtful of Jonathan to think of remembering Abiola on a day designated as Democracy Day. After all, Abiola's kinsman, President Olusegun Obasanjo, had the opportunity for eight year without even paying a tribute to Abiola's memory. In fact, Obasanjo hardly mentioned Abiola's name in any of his broadcasts. Meanwhile, the historical nexus between June 12, 1993 and May 29, 1999 cannot be denied. Not even by an Obasanjo. The forces that organised Obasanjo's ascendance to power in 1999 did so as a way of healing the wounds inflicted by the annulment of the election won by Abiola. Since the law that established the University of Lagos would have to be amended to give effect to the change of name, those objecting to the President's decision may take their case to the National Assembly.

Come to think of it, the same National Assembly passed a resolution that the stadium in Abuja be named MKO Abiola Stadium. Obasanjo simply ignored the resolution. There is a strong view that a symbol in the nation's capital would be more appropriate to be named after Abiola. Why not Eagle Square, for instance? It is unfortunate that a good step taken by the President to remind us about our recent history has generated this controversy. Some of the students protesting the renaming of the university were probably born after June 12, 1993. Hence, the historical significance of the President's moves should be emphasised.

However, the broadcast is important in many other respects. The other issues raised by the President should attract greater attention. The President chose the day to give an account of his stewardship in economic management, electricity, roads, food production, security, reforms in the oil sector and other departments of national life. As he put it, the day was to talk about "what we are doing and what we have done".

The President touched on many areas of governance delivery. Some analysts have even remarked that they never knew that the administration has been doing so much in so many departments. Meanwhile the self-prepared scoreboard is suffused with different stages of implementations of reforms, plans, draft bills and numerous projections into even 2013 and 2014. In other words, the President's statement is stronger in what he plans to do than what he has accomplished in the last one year.

The optimistic figures given about the managers of the economy are yet to translate with the qualitative improvement in the lives of the people.

There is no believable figure about poverty reduction. No rational person would expect the Jonathan administration to have consummated his defined transformation agenda in his first year in office. But as they say, money shows the day. That is why the orientation of the administration matters a great a deal in this situation. The orientation could generate public confidence or engender despair. The choice is squarely that of the President as the leader. In this regard, the President should be wary of actions or inactions that could send wrong signals to the people who should be positively mobilised for the success of any transformation agenda. First, the attitude that "Jonathan did not cause Nigeria's problems" should be discarded. Yes, it is true Jonathan didn't cause a lot of the problems plaguing the nation today.

It is also true that no one conscripted the President to move into Aso Rock where everybody looks up to for solutions. He voluntarily chose to seek power of the President so that he could solve the problems. He is in office to solve problems. So the orientation should be so attuned. Secondly, the President should stop those in political proximity to him who are recklessly making 2015 the agenda for 2012. This is the time when all energy and time available ought to be concentrated on the sound implementation of the programmes the President mentioned in his broadcast. He should ward off distractions in any guise. The good thing about the review done by the President is that there is still time to overcome challenges. Despite the otherwise grim outlook, there is still a basis for optimism given a better orientation to governance.

In a book published earlier this year, Nigeria is described as "Africa's accidental leader". The publication by Ruchir Sharma is entitled "Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles". Sharma, who is head of Emerging Market Equities and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, paints an optimistic picture of some countries that 'will probably spring from the margins, even from shadows" to become major players despite daunting challenges they face. These "breakout nations" include Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico. It is interesting that in the passages devoted to Nigeria in the book, some of the areas touched by the President in his speech are the ones that form the basis of Sharma's forensic analysis. They are the same issues Nigerians of all classes say are the issues of development.

For instance, Sharma observes that there "is more to the Nigerian economy than oil" pointing to the $300 million movie industry, the second-largest in the world. And, of course, Sharma identifies power failures as the greatest while economists describe Nigeria as underinvested". He sees corruption as an obstacle to the goal of development. Sharma may not be breaking any news; his views should, however, be taken as that of a detached observer and not that of an "irresponsible opposition" or "professional critics".

Jonathan still has the opportunity to make history, being a product of Nigeria's history himself. But the orientation to governance should change. With a greater devotion to the implementation of the policies he spoke about yesterday, he could actually make Nigeria one Sharma's "breakout nations". In that wise, his broadcast on May 29, 2014 will be more on "what we have done" than "we plan to do".

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