Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Presidential Chat - Jonathan Warding Off Anxieties

Last Sunday's Presidential chat, about fourth in the series, was probably President Goodluck Jonathan's well conceived strategy to sketch out his pan-Nigerian view, react to some national questions, forge interaction with the nation, explain, defend crucial policies and standpoints of the government, reassure the electorate on the transformation course of the administration.

The format was markedly different from that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo which was a phone-in thing receiving calls on issues from people all over the country and the president responding.

President Goodluck Jonathan (middle), flanked from left by Mr. Ikeddy Isiguzo (Vanguard), Mr. Muhammed Kudu Abubakar (Nigerian Television Authority (NTA, Mrs. Olujobi (The Mirror) and Mr. Martins Oloja (The Guardian) during the Presidential Media Chat at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, recently.

Political analysts and critics believed that Goodluck Jonathan may have had foreknowledge of the issues to be raised and the questions packaged for him. But no one can be so emphatic about that.

However, the crux of the matter is that the country is riddled with so many socio-economic maladies, security challenges, seething with corruption and injustice appalling to the people who looked up to their president at the media chat to assuage and honestly, genuinely point the way to redemption. To a large extent, it was not exactly so.

Rather, the presidential media chat brought more questions than answers, leaving people more confused than before.

Eustace Folusho, an engineer with a construction firm, said the president was just beating about the bush.

"How can President Jonathan say that electricity supply has improved? As I was listening to the chat on TV, there was sudden blackout. PHCN took power. I had to look for a transistor radio to continue listening to the interview. It seemed that the government is only interested in the oil sector where cheap money comes from."

He added: "Jonathan was even justifying the involvement of some past heads of state in the power sector insinuating that because they are former heads of state does not mean they should not earn a living. I was shocked. It is so sad that these ex-leaders are coming back to bid for their companies to own distribution and generating companies in the power sector."

Folusho lamented that there had been no improvement in power supply since the exit of Prof Barth Nnaji.

"Electricity has multiplier effect on the economy and power supply has dropped drastically. We are now paying more for darkness. It is mere propaganda for Jonathan to say power has improved. This could be so in few places but we have darkness in most places."

Deinde Oluyemi, an administrative executive with an Insurance firm in Lagos, decried the attitude of President Jonathan to corruption, making excuses for the Halliburton and Siemens bribe scandals in which no Nigerian has been found culpable so far.

"I think he lacks the political will to fight corruption. There are glaring incidents of high profile corruption involving top politicians, their children, friends, relatives and so on, but nothing has happened to them. Let's hope justice will come soon for the corrupt leaders and government officials."

Oluyemi noted that the president seemed dodging some questions and giving income inconclusive responses to many others.

"Look at the issue of monetisation. The president agreed that the idea of monetisation was theoritically good, but the problem was implementation. Yet there are cases of officials using government vehicles and still receiving vehicle allowances. Also those top people who bought their official houses at rock-bottom prices only to demand that new houses be built for them at high cost.

Again probe reports are never implemented, locked up inside government cupboards and left to gather dust. Those indicted by these reports are not brought to justice. For how long can we continue like this?", he asked. "Yet the president was telling the nation that reports are being implemented only that people are not noticing the implementation."

On the disparity between capital and recurrent expenditures in the national budget, Oluyemi believed that the ratio between capital and recurrent can be further bridged.

"A situation in which over 70% of the budget goes to recurrent expenditure while less than 25% for capital can not make for national development, I observed President Jonathan trying to explain how the recurrent is now going to 65% and capital above 35% and that any demand for increased salaries and allowances are met from the capital fund. And that the objective is to have a parity of 50/50, promising the country would get there."

The insurance practitioner likened the chat to Tales by moonlight usually told to children by elders in a village setting.

"Our president is yet to get cracking and be more serious in finding solutions to national problems. He cannot just be telling story."

On corruption, Oluyemi enjoined Nigerians to take with "pinch of salt," president's declaration that he is fighting the monster.

Jonathan had said: "I can assure Nigerians and the global community that this government is fighting corruption frontally," pointing to free and fair election as a prerequisite for a fight against corruption as he cited Anambra, Edo and Ondo governatorial elections for examples.

Jonathan's words: "We have dealt with political corruption, the corruption in fertiliser procurement and corruption in the oil industry. There has never been a time corruption in the oil industry has been attacked in all fronts. The effort this government has put in fighting corruption, I don't think any other person has done that."

There were some inconsiscies in Jonathan's pronouncements on wealth creation and poverty reduction saying he did not promise to reduce poverty rather he wanted to create wealth. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) took him up on this describing this latest shift as "a clear political equivocation which is patently illiterate at best and self-indicting at worst."

In a statement by ANPP publicity secretary, Emma Eneukwu, it added:

"Nigerians are now left to wonder who Mr. President had set out to empower all along. This is because for sure, creating wealth might actually be a metaphor for putting more money into the hands of his already rich party members and cronies, while leaving the poor of the nation in the hands of chance."

On poor ranking of Nigerian Universities whereby University of Ibadan once ranked as fourth in the Commonwealth has now slipped to 34th in Africa, President Jonathan bemoaned the drastic drop, wondering how this came about and that efforts are being made to restore the lost glory of our universities.

He said government was studying the report on the rot of the universities characterised by all types of corruption and abuses which would be looked into and remedies found. But a University of Lagos lecturer (prefers anonymity) blamed government neglect and inadequate funding of the University system for falling standard.

Roads also were among issues which the president promised to fix especially the Lagos-Ibadan expressway which has become slaughter slab, describing it as one of the busiest highways in the country.

A day after he expressed dismay over the unsatisfactory performance of the contractorconcessionaire - the federal government revoked the contract bringing sigh of relief to people who used the road.

And when some one twitted that any president who can fix the Shagamu-Benin road will be the best president ever in Nigeria.

Jonathan was quick to contend that should the road be put right by him then he 'll be the best president. The bottom line is the fact that our road system across the country has virtually collapsed and we need a messiah to fix the roads and stop the carnage going on daily.

Anxieties of the people remained feverish as they are yet to be convinced that Jonathan can effectively deliver on his promises.

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