opinionBy Prince Kayode Olowu
President Goodluck Jonathan has mismanaged many occasions to bring about change, says Prince Kayode Olowu
President Goodluck Jonathan is indeed a lucky man. He ascended all the way to the presidency with a base built more on opposition to the status quo than devotion to his own political standing. He got the popular mandate on February 9, 2010, when the whole country bestowed on him the post of Acting President, and on April 16, 2011, when he was returned in a watershed presidential election.
This against the shenanigans of those who were fixated on profiteering from the unfortunate health conditions of our late amiable president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
Jonathan's election happened under such favourable conditions that Nigeria had never seen before. The people largely sank their religious and ethnic differences and embraced a wind of change that Jonathan himself promised was the herald of a "breath of fresh air." Nigerians believed him and gave him what seemed like a blank cheque to ask for almost any shared sacrifice.
Over the past two years, we have given the president the benefit of the doubt. Of course, he has made some effort. No one would say he hasn't got some positive developments to his name. But if there is anything Jonathan has done very well in the last two years, it is the mismanagement of opportunities to bring about the change that the country needs so badly.
Evidence of what seems to be an era of chronic missteps abounds in all directions.
When the fuel protests of January last year blew the cover over the multibillion naira frauds in the fuel subsidy regime, it was a great opportunity for Jonathan to stamp out the excruciating corruption in the downstream sector. But he developed cold feet - at the expense of the country.
The president's intervention in the subsidy conundrum began with a disturbing insinuation that those who made their living by fleecing the country were doing their legitimate business. His failure to utilise the opportunity offered by the revelations of grand theft in the subsidy regime to launch a comprehensive cleansing of the fuel subsector is perhaps the most shocking example of his lack of ability to fight corruption.
After several months of effort to downgrade or discredit the report of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy released in April last year, which exposed most of the grand larceny, the government only recently commenced what looks like an unenthusiastic prosecution of some of the subsidy fraudsters whose combined activities cost the country nearly N2 trillion.
Soon after the expose on subsidy fraud, there was another round of scandal over the alleged bribing of chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy, Farouk Lawan, and his secretary, Emenalo Boniface, by chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, Mr. Femi Otedola, to remove his company from the list of those indicted in the subsidy scam. In June last year, Lawan and Boniface were accused by Otedola of demanding and receiving $620, 000, part of a $3 million deal to absolve his company of wrongdoing.
The scandal provided an ample lead for any government desirous of fighting corruption to swing into action. But the Nigerian president turned a blind eye. It took the threat of a private citizen, Mr. Festus Keyamo, to get the government interested in prosecuting the matter in court.
As if to rub salt in the wound, the president is insisting on total removal of fuel subsidy without evidential explanation of what has been done with the funds saved from the succession of partial subsidy removals. And there is hardly proof of effective prosecution of those who had siphoned the subsidy funds.
The president had promised to reinvest the monies saved from the increment of petrol price from N65 per litre to N97 last year.
But the height of Jonathan's missteps is the state pardon for former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Jonathan's home state of Bayelsa and former Managing Director of the defunct Bank of the North, Alhaji Shettima Bulama.
Alamieyeseigha governed Bayelsa State from 1999 to 2005, when he was arrested in the United Kingdom for money laundering and other corruption practices. His return to Nigeria, where he was tried and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in July 2007 for corruption, remains a subject of controversy. Though, he was left off the hook under a plea-bargain deal.
Bulama, too, is reported to have had a sequence of corruption convictions that culminated in his latest conviction for fleecing depositors of the Bank of the North.
Granting state pardon to Alamieyeseigha and Bulama at a time when corruption by public office holders is recognised locally and internationally as the bane of the country was the height of indifference to the war against corruption. And it is a crime against the Nigerian people, as it violates section 15 (5) of the constitution, which says, "The state shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power."
That pardon also runs riot on the psyche of the citizens, as it is an unmistaken signal that in Nigeria, corruption pays. It has worsened the country's image in the comity of nations. It has made Nigeria an object of ridicule and fury before the world.
Strangely, political convicts, including former Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya, the late General Abdulkareem Adisa, and Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, who had been pardoned before, were grouped with the duo of Alamieyeseigha and Bulama, who were convicted for serious economic crimes. The military officers were convicted in the phantom coup of 1993, during the General Sani Abacha regime. They were pardoned by General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1999 following Abacha's death in 1998.
The inclusion of Diya, Adisa, Olanrewaju and the other coup convicts in the latest state pardon was a serious error of judgment committed in the haste to whitewash corruption.
State pardon is not the only item in Jonathan's mixed bag of mismanaged opportunities.
Well, if the Jonathan government is not prepared to tackle corruption, they should stop wasting public funds on the current second thoughts and half measures.
Jonathan, it seems, finds it difficult to understand the meaning of corruption and his part in the task of its eradication.
Fighting imaginary enemies on his path to 2015 has become the president's pastime. He is doing nothing about corruption and that is why many corrupt people today are fighting him.
But the president still has time to change and make amends. He is barely two years into his four-year tenure. He can still return to the masses, and to the mass appeal that earned him the popular mandate of 2011.
The president should look for governors that are performing and encourage and get close to them. For instance, in the South-west, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State and Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State are clearly performing. In the South-east, there are Anambra State Governor Peter Obi and Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime. In the North-west, Jonathan should try to get close to Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State and Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State. In the South-south, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole are clearly doing well. In the North-central, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State and Nasarawa State Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura are among those Jonathan should work closely with. For the North-east, there is Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima.
One way to collaborate with these governors is to establish a kind of presidential committee that would have them as members, with somebody like General Theophilus Danjuma as chairman, and Chief Emeka Anyaoku as vice chairman, and, maybe, one senator and one member of the House of Representatives. This committee should be meeting once every month with Jonathan in attendance, to deliberate on how to move this country forward.
Such a change in the remaining period of the president's tenure would quite easily give him the second term he appears to go to the ends of the earth to try to secure.
However, I doubt if the president can change because he is not acting like someone who is prepared to reorder his priorities in the face of changing circumstances.
Olowu was chairman of Lagos State Property Development Corporation