1 June 2014

Nigeria: One Year to 2015 - President Jonathan's 15 Major Headaches

On May 29, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan marked his third year in office. He has about one more year to go to the end of his tenure, but there are many issues that gnaw at him, many of which would make or mar his re-election chances in 2015.

1. Chibok schoogirls abduction

Perhaps, the most daunting challenge before President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 election is the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls at Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State by the Boko Haram insurgents 48 days ago. Certainly Jonathan is racing against time on the rescuing students. The incident, which occurred on April 14, has attracted national and international condemnation thereby drawing global focus on the country, especially with respect to rescue efforts. The United States of America led in the promise to help the girls, followed by Britain, China and Israel. They have sent teams of counter-terrorism officials and other specialists to Nigeria. In spite of all these, the schoolgirls remain in the grips of the insurgents who have threatened to sell them off if their demand for swapping them with their detained members was not met. This has certainly posed a serious challenge to the presidents especially with the groundswell of protests and campaigns from rights groups and others for the safe rescue of the girls.

For observers, therefore, it is incumbent on President Jonathan to deploy all efforts at rescuing the abducted girls as anything short of this would adversely affect the performance rating of his government, especially in securing the lives and property of Nigerians. By extension, this would be an issue over his re-election fortune, should he decide to seek another term in 2015. This is because analysts believe it is not enough that the insecurity challenge generally would be a campaign issue in the 2015 presidential election. The freedom of the abducted girls is sure to assume a major campaign point for or against the president.

2. Boko Haram insurgency

Linked with the need to secure the release of the young girls from the clutches of the Boko Haram sect is the seemingly intractable insurgency. What started like a political campaign to destabilize the Jonathan administration has festered for four years on, with no solution in sight. As the president said in Paris three weeks ago, over 12,000 Nigerians have been killed in this insurgency. Unfortunately, the declarations of a state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States, and the massive deployment of some 20,000 soldiers have not brought an end to the insurgency. In the last three years of this administration, some N4.1 trillion has been voted for the military, ostensibly in an attempt to tackle the insecurity. But not much progress has been made.

As the president begins his last year of his tenure, the insurgency issue would be a nagging headache. Apart from tainting his achievements in the last three years, if he seeks re-election for the 2015, the insurgency would be a veritable campaign instrument in the hands of the opposition. It is believed that the president miscalculated when he accepted the conspiracy theory that the sect was sponsored to destabilize his government. Now, he may have to change his approach by taking the path of dialogue and related schemes, else the insurgency could make or mar his records and 2015 ambition.

3. Herders/farmers conflict

Another serious challenge before President Jonathan as he ends his tenure year is the incessant clashes between Fulani cattle grazers and farmers in many parts of the country. Despite peace-mending efforts and professed security measures, killings have continued in the affected states unabated, leading to loss of lives and property.

Resolving the Fulani herders/farmers question is, therefore, an issue that President Jonathan cannot ignore if his perceived ambition to seek another mandate from the people in 2015 is anything to go by. Although Jonathan inherited the problem, he would certainly derive electoral benefit from it if he succeeds in nipping it in the bud. The North-Central zone, for instance, constitutes a strong factor in his electoral fortunes and leaving it in the mire of communal conflagration would certainly not do him well if he decides to seek re-election.

4. Choice of Jonathan's running mate

There has been the controversy over whether or not President Jonathan would retain his vice, Namadi Sambo as his running mate, should he decide to seek re-election in 2015 or opt for a new one. Consequently there has been a reported plot by Jonathan to dump Sambo.

The plot is said to be the brainchild of some political heavyweights who believe that for the PDP to make the desired impact in the forthcoming election, it must have a presidential running mate that is widely acceptable across the regions. In their view, therefore, Sambo, is too far removed from the realities of the politics of the North and is incapable of either addressing the issues or galvanising support for Jonathan ahead of the 2015 election.

Those who are reportedly behind the plot to drop Sambo are said to be political heavyweights that include some retired but influential Army generals from the region, emirs and an ex-president who is pushing for Lamido.

Those being touted as possible replacement for Sambo are Aliyu Babangida of Niger State, Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi and Ibrahim Shema of Katsina. Although Jonathan is yet to make a pronouncement over this, analysts believe that how he resolves the issue of his running mate would either make or mar his chances of re-election in 2015, as it could determine the level of support he would get from loyal northern states in the forthcoming election.

5. Diezani's N10 billion chartered Jet scandal

This is one scandalous affair involving the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke that is inevitably rubbing off on President Jonathan because of what has been widely accepted as the president's protective umbrella over the embattled minister.

Since the oil subsidy protests in early 2012, there has been intense focus on alleged corrupt practices in the petroleum sector and calls for the president to sack Mrs Madueke. The calls remain unabated, and have now been heightened, as the president goes into the 2015 election year, by allegations that she had spent not less than N10 billion on chartered jets on international trips.

The House of Representatives has stated its intention to probe the alleged N10 billion maintenance crew allowances and hanger costs of the minister's private jet issue within the last two years. The House alleged the minister had incurred not less than N3 billion cost on maintenance of the jet, "which is used solely for her personal needs and those of her immediate family."

Mrs. Madueke's efforts to use the court to stop the probe efforts have been in futility so far as the court has directed the legislators to go on with the probe. The embattled minister was reported to have said only an approval by President Jonathan can make her appear before the legislators. Would that approval come as the president battles his image and credibility problem ahead of 2015?

6. The power sector problem

From today, electricity consumers are expected to start paying higher tariffs, plus the compulsory monthly fixed charge of between N700 and N800 that they must pay the new private power suppliers that just bought the new power generating companies (GENCOs), whether those companies supply electricity or not.

Bodies like the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have kicked against the new tariffs, saying it was exploitative and oppressive since power supply has become more erratic rather than improve in the hands of the GENCOs. As has always been the case, the Jonathan administration, critics say, is compelling consumers to pay for a service not being rendered.

Power supply has always been a campaign issue during elections, but the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has always got away with subduing the opposition despite its inability to fix the problem since 1999 that it has been in control at the centre. With the opposition more threatening than ever going into the 2015 elections and power supply below the rhetoric, President Jonathan will have the power supply problem to contend with in the next one year. Can he effect any remarkable improvement in power supply before the election?

7. Missing $20 billion oil money

There was a somewhat positive development last week in the president, Alison-Madueke and the NNPC's favour on the lingering allegation of a missing sum of $20 billion oil money from the coffers of the Federation Account. Suspended Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had raised dust last September alleging the NNPC didn't remit $49.8 billion oil proceeds between January 2012 and July 2013. The amount was further reconciled down to $20 billion.

The Senate committee chairman on Finance, Ahmed Makarfi was reported as saying last Wednesday that the committee's investigations confirmed no money was missing and cleared the NNPC of any guilt. But a member of the committee, Senator Bukola Saraki was quick to say the committee had done no such clearance.

The alleged huge missing money remains an albatross for President Jonathan, whose administration is battling condemnation from local critics, and international leaders and media as 'corrupt'. This is one 'headache' the president would have to resolve fast before campaigns for the 2015 elections start and it becomes a possible effective weapon in the hands of his political opponents. The Federal Government has promised a forensic audit into NNPC accounts. Perhaps, a clean bill from the foreign forensic experts would give the president a breather.

8. Dwindling foreign reserves

President Jonathan may also have to worry about the falling fortunes of Nigeria's foreign exchange reserves. The reserves further declined from $38.14bn in April to $37.14bn to last month. A year ago, the reserves were $48.41 billion, an $11.27 billion (23.28%) fall.

There is widespread fear that as the reserves and the equally receding Excess Crude Account dwindle, the Central Bank of Nigeria may be forced to devalue the Naira. For an economy that is majorly import-independent, the effects on inflation are not unexpected. This will be a challenge for the president to confront in an election period. How he handles it so the opposition doesn't manipulate it to its disadvantage remains to be seen.

9. Lagos/Ibadan expressway

Like other major projects embarked upon by the Federal Government in the geopolitical zones of the country, the Lagos/Ibadan expressway project promises to be a major campaign issue either in favour or against the ruling PDP in 2015 elections in the South-West. Earlier this year, the Federal Government summoned the necessary political will to award the N167 billion Lagos-Ibadan Expressway contracts to Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. and Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) Limited. It had earlier entered into concession agreement with Messrs Bi-Courtney in 2009. The 127.6-kilometre expressway traverses three South-Western states of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo.

President Jonathan, during the contract award ceremony, said the reconstruction of the road was to accelerate economic development of the South-West and Nigeria.

"Let me appreciate Nigerians, especially more than the 50 per cent users of the key economic players in the South-West from Lagos to Oyo State that use this road for the pains witnessed over this period," he said.

The pains would only be assuaged if the President keeps to his promise and by extension this would certainly have an impact on his re-election bid.

10. Ekiti/Osun elections

As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) prepares to conduct the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun, the cases of violence and killings which have shrouded political rallies for the election slated for June 21 and August 9 respectively in the two states have become a major cause of worry for many Nigerians and the international communities. The United States two weeks ago said the conduct of the governorship elections in the two states would set the standard for the 2015 general elections in the country.

The US Consular General, Jeffrey Hawkins, who was in Ado-Ekiti to attend a sensitization workshop for political parties, candidates and stakeholders ahead of the governorship election in Ekiti State, said "the world is watching this election just like the world will be watching in 2015."

Hawkins said that Nigerian electoral process is as good as Nigeria makes it, adding that Nigerians want and desire peaceful and credible election in Ekiti and Osun. "Please, do everything in your powers to meet these expectations," he said. He said his country was troubled by reports of violence, threats and intimidation at political rallies in the states.

The recent statement attributed to Vice-President Namadi Sambo makes it therefore very urgent to warn President Goodluck Jonathan against making a grave mistake that will undoubtedly prove fatal to his prospects for re-election next year.

11. APC's growing influence

The growing influence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) might be causing a source of discomfort for the ruling PDP. Since its formation from the merging parties, the party has benefited from a wave of mass defections of PDP lawmakers in both House of Representatives and the Senate shortly after five of its governors left to join APC. The defection at a point made the PDP to lose its majority in the House of Representatives to the APC but it was not long before it regained control of the House when some of its defected lawmakers returned to its fold.

With recent happenings in the country, particularly the growing issue of insurgency which seems to have overwhelmed the ruling party, the APC might have an edge over the PDP in the political equation of the country. A chieftain of PDP and its former National Treasurer, Engineer Bala Muhammed Kaoje in an exclusive interview attested to this. He told Sunday Trust that except the president addressed some of the hanging issues on security, insurgency, the Chibok schoolgirls' abduction, corruption and others his political fortunes and that of the party might suffer. "Definitely, this will affect our party. I think the president and the party have to respond to these things quickly if we want to win election next year", he said.

12. Foreign Intervention

The abduction of over 200 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State has led to international concerns over the safety and the possible freedom of the missing girls. This led to the international superpowers like USA, Britain, France, China, Israel, and of recent African countries like Cameroon, Niger and Ghana saying they were on red alert in the case of the spread of the Boko Haram to their countries.

USA sent seven personnel and said they will only assist with intelligence gathering and not in combat operations. Britain experts are being expected, while France, China and Israel are not to be involved in field operations.

However, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda said it is sad for Nigeria and Africans to run to France for their internal conflicts saying: "We must take responsibility and accept our failures in dealing with the matters. Why should anybody wait for that, what image does it give to Africa? It does not make sense that our leaders cannot get themselves together to address the problem affecting our people. It is the responsibilities of leaders to resolve their problems but if they cannot resolve it they can call on their neighbors to assist in resolving the issue. We do not need to be invited anywhere to go and address our problems", he said.

Beyond this, how the foreign powers would operate in the country matters a lot. The fear has been expressed that it will be too risky to allow foreign troops in the country, as previous examples have proved that these troops, for economic reason, may not leave our shores quickly. Whatever happens, therefore, in the next few weeks or months in this regard could affect the president's rating.

13. Image Question:

It was reported recently that President Goodluck Jonathan's administration signed a contract of $800 million dollars with a foreign Public Relations firm to shore up its perception. Though this has been denied by Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati, the fact that the issue came up at all indicated that this government has an image problem. The United States officials have variously slammed the Jonathan administration for being very corrupt. But beyond corruption, the mishandling of the insurgency gave the impression that the leadership is inept. The fight against corruption has been lost, no thanks to low budgetary allocation to the EFCC and ICPC. Ministers in this administration have been openly accused of corruption, but the president seems to treat the issue with kid gloves. For this perception to change, the president needs to take drastic steps, like jailing ministers in government and tackling the insurgency with tact to achieve results. But this may not be achieved, believe the Ethiopian cannot change his skin.

14. Kidnapping:

The number of Nigerians being kidnapped from North to South has been on the increase, to the point that only recently three Dutch nationals on a humanitarian visit to Nigeria were kidnapped in Bayelsa State. The situation is very severe, especially in the Niger Delta and South-East region, but the Boko Haram insurgency seems to have overshadowed its gravity. In these regions, kidnapping has become a trade. The trend has crept into the North Central States. At the weekend, the Registrar of the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, Kogi State was kidnapped. The rate of unemployment may have contributed to this trend, and as long as government has continued to pay lip service to the issue of employment for youths, it could thrive. The president would need to come up with an appropriate scheme to deal with the situation, else it would dovetail into the next dispensation.

15.What Jonathan does with confab report

The ongoing National Conference convened with the aim of addressing Nigeria's socio-economic and political challenges, especially as they pose a threat to the corporate existence of the country, presents another litmus test for President Jonathan ahead of the 2015 general elections.

While inaugurating the confab which had been long anticipated, Jonathan urged the 492 delegates to focus on innovative ideas that will make the nation move forward by concentrating on issues that will make the nation stronger, emphasising that the focus of discussion should be on sustaining the progress already made and what will make the nation stronger.

Not a few skeptics have expressed their reservations on the implementation of the conference recommendations especially against the backdrop of the fact that similar outcomes arising from previous conferences were not allowed to see the light of day. There have also been arguments as to whether or not the outcome of the conference should be subjected to a national referendum or be subject to endorsement of the National Assembly.

Whichever the case may be, Nigerians would be waiting with bated breath for President Jonathan's political will to implement the recommendations arising from the confab. This will certainly impact on his chances at re-election in 2015 as it will definitely form an issue for campaign even from the opposition who are also skeptical of the conference.

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