Watching repeat footages of the president cutting the Independence Day cake at the low-key state house party, I couldn’t help but notice that the commander-in-chief fittingly cut the figure of a military leader. This thought, however flitting, may have been fanned by the garb he donned on this occasion: the full regalia of a field marshal. Granted that the military fatigues belies the wholesome truth that Mr Goodluck Jonathan is a democratically elected president it would not be wild to suggest from his mannerisms since he entered into office that he sometimes displays the trappings of a Babangida era administrator – and this time I am not referring to his sartorial tastes.
First, the January 1st removal of fuel subsidies still rankles with many of us, even if he eventually reversed the order after nationwide demonstrations and protests by civil right groups, labour unions, activists and ordinary citizens alike. Furthermore, the president unilaterally decided to change the name of a federal university on a day marked to celebrate the end of military rule in Nigeria. This paradox was another politburoesque move by the president that led to another round of protests. Key terms in these examples are ‘order’ and ‘unilaterally’
The common thread in both narratives is that Mr. President made outrageous declarations on landmark dates: New Year Day and Democracy Day respectively. This caused an expected sense of cynicism as he took to the podium on October 1st to make yet another gaffe. This time he claimed Transparency International ranked Nigeria second as the country with the most improved index in its fight against corruption. This is untrue. Transparency International has refuted the bogus claim. How pervasive corruption still is in the Nigerian polity given the way the recent Otedola-Lawan affair was swept under the carpet is subject for another day. Another important digression would be how telling it is that Mr. Jonathan did not prepare his own speech for an occasion as august as Nigeria’s birthday.
The episode suggests the presidential team made two assumptions. One is that Nigerians would not care to listen to the speech. The second is that even if they did they would not crosscheck the factitious facts. Both are insults to us. A probe has been instigated to find the root of this humiliating faux pas but it is one of those embarrassing national incidents that soon diffuse into the sub-conscious of our memories. I choose to see the bigger picture.
While sweeping declarations and orders are trademark vestiges of a military junta, feeding the nation with blatant lies certainly takes the biscuit. Now you may be tempted to believe this is much ado about nothing, making a mountain out of a molehill, or whatever idiom suits you fine, but we must understand this is a precedent that must be bellowed to the far-flung corners of Nigeria till everyone is aware that the president lied to Nigerians on national television. As minuscule as a lie may be, when it is uttered from the office of the presidency it negates everything that office and our democracy stands for.
So while the blame for this mishap has gone to misinformation from a national newspaper the incident transcends a honest mistake by the speech-writers, proof-readers or typists; rather, it is an innocuous attempt to sell garbage to the Nigerian masses. Furthermore, no clear-cut apology has been rendered to Nigerians since October 1st. That, my dear friends, is the hallmark of an autocracy!