The Punch newspaper recently reported that the sum of N5 trillion has been stolen under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan. Given how toothless the Economic and Financial Crime Commission and other similar anti-graft agencies have become in the last couple of years; and how the petroleum subsidy scam was managed my only surprise was that the figure did not exceed that reported amount. What astounds me is how Nigeria’s current president seems to be unmoved at an allegation of this gravity. There are two ways to account for this unseemly indifference. One, it is either he is unaware of the unmitigated defalcation of tax-payers’ money under his leadership; or, two, he is aiding and abetting the fraud. I can bet my designer glasses the second option is truer.
For most Nigerians Mr Jonathan seems like a harmless, docile man who can ordinarily relate with the plight of Nigerians. His campaign in 2011 was predicated around a grass to grace story – almost literally. He asserted he often had to walk barefoot because he ‘had no shoes’. While that story resonated as a touching account of a peasant navigating his path to the peak of public service we often ask how special the narrative is. After all, Mr Jonathan grew up in a time when shoes were almost unaffordable luxuries for many of his peers; in fact, during his generation you would only be shocked to know a child actually had shoes! Still, we cannot discount the humble upbringing of the man. For some moments during his presidential campaign in 2011 I must admit I often made analogies between his story and that of Barack Obama. Couple of months on I will not demean one of America’s finest president by putting him on the same par as Mr Jonathan.
Still dwelling on the past I must say that it was almost inevitable that Mr Jonathan would win in 2011. This was not hard to fathom given the array of persons who contested alongside him. First, there was Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s most wanton opportunist. He was in many respects a distraction, the equivalent of an MTN ad displayed during a live English premiership game. I am not saying Mr Ribadu is not intellectually sound. To his credit, during the presidential debates he was able to string words you could applaud to – if you looked at things from the literary point of view. For instance he famously said in effect, “Nigerians are not corrupt; it is the system that is corrupt.” Such semantic gibberish only goes to show he did not and still does not understand the uniqueness of Nigeria and Nigerians. The recent episode of how his subsidy- probe committee concluded their findings is another testament of a quixotic, opportunistic man who lacks the wiles that defines Nigerian politics. But this article is not about Ribadu.
The other option was Mohammad Buhari. He seemed to spit fire everywhere he went. Running alongside Tunde Bakare, it was a combination of firebrands, which in some respects represent something we would like to see in a Nigerian presidency. However, Buhari said little of how much difference there would be if he became president. He never really discussed issues affecting Nigeria and how much differently he would tackle them without resorting to a de facto dictatorship – something akin to what Mohammed Mursi has become in Egypt. At any rate, Buhari surely had the trappings of an ex-serviceman who could not stand to see ‘bloody’ civilians take charge of government and needed to come and show them what discipline is. Nigerians surely need discipline but to what measure Buhari would have enforced it is what tilted the tides against him.
Of course, there were other aspirants: Shekarau et al who really did not have a shot at anything beyond their places of birth. Like Ribadu, they were all distractions.
The five-trillion-naira question is this: Who comes up against Goodluck Jonathan – forget all those political façade of him not yet declaring his intention – in 2015? Before I describe the ideal opponent let me emphasise how important that question is. In 2011, civil rights group achieved something significant in Nigeria: they emphasised the need for Nigerians to cast their votes and protect it. This was largely achieved. However, they forgot another element of efficient electioneering: ensuring you have the right candidates. If James Ibori and Diepreye Alamiesiegha came out for a particular office, it won’t be enough to have free and fair elections. A further step will be to emphasize their non-eligibility and fine-tune a process that will bring out a worthier contestant. It is the latter we failed to discuss in 2011 and should start doing something about now. Yes, now.
I am not going to publicly endorse anyone even though I know some Nigerians who would be perfect as Nigeria’s president. The risk of an endorsement is that it compromises the quality of the bigger message which I wish to pass across. But for an ideal Nigerian president we need
1. Someone stainless. I’ll be the first to admit that it will be tough. Is it impossible? No. It takes only a spotless man to point out dirt in others.
2. Someone detribalised. Enough with talks of what tribe should produce the next president. Would you rather we enforced federal character or personal character? It’s 2012. Nigerians cannot afford to have another effete president all in the name of zoning.
3. Someone with ideas. Goodluck Jonathan is famously described as clueless not because he is uneducated but because he does not resonate with flourishing ideas: Ideas about how to transform the power sector, how to use intelligence and counter-intelligence to end terrorism and financial crimes, how to invest in research and development etc etc. Goodluck Jonathan’s default solution to all problem is to set up committees, an act that, given how Farouk Lawan went scot-free, has become synonymous with sweeping under the carpet.
4. Pragmatic. It’s not all about having ideas. Ensuring those ideas become beneficial economic tools is far more important. Also, pragmatism would involve cutting the cost of governance in every possible way. Ideally, we would want someone who has successfully managed people and resources at a large scale beforehand.
5. Someone who does not give a damn about whose axe is gored for doing right. Goodluck Jonathan has godfathers who call the shots from behind. It’s sickening! If a president cannot do what is right without considering how someone like Mr Edwin Clark will react he deserves to remain shoeless.
6. Someone willing to accept nothing in return. If our senators and legislators will be forced to reduce their salaries and allowances then they need a president who leads by example. A Nigerian president who accepts nothing but the mandate of Nigerians to lead them will not tolerate financial inefficiencies. Write that down!
7. Someone who knows government owes the people nothing but the best. Enough of that “it’s not what your country can do for you” crap! Our country is blessed with plenty of mineral resources. Our country can – and must – do things for us. If those in charge cannot use it to develop Nigeria then don’t quote JFK to me. Quote Chairman Mao!
2015 is upon us. We cannot continue to tweet Nigeria’s problem without doing anything about it. Nigerians should know that at the rate we are going with the current administration our futures are at stake. Let all of us: civil right groups, activists, political commentators and so on look from amongst ourselves. Surely, there is a man or woman who fits this description and can steer our rudder to greater heights!