Wednesday, December 21, 2011
But my most instructive encounter with the word was a rather private one. It was one early afternoon, in that space between sleep and consciousness, that I saw it --a crowd in a stadium, enraptured and cheering uncontrollably as an overweight man, dressed in flowing agbada and a fedora hat stood on an elevated stage, addressing them. His incongruous dressing aside, the man was reeling a long list of promises to the people and they seemed to be holding onto his every word as they would their messiah. His words were like bread to them and they fed on it. "I will send all your sons to the moon and back," he said and they cheered. "I will build a bridge that will connect Sokoto to Bonny," he said, amidst more cheers. The overweight man went on and on until the people's hopes and expectations seemed to take a physical shape, hanging like a belt on his waist. He too was beginning to feel the weight of their expectations. "I will transform your lives, trust me, I will transform your lives," he said finally, before turning to leave. Then he made a blunder. Forgetting that there was an open mic on stage, he asked an aide by his side: "Why are they so passionate about this transformation thing? How can they believe I'll do all those things? Can't someone joke with these people?" On hearing those words, the stadium fell into a hush for about a minute or so. Then, without notice, the crowd descended on him till he turned into that which makes no speeches.
As far as I can tell, no politician in Nigeria literally campaigns on jokes. Yet whenever I ponder on my dream, I always come to one conclusion: Politicians don't take us seriously. We might be a joke for all they care. They make promises and issue deadlines, then flout it and move on to another as if their life's purpose lies in the next promise and deadline. If goals, targets and visions were ceramic bowls, those of Nigeria would have shattered into a million shards.
Still, of all our past presidents, none tantalised Nigerians with as much promise of lucky manna as President Jonathan and his Transformation agenda. In state after state, Jonathan proclaimed promises like a water fountain unleashes water. Rehashing them here again is unnecessary. Seven months into the dispensation, there is a realisation in the land that not much progress is being made towards achieving the pillars on which he campaigned.
Let me use an example to illustrate how recklessly I believe the Jonathan 2011 election train hobbled. On the issue of power, Jonathan's rhetoric didn't disappoint. His promises pertaining to the entire power supply chain can fill the entire CBN vault. So one would have expected that when Prof. Nnaji, the power minister, was asked a simple question like "how much power will guarantee round-the-clock electricity around Nigeria?" he would have had a ready response. Prof. Nnaji's response, however, was a stunner: "We are presently conducting a load demand study," he said, "and after that we can know what we need." Meaning that up till now, government doesn't even know how much power Nigeria needs, yet they threw around figures during the campaign, making promises, not knowing what they were promising.
One should therefore not be surprised that since the end of the election season, the picture has often been that of a baby's faltering steps as far as fulfilling the promises have been concerned. The government has carried on as though the idea of governance is startling to them. That's why the president has chosen to adopt an issue he never campaigned on, as his major policy thrust in the coming year: fuel subsidy removal.
Perhaps this would serve as a warning to us that in the future, any aspirant scared to take on fellow aspirants in a credible debate cannot and should not be trusted with the burden of leadership. For it is during debates like the NN24 debate which President Jonathan infamously evaded in the build-up to the 2011 elections, that candidates are asked how exactly they intend to fund their promises.
Americans would go to the polls to elect a president in November 2012, yet, a full eleven months to the D-day, the opposition Republican Party candidates have already locked horns in ten debates so far. It's in those debates that many stars have shone and faded based on the public's reactions to candidates' performances. It's in those debates that jokes packaged as ideas have been exposed under the bright glare of media flash bulbs and intense public scrutiny.
Jonathan did not debate other candidates. Jonathan promised us heaven on earth in stump speeches before boisterous crowds. He did not tell us that the carrot which would persuade heaven to relocate to Nigeria was subsidy removal. Yet he's pressing on with it despite its overwhelming rejection by Nigerians. It seems Aso Rock's opulent kitchen has learned a new recipe for disaster and is determined to try it out no matter what. Government must understand that it would be foolish of Nigerians to accept this proposed imposition of hardship. The definition of governmental delusion is demanding and expecting a tabula rasa from Nigerians, a clean slate to hand them another trillion naira when nothing in the far or recent past lends any hope that things would be different this time. Just their word? That's all? No thanks.
A time comes, and maybe it's here already, when grandiose statements on elevated podiums before rented crowds would no longer be tolerated; when the people suddenly realise that they're about to be the butt of someone's jokes yet again and avow that hitherto has this come but no further. When common men and women with rolled sleeves, shorts and wrappers would defy the agbadas and fedoras and say simply: Enough is enough. And they will mean it. That would be the real transformation.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Shrouded and Scripted
A big question on the lips of many is: Was the interview scripted? Were the questions vetted by the president’s handlers? We can’t be too sure. For one thing, the session wasn’t broadcast live, an attempt perhaps by the president’s aides to mitigate a primetime disaster. Many pundits agree that the president seemed more composed and confident during the chat than at any other time since he assumed office. For that, he had a very friendly and subpar panel led by Stella Din of Silverbird Television to thank. Most of the questions were decidedly softball. It seemed the journalists had an agreement not to press the president for any specifics or ask intelligent follow-up questions. At a point, as they discussed politics, they looked at each other, confused on what to ask, until the lead anchor signalled that they move on to agriculture.
To his credit, President Jonathan touched a wide range of issues, as he wasn’t given to the sort of long, winding answers favoured by Obasanjo in media chats of yore. But despite its breath, the session was shallow on specifics. Nonsense was made of assurances by President Jonathan’s adviser on new media, Reno Omokri, that “Mr President is presently talking about detailed plans of the FG...”, as the president shied away from making commitments or giving timelines for performance. “I’m not going to talk on any megawatts by any time, but I can assure you that we are working day and night,” he said in response to a question on power. When asked about a particular figure, the president replied that, “I would have to ask my finance minister.” The only definite time-bound commitment made by the president was on rice. “By the end of this administration,’ said Mr President, “we won’t import some food items, especially rice. I tell Nigerians to watch out.”
One other clear fact that emerged from the session was that President Jonathan still doesn’t know enough. Ninety percent of his examples were based on his knowledge of “my constituency, Bayelsa.” Someone needs to tell him that his constituency now is the whole of Nigeria and not just Bayelsa. Two clear winners emerged from the session. The first was the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Adesina, who received glowing tributes from the president, which he capped with, “I believe in the young man.” The second winner was Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. The president referred to the businessman so often that, “Dangote says so,” began to trend on twitter in the moments succeeding the interview. The most quotable moment in the interview came when President Jonathan was asked if he regretted introducing the 6-year tenure proposal. "I have no regrets at all," said the president, "Transformation is costly, transformation is painful. There's no leader that wants to transform that won't be criticized." Never has a truer word been spoken, though it's doubtful if anyone outside the president's inner circle would agree that the happenings of the past 100 days resemble transformation. But then, they say 100 days is too soon to judge.
The chat also showed that President Jonathan and Mallam El-Rufai despite their much publicized differences, aren’t so far away from each other on some issues –actually on one issue: wikileaks. They both described it as "beer parlour" gossip or “goship” in the case of the president, which I assume is worse than mere gossip. The president also generously dished a lot of anecdotes. At different points, he tried to prove that in politics, “people don’t think”, by comparing politics to chieftaincy disputes, land issues and lawyers. The high point was when he inimitably described the Libyan issue thus: “It’s like you are carrying a pot, you drop pot and everything scatter,’ he said, as his interviewers nodded, perhaps in understanding. One of the biggest oversights by the media panel, was questioning the president on the Libyan crisis without doing a follow-up on the hundreds of Nigerians being assaulted and terrorised over there by the TNC.
The conclusion of the matter is that based on Monday night's chat, Nigerians did not really cover new grounds or gain better insight on the person of the president or the state of the nation. The president did just enough to rally his base one more time. The chat did not convert critics, turn-off supporters or inspire independents. It was just that –a chat. But at least it was on the record, not beer parlour goship.
Follow this writer on twitter @stanleyazuakola
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Sunday, June 12, 2011
- Become a militant, chop amnesty.
- Become a legislator, chop treasury.
- Become a youth leader, chop transport fare.
- Become a pastor, chop offering.
- Become a S/South governor, chop 13% derivation.
- Become a FIFA committee member, chop bribe.
- Become Nigeria’s power crisis, chop $12 billion.
- Become a lecturer, chop blocking.
- Become Buhari’s election tribunal lawyer, chop legal fees.
- Become Bank-ole, chop loan.
Monday, June 6, 2011
- The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to embark on an indefinite strike if the Federal government doesn’t immediately declare a new minimum age for the nation. The NLC said this has become necessary due to the alarming number of old men claiming to be youths these days. In a press release, the NLC president said, “In recent times, we have seen men like Nuhu Ribadu and Dele Momodu, both aged 51, claim to be youths. Now President Jonathan has appointed a 50year old man as the secretary to the government of the federation, and they are calling him a youth. The average Nigerian’s life expectancy is 48.4years. If we call a 50year old a youth, it means there are no old men left in this country. That’s nonsense; we must have a defined minimum age in order to progress.” It will be recalled that Nigeria is a signatory to the African Youth Charter which defines a youth as any person between the ages of 15 and 35.
- An innovative recruitment drive has been launched by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). According to online news outlet, Kalahari reporters, top PDP members have been given targets to each get at least one leading opposition figure to come under the party umbrella. The president himself was asked to get Bola Tinubu; Gov. Babaginda Aliyu of Niger State is to get Nassarawa state CPC governor Alhaji Tanko Almakura; while Senate president David Mark was given the Muhammad Buhari account. Meanwhile, a PDP stalwart has defended the party’s decision to give the ‘Buhari target’ to David Mark instead of Vice-president Namadi Sambo. According to him, “We had to be realistic in order to avoid a situation where it is the VP himself who gets converted. You know he could not deliver his own polling booth in the last elections; is that the person you think can convince a man like Buhari?”
- The Freedom of Information Bill has finally become law in Nigeria and already, the ripples are being felt. An activist, Comrade Vengeance Greene is invoking his rights under the law to know who actually moved the motion in the 1950s for Nigeria’s independence. There has been controversy in recent times over who (among Anthony Enahoro, Remilekun Fani-Kayode, S.L Akintola and Tafawa Balewa) moved the motion. Comrade Greene has written to Hansard (the official transcripts of proceedings in the British parliament since the 19th century) as well as the Department of Nigerian archives, demanding to see the records. When pressed on why he needed the information, Comrade Greene contended that “we need to know which of those men is responsible for the sufferings of Nigerians. Can you imagine where we would have been today if the British hadn’t left? That motion chased them away. The children of that person must be made to pay –no member of such a family must hold public office in this country again. Ever!”
- British magazine, The Economist published an article (Hail The Useful Chief) about President Jonathan on May 26th, in which it said this: “When The Economist requested an interview with the president, we were asked whether we would contribute to his election campaign –or whether the president will pay us.” Following that report, A Pinch of Salt launched an investigation into what –if anything –did Nigerian magazine, Thisday Style pay to have that 2-day interview and breathtaking photo-shoot of first lady Dame Patience Jonathan which appeared in its May 29 Special Inauguration Edition. Our findings reveal that Thisday Style was asked to ensure two things. First, that they photoshop the first lady till she was creamer and finer than Mitchelle Obama and then, that they perform a miracle –publish an 8-page interview/photo splash in which the first lady doesn’t make one grammatical gbagaun. And they did.
- After being messilessly walloped by the Super Eagles of Nigeria in an international friendly played in Abuja, the Argentine soccer team has petitioned FIFA for a rematch. According to Argentine coach Sergio Batista, the previous five meetings between the teams had the Argentines on top with an aggregate score of 4-1 which Nigeria cancelled in this one match, making them even. He therefore called for a one match decider that will crown the better team once and for all. The Nigerian FA has said that “it doesn’t respond to sore losers.”
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
- . Former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared last week that he was retiring from active politics because he expected to be “raptured with the saints,” and there wasn’t any room for partisan politics in heaven where he was headed. He argued that with all his good works plus a degree in theology from the Nigeria Open University, heaven would be making a huge mistake not to take him along on the rapture cruise. It remains to be seen what happens now that the rapture has been postponed indefinitely. Already, politicians from the Southwest have been pleading with the Owu chief to perish the thought of retiring so soon, especially now that the ACN hurricane is sweeping through the land.
- . In furtherance of his ongoing consultations with critical stakeholders in the national project, president-elect Goodluck Jonathan hosted ex-convict Lucky Igbinedion in the state house last week. According to the presidential spokesman, ex-prisoners were too powerful a constituency to ignore if the nation must achieve quick transformation in the next four years. It would be recalled that the president had shown a strong commitment to engaging ex-cons when he attended the homecoming thanksgiving of famous Lagos ex-con Chief Olabode George. Goodluck Nigeria!
- . OandO SHARES PLUNGE BY OVER 50%: In the aftermath of the April 2011 general elections, it has been discovered that the stocks (votes) of OandO (not Oando) nosedived by over 50% in the presidential elections. OandO (aka Okotie and Owuru), the candidates for FRESH Party and Hope Democratic Party (HDP) respectively saw their votes plummet by more than 50% compared to 2007, when they also ran. Okotie’s votes dropped 54% (74,049 to 34,331), while Owuru’s dropped a whopping 58% (28,519 to 12,023). Already, Owuru has filed action to contest the result at the tribunal but analysts agree that it is an unwise move that would most likely end in futility. Looking ahead to 2015, many have suggested that OandO hang their political boots. Or better still, consolidate and merge into the Fresh Hopes Party (FHP).
- . Still basking in the euphoria of their strong showing in the 2011 elections, the Invalid Votes Party (IVP) has released a statement in Abuja saying that “with projected better voter turnout in 2015, the IVP would give the winning party a run for its money.” With total invalid votes of 1,259,506, IVP performed better than every other party apart from the PDP, ACN and CPC. In fact, all the other parties combined managed only 3.6% of the votes, while the IVP alone got 3.2%. The question that arises is that if the IVP wins the elections, who becomes the president? A renowned activist, who did not want his name disclosed for this piece argues that if such a situation were to happen, the INEC chairman would have to randomly pick a president from one of the many Invalid Peoples Home in Nigeria. Meanwhile some have argued that the expected strong showing of the IVP in 2015 is responsible for the clamour that David Mark remains as senate president in order to invoke a doctrine of necessity when the need arises.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The management of the University of Benin dispelled rumours last week that it intended to suspend ongoing semester examinations in order for students to participate in the voters registration exercise. Their decision to proceed with the exams could well mean that most of the over 60000 students of the university would be unable to register and hence denied the right to vote in the April elections.
During the last voters registration exercise in 2007, some friends of mine opted to register in the university campus. On the day of the elections, the school wasn’t in session and their voters’ cards were useless in other polling stations. Even those who resided in Benin could not make it to the campus to vote because movement was restricted. It would be foolish to repeat the same mistake but as it stands, students are left without a choice. The two weeks of the registration is the peak period of the semester exams. For non-indigene students like me, travelling out of Benin would be a suicide expedition.
I first raised this issue in November with a professor of mine. His response was, “Go and be voting nah. We are talking about writing exams, you are talking about voting. It’s like you don’t want to graduate abi?” I told my friends then that he did not know what he was saying. He obviously did.
I can understand why the management would want to carry on with the exams. The university calendar was significantly affected last year by strikes, coupled with some poor planning and sheer bad luck. Besides, the university also intends to host the next NUGA Games sometime in March, after which would be the April elections. It is obvious that there is very little room to manoeuvre and I understand that. But I disagree that my franchise should be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced calendar, no matter how painful the alternative would be.
I think it is bad judgement to manoeuvre with my right to choose the leaders who would act on my behalf for the next four years; the leaders whose policies would largely determine if my calendar would be further disrupted these next four years. The option of registering in Benin leaves me at too great a disadvantage. The governorship candidates of my state, Rivers, would not be on the ballot in Benin. Neither can I vote for my senator nor my representative in Benin. I lose either way.
The university management’s haste in dispelling the rumour on the purported suspension of the exams tells the students that we have two unfair choices: Shut up or bear the consequences aka fail/forfeit the exams. None of those choices suit me but they don’t seem to care. I am just another voice in the wind. All I can do is whisper and plead and expect that the university authorities rescind their decision and do the right thing. Suspending the exams, even for only ten out of the fourteen allotted days, would go a long way. I and all the other students who would be disenfranchised if this edict is seen through have only one vote each in April. But the vote is ours. It should not be taken away.