He misses the presence of the past; when the world smiled at him and men bought his deceit. Huddled up over a heap of dusty files and abandoned sleaze reports, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, grieves over the metamorphosis of goodwill; the sharpest and shortest in any recent political history. His friends, most of who, last year, helped cook up the lies to spite his electoral opponents, had swiftly become his critics, and even enemies. In his office, furnished to taste with a rich touch of royalty, he pores through the invectives poured on him daily by millions of angry citizens. In pains he let out a line of grief, of a heart broken, like a baby grieving lack of love from his parents; “I’m the most cursed president in the world.”
Cocooned by a retinue of aides trapped in the box of years of yore, when secrecy thrived in the seats of power and ignorance weakened the citizens of nations, he misreads the situation. Aides with mindsets more pedestrian than those of commoners, intent only on power, privilege and money, have sold him the commodity of perception. They said perception is the culprit. He bought it hook, line and sinker. He thinks very highly of them, as possessing more experience in the politics of public relations than himself – the taciturn shy man who never was ambitious, and never aspired to play at this tough stage where the rule entailed slicing up people to remain sailing.
So their opinions are weighty. He fancies being dressed in the garb of a “listening president” by these aides. It’s one of their ways of warming up to his heart, his royal heart. He would have been a great president if they were right. But they aren’t. He listens, as the only choice he has, because no alternative thoughts ever emanate from him, with which to balance their views and schemes. These views become policies and programmes, unleashed on the public domain, and are pushed to become laws. You remember the six year single term?
The perception challenge is their view, and he bought and paid. The work has been done, they told him, but the people have yet to know. Let us change their perception, they agreed. As though the whole world suddenly went blind in one fell swoop, they proposed that the work they’ve done, which no other living soul has seen, be scribbled down in fancy letters and glossy images. The images are more of the workers –the president, his Vice, his over-bloated cabinet, and his aides – and less of the works.
In the computing cloud hangs the book, an 80-page book of accomplishments. We are dared to read, to find present the projects that are absent on the streets and in our homes. We are persuaded to share, to forward to contacts, to carry family and friends along. As we read, they hope for open-mindedness in assessments and fairness in comments. Here, there was a slight departure from their 19th century mindsets. They acknowledge the change in ways information is shared. The internet, that’s the new village square. They came to the square, to ring the bell.
But that’s selective appreciation of the powers of the modern world. We can read and forward, just like we can upload and share damning evidence of lies said by public servants. It works in both ways, and works more against one when one chooses to reside on the side of injustice. On this same cloud we compare notes on how our friends and brothers and neighbours remain unemployed after graduation, and how those who oversaw the biggest scams in our history, as well as the scammers themselves, remain unpunished.
Before I began typing these lines, my friend in Abuja sent me a message. She was giving up on Nigeria. She couldn’t fathom why she couldn’t find fuel in filling stations in Abuja, but saw boys hawking them in gallons near the same stations, and with policemen looking on. Her friend, a close one with whom she had been at the forefront of the battle for the rescue of Nigeria from the gang of fuel subsidy thieves and their backers in government, just took a job with a wrong organization. She thinks she has lost the battle. She wept, and told me so.
A day or two ago, another friend on Twitter sent me a message. He got done with his Masters in the UK and returned home last year. Till date, he’s been unemployed. No jobs anywhere. But there’s a book, the book of accomplishments. The book says all is working, just that we’ve been blind to it.
Aha! Back to the book. I’d have loved to relish in the freshness of its smell were it physical with pages I could flip through. New books always smell fresh and predictably arouse the curiosity of the lover of reading. Sometimes, at the end of the book, you may discover that the only thing about it was actually the smell. In such a case, the book was a waste of one’s reading time. In Jonathan’s newly uploaded ebook, Sure And Steady Transformation, nothing was visible.
Conceptualized to serve a predetermined end, the book comes out vague and dry, unfortunately projecting us as a country that faces a million problems. It tries to cover everything and ends up covering nothing. It crawls from the shameful to the ridiculous, and then mocks us by its existence. That book shouldn’t have been published ab initio. It is another waste of our scarce resources.
Trust our brand of leadership. Perpetually mouthing a president’s campaign mantra is an unwritten law. That is why you will find “transformation” in almost every page of the book. It seems the president derives the power to become from the sound of that word; and the energy to live and act from its steady repetition.
“In support of Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development developed and is aggressively implementing an Agricultural Transformation
Transformation. Transformation agenda.
In search of what to point at, we read meetings that were attended. In almost all the ministries, meetings that were attended by Ministry personnel were included as achievements.
In the Ministry of Health, we read; “Conducted 55th National Council on Health Meeting in Abuja 16th-20th July, 2012”
Another one, still on the Health Ministry; “Submission of report of Presidential Committee on a harmonious working relationship in the Health Sector.”
For the Ministry of Information, we read: “Refocusing of the Vision and Mission of the Ministry.”
The wonder is that somebody in the presidency proofread these things and approved their inclusion in the final draft. Another wonder is that they do not hope to persuade people to consider if the “achievements” are worth being so named, the surprise is the aggression with which it is being forced down our throat; “I have delivered!”
Part of the delivery is the type you will read on Page 43 of the report.
• Purchase of 3 (No) Staff Buses.
• Procurement of 2 (No) of Hiace Buses.
• Purchase of various office furnishes and fittings.
When the Federal Government boasts of 2 Hiace buses, then a Local Government Councilor has no business providing anything for his constituents. And it is rather troubling that nobody in the presidency cringed when 3 Staff Buses were being included amongst the list of achievements made by the president of Nigeria.
But we must find the courage to ask the necessary questions: how many jobs have been created – either directly by the government or by the private-sector as a result of employment-inducing policies of the government – in the last two years? If jobs were created, how did they affect the gross unemployment rate?
Are we aware that the use of okada as a means of transportation is a sign of a state that is failing? Movement of humans and goods is one of the essential indicators of a functional society. Why are our roads still in bad shape? Olumide, my friend, recently spent 3 hours on a spot at the Lagos-Benin Expressway and witnessed 3 different auto accidents on the spot. That doesn’t sound like transformation. That is destruction. But we have a glossy picture of that same road looking well paved.
How many houses did the government build in the last two years? How many Nigerians now have access to decent and affordable housing? Where are these houses?
Have we upgraded the quality of our schools? We did expect that Almajiri school will litter the pages under the education ministry. We only wonder what state and local governments will showcase. I heard last night from the young Nigerian who has been moving our kids from the slums to schools that Nigeria has over ten million children of school age outside the school. What future does that leave for us?
If the image of improved healthcare published in the book is true, where is our First Lady? Why can’t she be treated here at the intensive healthcare units?
If someone says there’s no money, how many of the thieves who stole our billions have we prosecuted in the last two years? How many high profile corruption cases have we successfully pursued and brought to conclusion?
If there are achievements anywhere, Mr Jonathan will not need a book to show them to us. Our streets are where these achievements will resonate. All eyes will see them and lips will confess them. There was a relatively significant improvement in power generation for about two months, and everybody commented on that. Nobody needed a book to confirm that electricity supply in their houses had improved. The bulbs that were lit up for more hours were the books we needed. Our problems aren’t as vast as an ocean. Our challenges as a people are few, but fundamental. Once these few key ones are attended to, the rest naturally fade away.
Nobody enjoys a song without melody. Nobody enjoys a dance without motion. A book in which nothing was written isn’t different. Nobody enjoys an 80-page book that says nothing.
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