Blood in the water

Tuesday with Dan Onwukwe

The pain of how Nigeria has come to this miserable state is something that troubles the mind .It raises few vital questions: First: ıs Nigeria jinxed on the leadership scale? Secondly, why is it that things that work for other countries with less human and natural endowments don’t work for us? Why are our leaders trivializing governance? I do not know the answers to these questions.

But, the fact that a President, for instance, ıs not judged as other men, it follows that any man who has the grace of providence to get the mandate of the voters ought to know that he has come of age, and therefore, should grow up, beyond petty politics.

Though political historians will tell us better, this much is plain: whatever failings, frustrations and disappointments that every President experiences in office come largely, not necessarily from himself, but from those who attach themselves to his person, his name, or has office’s has become commonplace in our land, though not exclusive to Nigeria, political jobbers, sycophants and frivolous gossips do so as a means of advancing their own selfish interests and agendas. They feed the President with half-truths and sometimes outright lies in order to get his attention by creating a monstrous image of imaginary enemies of the President.

This does one big harm. It makes the President to devote enormous time and zeal to trivial, matters, while paying scant attention to critical issues for which he was elected. In other words, the President begins to see blood in the water, looking for smoking gun to shoot down ‘enemies’. That is how President Goodluck Jonathan has permitted himself to be distracted by other concerns. He has, perhaps without knowing it, created an “enemy centre” in hiss mind. It breeds unnecessary morbid fear. And fear as a tormenting sprit could lead to fatal error of judgment. And because the one who listens to rum ours sees enemies everywhere, he can’t focus on the job. The result is mistake upon mistake, and little time for introspection.

This, one must say, has become an occupational disease of the presidency in recent months. It results from a fear factor, to paraphrase Donald T. Regan, ex-Chief of State to former US President Ronald Reagan, this is because “the President was being told that he had been told things that he had not in fact been told”. Interpretation: often, there are those close to Mr. President who tell him tales that this man or that woman wants to take his place; that he might have disaster in his hand if he fails to take immediate action. Very often, the President believes these tale-bearers and deploy his presidential might against such persons.

Two clear instances of this will suffice. The first is the ongoing feud between Governor Chıbuıke Amaechı of Rivers State and President Jonathan. Second is the disagreement of the presidency with former Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesılı. In the case of Amaechı, it’s no secret that the presidency has stopped at nothing to run over Amaechı. All manner of vicious plots have been hatched and executed to intimidate him. What really is his ‘offence’? We understand it’s the speculation that Amaechı has presidential ambition in 2015 while the presidents wants to seek re-electron. Assumption is the lowest form of knowledge.

However, the President believes the tale-bearers. For instance, the governor of Bayelsa State, Serıake Dıckson,and Godsday Orubebe, minister of th Niger Delta have not spared any unkind words against Amaechı. Governor Dıckson recently described Governor Amaechı ın a recent interview with The Guardian as a “provincial player” who wants to seek the mandate of Nigerians through the “back door”. Repeated attempts to unseat Amaechı as Chaırman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has not succeeded yet. The game plan is, ıf one plot falsity another. Which was perhaps the reason behind the recent grounding of Amaechı’ plane, a Bombardier -BD700-1A11(Global Express)by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authorıty (NCAA)for hours at the Akure airport.

The Director of Airworthiness Standards, Mr Benedict Adeyıleka claimed that the aircraft was operating illegally without flight clearance. Also, the MD of Nigeria Airport Management Authority (NAMA), Mr Nnamdı Udoh spoke in the same and challenged the Rivers State government to respond to a letter reportedly written by Calverton, operators of the aircraft purportedly denying knowledge of aircraft in Nigeria.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria(FAAN) has also joined the fray. The question: Why did all the aviation agencies queue up to attack the Rivers government? Is that the normal practice? The puerile press release by a faction of the PDP in Rivers State led by Mr Felıx Obuah, suggests this could well be a script written somewhere which these agencies are acting now. The messier this matter gets, the more it smells putrid petty politics. It’s all about dangerous power game .I can bet that the plot against Amaechı ıs not about to end any tıme soon. It’s just beginning. Beyond Amaechı,the plan of the presidency to probe the tenure of Ezekwesılı as Education minister, is simply ridiculous. Again, what dıd she do wrong?

Let’s briefly recap: At a public lecture she delivered in January to mark the 42nd Convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka(UNN),her alma Mata, the former vice president of the World Bank had raised pertinent issues about accountability and transparency in the revenue earnings of the country, particular in the last six years. The period covers the administration of late President, Umaru Yar’Adua, and the current administration of Jonathan.

Specifically, Ezekwesili alleged what she called a “back- to- back” squandering of a significant sum of $45bn in Nigeria’s foreign reserves account and another $22bn in the Excess Crude Account(ECA),being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly handed over to the successor government. Ezekwesılı had noted in her lecture at UNN that despite such a huge amount that the Obasanjo administration left behind, Nigerians, mostly the poor, still “suffer the effects of failing public health and education system as well as decrepit infrastructure”. She attributed the failure of government to utilize oil revenues to “tragic” and imprudent choices”.

Are these not genuine questions? Where did all the money of the last six years go?. Where these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied”? One is not saying Jonathan ıs reckless with money. But, a personality of Ezekwesılı’s background ıs entitled to ask questions that many Nigerians wouldn’t have the courage to ask. Expectedly, Ezekwesili’s bagful of allegations did stoke intense controversy, and angered the government to react combatively. First to take the gauntlet against Ezekwesili was the minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who at a press conference, in company of other presidential aides, described the allegations as “curious, outlandish and fictitious”.

According to the Information minister, Ezekwesili exhibited a surprisingly limited understanding of government finances in her comments at Nsukka, adding that the ex-minister’s accusations amounted to a self-indictment of her stewardship as education minister between 2006 and 2007. Consequently,government had threatened to probe her tenure, a period, it claimed the education ministry received over N458 bn. Government also reeled out figures purportedly from the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) to substantiate its own side of the story that Ezekweslili’s own account did not represent the true financial statement in both foreign reserves and Excess Crude Account balance within the years under reference.

Government however admitted that since Obasanjo left office in 2007,the nation’s foreign reserves had witnessed some fluctuations, rising from $43.13bn in May,2007 and peaking at $62 bn in September,2008 during the Yar’Adua’s administration. Ezekwesili still sticks to her claims and has challenged the government or its representatives to a public debate on the matter. Many believe her claims were made in good faith, for the good of Nigeria. Her assertions were not totally new. They are the same concerns that reputable financial institutions and rating agencies and anti-graft agencies have repeatedly made about our country. It precedes Jonathan’s administration. Until now, government has not taken up Ezekwesılı’s challenge.

Recalling this event is to underscore the intolerance that is taking a disturbing grip on government. Just last week, at her 50th birthday celebration in Abuja, Obasanjo put the whole matter in proper context. He told President Jonathan that he was not serous about fighting corruption. Not known to dodging the bullets, Obasanjo dared the President to demonstrate his commitment against corruption by directing any probe against him (Obasanjo) and leave Mrs Ezekwesılı alone.

Though Obasanjo was no better than Jonathan, can Jonathan be man enough to accept the challenge? If the President declines, it boils down to the fact that hypocrites lose their footing the very moment the hold others to standards they cannot keep. That’s ıs how to stop the petty politicking currently going on. It’s time for the president to concentrate his energies and pursue the real issues for which he was elected. Governance has not yet ceased to be a public trust.

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