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Sola Oguntoye: The Law of Averages

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The next time someone tells you the president is useless or has achieved nothing, feel free to ignore said person and consider their opinions, from then on, in low esteem. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been nothing if not active. Some of what he’s done includes –

  • Renovating the dilapidated Shagamu-Benin Expressway
  • Concluding the long-drawn out Power sector Privatization, and creating jobs in the process
  • Restarting the moribund railway lines linking the North and South
  • Transportation facilitation by the provision of mass transit buses
  • Economic empowerment through programs like SURE-P, YouWiN
  • Agricultural renaissance

So clearly, he’s not exactly been sleeping at the job. Dr. Jonathan’s problem however, is the standard of mediocrity lodged securely in the heart of all his efforts and his administration; and it isn’t a new thing to governance in Nigeria.

It has shown up as a head of state lamenting that Nigeria has a lot of money and no idea what to do with it. It has shown up as a government ruthlessly retiring civil servants in a bid to curb official corruption and ruining the civil service work ethic in the process; we have seen it with the construction of a fine steel mill in Ajaokuta and letting it rot, then be sold for parts. It has shown up as a WAI effort remaking the manners of a nation while allowing the cronyistic corruption of 53 suitcases go unchecked. It has been seen in a government starting a better life program for poor women, building a magnificent flyover/bridge reputed to be the longest in West Africa and then institutionalizing corruption and annulling fair elections.

We have seen it in a government that duly hands over to a democracy while leaving a gaping hole in the treasury. We have seen it in a president who enforced anti-corruption as a governing principle, eliminated foreign debts, began to remake the economy through needed privatization of ruined government assets, and using the anti-corruption drive to hound opponents mainly, misuse the law enforcement agencies to both terrorize villagers and enforce anarchy in politics, then top it off with a misguided attempt to sit-tight in power.

Mediocrity has been a very obvious theme in our national history, and it has never been about useless leaders – it is about 1 step forward, 2 backwards – regressive achievements. That is why every former head of state, bar none, considers himself an achiever – witness the gallant and spirited defence by Abacha’s son of his Father’s legacy – and yet Nigeria is worse-off. It is the stubborn spirit of criminal and prebendalist mediocrity that has dogged us before, that is still with us.

The transformation the president promised, the breath of fresh air, is still not here. The mediocrity is what makes him believe he has stopped being president of Nigeria and become president of PDP only – the reason why he chalked the abduction of those girls to sectional/political sectarianism and never put it on the front-burner immediately (a clear abdication of government’s primary duty). Mediocrity is why he never felt accountable enough to the Nigerian people to pressure his former aviation minister and the current Petroleum minister to bow out with some measure of tact and win him some much needed admiration. Because sometimes when individual fault cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt in climes where mediocrity in governance is actively fought against, the mere fact of institutional culpability would cause reforms and resignations, as seen in the recent VA scandal in the US, or the ferry sinking incident in South Korea – heads rolled; and also in the UK, for much less – MPs buying cheap pet food with unbudgeted tax payers money.

President Jonathan is not the worst head of state in Nigeria’s history, and we understand he was given a poisoned chalice on his election by both fiercely antagonistic interests who wanted to hold him to an arcane agreement – to which he was a willing party and the weight of expectations of a much-misused national sub-region (the south-south) to which he has faithfully latched on. So yes, he has ready, plausible excuses to explain away his averageness.

But if Nigeria had the good fortune to have had a better leader, who values excellence in governance, then those deficits could be turned about. Then, overt ‘religioneering’ that reinforces the sectional antipathy would be totally unnecessary, also unneeded will be the cloying appeasement of violent elements in society, the general malaise of governance that fails to understand real Nigerians speaking but seeks to ascribe whatever protestation, whatever agitation (peaceful or not) no matter how inevitable –like the occupy Nigeria protests and the #bringbackourgirls rally- to oppositional politics, and not just as the voice of common people who need their government to listen to them since they have no access to Aso-rock to countermand the evil counsels of lecherous sycophants swirling its halls.

A better leader would know how ruinous avoidable controversies can be to legitimacy – like the Sanusi Lamido saga which could have been handled better and not tarnished whatever credential of accountability he still had. He would know that merely repairing a failed road is not enough –building an incomparably better one able to handle exponentially increased volumes of traffic for decades to come would be better. He would know that celebrating train systems that would not, even in the 1950’s, be thought of as state-of-the-art – a new 21st century rail system would be a better investment. He would realize that government programs like SURE-P, YouWiN are not long for this world like their innumerable predecessors- FSP, BLF, PTF, SAP, NEEDS, SEEDS, OFN etc. as they have no institutional or national buy-in.

He would know that laying a formidable legacy, he would do far more than any of those programs. Things like:

-building resilient economic systems through the provision of efficient,
-top-notch, multi-platform transportation systems (rails, road, airports, inland waterways)
– reliable security, enabling private-sector driven entrepreneurship incentives like access to easy credit, huge tax (direct and indirect)
– cuts to boost entrepreneurship/innovation,
– radically gutting redundant government bodies,
– removing governmental red tapes/instituting smarter
– flexible regulations on business creation/operation
– reforming the legal system
– enforcing anti corruption
– implementing transparent, predictable financial/ macro-economic policies
– providing better health facilities to stop epidemics quicker
– massively rehabilitating (as opposed to proliferating) federal educational institutions to world class or something close standards

Of course, it is okay to say this viewpoint is a hatchet job, a paid-for bid by a disgruntled opposition lackey to attack the president but apart from being false, that opinion would be missing the point. To answer, I’d like to take a look at the US one more time; Mr Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law with the intent to ensure that all Americans, no matter their socio-economic or health status, get needed health insurance, preferably on the cheap. But for that well-meaning act, he has got a lot of grief – being classed in the venerable ranks of Hitler and Stalin, being labelled the anti-Christ, even threats of impeachment. His political net-worth shrunk like a gassed-out balloon. Any leader worth his salt should expect unrelenting scrutiny, and criticism when his actions are found wanting no matter how good or great he has been, like Winston Churchill who led the UK in the second world war rather well, and yet, while the victory was still fresh, the electorate roundly voted him out of office in the first post-war elections without any guilt of owing him gratitude.

Our President should expect no less; he, like those before him, has not excelled – anyone who aspires to be president should expect the exact same treatment, like Ex-president Obasanjo being booed by university students in his home-state, like Late President Yar’adua being asked to handover or resign because he clearly was incapacitated. We owe the president the respect due to his office, but we due not owe him a blind, pampering allegiance.

Photo Credit
: Shutterstock.com
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Sola Oguntoye is ex-clothes seller currently masquerading as a water quality analyst. He loves spending his evenings watching good movies with a soul-rending soundtracks. Sola dabbles in writing and volunteers for good causes. Despite his very best efforts, he is a graduate of Microbiology from the Olabisi Onabanjo University.

6 Comments

  1. taiwo

    June 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Makes sense fro a very very Calm and Informed perspective ….. Genuine Learning ! thanks

  2. ivie

    June 2, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Well written piece of information and constructive criticism!!! How I wish it gets to the Presidency(if wishes were….)*sigh!

  3. Timeless

    June 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Brilliant !!! Well said and written

  4. BA

    June 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece. Here’s to Nigeria and the dream of becoming a nation generations unborn would be proud of. I hope the President and/or his aides read this.

  5. Dr. N

    June 3, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Despite his best efforts, he is a graduate of microbiology”. That statement reminds me of my mother, lol. I really enjoyed your write up. Quite fair and well researched.

  6. #just saying

    June 3, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Nice piece, I started it at night and just concluded reading it. Most of all I like the writer’s biography. Till we all come to the point were we are not threatened by our mistakes (ex-clothes seller currently masquerading as a water quality analyst) but strive for the better, we could never arrive at that point we so much covert. In the same vein, it would be nice to see Pres. Jonathan write about himself someday… soon i hope: “an ex-people pleaser and failed president. He loves spending his evenings watching old comedy skits & cartoons featuring himself with a soul-rending soundtracks. Jonathan dabbles into writing and volunteers for good causes; yielding his millions to the poor and returning what was ‘mistakenly missed/unaccounted for’. Despite his very best efforts, he is a graduate of PDP and the President who killed BkHarm in Nigeria”. Perhaps, forgiving him would be easier for most Nigerians.

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