When President Goodluck Jonathan casts his eyes back over the past 20 months of his government, he must wonder why a man like him who enjoyed so much goodwill and public support when he served as acting president now courts controversy and bad feelings in the public sphere. Whatever he does, no matter how he evaluates his government, Jonathan must take full responsibility for the blunders committed by his government in the past one year and eight months.
His character flaws and his lack of management skills coupled with appalling advice from his platoon of aides have cast Jonathan in the image of a clueless president who is just hanging on, waiting for his tenure to end. Everything Jonathan touches, every decision he rolls out has received negative appraisal in mainstream news media and in online discussion forums. Jonathan, it must be admitted, is facing a highly cynical audience that has lost faith in his government. His profile has suffered.
To some people, Jonathan is a second-rate president who should not have been elected. He needs to change his style of leadership and at the same time craft new policies designed to move the nation forward. So far, everything just seems to be falling out of alignment. Look at the way terrorists have been striking very close to the centre of government and the heart of the highest levels of security apparatus in the country, including military institutions that ought to be impregnable to terrorists.
Is Jonathan an unlucky president or is he a man weighed down by the misfortunes of governing at a time of rising insecurity and growing public demands on national leaders? Jonathan must understand that he has not impressed Nigerian people with his slow pace of government, and his inability to identify, stick to and work on key issues that should impact positively on the lives of the people. Jonathan has received major knocks because he has paid lip service to the fight against corruption, because he has failed to move beyond rhetoric in his campaign to deal with the much troubled and intractable power sector, and because of his inability to resurrect deteriorating infrastructure, to mention just a few.
I would also argue that Jonathan has been undermined by his own uninspiring leadership style, his failure to demonstrate accountability and transparency in government business, his refusal to drop from his cabinet unproductive ministers, the lack of solution to the escalating state of insecurity across the country, and the general feeling in the public that the government talks more but achieves little or nothing. Everywhere you go, you will find that people are disillusioned. They wonder whether they have a government. The situation is so bad. Perhaps the coming Christmas and New Year holidays will offer Jonathan a valuable opportunity to reflect on the misfortunes that have befallen his government.
He should go on a retreat where he would have to reflect on these problems, organise his government better, provide clear direction for his ministers and assistants, and commit to implement more pragmatic programmes designed to improve the lives of ordinary people. By 2015, Jonathan will be judged not by the number of promises he made but by the number of meaningful projects he was able to complete. Jonathan has barely two more years to make a difference and to change the way the public perceives him.
He must think quickly about the legacies he would like to leave behind when he departs the stage in Aso Rock. He must operate beyond the realm of promises and step up to the podium of practical achievements in which the accomplishments of his government would serve as irrevocable evidence of what his government has bequeathed to the Nigerian people. If anyone has been questioning why Jonathan has been unlucky in government or why he and his ministers have continued to attract negative press at home and abroad since he became substantive president after the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it is best to start from his first concrete proposal in office, and on to his unfulfilled promises, including of course his bogus election campaign speeches last year.
Soon after Jonathan settled into his palatial presidential home in Abuja, he proposed a seven-year single tenure for the president and state governors. That was clearly a misplacement of priority by a president who clearly ought to understand that Nigerians want the government to assist them to improve their socio-economic conditions. Jonathan’s proposal was widely perceived as self-centred. It brought back to everyone memories of Olusegun Obasanjo’s insidious attempt in 2006/2007 to prolong his presidency by covertly seeking to tamper with the constitution that would allow him to stay longer as president. Jonathan’s proposal was vigorously criticised by the Nigerian people. In the end, he was exasperated and he abandoned his pet project. But the damage had already been done.
A president who was elected on the platform of his promises to improve the lives of ordinary people suddenly turned his back on the people with a proposal that had nothing to do with enhancing the welfare of people but more to do with improving the wellbeing and happiness of the president. That first blunder by Jonathan led civil society to question the man’s capacity to appreciate serious issues that ought to attract urgent national attention. Beyond that, Jonathan showed during his election campaign last year that he was very good at manufacturing meaningless promises. For example, in one of his campaign speeches in 2011, Jonathan said: “We will fight for justice, we will fight for all Nigerians to have access to power, we will fight for qualitative and competitive education, we will fight for healthcare reforms…
We will fight to create jobs, for all Nigerians, we will fight corruption, we will fight to protect all citizens. We will fight for your rights.” More than one year since Jonathan was elected president, no one has seen him fight for fairness for the common people. No one has seen Jonathan fight for the underprivileged to access political and economic power. No one has sighted Jonathan fighting for university and secondary school students to have access to quality education. No one has observed Jonathan fighting for public access to improved healthcare. More tellingly, Jonathan’s promises to create jobs, fight corruption and protect the citizens were just as lame as the man who rolled out those pledges.
That’s Jonathan for you, the man with unpretentious upbringing. Jonathan also told the audience last year at the heat of the election campaign: “I discovered that by sheer willpower, I could end the long queues and price fluctuations in our petrol stations. Today, all our refineries are working, saving us huge amounts of funds spent on importation of petroleum products.” Jonathan has been in government for nearly 20 months and Nigerians are still experiencing long queues at petrol stations. Jonathan said that all the refineries were working.
Well, if that were to be the case, no one would be queuing for hours and days at petrol stations. No one would be buying petroleum products at cut-throat prices, well above the subsidised prices. It is safe to say that Jonathan has a track record of making dubious promises. That is a fact. As Vice-President and also as chairperson of the presidential steering council of the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP), Jonathan promised Nigerians on 16 March 2009 that, within 15 months, they would have stable supply of electricity.
More than three years since that promise, the power sector has remained problematic for consumers. Jonathan’s awkward profile has not been helped by conflicting statements on national issues issued by himself and his aides. Here are some specific instances that have exposed Jonathan to public ridicule. During Jonathan’s last media chat on Sunday, 18 November 2012, he denied that the government had entered into negotiations with Boko Haram to end the bloodshed and bomb explosions.
He said the government could not negotiate with an organisation that lacked an identifiable public face. However, one of his special advisers had told the nation weeks before the media chat that the government had started small scale negotiations with Boko Haram. Whose version should we believe? Additionally, Jonathan said during the media chat that his government had not revoked the electricity contract awarded to Manitoba, a Canadian company. But, days before the media address, Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, was widely reported by newspapers to have said that the contract had been cancelled.
The newspaper reports were neither denied nor refuted by Abati and the Presidency. Again, whose account is correct? Perhaps the most embarrassing case of inconsistency emerged when the President’s wife, Mrs Patience Jonathan, travelled overseas secretly for medical treatment. Not only did the presidential spokespersons mishandle media reports concerning the health of Mrs Jonathan, they also misled the public in a deliberate manner.
Despite the secrecy surrounding Mrs Jonathan’s medical trip, the Presidency spared no expenses to stage a boisterous public reception for a woman whom we were informed had travelled overseas for a well-deserved rest. These inconsistencies and blunders have done incalculable damage to the image of Jonathan and his government.