President Goodluck Jonathan’s address to Nigerians on the occasion of the nation’s 52nd Independence anniversary attracted widespread reactions across the country. The facts and substance of the message have continued to resonate long after the anniversary activities were concluded. The myriad challenges facing his administration and the efforts to solve them constitute the heart of the message.
Among the challenges the President amply recognised in his address are the persistent insecurity in the land, the deluge of floods ravaging many states of the country, corruption and the economy, all of which he said his administration had been working assiduously to tackle. He, nevertheless, claimed progress in the economic sector, as well as in the fight against corruption. He reeled off gains in the economic sector, among them, a claim that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen to over 7 percent, with N6.8 trillion in both local and foreign direct investment commitments.
This, he said, has likely made Nigeria the “preferred investment destination in Africa.” On security, Jonathan gave his administration a pass mark, adding that the government has been in constant consultation and collaboration with neighbouring countries and other friendly nations to check insecurity. The government’s fight against corruption, he said, resulted in the decision of the anti-graft watchdog – Transparency International (TI) – to rate Nigeria as the “second most improved country” in the fight against corruption, a step behind the United States.
This claim has since generated controversy, with the authorities of Transparency International denying that they ever gave Nigeria such endorsement. Earlier, at an interdenominational church service in Abuja to herald the anniversary, the President reportedly said Nigeria’s problems required divine solution. He called for a year-long national prayer and solicited the participation of every citizen. We empathise with the President in his daunting task of leading Nigeria out of the present troubling times. It is, however, regrettable that after 15 months in the saddle as president, Dr. Jonathan is still struggling to communicate to Nigerians the new direction he is trying to chart for the nation.
He ought to have gone beyond this to the stage where the people can clearly see where the nation is headed. Instead, it appears that the president is still learning the ropes of governance. His independence speech evidently mirrors seeming helplessness and lack of preparedness to take personal responsibility for the problems facing the country. His unsure steps are not reassuring.
There is no doubt that the task of leading a country as large and complex as Nigeria could be challenging. But, anniversaries such as the one we celebrated last week give presidents opportunities to renew their vision and pact with the people. We think the president largely squandered this opportunity. His anniversary broadcast was rather vacuous, and poorly written and delivered. It was clearly lacking in inspiration, especially for those who looked up to the president to inspire the citizenry towards achievement of our national aspirations.
The president was also unfortunately misled by his aides on some of the “achievements” he claimed. Occasions such as independence anniversaries should be epoch-making in a nation’s history. It ought to be a window into the stuff that a leader is made of. Such occasion provides a rare moment for deep reflection on the nation’s journey since independence and how the leadership intends to address the problems that have made the people despondent, and instill hope in them for the future. Such hope can only be based on a sure foundation that the people have seen, not promises.
On all accounts, the president’s speech did not meet these expectations. The attempt by the president to elevate spirituality to state policy with a call for a prayer programme on the occasion of the anniversary is also out of place. Undoubtedly, prayer is very significant in the affairs of mankind, but prayer without doing the right thing will not build a great country.
Genuine commitment to action that will improve the wellbeing of the people and the development of the country is very important. It is beyond doubt that the nation is in a state of paralysis right now, and insecurity of life and property has reached its most frightening level. Promises to tame the menace have not yielded concrete results. Neither has corruption abated. But, we believe that all hope is not lost. The president must inspire himself, first, and make a clean break from the past. He should think outside the box, take bold decisions and implement them.