Need to respect the President’s office

By Uzochukwu Okafor   |   14 January 2015   |   11:00 pm  

I HAVE been thinking seriously on why President Goodluck  Jonathan is constantly being derided and abused by a few but vociferous individuals. The most recent being that emanating from President Obasanjo’s latest book.  But what now propelled me into contributing to this debate is the article written by Mr. Nnimmo Bassey , who I have very high regard for since our student days at the University of Nigeria Enugu campus. 

   In that article captioned “A clueless president,” he stated how an African friend he had not seen in years asked him about his foolish and clueless President.

   This demonstrates the need for us to remain decorous even in instances of very sharp disagreements. Quite often, Nigerians complain of disrespectful treatments at the airports by immigration and customs officials. There is a saying in Igbo land to the effect that when you describe your cooking pot as useless, people will treat it as rubbish. We Nigerians have often not been mindful of the damage we do to our country and ourselves when we denigrate our institutions and our leaders in a careless and reckless manner. It is even more so when such recklessness comes from a former president who should be more thoughtful and circumspect in his utterances and writings. 

  As we approach the 2015 presidential election, the denigration of the office of the president is being escalated. The launch of the book, My Watch, by former President, Obasanjo (OBJ) was seen in this light by many commentators. The opposition party, the APC is also determined to do maximum damage to President Jonathan and the office of the President.  The utterances from its leadership need a lot of moderation and scrubbing. They have also at various times described the President as clueless and one who runs an auto pilot government.

  The radical changes promised by President Jonathan during his campaign were captured in the Transformation Agenda document. Programmes identified in this document will be used to evaluate the government of President Jonathan to see if his government can be described as clueless and running on auto pilot.

   An important barometer of a viable democracy is the sanctity of the voter’s wish. When late President Umaru  Yar’Adua took office, he acknowledged that his election was largely flawed and vowed to clean up the electoral process. President Jonathan who succeeded him has not disappointed in this regard. It is to his credit that subsequent elections have been largely declared as free and fair by international observers.

  Another important index and benefit of democracy is the freedom of expression, freedom of association and statutorily guaranteed access to information. Under President Jonathan, freedom of speech has remained unencumbered in spite of some unwarranted abuses his government has suffered. President Jonathan remains to date the most demonized, abused and derided President Nigeria has ever had. But it is to his credit that he has never used the security apparatus at his disposal to persecute any one. One can also acknowledge that he signed the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill into law, a bill that the previous governments avoided for years.

  Under President Jonathan, the power sector has witnessed the privatization of the generation and distribution companies. If international and local assessments of this process are anything to go by, the bidding process has been mostly transparent. With this process concluded, one can anticipate an irreversible process in achieving stable power supply in no distant future, the same way the telecommunication sector benefitted from privatization.

  The rehabilitation of the railway system deserves special mention. This important means of transportation has been unfortunately ignored by previous governments. The progress being made in this sector in reopening the railway links to the major cities in Nigeria is commendable. This is being complemented with the dredging of the lower River Niger. We also take particular note of the ongoing construction of the new bridge over the River Benue and the commencement of work on the Second Niger Bridge.

  The aviation sector is another area that has witnessed significant transformation. The modernizations of the existing airports and construction of new airport terminals have improved the standing of Nigerian airports within the international aviation community. It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria has attained and retained the FAA Category One status.

   The launching of the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), and the National Enterprise Development Programme has led to the resuscitation of Nigeria automobile industry. Nigeria has moved from a net importer of cement to a net exporter of cement by increasing installed capacity from 16.5 million metric tonnes per annum in 2011 to 39.5 million metric tonnes per annum in 2014.

   The transformation agenda of the President, if implemented faithfully, will no doubt significantly improve Nigeria’s economy. But we must be mindful of the fact that its impact and success rests on tackling the monster of corruption. One therefore, cannot fairly evaluate this administration without assessing its approach to addressing the issue of corruption.

   Although Nigeria has improved slightly with respect to the perception index of Transparency International, perception of corruption in Nigeria is still high. While there is often a mismatch between perception and reality, one cannot ignore perception. The truth is that the President needs to demonstrate that his Government abhors corruption. While I agree with the President that dealing with corruption is not about parading people on the television but devising creative and systematic means of addressing it, there is still need to combine the long-term measure of the President with some short-term prescriptions.

   One short-term measure could be initiating an executive bill to set up tribunals dedicated to trying cases of corruption. These tribunals should be presided over by credible retired judges. The EFCC has often complained about their frustration with the process at the existing courts. The conviction of Governor James Ibori at the UK Court vis-a-vis the merry go round experienced in the same case in Nigeria is a case in point.

  Having stated the issues above, it will be germane to acknowledge what this administration has already done to tackle corruption at its roots. These include the restructuring of the pension payment system, the restructuring of the integrated salary payment system, and the deregulation in the oil and gas sector to check corrupt practices in the downstream sector. The disappearance of perennial queues at our filling stations is one testimony to the success of the creative approach to stemming endemic corruption in the oil sector.

  Signing of the Anti-Money Laundering Act into law, introduction of an electronic-wallet scheme, that has reduced significantly decades of corruption in the fertilizer and seed sectors are also very creative.

  It is important to note that the policies and programmes of the President are in sync with his transformation agenda, which was the basis of his election in 2011.

  In conclusion, I would leave it to the reader to determine if a government that started with a transformation agenda hinged on Vision 2020 and further developed National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), and the National Enterprise Development Programme upon which the various programmes are being executed is running an auto piloted and clueless administration.

• Okafor is Surveyor-General of Namibia e:mail: uzo31@yahoo.com



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