The trouble with presidential remarks
Judging from his prefatory remarks on the subsidy removal issue to the 17th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES 17) holding in
, President Goodluck Jonathan seems to think he is on the verge of an historic right. Because he often confuses the office of the president with the destiny of the country, like virtually all his predecessors, he also gave the impression at the summit that if we failed to support the timely measure, the country would be doomed sometime in the future to depending on poorer nations like Chad and Ghana for its fuel needs. However, in contradistinction to his lofty projections, many of us think Jonathan is actually not poised on the verge of an historic right, but on the verge of an historic wrong. Abuja
The president was unsparing in his criticisms, particularly during the Presidential Dialogue with Global CEOs, scoffing when he had superior argument, or misrepresenting when his mind wandered obligingly towards his old nemesis, Gen Muhammadu Buhari. For most parts, however, the president simply gave an incredibly optimistic portrayal of the Nigerian economy and how it runs. He has been accustomed to painting fanciful pictures of the interrelationships between leadership and followers since he became a visible politician, but on this day with the CEOs he soared higher with great abandonment about the economy till we were no longer sure whether he was talking economics, politics or psychology.
There was the little coruscant about foreign investors regretting their failure to invest in
on account of terrorism, but otherwise, Jonathan’s remarks were indeed blasé. Perhaps we spied a wit here and there struggling for space in his talk; and some fury and hyperbole ventilated like molten magma in other parts. Beyond these, there was nothing really extraordinary. As usual, there was no philosophical or ideological stirring, and no nugget or pearl to warm the cockles of the heart. Nigeria
The occasion was magnificently present alright, what with global leaders in business as his audience, and the panjandra of economics in attendance from all nooks and corners in
. They needed a peculiar message, one suited for the cortex, not the midriff; one that was grand, not middling. But they got a message meant for a different occasion. Jonathan was not only resolute in removing subsidy, which he was ready to swear would usher in the Nigeria of his utopian dream, he described his critics as Janus-faced. In summary, his opinion that critics of fuel subsidy removal were hypocritical and subversive offered us a disconcerting window into his worldview, particularly what he thought of democracy. Nigeria
This column will resist the temptation to take on Jonathan’s ideas on politics and law today. I suspect that by now he is already wearied by our criticisms, most of which he puts down to the antics of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a party he and his fawning aides claim suborns many of us columnists into its partisan plans against the state. If he is wearied by our criticisms, he is not alone. We are also wearied by his relentless offer of errant public policies, policies that apparently always shunned rigorous thinking and debate, or even research, reflection and discipline. As I said in this place shortly before Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assumed office as the czarina of the government’s economic management, Jonathan is at liberty to surrender the economy to the World Bank guru and alumnus, but he is definitely not at liberty to foreclose discussions on a subject that makes him uneasy.
Some of Jonathan’s statements at NES 17 were truly shocking. It is not clear where he got the precedent, but he even attempted to draw a line between economics and politics by denouncing what he interpreted as the politicisation of the subsidy issue. Notwithstanding Jonathan’s rather unresponsive approach to governance, particularly his attempt to make Okonjo-Iweala primus inter pares among his ministers, I am not sure we can find any analyst anywhere who would argue for the separation of politics from economics. Before the president claims we misunderstood him, we must let him know that we understood the two senses in which he looked at the opposition to subsidy removal.
In one breath, it is possible the president thinks the opposition is informed by the desire to bring his government to grief. Said he: “Unfortunately, here, people play politics with all things. Now even those who were arguing for the removal of subsidy before are now speaking from both sides of the mouth. Now they want to bring the government down.” This conclusion is of course both far-fetched and embarrassing, but it did not deter the president from reaching for his enemies, for often when his passion is inflamed, he speaks with idiosyncratic boyishness.
But it is also possible that the president believes subsidy removal critics merely want to score cheap political points, to callously destroy a policy designed to lift
to great heights. Whether he sees crass politicking or subversion in his opponents’ criticisms or not, the president is still wrong on both counts to feel incommoded by the vehemence of the opposition. Was he not rather naïve to think a policy as far-reaching as subsidy removal would be passed by lawmakers or accepted without debate or opposition, no matter how rancorous? Even if he has made up his mind to drink hemlock, it is embarrassing that the president was not expecting passionate opposition. Sometimes, I suspect that Jonathan has a romantic or military or even monarchical view of government, all views that welcome the beguiling benefits of office without a corresponding acceptance of all its onerous responsibilities, views that allow all forms of enjoyments unmitigated by the gravity and complexity of ruling 167 million people. Nigeria
Not only is there nothing like economics without politics, even the most incompetent president anywhere must expect that his opponents will attempt to trash his good policies, let alone the abhorrent policy of removing a subsidy no one has yet convinced us truly exists. Rather than offer us convincing facts and figures, government propaganda on the subsidy issue has relied on sentiments, name-calling and scaremongering resting on leprous, contrived statistics. At a point, Jonathan tried to confer dubious honours on Gen Muhammadu Buhari as a proponent of subsidy removal. The laconic general has denounced the effort and dismissed subsidy as a phantom.
But whether the president appreciates the politics and economics of fuel subsidy or not, he no longer seems enthusiastic about removing the so-called subsidy by January. The reason is not that he has changed his mind, or that he is suddenly persuaded to love it. The reason is that when the president compartmentalised the issue of subsidy into economics and politics, it was easier to handle. Now that Nigerians have shown the two to be intertwined, the president has lost a bit of his appetite. Worse, given the sordid revelations coming from the fuel subsidy probes in both chambers of the National Assembly, particularly the obvious fact that a few ‘fat cats’ had conspired to suck inordinate amount of money from the national treasury on account of the subsidy, everyone is beginning to see that Buhari and Professor Tam David-West might be right after all that the so-called subsidy is nothing but fantasy. Who will set Jonathan free from mistaken belief?
of Jonathan’s discussions with the CEOs is his conviction that the menace of Boko Haram is a temporary setback. I forgive the president’s starry-eyed view of economics, knowing full well that right from his acting presidency days he has never been enamoured of economics. It is a subject that makes him squirm. But to say Boko Haram is a temporary setback stretches credulity to the limit. Boko Haram is in fact a major problem, not a setback or a temporary phenomenon. high point
Religious extremism in
is a logical progression from decades of treating religious violence with kid gloves. Years of rampage and killings by fanatics, especially in the northern parts of the country, rarely led to prosecution, not to talk of punishment. There was little official deterrence; indeed, there appeared to be only official connivance. When religion was fully introduced into politics in Nigeria , the Olusegun Obasanjo government described it as a temporary fad that would soon go away. Most Nigerian governments have been remarkably and irresponsibly insouciant about religious violence, the Jonathan government not excluded. Do we not recall Jonathan’s handwringing over Boko Haram, whether to fight or negotiate with it? And where has that disgraceful hesitation led us? Zamfara State
Jonathan may enjoy taking refuge behind the porous walls of global terrorism, but in the name of God, all right-thinking Nigerians must recognise that if our governments had not been negligent over the years in doing what is right, we would probably be immune from the deadly impact of the bloodletting we are witnessing today. That others are suffering does not mean we must suffer.
Subsidy removal subsidises unworkable 36-state structure
T is peculiarly Nigerian that with global economy teetering on the verge of deeper recession, and much stronger economies collapsing under debts, lobbyists here are still pressing on with their campaign for additional states. Recall, for instance, how our large and incongruous delegation to the last Commonwealth meeting in Australia produced great mirth for some newspapers in that country, and how they snickered behind closed doors at our egregious habits that defied economic realities. But now the same astonished world will be even more amused that the campaign for new states, with all its cost implications, seems to be receiving sympathetic hearing in high places, including our National Assembly.
I know that the seriousness of running a large, poor and unstable country escapes us. This probably explains why federal and state governments irresponsibly decided that rather than review the structure of our country, the best option is to look for more money to run the clumsy, clay-footed giant. To them, the solution is to remove what they identify as subsidy on petroleum products. Surely, there must be a limit to imprudence.
Apart from calculating the subsidy to be over a trillion naira, officials irresponsibly concluded that if that money went into government coffers rather than the pockets of nameless fat cats, we would move closer to utopia. The ongoing probes in the National Assembly, however, show that while consumption of fuel has stagnated, the cost of subsidy has more than quadrupled, far in excess of budgetary provisions. Worse, they are also discovering that in the labyrinth that is public accounts, some of our oil receipts were converted at a rate below approved Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) exchange rates before being paid into the federation account. The disclosures are so disturbing that an embarrassed federal government has eased up on its campaign for subsidy removal and pushed back the date of implementing the obnoxious policy.
If we had leaders who think deep, they would explore other options of raising money to run the country. The first question they would ask is whether we were running the country as efficiently as possible, even in this age of disingenuous outsourcing. The second step would be to look at the economies of countries selling petrol at higher prices and compare our economy with their standard of living, minimum wage, and the protection they afford citizens left in the cold?
It is annoying that at a time when the world is in the throes of revolutions, when the world is in ferment and is primed for upheavals,Jonathan may have been legitimately elected, but he must see his victory more as a rejection of other candidates or what they stood for than an endorsement of his competence or what he stands for. By refusing to summon the will to restructure the country, he makes his supporters and neutrals look foolish. Worse, he is now even pushing the country to the precipice and blaming the problem on his enemies
’s bungling rulers have chosen the moment to sail near the wind. Why is it so difficult for them to recognise that all they need is the political will to restructure the country away from this unworkable and deceptively federal arrangement? What we need are compact regions run by premiers, and a truly federal and secular arrangement that does not disregard cultural and regional differences. Nigeria