Late last week BBC News announced that the President, Goodluck Jonathan would finally visit Chibok, the scene of a colossal and ongoing national heartbreak, before jetting off to Paris for a conference. A few hours later, NBC News in America reported that Jonathan has cancelled the visit. Something was murmured about security fears. Everything became muddled.
In the end, predictably, Jonathan did what he has always done: he bottled it.
Ordinarily, as father of the nation, the President’s visit would have had a reassuring and calming effect on the people of Chibok – especially those parents whose daughters are still missing. A presidential visit would have helped steady the nerves, it would have given everyone a shot in the arm, it would have helped wipe away some of the bitter tears, it would have encouraged people that the government is on their side and that they are not groping aimlessly alone, and it would have directly connected the government to the people in a very personal way. But here we are; over 200 young girls were abducted on the night of April 14th, and, more than a month later, foreign news media are the ones telling us about our President’s indecisive peek-a-boo.
What a President! What a leader!
Just breaks your heart, doesn’t it? And this is the pattern, I’m afraid. This is what’s been our lot for four years. Nigerians are people of goodwill; we just need an active and dynamic-enough President to unite behind. Unfortunately, and despite a majority fervently wishing him to do well, Jonathan has persistently dropped the ball.
Government officials rarely resign here. They know the score. Jonathan is only forced to let go of one or two long after the horse has bolted the stable; after much dithering and public hand-wringing. Before the Chibok abduction, the nation had just gone through another tragedy – one solely engineered by the Minister for Interior, Abba Moro.
For our collective memory upgrade: Mr Moro arbitrarily and single-handedly handpicked a private recruiting firm to recruit job-seekers into the Immigration Service. The number of jobs available is 4,000. About 900,000 people applied at N1,000 per application. Nearly N1 billion was raised. Unbelievably, the contract that Mr Moro signed with the recruitment firm stipulated under clause 2.17 that, “The Ministry shall be responsible for the actual conduct of the examination, interview and selection.” So this means that the private firm is only responsible for selling application forms.
It was only a few days to the March 15 2014 examination date that the Interior Ministry suddenly discovered that they are responsible for conducting the exams, interviews and the selection of candidates. Naturally, Moro dumped the palaver in the laps of the officials of the ministry. The officials rushed off to the private recruitment firm. The firm politely referred the officials to clause 2.17.
With panic setting in, the Interior Ministry decided to scout around for donations. They calculated that at least N201 million was required. Again, Moro’s officials approached the recruitment firm who had pocketed nearly N1 billion. In a fit of generosity, the firm donated N45 million. Only God and a few privileged angels know how much else the ministry was able to raise.
With lack of preparation and severe lack of funds, the nationwide debacle of March 15th was inevitable. Unfortunately, nineteen people lost their lives, including a couple of pregnant young women.
When news of this disaster got to Comrade Moro he immediately blamed the stampede and deaths on the job-seekers. He said the issue of his resignation “did not arise” and that “those in the crowd should have been more patient.” Today, in spite of all of that, Moro is still the Minister for Interior of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I don’t even know if Jonathan set up one of his now customary Committees to look into the matter until perhaps the next century.
This is how it’s been going under Jonathan’s watch. The fact that nobody set up a Twitter account or that heads of governments and their spouses are not holding up signs protesting against Moro meant Jonathan never even twitched out of his normal inactive zone to even want to do something.
The same thing happened during the Stella Oduah’s bullet-proof BMWs corruption-fest. Jonathan’s initial inclination was to protect an ally whose hand was caught deep inside the cookie jar. Ditto with Lamido Sanusi. Sanusi managed the Central Bank like a personal fiefdom. When the erstwhile CBN Governor wasn’t doling out money everywhere like it was his, he lustily propagated his extremist, ultra religious, divisive views. But all of that never bothered Jonathan. It was only when Sanusi branched out and started to reveal how Nigeria’s oil money was growing wings and taking flight by the billions that Jonathan finally shoved Sanusi inelegantly out through the exit.
Joseph Mbu nkọ? The list is long. When government officials are accused of high corruption or wrong-doing, those officials know that, at worst, they have plenty of time to perfect their alibi. Jonathan usually does nothing – even after his citizens have shouted themselves hoarse. His standard approach is to hunker down and hope that the matter would go away or resolve itself through divine intervention. The President has perfected the art of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory by his general idleness and seemingly indifferent attitude to governance. By the time he is compelled into doing something, it is usually too late, more damage has been done, everyone has lost interest and his reputation as inert is reinforced.
Just a few days ago, in far away America, Hillary Clinton called it “dereliction of duty.” The Americans complained that Jonathan’s response has been “too slow.” They couldn’t understand why several weeks on, Jonathan merely ordered his military chiefs to get the abducted girls and went back to business as usual – aka, back to sleep.
Simply bleating ad nauseam about ‘transformation’ is not it. A leader must let his people feel his passion. A leader has got to let his people know that he’s got their back. Sadly, we don’t feel that with Jonathan. We appear to be lumbered with a Presidency without bite. It is one Committee after another. Either that or we get another statement pressed together by brother Abati. That doesn’t do it for us anymore. It only highlights a lack of dynamism, and citizens are forced to wonder whether they are truly on their own.
And so 19 people dead, nearly N1 billion gone, Mr Moro is still in office as Minister. It was only after the recruitment tragedy that it emerged that though 4,000 jobs were advertised, only 484 spots or so were actually available to the applicants. More than 3,500 slots have been divvied-up and shared out to the usual suspects – you know, Governors, Legislators, Ministers, Directors and other Party big and small wigs. Mr Moro is of course a lucky chap; he has Dr Jonathan as Guardian.