I have in the past confessed my personal likeness of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan but let me emphasize here that this natural likeness cannot be linked to his claims of being ‘Igbo’ by virtue of his ‘Ebele’ or ‘Azikiwe’ names or heditor @ newnigerianpolitics.com is hailing from the south-south. No! It has to do more with his fairly poor background, his humility, his familiarity with poverty as a child and his simplicity. A hard look at him throws back a seeming reality of a gentleman and a patriot. His looks reveal a well-bred compassionate man who cannot afford to hurt a fly let alone kill anyone for political reasons.
I had thought of him as an enlightened man who ordinarily would change the face of governance in Nigeria, transform Nigeria for good by the force of personal character and personal example. Before now we have had to deal with military ‘Zombie’ Generals who simply bulldozed their way to power by force of arms and embezzled billions of Naira and retired to their local ‘palaces’. Nigeria, since flag independence in 1960, has never had it so good with leaders, she is very unlucky indeed by the breed of rulers it has been ‘cursed’ with!
President Jonathan had said in the recent past that people criticizing him for being slow and inactive should not expect any change in style soon since he was neither a General, a Pharaoh nor a Herod to rule dictatorially. But the way and manner he went about ordering the withdrawal of the so-called fuel subsidy as a new year gift to Nigerians suggested he possessed the ruthless lion’s heart akin to one of a smooth dictator. Famous dictators around the world acted with lesser ferocity and recklessness.
No military General in Nigeria (IBB, Abacha, OBJ) had summoned enough courage to do what he has just done fearing a mass revolt that could topple their despotic regimes. For fear of igniting a nationwide strike actions and protests that could paralyse the country and engender another ‘coup’ they left the decision for another day even though they all toyed with the idea of ‘deregulation of the oil sector’. If Gen. Babangida could not do anything with billions of dollars his illegitimate regime got from the Gulf war oil windfall and Obasanjo frittered away billions of dollars for the NIPP scheme then one wonders how any sane mind should expect any miracle from the billions to be realised from the fuel subsidy withdrawal.
Those who knew then and still know today are telling us that fuel subsidy is a fraud since none is in existence; they argued that the correct price of a refined crude ought to be reduced to 39 or 40 Naira! But the Jonathan economic think-tank are saying otherwise quoting trillions of Naira thrown into subsidizing fuel and indicting the government indirectly for its inability to crush the very rich cabal milking the petroleum sector for so long unchallenged. Aso Rock cannot pretend not to know them; it is baffling why they are above the law as it were.
One cannot stop wondering why the priorities of President Jonathan included the fuel subsidy removal and one 7-year presidential term rather than fixing the critical power sector and the dilapidated federal roads and the academic challenge posed by ASUU and the low standard of education generally in Nigeria. And above all the Boko Haram menace and generalised security challenges across the country. The priorities are wrong because the President is ill-prepared for the presidential challenge thrown his way by the Yar’Adua sudden demise. He is overwhelmed by the high office like the Shagaris before him.
But apart from the fact that the Jonathan administration is uninspiring and programme-empty the man gives the impression of not controlling or commanding anything; he seems to be at the mercy of economic ‘experts’ surrounding him: the Okonjo-Iwealas, the Sanusi Lamidos, the Alison-Maduekes et al. He is indeed a president in economic chains! And that is where the issue lies: the shy President knows little or nothing about economic matters hence his ‘imprisonment’ by economic forces whose real motives are suspect.
Few friends I had spoken to concerning the subsidy removal decried the timing and strategy deployed by the GEJ administration though they are in support of the measure. One angrily asked me how much Ragolis water is sold in Nigeria compared to the price of a litre of fuel but when I fired back that the bottled mineral water is not meant for the poor but for the elite he ate his words. And the other argued that the fuel subsidy politics has been played for decades so postponing the ‘evil’ day cannot be said to be a good idea but he recognised that the President ought to have put in place some palliative measures to cushion the effects of the removal before contemplating doing so abruptly.
As the organized labour goes expectedly on the offensive in defense of the defenseless Nigerians something must give, the mobilisation is deafening and intimidating enough because the cause is just and right. Jonathan has two clear options and none is in his favour: he either capitulates and brings down the fuel price to its original price of 65 Naira or digs in refusing to do so and damning the consequencies. In each case his presidency will be damaged. Alienating his government from the people that voted it in by sticking to his decision or coming down in deference to the unleashed anarchy in the land will define or re-define his presidency for good or for bad.
In this battle for the soul of the nation power must return to the people who owns it; President Jonathan must back down and reverse himself on this callous anti-people policy that has already started biting hard. The will of the people must prevail in this case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. Perhaps this is how the Almighty is coming to the rescue of the long-suffering Nigerians energizing them and giving them the required determination to defeat the enemies within. I salute the courage and steadfastness of the various labour organizations, they must forge a common front and remain united resisting and exposing any subterfuge by the desperate federal government to break their ranks.
Why, by the way, are the Igbo-speaking states not involved in the nationwide spontaneous protests that greeted the obnoxious fuel subsidy removal? It is understandable why the south-south states like Rivers and Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River could not participate in the protests because their ‘brother’ is in power. But one cannot understand why the eastern states shied away from adding their ‘voices’ of discontent to the sweeping move that would have a definite knock-on effect on the prices of everything: housing, foodstuffs, school fees, transportation, etc.
But come to think of it even in the best of times petrol has never been sold for 65 Naira a litre in the east especially during the festive seasons. In my hometown I bought fuel during an Xmas holiday few years back for 120 Naira a litre so people might think that there is no much difference now but it remains to be seen if the price regime will be respected in the eastern states. Remaining on the sidelines and keeping mum when the west and north were boiling exposed the Igbos as a people never interested in any genuine struggle for national popular emancipation.
Before President Jonathan is ‘overthrown’ by a mass revolt (as seen in the Arab Spring of last year) he should count how many pairs of shoes he has been able to buy now compared to his early childhood days when he had none to call his own. He should think deeply about what would have been had he refused to listen to the economic hawks that hold him hostage; he should ruminate about life in rural Otueke in Bayelsa state where he would retire as an ex-president who was swept out of power by an unpopular insensitive decision that backfired. He would have ample time, upon that circumstance likely producing itself, to reflect over how fifth columnists and saboteurs within set him up and ‘sold’ him out for some filthy lucre.
The already highl
ighted issues of high-wire corruption bedeviling the petroleum sector ought to have been looked into dispassionately before doing collective damage to our humanity on a new year day. The legality of the decision is there and the fraudulent way the whole issue was imposed brought back memories of the IBB fraud in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We leave that aspect to legal luminaries and the National Assembly to tackle. The House of Representatives have already taken the initiative by saying a resounding ‘No’ to the subsidy ‘bombshell’. We await the Senate’s position even though David Mark is not a democrat.
If huge salaries and emoluments of government functionaries are cut, foreign trips curtailed, corruption loopholes plugged in government establishment then we may not need the removal of any subsidy as what would be realised will by far surpass the trillions fuel subsidy removal will generate. If thousands of ‘ghost’ workers in the system are unmasked, if the general cost of governance is reduced then subsidy will not be a major problem to contend with, without which the economy will allegedly collapse.
President Jonathan has suddenly woken up from his presidential slumber and struck unimaginatively. His efficiency cannot be measured by history for his ability to inflict pains on his subjects. Rather his capacity to entrench the rule of law, fight corruption with passion and empower the people economically will be the hallmarks with which his administration will be judged by posterity and fondly remembered. Tinkering with the pump price regime cannot be said to be a great decision. And he is bound to come to terms with the outrage of his compatriots, most of whom voted for him with little or no sympathy for the PDP.
In any case I wish Goodluck ‘bad’ luck this time! The abused people of Nigeria have my full support as they go about enacting the social revolution that will change Nigeria for good. Good luck to us all!!