Publication: ‘Why Goodluck Jonathan Lost the Nigerian Presidential Election of 2015’

Our publication (with colleague Dr Olly Owen) in the July edition of the journal, African Affairs is out. We wrote a brief on the Nigerian presidential election in March 2015, assessing why the election was exceptional in many respects, why many previous predictions including ours of a runoff or an outright Jonathan/PDP victory did not come to pass, and why and how Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) lost the elections.

An e-version is available on the African Affairs website here:

‘Why Goodluck Jonathan Lost the Nigerian Presidential Election of 2015’Read More »

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Understanding Nigeria’s Historic Elections and Why They’re So Contentious

Photo credit: Washington Post

It is common to hear policy makers, development experts and pundits talk about the need to “build strong institutions” in Africa as the solution to governance challenges without quite understanding what processes building or modifying these “institutions” entail. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their 2012 tour de force, Why Nations Fail, provide a compelling explanation of how extractive or inclusive institutions emerge and determine societies’ political stability and economic prosperity. Their retrospective analysis shows how we are often unaware of this institutional change as it occurs. In Nigeria, the cloud of uncertainty around its forthcoming elections on 28 March is indicative of a process whose outcome will fundamentally alter its political system with implications for the rest of the African continent.Read More »

Reflections on the ‘Historic’ and Disturbing Letter by Obasanjo

President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Photo credit: naija247news.com

Last night, I was distracted from concluding my tribute to Mandela which I started writing a few days ago. This distraction was the lengthy 18-page open letter (PDF) written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan. I took my time to read the letter described as ‘historic’ by Premium Times (which broke the story) in detail. For obvious reasons, this document and its contents have gone viral within the Nigerian online and mainstream media, public discourse and even the international media.

What frightens me deeply about the contents is not the allegations made, but that General Obasanjo (the President’s mentor) made these grave accusations. Disturbingly, the allegations only confirm many rumours that have been going round (most of which I hitherto refused to believe in) such as:

  1. Clannishness and ethnic factionalism in government on the part of the President in favoring his Ijaw kinsmen principally, and his region to the exclusion of other Nigerians;
  2. Deliberate polarisation of Nigerians across a North-South and Muslim-Christian divide to such a level not seen since the Civil War, to further narrow political ambitions;
  3. The President’s tacit support to some of his aggressive kinsmen and known militants who threaten others for disagreeing with him;
  4. Brazen corruption and impunity in government on a scale unrivaled in Nigeria’s post-independence history (the $50 billion unremitted by the NNPC surpasses the $12bn windfall earnings which disappeared under General Babangida. This is just one of numerous cases) — crude oil theft and systematic plunder of the nation’s wealth by powerful people;
  5. Indirect fueling of the Boko Haram insurgency by refusing to take concrete and feasible steps to address it;
  6. Extreme intolerance by the government for any form of dissent by opposition politicians or civil society;
  7. The existence of a clandestine “killer squad of snipers” and a political watch list containing over 1,000 names;

…and many other such allegations.

Where are we heading to in this country!?

Just on Monday this week, we found out about the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter alleging that $50 billion (N8 trillion) went missing under NNPC’s watch between 2012 and 2013. Then on Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives accused the President of encouraging grand corruption. Then on Wednesday, this scathing letter from Obasanjo was published.

All this is barely two months after the corruption scandal involving the President’s close ally, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. Nothing yet has been done about this.

This systematic plunder of our country’s resources and values is perpetuated against the backdrop of monumental crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta and other numerous scandals.

Is this a country we can thump our chests about? What example are we setting for the rest of Africa? Is this the leadership that will create a strong and united country? What future (or lack of) are we building for our offspring?

President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a campaign rally. Photo credit: Y!Naija

True, General Obasanjo is not at all blameless in all this and he is one person whose intentions are always, always, ALWAYS suspect. We vividly recall how his ambition to elongate his tenure beyond the constitutionally mandated two-terms threatened to plunge the country into chaos between 2005 and 2007. Perhaps, as the late Whitney Houston once sung, Jonathan “learnt from the best”.

Yet, given Obasanjo’s close relationship (as a mentor) with President Jonathan, it would be extremely naive and foolish to dismiss these allegations in their entirety.

Say what you want about Obasanjo, but at the very least, his administration established a relatively effective EFCC to fight corruption, established an effective NAFDAC, reformed the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Customs service and many other institutions. Where are all these institutions today? Where is the EFCC today? How many parallel, overlapping, redundant and toothless committees have been set up to do the work that the EFCC has been obstructed from doing?

I ask this question, where are we heading to?

To the Nigerians reading this, put aside your ethnic, religious and regional allegiances briefly and please ask yourself sincerely: ‘Is this the Nigeria I want, is this a country I am proud of’?

The late Madiba, Nelson Mandela expressed his anger at the behaviour of Nigerian leaders. This is a prime epitome of the leadership Mandela was referring to.

One interesting thing to note is that this is a toned down version of the letter. The original version, according to Thisday newspaper was so harsh that former Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida advised Obasanjo to revise it.

“The Need for Ownership of African Problems and Solutions” for (Y! Policy Hub)

The WEF Panel on Derisking Africa. Photo credit: www.weforum.org
The WEF Panel on Derisking Africa featuring Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, South African President Jacob Zuma and President and CEO of International Crisis Group Louise Arbour among others. Photo credit: http://www.weforum.org

 “Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our story.”  Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda

With these words, Paul Kagame did two things simultaneously: he earned a spot in the top-10 memorable quotes from the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) Summit 2013 at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. More importantly, his remark implied that Sub-Saharan Africa today is underscored by a profound failure of African ownership of lingering problems and potential solutions – a failure of an African conceptualisation of these problems and their solutions and consequently a failure of taking responsibility for successes and failures.

Recently, Africa has come under the spotlight as the rising continent of “opportunity” far from its hey days of being the melting pot of “darkness” and “hopelessness”, in the paraphrased words of Joseph Conrad and The Economist. The pockets of high economic growth fuelled by a boom in global commodity prices of which many African countries are merely exporters, and the purchasing power of an elitist “middle class” and of diaspora Africans going-back-home has led to a wave of justified Afro-optimism. More recently, this bubble of optimism has been punctured by those toeing the line of caution, myself inclusive, on the need for more sustainable economic growth, equitable distribution of resources, and institutionalisation of effective governance. The evident polarisation in the discourse on Africa’s fortunes between the optimists and the skeptics is arguably due to the lack of ownership of the African situation today and of the discourse as well.

This variation in this discourse on 21st century Africa was discernible at the WEF where the movers and shakers in global politics, global economy, the academia, entertainment and the International NGO circuit exchanged ideas, visions… and contact details. On the one hand were African leaders such as Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan marketing Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation program to investors; South Africa’s Jacob Zuma with a presently expanding leadership role on the continent speaking about ambitious infrastructural projects and efforts towards greater regional integration to boost intra-continental trade and several CEOs of global firms like Renault and Coca-Cola stressing the vast opportunities for profit-making in Africa.

A more cautious position was adopted by Louise Arbour, President of International Crisis Group while highlighting significant challenges of governance, weak institutions and political and economic exclusion which foster inequitable distribution of resources, create grievances and eventually culminate in conflict, a serious threat to economic prosperity. While Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi adopted a middle ground tone in emphasising that despite significant successes in governance, infrastructure and resource-based industrialisation is needed for Africa to move up the value-chain.

Where does ownership come in within the discourse on Africa’s fortunes? It is precisely due to the lack ofownership that Africa’s story today is varied and that a divergence is apparent between the optimists and the cautious skeptics. This (lack of) ownership means that economic successes across much of the continent are driven by external factors: the boom in global commodity prices on which the economies of many African countries – Nigeria, Botswana and Zambia among others – depend on and the global financial crisis prompting many diaspora Africans to make the strategic move back home and global firms to look for new frontiers of massive profits in modernising African cities and of course, the role of foreign development aid. Africa’s current economic successes can hardly be credited to conscious and deliberate policy by African policy makers, thereby questioning the sustainability of this “success”.

The concept of ownership as identified in this context by President Kagame means African policy makers should take responsibility for problems: poverty, unemployment, inequality, infrastructural deficits, weak institutions and corruption. It means African leaders should take the lead in formulating transformational policies to address these problems: inclusive policies which will close the poverty and inequality gap and address hard infrastructure (such as roads, electricity and security) and soft infrastructure (such as governance, rule of law and regulatory environment) deficits to enable local businesses thrive whilst encouraging foreign investments.

Overall, ownership of problems and solutions should mean that there is a strong link between the actions taken by African governments and resultant successes in addressing these problems, and that such successes are not merely the coincidence of external factors – the boom in oil prices, aid donors or the pinch of the global financial crisis. Effective ownership of problems and solutions means that in a few years, we should be able to quantify the jobs and agri-businesses that sprout from Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation program or a significant bridging of the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots in South Africa. This will be the real test of African success in owning the problems and solutions, and for more sustainable prosperity across the continent.

This piece was originally written for Y!Naija Y!Policy Hub, the Internet newspaper for young Nigerians.

June 2012: Who is “Crushing” Who?

President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Patience Arriving in Seoul, South Korea

March 28th 2012 is one of those memorable days many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. This was the day when reports filtered out that President Goodluck Jonathan had in an interview in far away South Korea, the previous day, confidently assured the international community that Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad commonly referred to as Boko Haram would be contained by June 2012. Of course Boko Haram, not one to let such an opportunity to display its peculiar propensity for viciousness and violence against its perceived “enemies” to pass by, shortly after, did what it does best — carried out deadly attacks at select targets such as Universities and Media Houses along with its usual offensive against churches, police stations, security posts and installations. These attacks so far have persisted and become more fierce and bloody, and the rest as they say is history…

I can vividly remember that afternoon in late March, what I was wearing, and what I was doing when I learnt about President Jonathan’s enthusiastic and optimistic assurance. I cannot recall though, the precise flurry of emotions that coursed through my very being in reaction —  amusement, incredulity, perplexity, exasperation or a mish-mash of all these. I wondered why the President couldn’t have been more tactful in his choice of words knowing well that Boko Haram generally relishes the slightest opportunity to flex its ferocious muscles and it would interpret his statement as some sort of dare. I also dreaded what Boko Haram would do to disprove the President’s statement.

And indeed, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad retorted, first, with a very menacing video clip, vowing to “bring down” and “consume” President Jonathan’s administration and then unleashed a string of attacks against several targets with such astonishing levels of aggression and ferocity, dashing the faintest hopes of anyone who thought the group would be contained within this period. The most recent violent campaign within this month, being the mayhem in Kaduna state – attacks on churches in Wusasa, Sabon Gari and Tirkanniya, the reprisals and the counter reprisals – and the bomb blasts, gun battle and prison break in Damaturu, Yobe state have left hundreds dead in a bloody trail of death and terror. Residents of these cities have been subjected to 24 hour government imposed curfews for the better part of last week, paralyzed in fear and uncertainty. Though the curfews have been somewhat relaxed, the sudden clampdown on movement has had traumatizing effects on residents, has done little to calm frayed nerves in a very tense atmosphere and crippled economic activity in the interim.

As June fast approaches to an end, leaving in its wake, an atmosphere of uncertainty and gloom, it is pertinent to reflect on the President’s statement and consider whether Boko Haram is really being contained, controlled or crushed as the international community was assured way back in March or whether it is Boko Haram which is containing and crushing Nigerians. If the reality on ground is skewed towards the latter scenario, one has to wonder then, why Mr. President made that statement. Was it because he felt that such an assurance was necessary to restore the confidence of (potential) investors in Nigeria’s political and economic viability to absorb their crisp emerging market Dollars, Yuan and Won?

Kabiru Sokoto, alleged master-mind of the 2011 Christmas day bombing at St. Theresa church Madalla, Niger state, Nigeria

Of course as Commander-in-Chief, President Jonathan is privy to classified reports from intelligence agencies and his security advisers. Based on such intelligence reports, he probably felt confident that the noose was tightening fast around Boko Haram and thought it timely to enthusiastically inform the world of such impending victory, at Seoul. Quite possibly, the President felt sufficient information to close in on Boko Haram had been garnered from the scores of suspects apprehended in the past few months, such that security forces were just on the verge of moving in for the kill. Or perhaps President Jonathan’s premature enthusiasm was just one of those one-off statements leaders make, on the prodding of their advisers, as a gamble, with their fingers crossed under the table and toes crossed in their presidential shoes, hoping against all odds that such a statement turns out to be true.

Whatever the reason behind this rather impulsive and premature assurance, it is now evident that the exact opposite came to pass. One could speculate thus, that it is owing to this realization by the President, that he fired his erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Owoye Azazi and the erstwhile Defence Minister Alhaji Haliru Mohammed Bello. This much can be inferred from the reason given by President Jonathan for sacking them in order to “conform to the changing tactics of the Boko Haram insurgency”.

Photo courtesy: Naijanedu.com

Considering how dark and bloody June 2012 has turned out to be contrary to earlier assurances, one truly hopes that the President would be more tactful and selective in his choice of words on such combustible issues, in the near future. This would perhaps depend on the outlook and the new security strategy that would be adopted by the newly appointed NSA and yet to be appointed defence minister. Hopefully again, this bitter and dark lesson learnt would spawn a culture of having regular press conferences which would avail Nigerians of real and actual progress made by security agencies in tackling insecurity in Nigeria at all tiers of government, especially the Federal Government. This should particularly apply to progress made in the arraignment, trial and conviction of key suspects who have so far been apprehended. This is just so that ordinary Nigerians’ fears are allayed and people are more informed about what is quite frankly, a life or death situation for many.

Dana Air Plane Crash: Iconic Images

In the aftermath of the double tragedy of Sunday 3rd June, notably the tragic air mishap of a Dana Air passenger plane which claimed over 160 lives and the Bauchi bomb blast, the whole of Nigeria is terribly saddened and outraged by these unfortunate events. President Goodluck Jonathan visited the crash site yesterday, and was apparently so overwhelmed with emotion that he shed tears. The picture below captured that iconic moment:

President Goodluck Jonathan at the crash site in Lagos, wiping tears away with a handkerchief
President Goodluck Jonathan with Lagos state governor, Babatunde Fashola, at the crash site

Whether you believe the President’s tears indicated a genuine outpouring of grief and empathy or otherwise, this is an iconic picture and is symbolic of the mood of the whole country. But then, as I noted earlier, this plane crash in itself is not unique in terms of the number of casualties or scale of devastation. Rather, it simply drove home the point that there is a needless loss of innocent lives in Nigeria today as a consequence of human (non)action: whether in plane crashes, road accidents, in hospitals, at the hands of criminals and murderers, as victims of bomb blasts, as victims of extrajudicial killings by trigger happy policemen and so on. The picture below, a “munched” (snapshot) of a friend’s Blackberry messenger status update, drives home this point clearly and forcefully, albeit with a touch of humour:

The message which is an instruction of sorts, reads thus:

“How to cross Road in Naija: look left and right for moto (car), look up for aeroplane, down for Bomb then walk zig zag to avoid straight Bullet!”

Its quite hilarious but then it is a sad reminder of the insecurity in the country. Hundreds have died this year alone.

As the plane crash has awakened all Nigerians to the grim reality, let it also be a wake up call to the authorities to be alive to their responsibilities: for regulators across a broad range of sectors to perform their mandated duties and ensure customers and consumers’ lives are not risked on the altar of stupendous profits and for all Nigerians to remain vigilant. So far, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has suspended the license of Dana Air. This is a welcome development and Nigerians await more stringent measures to clean up the sector.  May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

Nigerians Say No To Fuel Subsidy Removal in London!

The mass protests which have greeted fuel subsidy removal by the Nigerian government, in several Nigerian cities in the last few days caught up with the city of London. Several Nigerian student and youth groups decided to express solidarity with fellow Nigerians back home by coordinating a peaceful protest at the Nigerian High Commission known as “Nigeria House” in London, at the request of many UK based Nigerians. After obtaining a permit from the London Metropolitan police for the protest and using the hashtag #OccupyNigeriaLondon, the event was publicised on social media platforms. The permit issued by the Metropolitan police approved only a static protest, meaning that protesters could not march on the streets or to and fro, but could only stand outside the Nigeria House —  actually directly opposite, across the street. Thus the Nigerian High Commission was not technically “occupied”.

 

IMPRESSIVE TURNOUT

Whether it was a consequence of social media use and publicity or just general disenchantment with the state of affairs in Nigeria, the turn out for at the event was incredibly impressive, for a protest abroad. From the records of a protest register/petition signed by most people present, there were well over 400 people there. Nigerians from all walks of life, across different ethnic and religious groups were present there. It was an exhilarating and empowering moment, and at once I forgot the myriad of problems facing my country and felt proud to be a Nigerian. Many passersby, drivers and London tourists on tour buses stared at us (I’d like to think in awe) as we discussed, sang the national anthem, chanted solidarity songs and as people expressed their feelings to private camcorders and to the media. Some of us finally met in person many of our “Facebook friends”, twitter “followers” and “followees” and other people we had only ever heard about, read their articles, blogs or tweets.

 

Signing the Petition

 

SCATHING CRITICISM OF GOVERNMENT

Many protesters did not hesitate in expressing how frustrated they felt about fuel subsidy removal and their general disenchantment with the dearth of good governance, dearth of infrastructure, insecurity, high unemployment, government waste and profligacy and the endemic corruption in Nigeria. Here are a few of such:

 

 

Powerful Speech by Mr. Dele Momodu, media mogul and publisher of high-society magazine Ovation and also former presidential candidate:

 

…SOME DRAMA

What’s a gathering of passionate Nigerians without some drama? First of all, on sighting the Nigerian High Commissioner Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida who apparently had just returned from the mosque, getting out of the car, the crowd went wild! People started booing, yelling and heckling him from across the road. He stared briefly and waved at us but the heckling simply got louder as some really passionate people yelled some pretty unprintable stuff. He finally left shortly after.

Mr. High Commissioner Driving Away

 

Dele Momodu,  who made a “guest appearance” of sorts at the event gave a powerful speech – actually make that several powerful speeches –  and then granted several interviews to the media. This drew the ire of some people who felt he was not only “hugging the spotlight”  and “stealing the show” but that this would probably give an erroneous impression that the whole event was politically motivated and sponsored. Thus some coordinators and members of the crowd were very vocal about their disapproval for his many speeches and interviews and requested that he leave. Since the event is a gathering of Nigerians, who could blame the former presidential candidate for “speaking” his mind… to several media persons?

 

…and then, lo and behold, the state-owned NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) makes a grand appearance. NTA, NTA, NTA!! Where do I even begin!? The complete media blackout it has given to the current mass protests in the country? Or the general blackout towards all relevant national issues that will genuinely inform Nigerians, such as the recent spate of bomb attacks? Or is it the censure of anything that does not put the government in favourable light? Well for these and many other reasons, NTA’s bold entrance was greeted with far louder boos, jeers and heckles.

 

 

INTERESTING PLACARDS

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words:

I am not really sure what this one means:

 

MORE #OCCUPYNIGERIA PROTESTS AROUND THE WORLD?

With the resounding success of the #OccupyNigeria London protest and the fact that the Nigerian government has obstinately refused to reverse its decision on fuel subsidy or even budge, labour Unions NLC and TUC, professional organizations like the NBA, NMA, NANS and other members of the civil society in Nigeria are set to embark on nation-wide strikes next week. Nigerians in other parts of the world are equally mobilizing for their own #OccupyNigeria Wherever protests. An #OccupyNigeria NYC has already been slated for 13th January at Nigeria House in the city of New York, United States. On the same day in Pretoria South Africa, the Nigerian community there also plans to “occupy” the Nigeria House, there. Others are being planned in several cities across the world.

The next few days promise to be incredibly interesting as the tug-o-war seems set to continue between the government and the good people of Nigeria. As both sides firmly hang on to their positions, it remains to be seen who blinks first.

Sallah in a Time of Fear

For anyone who grew up in Northern Nigeria, the Eid-el-Adha/Eid-el-Kabir festival commonly referred to as “Babban Sallah” evokes images of wearing brand new clothes, preparation of hearty meals shared with neighbours (Muslims and Christians alike), exchange of visits between family and friends, going to gardens or parks, and most importantly, the symbolic slaughter of a ram to celebrate and commemorate the near sacrifice by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) of his son, an event similarly recognized by Christians and Jews as well.

This year however, things turned out to be quite different for Nigerians for as many prepared for the Eid amidst rising prices of basic commodities such as food stuff and  transportation fares and as people travelled to their hometowns with their various families, they were met with sad and frightening news of the utterly despicable and violent attacks unleashed by Boko Haram in the two north eastern cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu. The series of (suicide) bomb blasts and gun battles were targeted at Police Stations, Joint Military Task Force (JTF) Headquarters, 6 Churches, a mosque and even a bank. By Sunday, casualty and death toll had climbed to over 150, according to the Red Cross and other official sources.

To say that the country is under siege by Boko Haram would not be farfetched. Bombs and violent assassinations have been going on through-out the year. The fact that Boko Haram seems to be growing stronger and more daring with each passing day is simply a reflection of government’s utter inability and incapacity to restore order and protect innocent citizens. The fact that Boko Haram unleashed this mayhem on the eve of the Islamic festival and celebration robs them of any religious or moral undertone, for Islam clearly does not preach murder and bloodshed. It has reached a time when Nigerians, especially those living in the North are slowly coming to grips with the stark reality that peace and basic freedom which were taken for granted,  and every aspect of normal daily life is suddenly being fundamentally altered. The way the Eid celebration activities were almost grinded to a halt in Maiduguri and Damaturu as residents were forced to stay indoors in fear, is a clear indication of dark clouds looming in the horizon.

It also appears Boko Haram is revelling in this attention it is getting from the naked fear it has driven into people’s hearts. Shortly after it claimed responsibility for the carnage in Damaturu and Maiduguri, it’s spokesperson, Abul-Qaqa stated that more violent attacks should be expected, while the US and even Canadian embassies have issued statements warning their citizens of impending attacks in three major luxury hotels in the FCT, Abuja.

You have to wonder what Boko Haram actually intends to achieve with this bloodbath onslaught.  Would its unreasonable desire for complete Islamization of Nigeria be attained by senseless bloodletting of innocent Nigerians? Or is there a larger political objective, even though no “Abuja” politician has so far been a victim except ordinary, common Nigerians  – Muslims, Christians, moderate Islamic clerics and occasionally one or two Maiduguri politicians? So what exactly do they want? This is a question whose answers seem unclear to the vast majority of Nigerians, the authorities inclusive.

As if Nigerians do not have enough to deal with – the bombings, the fear, the incompetence of the security apparatuses to safeguard lives and property– more is added to the list of problems by subtle propaganda and allegations that Boko Haram is sponsored by politicians from the North, the “sore losers” of the last general elections, hell-bent on destabilizing President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. What started as an online rumour and unfounded assertion has made its way to mainstream media  circles with even hitherto respected national figures regurgitating such baseless allegations. The absurd claims specifically state that some Northerners are simply fulfilling their promise of making Nigeria “ungovernable” if they did not win the last general elections, due to a feeling that the Presidency is regarded as “the birth right” of the North. If you ask anyone making these false assertions to list one person who actually said this, or to give evidence of who said such, where and when, they are unable to do that.

This is clearly unfounded for despite the fact that Boko Haram is clearly being sponsored by powerful people — especially in the wake of the evolution of their tactics — from the use of motorcycles and scooters to the use of expensive SUVs and other exotic cars in their recent violent activities — to say that the group is acting at the behest of Northern politicians to undermine the government is absolutely outrageous. President Jonathan would not have won the elections without active support of northern politicians and elite, many of whom actively campaigned for him during the PDP primaries and the main elections proper. Even during the primaries, northern PDP delegates who happened to be in the majority could have supported Atiku Abubakar – a Northerner and Jonathan’s then rival – but instead, they overwhelmingly rooted for Jonathan. This notion of a grand conspiracy by northerners to destabilize Jonathan’s government is simply a divide and rule tactic, employed by the political elite as usual, as has been done times without number in the past, to divert the attention of Nigerians from the relevant issues. And it has proven to be highly effective every single time.

As Nigerians round-up the Eid-el-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, it is pertinent we remind ourselves of the ultimate sacrifices others have been forced to make with their lives in this country, the increasing state of helplessness of many more Nigerians regarding their basic personal security and to hope that government will wake up to its responsibility of safeguarding the fundamental right to life of all citizens. For with each violent attack by Boko Haram, the descent to complete breakdown of law and order seems to loom dangerously closer in the horizon.

Single Term Tenure: Testing the Waters

The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation” were some of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s historic words as he unveiled his transformation agenda in his inaugural speech on 29th May 2011.  In this “journey of transforming Nigeria”, Jonathan made a litany of promises which include fighting for improved medical care, “first class education”, electricity, affordable public transport system, provision of jobs , fighting the scourge of corruption, reforming the industrial sector and many other mouth-watering promises. As Nigerians and the international community eagerly look forward to the new administration tackling head on, the myriad developmental challenges bedevilling the giant of Africa and fulfilment of some of these promises, such optimism has been tainted with disappointment not only from a largely uninspiring Cabinet comprising of the old guard, but the recent preoccupation of the administration with a constitutional amendment bill proposing single-term tenure for the president and state governors. The proposed bill according to the Presidency would reduce “…the acrimony which the issue of re-election every four years generates”, the money wasted on elections and the unrest and violence that trails elections in Nigeria. Given that this is one of the last policy options Nigerians and even the keen observers from the international community expect, Jonathan is certainly testing the waters of his popularity and of his good luck.

The wide opprobrium and opposition this proposal has met is hinged on what Nigerians perceive to be a misplacement of priority. With the onerous task ahead of the new administration in addressing Nigeria’s many, many problems which Mr. President has made many, many promises to address, Nigerians are astounded that of all these, it is the term limit of elected officials which incidentally neither featured in that lengthy, Obama-esque inaugural speech nor the pre and post elections campaign rallies, that is his administration’s immediate priority, while burning issues like insecurity and tackling the radical Boko Haram sect or even settling the minimum wage issue with the Civil Servants apparently take a backseat. It is no wonder that the proposed bill has met with angry responses from individuals, groups and the civil society. As the presidential spokesperson even said, some responses were downright abusive. While many have called it an unnecessary distraction and a sinister plot, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) calls it “divisive and self serving”, the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) calls it “patently fraudulent, deceptively self-serving and a terrible misadventure” and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) describes it as “diversionary”. These harsh phrases are euphemisms of what many Nigerians really feel about this issue.

With the exception of religion and ethnicity, one other thing that rouses intense emotion and passion in Nigerians having been long abused by decades of bad governance and bad leadership, is any issue that remotely smacks of an attempt by a leader to extend his stay in power. This is not something taken lightly as many previous Nigerian leaders from the military governments of Gowon, Babangida and Abacha to the civilian administration of Shagari and Obasanjo, have tried to use fair, not-so-fair and foul means to perpetuate themselves in power, it is no surprise that many Nigerians are vehemently kicking against this. On the African continent as well, the very uninspiring sit-tight record of other African leaders such as Cameroun’s Paul Biya who has been in power since 1982, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in power since 1980 and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni since 1986; others like Bongo of Gabon and Eyadema of Togo who died in office after decades in power; recent attempts by Mammadou Tandja of Niger and most recently, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade’s attempt at constitutional amendment for a third term does not help matters either. Despite assurances from the Presidency that the President would not be a direct beneficiary if the bill gets passed into law as it would become effective from 2015 after his current term, and that it is yet to be sent to the National Assembly as “consultations” are still being made to work-out the details, Nigerians are very sceptical nevertheless. So far nothing stops the President from contesting for a fresh term of 6 years from 2015, just as Senegal’s Wade and his supporters are now arguing that he can run for a third term because he was elected before the constitution amendment on term limits was effected.

In addition, Jonathan is reported to have said that the 4-year mandate is insufficient to make meaningful developmental progress and is also reported to have expressed his admiration for “Saudi Arabian and old Soviet practice where some ministers were in office for 30 to 40 years”.  The truth is even if there is no sinister or covert motive behind this proposal, the President’s unguarded utterances are not helping matters either. The Soviet Union collapsed under its unsustainable communist-authoritarian model over 20 years ago and no country in the world today has that model of a political system with the rare exception of North Korea which is a pariah state anyways. Even Cuba is opening up its economy. While Saudi-Arabia is an absolute monarchy which narrowly escaped the current tide of Arab spring through an adroit mixture of suppression and social reforms to calm the tide of protests. Even if such a system works for Saudi Arabia, the socio-economic and political milieu is very different from Nigeria’s.

While certain regimes in some developing countries who provided transformative leadership and were responsible for the most dramatic changes were in power for decades, more than 4-5 years of the typical democratic tenure such as Lee Kuan Yew who, during his three-decade rule saw Singapore’s transition from a developing nation to one of the most developed countries in Asia with a steady growth rate of 6.7% . Similarly, Indonesia’s General Suharto’s 32-year rule between 1967 and 1998 oversaw the economic growth and industrialization of Indonesia with improved health, education and living standards of its peoples. These leaders were benevolent dictators, as they implemented progressive social policies which lifted millions of their people out of poverty and that is where they derived their legitimacy from. As their legitimacy and popularity inevitably declined, they had to cave in to popular demands and step down. That is exactly what is now happening in the Middle East. However, with the dominance of democracy in the 21st century, this form of government  is no longer in vogue. With democracy, legitimacy is not only tied to performance, but to accountability whose abuse can be checkmated by the electorate during elections period with the threat of withdrawal of mandate. Eliminating that vital check-point will give Nigerian politicians notorious for their corruption, impunity and non-accountability  until elections come around the corner, a leeway to act as they please.

Now that the President has tested the waters and rather than finding it warm, has found it chillingly cold, it is hoped that he will shelve this proposal aside and eventually dump it in the dustbin of history while he actually hits the ground of transformative leadership, sprinting. For the enormous challenges ahead of his administration require all the speed he can muster. And while he’s at it, it would pay to consider some words he himself uttered in his inaugural speech: “…Nigeria can only be transformed if we all play our parts with commitment and sincerity”.