Sunday, October 28, 2012

Giving Unto Jonathan What Belongs to Caesar

Author: Tundé Oyateru

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria has lived true to his first name, for he may be the luckiest politician in Africa. And, according to Tundé Oyateru, his luck may have extended into his administration’s efforts. Good things are happening in Nigeria, one may not be able to conclusively say it’s all due to President Jonathan’s vision, however.

I stood there, transfixed completely by the sight of it. It made no attempts to lure me or impress, it just remained as it were. Solid, without flourish or embellishments, confident in its existence, it was majestic and I wondered if it had this same effect on anyone who stood before it. You see, I had wandered into one of the meeting rooms in the presidential villa while working as a consultant for the State House (Aso Rock). Built into the wall was the massive seal of the presidency, complete with the coat-of-arms.

The Nigerian Coat-of-Arms.
At that moment it was the single most beautiful thing I had ever seen; I felt my throat dry up and my palms become sweaty. In that moment, what I stood before was huge, towering, larger than life, and I had to wonder what effect it would have on the man or woman who represented this glorious emblem, who could boast of having the best calling card in the country.

Would it inspire him or her, would it stir a latent desire for legacy and greatness or would it all be lost on this person? Would it just be another instrument in the many paraphernalia of office? Perhaps it had this effect on me because I have always been enamoured by the Presidency -- or, perhaps, that’s what happens when you’ve watched too many reruns of the West Wing.

The current Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan,
during a campaign stop in Akwa Ibom State during March 2011.
When President Goodluck Jonathan became President, one of the most frequent criticisms of the man was that he lacked the character or the spine to be president; that he was a serial opportunist who once again had stumbled into office. I recalled my experience on that day and concluded that there was no way anyone -- man, woman or child -- would see that Seal, understand that it represented in the most immediate way his or her brand and not be inspired, or not be given a back-bone. So I argued very strongly in his corner - that he would understand the weight of history placed on his shoulders, not only by ‘his people,’ but also for the entire country, and he would yet surprise us all.

In the time that he has been president, Mr. Jonathan has shown us that symbols, presidential or otherwise, can be empty, and that the effect that I felt that day was unique to me and perhaps a few others. He has on many occasions shown neither the inclination nor the character to be President, granted Nigeria is a complicated mess. It would appear that Mr. Jonathan would be a lot more comfortable back in his lecture hall as Dr. Jonathan.

Olusegun Obasanjo served as 12th President of Nigeria
from May 1999 to May 1997.
Now I have no doubt that the President has the intellect and faculty to be the President. And I am sure that were he to understand fully his potential position in our nation’s history, he would not only find the resources to execute the office incumbent upon him, but perhaps also the moral fibre. But he doesn’t seem to enjoy the power tussle, the scheming, the ruthlessness or the cold-bloodedness that comes with the office. Not in the way that former President Obasanjo enjoyed it. The former president lived for political confrontations and conflicts, and genuinely enjoyed facing-down opponents, real or imagined.

So it may appear that what I will write in the next few paragraphs would seem incongruous and out of place with what I have written thus far. I am not affiliated with any political party in Nigeria, neither am I a professional journalist on anyone’s payroll, but Jonathan does deserve to be credited - praised even - for certain developments in Nigeria.

The electricity output over the past few months has been remarkable. Though, as a resident of the F.C.T (Federal Capital Territory), this is nothing new. It is reports from other corners of the country that have me impressed.

Cynics have dismissed this as the result of the increase in rainfall levels and not from anything strategic or deliberate efforts from the government, I am quick to remind them that this isn’t the first year that we have experienced dramatic increase in rainfall, so the government must be credited for turning that into something real and tangible for most Nigerians.

Nigeria has failed to resolve the issue of of chronic
power shortages. For decades, the issue has stifled
the country's growth and kept millions in poverty.
Places as far flung as Ogbomosho, Oyo State - in the southwest of the country- where my grandfather lives are witnessing constant electricity or something closely resembling it. And there are similar reports all around the country. I visited Lagos recently. Lagos the commercial nerve-centre of the country has always had a poor reputation when it comes to electricity, but all through my stay there I cannot remember the generator being on. The government should also be credited for its public relations campaign on the subject. It did admit that the rainfall aided electricity generation markedly. But it also warned that it expected a drop in output after the rains have gone, though it is making plans to maintain production at current levels even after the drop.

Security in Nigeria at the moment is a very hot-button issue, and the security situation isn’t ideal, but the Jonathan administration deserves credit for confronting Boko Haram. There is an obvious disconnect between the people living with the threat daily and those of us in relatively safe zones, so I cannot comment with certainty but government forces seem to have stemmed the tide, limiting the sect’s sphere of activities.

I understand that the momentum the security forces now enjoy comes as a result of heavy-handed tactics and has no doubt cost innocent lives. This is no surprise as Nigeria has always had a flexible definition of human rights, but when it comes to the safety of the entire Republic, the government can err on the side of caution.

And while I am not sure that the president has set-out a deliberate policy of financial austerity, it is now an open secret in the capital that Jonathan’s administration has choked up funds, making it incredibly difficult for government corruption. Deliberate or not, the result is positive. I had a conversation the other day with a serving senator who was openly complaining about how tight things were, and how the ‘funds’ don’t seem to be available. The reader should know that Nigerian lawmakers remunerate themselves better than most, and live a lifestyle equivalent to oil sheiks and professional athletes. I have no doubt that there are still some in government that will continue to have access to state funds to misappropriate, but to hear the senator sing his sad song gladdened me to no small extent.

I haven’t heard of many more success stories for the President, but in a country this big, I am sure they are out there. If journalism is granting access to the truth, or conveying it in the most fair and balanced way, then we will have to be fair and agree that there are some things to nod to in Jonathans first term.

Personally, I hope that Jonathan stands in front of that massive Seal and wakes up to the feeling I had on that day. The presidency can be a grand, beautiful, and inspiring thing. It is not too late for the President to realise this.

Babatunde (Tundé) Oyateru is a political communication consultant and speechwriter. He has extensive experience in communication strategy and project management. Babatunde lived and worked in the Republic of Ireland for some time, but has since moved back to his native Nigeria where he works as a partner at ESFAJ & Partners. He can be reached at for questions and inquiries.

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