For me, the emerging face of a new Nigeria started with the bold decision to challenge the old order by the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, when it became clear that the old ways and methods of getting Nigeria moving again were not paying off. And what are those bold attempts at introducing new ways of tackling the many challenges that have hindered Nigeria’s development for quite some time? I take the power sector as an example. Our good friend, the late Chief Bola Ige, became the Minister of Power in 1999 under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. At his first press conference as Nigeria’s new Power Minister, he promised Nigerians that in ‘six months, electricity supply would stabilise and power outages would minimise considerably’.
I reacted immediately in my column in one of our weeklies that ‘Chief Bola Ige’s hope and optimism may be a tall order, except he has the courage and the will to fight and defeat the criminal mafia within and outside NEPA that is both entrenched and formidable and fearless’, By this time Chief Ige did not know the character of the mafia in the power sector nor the level of its fearlessness and its capacity to stoutly resist any structural changes that he would introduce to make NEPA to deliver quality services to Nigerians. When Chief Ige saw what some of us have been writing about for years, even decades, he was sad and requested, I am told, to be moved away from that ministry. Until he was killed by cowards in the recesses of his bedroom, Ige was Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
The simple truth was that our Cicero was thoroughly overwhelmed and couldn’t handle NEPA; it was too hot for him. He was obliged by Obasanjo and was relocated him to the Justice ministry. Jonathan smashed that stubborn and hydra-headed mafia that has been milking Nigeria dry in that sector and successfully kept Nigeria and its people in darkness, made Nigeria notorious as the ‘darkest country in the world’, in this age of computers and rocket science.
His administration routed the criminal gang that monopolised NEPA and released the energy sector from their grip and stranglehold, paid off many thousands of its workers, privatised the place and opened up enough space for robust private sector participation in the sector. Give it to him: Jonathan demystified NEPA/PHCN, just as the Obasanjo government turned telephony into something that even the rural and urban poor can own and operate. In no time, and if this legacy is sustained, and not disrupted or discontinued, electricity would soon be something we may begin to take for granted.
And that has been the spirit, it seems to me, that has driven the Jonathan dream for the power sector. I make this point conscious of the fact that it is the second nature of a typical Nigerian elite to run down anyone who has served this country, once he is out of power. Yes, President Muhammadu Buhari is the new bride in town, and he is currently getting all the praises and attention. I bet you, soon after he leaves office, just after some few weeks, we turn him into a veritable villain that should be probed, detained and possibly jailed. And all his achievements during this tenure would be diminished, erased from their warped minds as they wait for the next victim. But I am told that Buhari is too smart for this category of petit-bourgeois intellectuals. My second port of call is our federal roads.
Twice, I have slept on Shagamu/Benin road trying to get to Port Harcourt. By this time, the road was simply impassable, impossible and its Ondo component was not only bad, but also harboured incredibly daring armed robbers that could have come from Satan’s den. The total collapse of that important road, an artery that leads to other parts of the country, became, at a point, a national embarrassment. The subsequent deployment of policemen at the worst spots along this road did not help matters, as more horrible spots began to emerge requiring further deployments of more armed policemen and soldiers.
That did not scare away the armed bandits from the road. They withdrew for some weeks, only to come back after acquiring more sophisticated weapons with which to continue their ‘business’ and to face ‘these policemen who would never mind their business and leave us alone to do our own business’, was exactly how one of armed robbers, caught after a shootout with the police, boldly put it. How is that road today, if I may ask? I am not saying that this important road is now super, but no traveller gets trapped on it again and had to sleep inside his car or bus. The credit should, in my view, be given to the Jonathan administration for its determination and will power to do what should have been done by his predecessors. To me, this road is a sweet alternative to flying, if I choose to stop over in Benin City or Asaba to see good old friends and colleagues. And many other federal highways in the north of the republic got similar attention and treatment from the Jonathan administration.
I ask an old acquaintance of mine who is so rabidly anti-Jonathan to an extent that he finds it so mentally difficult to admit that his administration did one good thing for this country. Embarrassingly, he sometimes loses his usual robust logic and reasoning power when Jonathan and his administration are up for discussions: Is there nothing you can point your finger at that the young man and his team got right or did well, I will ask him? He will throw his neck backwards, focus his eyes on the ceiling for a while, and then suddenly come back to me with the answer: ‘oh nothing, sure nothing, except stealing. That one they did so well’.
I will then tell him pointedly, not minding his age: ‘You are not being truthful. You are not being honest and sincere on these matters’. Quickly, I will remind him of the backto- life refineries and the great leap the administration recorded in the area of agriculture. Let’s be truthful and ‘shame the devil’, like we used to say in our in our younger days. The four refineries in the country are producing so excellently now. How long does it really take to do the Turn Around Maintenance, TAM. Would these refineries be producing to capacity now if nothing was done to, at least, turn them around, I will ask him? My inquiries confirm that at the very least, eighteen months is required to complete one TAM. And the story is now going round that if President Muhammadu Buhari administration is not, in any way, sabotaged by the vultures within the system and outside of it, the refineries would conveniently produce enough for local consumption.
Is that not a piece of cheering news, and to whose government should we attribute or associate this feat? My acquaintance wouldn’t have answers. Didn’t the Jonathan government achieve an enviable pass mark, in fact an ‘A’ in Agriculture, I once asked my man. But knowing his mindset and how unfair he is when discussing and assessing the immediate past administration, I quickly reminded him that if he failed to be true and honest in this one, Jonathan’s ‘sound agricultural revolution under the care of an incredibly efficient and dedicated agric minister, Dr. Adesina’, then I would most humbly suggest to his wife that we call in a psychiatrist. With my warning in mind, this old time acquaintance whose name I continue to protect, would reluctantly say: ‘E be like say the man try for that area’. I asked him what that meant. He repeated himself. I then reminded him our robust discussion in I998, some days after the sudden death of General Sani Abacha.
I said by way of refreshing his mind, that every leader and every government almost always leave one or two legacies for which it would be remembered: Abacha held down the American dollar to eighty naira and remained adamant to IMF promptings till his Creator recalled him; Ibrahim Babangida opened up Nigeria’s economic space for private sector participation. Buhari/Idiagbon instilled discipline in Nigeria and taught us the virtues of orderliness; Only recently, I updated this discussion with him when I added that Obasanja’s administration should conveniently take credit for making telephony an essential part of our daily lives today. Would anyone deny that late President Umaru Yar’Aduah brought the agitation and the militancy in the Niger Delta literally to an end by the methods he used and his Amnesty programme?
These are legacies. Why my acquaintance would argue that the present level of our agriculture should not be added to the list of Jonathan’s achievements saddens me. And he knows it. By the time President Buhari finishes his term, it would be most unfair not to give him credits for the specific landmarks the current federal administration would leave behind. I accused my man that when that time comes, he mustn’t be blind to what may have been achieved by the Buhari administration. Recently, I dropped by his house, as I normally do on weekends, and he was drinking his tea, a habit he said he acquired in his student days in London in the 60s, I voluntarily announced to me that ‘NEPA is doing very well nowoo. Everything here has blocked. We thank God-oo’ I laughed and laughed.
To some of us, Jonathan did his best and had the will to challenge the old political order and our archaic ways of defining national development.. Let me end by just adding this coda: Those whose official job it is to defend Jonathan and his administration would do so in their own style and at their own time. I have never met him or any of his ministers before, nor did i benefit from his government, in any way. From all I read about him, I think he meant well. He is not an angel, probably because angels do not live in this planet – they are there in heaven. Mistakes occurred under his government, as mistakes occur under any government, but to write, suggest or insinuate that he left no legacy at all, in my considered view, would be most unfair and flippant. Time and history will tell.