Friday, 12 December 2014

President Jonathan: Beyond the weight of incumbency

President Goodluck Jonathan

Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s story fits perfectly into the mode of a fairy tale. By sheer stroke of coincidence, he rose from a deputy governor to become the Vice President in 2007. The same luck catapulted him into the office of the President three years later.

The renewal of his mandate in 2011 was thus like a mere public endorsement of the good luck of a man whose sense of humility and patience in the trying days of his boss, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, had endeared him to many Nigerians. Almost four years after the historic election, many still fondly remember how his lovability and the fact that he had come to break the jinx for the minority folks made them fall in love with him.

Some years ago, Jonathan stood before Nigerians as a product of circumstance. But today, the situation is different. The people have tried him, and they know what he is worth. With over five years in office as a substantive President, Jonathan has got more beyond the emotional feeling that surrounded his rise to prominence to support his campaign. Now with a strong opponent in the ex-military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, the race to Aso Rock is likely to be a true test of substance and ideas.

Memory of the stewardship of Jonathan, as the incumbent President, is still fresh. Among other areas, his government has made some key decisions in the all-important power sector. Successive administrations had made frantic efforts to pull Nigerians out of darkness, a dream many believe could only come true via a far-reaching reform and privatisation.

When Jonathan assumed leadership in 2010, he pledged to deal with the power challenge. In honour of his promise, he launched the Roadmap for Power Sector Reform, a robust programme that promised much in terms of regular electricity supply. Subsequently, the lethargic Power Holding Company of Nigeria was unbundled and sold to the private sector, leading to the November 2013 handover of the sector to private companies, who Jonathan described as key “partners” of the administration’s transformation agenda. This is a stride that promoters of the academic-turned politician’s re-election bid will not hesitate to highlight.

His performance in agriculture will also play a vital role. The government has also noted the rehabilitation of the airports as a major feat. Indeed, the administration has touched about 20 airport terminals it met. A few new terminals were also built, an achievement many people said had impacted on the economy.

Oil and gas appears the most controversial of all the sectors where the government tried to make a mark. In the minds of many, the subsidy removal saga is as fresh as it was in January 2012. The sector, obviously, had become a drainpipe long before Jonathan came on board; people claimed subsidies for products that were not imported.

An attempt to liberalise the sector and address the huge corruption associated with it had smacked the goodwill Jonathan had enjoyed during the 2011 elections. “Why would the poor masses pay for the inability of the government to bring the fuel subsidy thieves to book and repair the refineries,” was the counter-argument to the government’s rhetoric over the removal of the subsidy, which some people never believed existed. It was on this basis that the Occupy Nigeria memory may hurt Jonathan’s current bid.

Those who are not bitter about the government’s resolve to remove the fuel subsidy, are also not happy with the management of the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme. As SURE-P lost any credibility it had, its chairman, Dr. Christopher Kolade’s resignation sent an untoward signal that the abuse of the palliative measure, as predicted, was not redeemable.

It follows similar tales of corruption in the oil and gas sector. First in 2011 was the infamous Malabu Oil and Gas saga where the government officials, apart from patronising an alleged dubious company, kept $300m as kickback for themselves. The failure to investigate the deal, despite international pressure and involvement, robbed on Jonathan’s reputation.

Subsequent corruption allegations against the Ministry of Petroleum and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation were similarly swept under the carpet, burying government’s true position on corruption. And when the President said oil theft was not the same as corruption, and when he tried to differentiate between corruption and theft, many people cannot simply understand where he stands on the scourge.

And there are holes in all the sectors where the transformation agenda has reached. Some parts of the renovated airports are falling apart, which raises questions about the quality of work done in that sector. And there is also no clear understanding on why the fertilizer bazaar and claims of agricultural breakthrough have not translated into food sufficiency yet. That is why when the government rebased the GDP, yielding the largest economy in Africa, which naturally should be a victory, there were skepticism and criticism all the way.

It is also disheartening that there is still not much improvement in power supply rather a regular hike of bills. The government has continued to spoon-feed the companies to which it sold the distribution and generation companies, which many consider to be too strange. As President Jonathan thus confronts Buhari in the February elections, the electorate have the opportunity to weigh the successes of his government against its failures.

Readily, Jonathan enjoys the support of the South-East and much part of the Niger Delta, from where he hails as a one-poor Otuoke, Bayelsa State boy. He also has bases and sympathizers across other parts of the country, even in the South-West where the APC has a stronghold. So, how well his legendary good luck and power of incumbency will assist him will also count on the Election Day. Nigeria is definitely poised for a great battle on February 14.

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