By Chinedu Ekeke
If you want to know why President Goodluck Jonathan is such a woeful performer, read the men around him. They collectively approach public discourses with a signature demeanour: unstately utterances. They have made a religion of banality, and to it they have remained faithful.
Reuben Abati is one of these men. He is the President’s official spokesperson. Yesterday, he published an article laced with innuendos and thrown at former government officials who he accused of cant in their criticisms of his boss.
The entire piece smacked of pettiness, throwing up his apparent inability to bottle up his frustrations. He touched on an area that has since become a pastime for the entire publicity team of the Jonathan
administration. They seek to hush critics up by accusing them of envy. Once you point out an ill of the government – and there are countless of them – you are immediately accused of being envious of, or angry with, the government because you weren’t invited to ‘chop’. This was what Abati meant when he said, “ And so they will stop at nothing to discredit those they think are not deserving as they imagine themselves to be.”
But this is a cheap blackmail, because the same author of that piece knows that, from the inception of his administration, even as an acting president, Goodluck Jonathan pleaded with many of these his latter day enemies to take up appointments with his government, a request to which they turned down. The line of blackmail, apart from being erroneous, raises a more critical question about the Jonathan presidency in particular, and the entire government in general. If this government isn’t just about all money and no work, why should people be envious of those in it? And then, who says everyone of Jonathan’s critics is interested in a government job?
Here’s the genesis. Obiageli Ezekwesili, former World Bank Vice President, was University of Nigeria Nsukka’s 42nd Convocation lecturer. There she observed that the two
administrations that succeeded Olusegun Obasanjo had squandered $67bn – a combined sum from our foreign reserve and Excess Crude Account. Deeply troubled, she complained that six years after the administration she “served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems, as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.”
The government got jolted by that revelation. They were more troubled by the image of the messenger and the damaging impact it will have on their already grossly despised administration.
The conservative nature of Ezekwesili also added to their trouble. And her past in public service defined by a consensus on the strength of her character gave them the cold. She wasn’t known for criticizing their government publicly. Ezekwesili challenged them to a public debate on public spending. They are yet to take up that gauntlet. We know they won’t because they can’t. But their trademark template for responding to critics didn’t need editing. They pulled it out from where they’d dumped it in wait for a victim. They questioned Ezekwesili’s 10 month stint in The Education Ministry and sought to dangle figures before the uninitiated. For many Nigerians, it is a sin to hear “billions were allocated to” anybody or any agency. They cringe at
the money for the mere mention of its size, not the necessity – or otherwise – of the appropriation. For such minds, merely hearing that ‘billions’ were allocated to a ministry Ezekwesili headed has reduced her to ‘one of them’ who wasn’t also accountable while in public office. It doesn’t matter that the entire money wasn’t allocated to her person, or even her office; that all the agencies, about 22 of them, under the ministry were joint beneficiaries of the allocation and theirs were going straight to them directly.
But that was the original plan: vilify the saint and canonize the sinner. Rubbish the longstanding credibility of the messenger so as to render his/her messages undesirable. Labaran Maku did just that a fortnight ago. Abati jumped into the boxing ring yesterday to land his boss’s political foes a group punch. In doing that, he went pedestrian, too much of it, unable to rise above criticism of belly-saving, hardly able to elevate his thoughts beyond the jejune.
In an odd paradox, he scribbled those vile lines that underscored his expertise in intellectual dishonesty. “It is in the larger interest of our country that the government of the day welcomes criticism and political activism”. Really? But he had wished his enemies would stop talking, stop watching the government, and stop asking questions. Alluding to how it is done in other climes, Abati enjoined the quantity surveyor to return to his quantity surveying, the lawyer to return to his wig, and the teacher to return to the classroom – and, remain eternally silent about what happens in government, except, when (as I should think), there’s a need to rain praises on the government of the day. Mr Abati’s defence of his multi-million naira presidential-shit-cleaning job blinded his eyes to the one truth in participatory democracy: that even the best of leaders are criticized.
There is nothing unusual about Abati’s yesterday’s men claiming to “be better than everybody in the current government”. It is expected in a democracy. Daily, we hear Donald Trump dismiss an intellectual like President Barack Obama as lacking in ability. We see Republicans present the President of the world’s greatest country as a weakling. If a proven smart man like Obama can be dismissed as lacking in intelligence, what should be expected to be said of a man who has yet to prove, in words and in deeds, that he had a good high school certificate? What one proof does this current government have to show that they are better than any before them?
As his unbridled bile flowed out of his typing fingers, Abati sought to reduce an ordinarily commendable intellectual exercise – writing of memoirs – to an ignoble self-seeking adventure of those he railed on. While he accused them of jealousy, he unwittingly let out his, making it clear that any venture not undertaken by Abati himself doesn’t measure up to the sublime. Hear him, “They even write books (I, me and myself books packaged as cerebral stuff.)”. One is then forced to wonder what a memoir ought to be about. By definition, memoirs cannot be about they, they and they. Mr Abati should know this, except he has swapped bitterness with his hyped intellect. By the way, his predecessor in office, Segun Adeniyi, (by miles a more civil and sensible presidential media aide) published his own book when he left office, setting the precedence from which, we all know, Abati will copy. When he becomes a yesterday’s man himself– and that will happen as early as 2015 – and seeks to publish his, we will want to find out if his own memoir will be about a research on the big bang theory or the beauty of Disneyland.
But he left the real issues untouched, the real questions unanswered. Oby Ezekwsili asked that we be told what happened to our foreign reserve and excess crude account. That question hasn’t been answered. It should. The British Prime Minister stated that about $100 billion dollars accrued to this government from oil last year. How many poor Nigerians have been lifted out of poverty? How many jobs (in considerable millions) have been created? How many roads have been paved? How many housing units have been erected? Has our life expectancy improved in any way? What is Nigeria’s security situation as at today? Answers to these questions are needed, not name-calling and subliminal essays.
In a bid to do a lasting damage to his targets, Reuben Abati equally unwittingly highlighted his government’s culpability in the rapid growth of corruption under their watch. They know so much about how wasteful the former ministers, ex General this, Dr that, ex Honourable this and that were, yet their sleaze-hugging regime has refused to prosecute them and get our money from them. Isn’t it curious that a high profile presidential aide is aware that a former Aviation minister shut down Port Harcourt airport for two years with so much money flushed down the drain, yet there hasn’t been any visible effort by the government in the last three years to ask him questions about how the funds were used?
He said they left the country in darkness with less than “2,000MW electricity generation, abandoned independent power projects, mismanaged power stations, and uncompleted power stations”. I don’t know the wattage the Obasanjo regime – which cabinet members were largely targeted in the scathing commentary – left Nigeria with, but I do agree that we didn’t get results commensurate with the investments made in electricity generation and distribution. That raises a poser: what has the Jonathan presidency done to obtain explanations from that regime? Why has nobody been probed? Why haven’t Obasanjo, his energy minister and other key actors in that mess been prosecuted?
Abati was not done with his official indictment of the government he was out to defend. He said, “They complain about the state of roads. Most of the contracts were actually awarded under their watch to the tune of billions!”. Oh, so they know? And what has Jonathan done about the contracts and the bad state of roads? Nothing! The only reasonable answer is Jonathan’s legendary it-could-be-me syndrome, the real reason behind his public romance with the corrupt. His modus operandi isn’t difficult to figure: You steal, he keeps quiet, hoping that you reciprocate with your silence as his government meanders sluggishly through the track of cluelessness to the trail of sleaze, making him complicit in the bumblings of past years and the organized corruption of the moment.
On the roads Abati unashamedly mentioned, maybe I should quickly remind him that two of the key actors in the events that sustained Nigeria’s present state of roads are his boss’ closest and open consiglieres as we speak. One of them, Tony Anenih, served as Works minister in Obasanjo’s first term in office and ensured that neither new roads were built nor old ones repaired despite having received as much as N300b appropriation from the federal budget. And to reward him for his legendary impunity, Jonathan recently appointed him board chair of the very juicy Nigerian Ports Authority from where the flamboyant criminal Bode George, another of Jonathan’s consiglieres and hero, raised his hubby of stealing to a profession.
The other key actor in the current Nigerian state of roads is Diezani Allison-Madueke, the government’s Petroleum minister. She once served as minister of Works under Yar’Adua during which she wept publicly on sighting the mess Anenih and others left of the Lagos-Benin expressway. But her penchant for non-performance was stronger than her emotional outburst. Contracts were equally awarded to the tune of billions, yet roads in deplorable conditions persist. Of course old habits hardly die. Under her watch as Jonathan’s petroleum minister, Nigeria has witnessed the grandest scam known to man, and for all intents and purposes, it does seem as though she is just starting. With a boss who urges her on with a presidential stamp of approval, we might still witness more earth-shattering scams under her watch.
So rather than show leadership, the Jonathan government is only out to arm-twist critics with allegations of sleaze which hardly come up until questions are asked about how they run Nigeria’s affairs. It is therefore the fault of Jonathan that yesterday’s men – especially the ones with unmitigated chutzpah in spite of being grossly unworthy – still are free to cast aspersions on him. Abati thinks they have cases to answer? It isn’t my grandmother’s duty to make them answer. If Jonathan isn’t protecting and growing corruption, let him prosecute whoever those unworthy ones are.
Abati’s tirade comes across as the real frustrations of a tomorrow’s yesterday’s man, the lamentations of a troubled former beloved who is trapped in the abyss of an unpopular regime in a maze.
Some of us understand his worries, and have since advised those who care to listen: don’t take him seriously!
Chinedu is on Twitter as @Nedunaijahttp://www.ekekeee.com/?p=4971