The Challenge is Great; the Goal is Clear; Jonathan get Working

Nwachukwu Egbunike

The ash cloud that obstructed the nation’s vision for the past six months has been washed away with the lonely death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on Wednesday, May 5, 2010. The following day, Jonathan Ebele Goodluck, mounted the saddle as the substantive President of Nigeria. True to the African world view of not speaking ill of the dead, Nigerians have mourned and wailed Yar’Adua’s definitive journey to the great beyond. Beyond this panorama the fact is that Jonathan has only twelve months to change the polity or trend the infamous route that has characterised most of his predecessors.

Nigerians forgive easily. The good intentions of Yar’Adua were public knowledge, yet the man failed. The wild fire of the past months has been wiped off from collective memory because the man died. More so our dispositions to jaundiced piety and superstition makes it easy to click ‘delete’ on the most absurd violation of the national soul by the famous ‘cabal’. Those who played politics with the ill-fate of another, manipulating public opinion, desecrating the dignity of Nigeria’s number one citizen and yanking the presidency from the high pinnacle of Aso Rock to the odium of the sewer.

Since our lawmakers and the inept Federal Executive Council lacked the balls to invoke Section 144, which states that: “the president or vice-president shall cease to hold office, if – (a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and (b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This simple constitutional duty would have saved us the trauma, but the dishonourable ministers did nothing until high heavens intervened without any option of appeal on May 5, 2010.

Nonetheless, does the demise of Yar’Adua and the subsequent inauguration of Jonathan necessarily transmit to an alleluia fiesta? Hell no. For that reason, it would be instructive to peep into the past and in particular into Yar’Adua’s inaugural speech.

Umaru Yar’Adua celebrated the first transition from one elected government to another. “For the first time since we cast off the shackles of colonialism almost a half-century ago, we have at last managed an orderly transition from one elected government to another.” Unfortunately, the same government could not manage a smooth transfer of power from an ailing president to his deputy. Would that have been the fault of neo-colonialists, the ineffectual excuse that we usually trump to hide our incompetence?

Jonathan should see that the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Report is fully implemented. No reason to fail. Nigerians want their vote to count and this reform should be implemented faithfully. Not the mangled version that was earlier sent to the National Assembly. By doing so, Jonathan will only be paying heed to the wishes of the Yar’Adua Nigerians never had, who admonished at the dawn of his administration to “set up a panel to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections, and thereby deepen our democracy.”

In that speech, our late president praised the “transitional generational shift when the children of independence assume the adult responsibility of running the country at the heart of Africa.” Not so sure, with the political landscape littered with old men and women who think that wisdom is a sole prerogative of the silver-haired. Or how does one explain Ibrahim Babangida’s vote of no confidence on Nigerian youths; “because we have seen signs that they are not capable of leading this country… The younger generation is supposed to be in charge by now. But a country like Nigeria cannot be ruled by people without experience.”

Please for heaven’s sake, Jonathan should not get infected with flowery words and fantasy of his former boss. The naivety of placing Nigeria in the club of “the 20 largest economies in the world by the year 2020” is illogical nonsense. We cannot even lay claim to our over bloated ego of being the giant of Africa. A country that finds it gruesome to conduct elections while our nearest neighbour has done same and gone ahead to lecture us, only deserves pity.

The 7 point agenda has been laid to rest with the 7 days of mourning. Jonathan should dispassionately pursue these 3 big issues: electoral reform, Niger Delta and electricity. In addition, we need some fresh air in the anti-corruption agencies – EFCC and ICPC.

The unedited electoral reform bill should become an Act of the parliament before the 2011 elections. The president diagnosed the ineptness of INEC as basically that of perception during his trip to the US. Following the boot given to Maurice Iwu, Nigerians need to be truly convinced that this is not another political Nollywood blockbuster in the making. INEC should not only be autonomous by name but in fact. Therefore, the commission – in line with Uwais recommendations – should be independently-appointed with a more rapid and accountable appeal process. Then the perception of INEC will change for good.

The Niger Delta amnesty package should be followed to its logical conclusion. In all fairness, this is one area the Yar’Adua excelled. “The crisis in the Niger Delta commands our urgent attention. Ending it is a matter of strategic importance to our country. I will use every resource available to me, with your help, to address this crisis in a spirit of fairness, justice, and cooperation.” For he did his best in this area and out did all that as ever been done for that region.

Jonathan should therefore see that further attacks on oil facilities are prevented by perpetually fixing the highly inflammable delta. Besides, the oil and gas industry should be fully restructured with the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). This will lead to more transparency in the highly opaque industry.

Asides we need power, not just electoral power but electricity. It is sad that although Nigeria has an installed generating capacity of 6,000MW, we can barely produce half of it. Matters are more complicated with the huge funds that have been lost in the bid to generate power for the country; since 1999, government has spent some $10 billion. Jonathan as the minister of power had better perform. With hindsight, Yar’Adua’s energy promise falls flat on its face: “over the next four years we will see dramatic improvements in power generation, transmission and distribution.”

The corruption stance of Jonathan’s predecessor was convoluted with irreconcilable contradictions. It was nothing but an empty promise or at best, a script from the pulpit when Yar’Adua swore to “intensify the war against corruption, more so because corruption is itself central to the spread of poverty. Its corrosive effect is all too visible in all aspects of our national life. This is an area where we have made significant progress in recent years, and we will maintain the momentum.”

The EFCC as presently constituted cannot lead this corruption battle. While one appreciates the clearing of Nuhu Ribadu from the travesty of injustice, nonetheless much more needs to be done. The corruption war cannot be won by strong men but by strong institutions. In this vain, more institutional strength has to be transfused into the anti-corruption agencies.

As an aside, one cannot but advise Jonathan to keep his wife, Patience in check. While it may be politically incorrect to limit her to the kitchen, nonetheless, Nigerians do not want another Turia Yar’Adua. Never in the history of this nation had the office of the First Lady wielded such clout as was evident in the shame of the past six months.

It is only when these issues have been addressed that Jonathan can in all sincerity make the following demands to Nigerians. In the words of his former boss, “let us recapture the mood of optimism that defined us at the dawn of independence, that legendary can-do spirit that marked our Nigerianess. Let us join together, now, to build a society worthy of our children. We have the talent. We have the intelligence. We have the ability.”

So get working ‘lucky Jo’ (all rights reserved, original coinage from Nze Ifedigbo) for the “challenge is great. The goal is clear. The time is now.”

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