REGARDLESS of the bogus claims that have become the hallmark of his administration, two years and 10 months after attaining the Presidency, Goodluck Jonathan has failed to demonstrate the hands-on and visionary leadership Nigerians desperately seek. The year 2012 was particularly a tragic one for the nation; it was a tragedy largely of Jonathan’s own making. It would be hard to find any reason to be cheerful in a year the country witnessed appalling bloodbath, galling corruption and lacklustre economic growth.
Our challenges are still mounting: the economy is comatose, wracked by unemployment, inflation, high lending rates and an ever-shrinking productive sector. Insecurity has become monstrous, featuring terrorism, kidnapping, piracy, massive oil theft and armed robbery. Add to this unbridled corruption and a culture of impunity and one gets a picture of a failed leadership.
In a fit of epic misjudgment, the President allowed himself to be misadvised into imposing a 110 per cent increase on the pump price of petrol on the very first day of the year in the name of removing government’s subsidy on the product. The fallout of that misadventure has come to define the ineptitude of the government. Not only has Jonathan failed to identify and pursue a vigorous policy of promoting private local refineries as a final solution to fuel shortages and subsidies, but the ensuing revelations of how over N2 trillion of unbudgeted funds were paid out as dubious subsidy claims have exposed the magnitude of corruption under this government.
Nigeria’s latest rating as the world’s 35th most corrupt nation by Transparency International occasioned by series of odious scams has, sadly, not moved the government into strong action against the identified subsidy thieves, corrupt contractors, pension fund scammers and corrupt serving and former public office holders. Corruption has become a veritable tool of government.
But it is the area of security where this uninspiring administration has surpassed its own dismal rating. The government’s kid-gloves approach to the Boko Haram menace allowed a fringe group of religious extremists to mature into a lethal terrorist outfit aligned with global terrorist groups. Ineptitude and a misplaced desire to engage faceless terrorists in dialogue have given room for anarchists to devastate Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe states and destabilise several other Northern states. Jonathan himself has since restricted national day ceremonies to the fortified confines of the State House, Abuja. Predictions of a 2015 break-up start to look all too prescient.
Starting with the multitude of security challenges, President Jonathan must prepare to make a difference in 2013. He must leave indecision behind and display a sure hand against terror. Boko Haram should be designated Nigeria’s most immediate and serious threat. Jonathan’s security team should devise intelligence-led security strategy that will uncover terror sponsors and sources of their funds.
There is also the government’s attitude of a spendthrift and chaos. Jonathan needs urgently to end the eye-watering waste and shift gear by freeing funds being wasted on a bloated public service and embezzled on refineries, pipelines and power plants to critical infrastructure such as highways, ports, dams and health facilities. The private sector is better placed, and should be assisted with an enabling environment, to establish and run power, railways, refineries, and aviation, steel and petrochemical plants.
Jonathan’s priorities in 2013 should be robust fiscal policies that, aligned with monetary policy, will bring down inflation rate from the current 12.3 per cent as estimated by NBS; reduce lending rates to single digit to stimulate the productive sectors; open up the mining sector to international investors; promote private local petroleum refining and railways with extraordinary incentives; halt the massive borrowing that has taken external debt to $15 billion following the latest approval by the Senate, prosecute oil subsidy thieves and their official collaborators while recovering all stolen funds, and cleaning up the monumentally corrupt Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. He must take a second look at the ongoing privatisation of the power sector which appears to have been hijacked by vested Nigerian interests who lack the technical, financial and managerial expertise to take power generation from the current miserable 4,500 megawatts to the minimum 15,000 MW urgently required to reverse power shortages.
Apart from reducing his large army of unproductive advisers and assistants, he should reshuffle his largely incompetent cabinet. Jonathan should set realisable targets for his appointees and drop failures, a more purpose-driven tactic than the meaningless performance bonds he made them to sign recently. This year is decisive; it cannot be the ruinous business-as-usual style. Nigerians seek a hands-on President who will prioritise infrastructure — power, railways, highways, security, health, education and privatisation. Our present drift is too dangerous for comfort. The President must root out corruption and make Nigeria safe from terrorism.
The President’s apparent lack of passion and laid back disposition do not engender much hope for 2013. His tendency to retreat into the cocoon woven around him by self-serving advisers, adopting a victim mentality that hardens his missteps and entrenches a culture of mediocrity at the highest levels of governance must stop. Transparency and accountability are fundamental to good government. He must take urgent steps to eradicate the rot in the oil and gas sector.