Having communed with God and consulted his family, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in the exercise of his constitutional right to contest, has at last declared his intention to run for another term, in answer, he said, to a combination of vox populi and donating ‘ordinary citizens.’ Not a few people would qualify this as glaringly, blatantly and expensively orchestrated to that end. Even the declaration of his intention was another razzmatazz of an event characterised by ‘ a din of singing, drumming and dancing’ ‘reminiscent of the winning of a major championship such as the World Cup’. And, since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on which platform he is running had long closed the door to internal competitive bidding, this president received his sole candidature on a platter of gold. He has only the All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate, (yet to be chosen) to beat to keep his job.
The president’s speech accepting to heed ‘the call of the people nationwide to run’ was wide-ranging and long on the achievements of his administration – new power plants, an ‘African Great Green Wall’, rail lines, ‘gas infrastructure’, the National School Agriculture Programme, ‘ Nagropreneurs Programme’ and the ‘YouWin’, the establishment of 14 new universities and the Almajiri schools, the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) and the National Enterprise Development Programme.
Further, the president cited the rebasing of the Nigerian economy to now read a GDP of N80 trillion and the 26th largest in the world, and the containment of the Ebola Virus Disease. With these success stories and more, Dr. Jonathan concluded: “I have kept my pact with Nigerians and it is now time to look to the future … to take (Nigeria) to the next level.”
It is regretful that the PDP candidate missed so crucial an opportunity to outline the what, where, and how of this ‘next level’ narrative. Too much was made of what has been done, many of which are, in truth, work in progress and can only be considered as work begun but certainly not work done. A few examples from the president speech: the 450 MW Azura Power plant in Edo State is ‘on-going’, ‘construction work on the 3050 MW Mambilla Hydropower plant is about to take off’. The rehabilitation of the railways ‘is progressing’ or ‘in advanced stage’, ‘critical capital developments are being packaged’ and gas infrastructure is ‘being aggressively put in place’. If the security and welfare of the people – not a section of them- is the primary, meaning the first, responsibility of government, there are not enough transformational achievements to point to. By now, Nigerians, irrespective of which side of the divide they fall, have a reasonably good idea of the wherefore of a Goodluck Jonathan administration. More than three years since a hope-raising, spirit lifting ‘Transformation Agenda’ was propounded by Dr. Jonathan, only a tiny proportion of Nigeria’s 170-million strong citizenry would affirm that their security and welfare have transformed for the better. It is no exaggeration to say that despair and despondency is thick in the air.
Against this backdrop, Jonathan’s declaration of intention to seek the electorates’ renewal of his mandate ought to demonstrate how the ‘transformation agenda’ has fared.
Besides, it ought to be an outline of the vision and the mission of a better tomorrow, as well as how it will be attained. But instead, the president harped on images and experiences of a past better forgotten: collapsed infrastructure, fuel queues, dark days of military rule, ballot box snatching, and other sordid conditions that, in the not too distant past, defined the Nigerian condition. Really, some of these still do. No one can deny that the quality of Nigeria’s roads are bad and not befitting of an N80 trillion -GDP country; no one can deny that Nigeria is not yet able to feed itself, that is has no functional petrochemical and iron and steel industries, and that it imports even toothpick and draw pin. And, more than a decade into democracy, elections are still not adjudged free and fair.
It may be conceived though that the president and PDP’s –candidate saw visions of ‘a Nigeria where the flames in the Eagles will rekindle…’ where children ‘do not go hungry’, ‘where the green passport is accorded a royal reception the world over’, ‘where one day, the next generation will take us to outer space’. These are laudable objectives and they can be achieved even within a decade or two. But the journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step and the will to keep subsequent step moving toward the desired goal. If Nigeria youths would go to ‘outer space’, their parents must provide a conducive environment to achieve that.
Nigerians expect from Dr. Jonathan, and indeed every candidate for high office in the coming elections, a well thought-through and clearly articulated blueprint to build a great country. The president’s declaration speech should have set a high standard in content and in tone for other contestants. It did not. Besides, what should have been a robust speech at a serious event of national and global interest was turned into boisterous spree and speeches, for whatever they were worth, drowned in the noisome singing and dancing that could only have cost billions of naira.
In sum, the effort to justify his bid for re-election was avoidably trivialised and weakened.
Candidates who seek to govern at all levels must dwell less on where Nigeria is, which is already well and widely known, and more on where the candidate wants to take the country and how.