Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Hypocrisy Of Yesterday’s Men

Below is what Dr. Reuben Abati wrote yesterday criticising those(former government employees) asking for accountability from the current government. Note that this article was written yesterday in his power as a Special assistant t the president.


A Loosely bound group of yesterday’s men and women seems to be on the offensive against the Jonathan administration. They pick issues with virtually every effort of the administration, pretending to do so in the public interest; positing that they alone, know it all.  Arrogantly, they claim to be better and smarter than everyone else in the current government. They are ever so censorious, contrarian and supercilious.

They have no original claim to their pretensions other than they were privileged to have been in the corridors of power once upon a time in their lives. They obviously got so engrossed with their own sense of importance they began to imagine themselves indispensable to Nigeria. It is dangerous to have such a navel-gazing, narcissistic group inflict themselves with so much ferocity on an otherwise impressionable public. We are in reality dealing with a bunch of hypocrites.

With exceptions so few, they really don’t care about Nigeria as a sovereign but the political spoils that accrue from it. And so they will stop at nothing to discredit those they think are not as deserving as they imagine themselves to be. President Jonathan has unfairly become the target of their pitiable frustrations.

Underneath their superfluous appearance, lies an unspoken class disdain directed at the person and office of a duly elected president of the country. It is a Nigerian problem, perhaps. In the same advanced societies which these same yesterday men and women often like to refer to, public service is seen and treated as a privilege.

People are called upon to serve; they do so with humility and great commitment, and when it is all over, they move on to other things. The quantity surveyor returns to his or her quantity surveying or some other decent work; the lawyer to his or her wig and gown; the university teacher, to the classroom, glad to have been found worthy of national service. When and where necessary, as private citizens they are entitled to use the benefit of this experience to contribute to national development, they speak up on matters of public importance not as a full-time job as is the case in Nigeria currently.

What then, is the problem with us? As part of our governance evolution, most people become public servants by accident, but they soon get so used to the glamour of office that they lose sight of their own ordinariness. They use the system to climb: to become media celebrities, to gain international attention and to morph into self-appointed guardians of the Nigerian estate. They mask self interest motives as public causes and manipulate the public’s desire for improvements in their daily struggles as opportunity for power grab.

They are perpetually hanging around, lobbying and hustling for undeserved privileges. They exploit ethnic and religious connections where they can or join political parties and run for political office. They even write books (I, me and myself books, packaged as cerebral stuff); if that still doesn’t work, they lobby newspaper houses for columns to write and they become apostolic pundits pontificating on matters ranging from the nebulous to the non-descript. Power blinds them to the reality that we are all in this together and we have a unique opportunity to do well for the taxpayers and hardworking electorate that provide every public official the privilege to serve.

Unsatisfied with the newspaper columns, they open social media accounts and pretend to be voices of wisdom seeking to cultivate an angry crowd which they feed continually with their own brand of negativity. They arrange to give lectures at high profile events where  they abuse the government of the day in order to gain attention and steal a few minutes in the sun; hoping to force an audience that may ‘open doors’ for them, back into the corridors of power. These characters are in different sizes and shapes: small, big; Godfathers, agents, proxies. The tactics of the big figures on this rung of opportunism may be slightly different.  They parade themselves as a Godfather or kingmaker or the better man who should have been king.
They suffer of course, from messianic delusions. The fact that they boast of some followership and the media often treats them as icons, makes their nuisance factor worse. They and their protégés and proxies are united by one factor though: their hypocrisy.

It is in the larger interest of our country that the point be made that the government of the day welcomes criticism and political activism. This is an aspect of our emergent democracy that expands on the growing freedom of expression, thought and association but there is need for caution and vigilance, lest we get taken hostage by the architects of odious disinformation.

Nigerians must not allow any group of individuals to hold this country to ransom and no one alone should appropriate the right to determine what is best for Nigeria.

The accidental public servants who have turned that privilege into a life-long obsession and profession must be told to go get a life and find meaningful work to do.

Those who believe that no one else can run Nigeria without them must be told to stop hallucinating. The former Ministers, former Governors, former DGs, and all sorts who have been busy quoting mischievous figures, spreading cruel propaganda must be reminded that the Jonathan administration is in fact trying to clean up the mess that they created. They want to own the game when the ball is not in their possession. They want to be the referee when nobody has offered them a whistle.

They seek to play God, forgetting that the case for God is not in the hands of man.

One of the virtues of enlightenment is for persons to have a true perspective of their own location in the order of things. What they do not seem to realise or accept is that the political climate has changed.

When one of them was in charge of this same estate called Nigeria, he shut down the Port Harcourt airport and other airports for close to two years under the guise of renovation. The Port Harcourt airport was abandoned for so long it was overgrown with weeds after serving for months as a practice ground for motoring schools. It was reopened without any improvement and with so much money down the drain, and the pervasive suspicion that the reason it was shut down in the first place was to create a market for a new airline that had been allowed the monopoly use of the other airport in the city.

Under President Jonathan, airports across the country are being upgraded, rebuilt and modernized; in less than two years, the transformation is self-evident. Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy from our see-no-good commentators comes from the one who superintended over the near-collapse of the aviation sector who is now audacious enough to claim to be a social critic.

For the first time since 1999, the Nigerian Railway Corporation is up and running as a service organization. The rail lines have become functional from Lagos to Kano; Ewekoro to Minna, and very soon, from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, Abuja to Kaduna and Lagos to Ibadan. They couldn’t do this in their time, now they are busy looking for money that is not missing with their teeth.

When questions are asked, they claim they invented the ideas of due process and accountability. They once promised to solve the crisis of electricity supply in Nigeria.

But what did they do? They managed to leave the country in darkness with less than 2,000 MW; abandoned independent power projects, mismanaged power stations, and uncompleted procurement processes. The mess was so bad their immediate successors had to declare an emergency in the power sector. It has taken President Jonathan to make the difference. Today, there is greater coherence in the management of the power sector with power supply in excess of 4, 200 MW; a better conceived power sector road map is running apace, and the administration is determined to make it better.

They complain about the state of the roads. Most of the contracts were actually awarded under their watch to the tune of billions!

They talk about corruption, yet many of them have thick case files with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the courts and the police on corruption-related charges. One of them was even accused of having awarded choice plots of government land to himself, his wives, his companies and other relations when he was in charge of such allocations! Really, have we forgotten so soon?

These yesterday men and women certainly don’t seem to care very much about the Nigerian taxpayer who has had to bear the brunt of the many scandals this administration is exposing in its bid to clear out the Augean stable. They’d rather grandstand with the ex-General this, Chief that, Doctor this and ex-(dis)Honourable Minister who has no record of what he or she did with the funds the nation provided them to deliver results to protect our interest so that we don’t end up continuing to make the same wasteful mistakes.

It is enough to make you shudder at the thought of any of them being part of government with access to the public purse; but then we’ve already seen what some of them are capable of doing when in control of public money, authority and influence; and to that the people have spoken in unison – they have had enough.

Nigerians are wiser and are now familiar with the trickery from these persons whose claim to fame and fortune was on the back of their public service.

Our point at the risk of overstating what is by now too obvious: We have too many yesterday men and women behaving too badly. We are dealing with a group of power-point technocrats who have mastered the rhetoric of public grandstanding: carefully crafted emotion-laden sound bites passed off as meaningful engagements. That is all there is to them, after many years of hanging around in relevant places and mingling in the right corridors, all made possible through the use/abuse of Nigeria. Our caveat to their audience is the same old line: let the buyer beware!

Dr. Abati is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Goodluck Jonathan

Culled from  Vanguard

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hurry Up Jonathan

The article below was written by Reuben Abati in May 2010 when he was still a Guardian editor.


"IT is very easy in a Presidential position in Nigeria, nay Africa, to get carried away with the ceremonies of office, to be largely overwhelmed by the fawning attention of sycophants and opportunists, and as the intensity of this increases, the man of power begins to imagine himself a superman, and he soon forgets his primary assignment and begins to enjoy the office for its own sake and what it can bring. It is both a practical and psychological pitfall, the drama of which has been played out all too often in many African states, to the great discomfort and disadvantage of the people. It looks like President Goodluck Jonathan is beginning to fall into that pit. He needs to watch his steps.

During the inauguration of a new Federal cabinet in March, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan as he then was, seemed to have demonstrated an awareness of this same pitfall when he promised that his government will "hit the ground running." He charged the new Ministers to come up with blueprints within two weeks and that this will be formally presented to the Executive Council and defended. That speech was full of excellent sound bites. In it, the Acting President also promised to focus on certain key areas of governmental activity: electoral reform, the war on corruption, the Niger Delta crisis, and the power sector. To show his determination, the then Acting President also took personal charge of the power portfolio with a promise that his government will ensure regular electricity supply in the country as a matter of urgent priority.

Although there was still so much uncertainty surrounding his Presidency, with the former President Umaru Yar'Adua still in the background on a sick bed, and reports of selective sightings of the ailing President, Jonathan's emergence brought fresh hope and helped to stabilise a drifting polity. With Yar'Adua's death on May 5, and Jonathan's assumption of full presidential powers on May 6, whatever doubts that may have existed about the legitimacy of his government were neatly resolved. But since February, and given the events of the last few days, there is no indication that President Jonathan intends to "hit the ground running." He seems to have hit the ground dancing. He should watch his footwork. Where are the blueprints from the Ministers? Three months have gone already, when will Jonathan start working? He should read the mood of the Nigerian people more carefully, the ordinary people, I mean. They are impatient.

In three years of the Yar'Adua presidency, not much transformation took place as the people continued to search in vain for the same democracy dividends they have been looking for since 1999. They were distracted by tales of Presidential illness, and the wanton irresponsibility of the professional political elite. Jonathan has enjoyed so much public goodwill because he is the beneficiary of the change that the people wanted. Any kind of change would do, and that is why not so much capital has been made out of the fact that Jonathan was in fact a part of the Yar'Adua government as No 2 man. Jonathan is expected to run a Presidency that is driven by a policy of "business unusual." A Presidency that works as if it is under the pressure of time, and it is; a carefully focused government whose only priority is service delivery within the short period available, and a man at the top who inspires fresh confidence because he knows what he is doing.

Early signs indicate that Jonathan may find it difficult stepping up to the game. He has fallen so early into the error of doing business as usual. He is the ultimate pacifier. He seems determined to run a government of the Godfathers. Every man who imagines himself to be a custodian of the Nigerian legacy, even only a portion of it, seems to have a share of his government. Nothing has been more sordid than the silly politicking that has so far attended the appointment of a new Vice President. For comparison, Dr. Jonathan should look towards Britain where a major political situation has been resolved so decently within a matter of days, without any disruptions and the country has moved on. A general parliamentary election was held (no ballot snatching, no violence,  no iwuruwuru), the result was a hung parliament and a coalition government had to be formed (in Nigeria, that could have resulted in bloodshed), Gordon Brown resigns (if he were a Nigerian, he would have found a way of getting some MPs to cross-carpet to the Labour Party), the LibDems align with the Conservatives, David Cameron emerges as Prime Minister (born in 1966; IBB are you there?) and Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister (born in 1967: IBB, you see?), and almost immediately a new cabinet is announced. Britain is moving on. It is possible to say that the circumstances are different (no Prime Minister died in Britain) but we are dealing with the same issues: change of government, management of processes and leadership; while Nigerian flounders, the British have again shown us how a modern government should run.

For a whole week, the country was held hostage by speculations about who should be the next Vice President. We have been treated not to a decisive and prompt choice by the President, but to the activities of all kinds of powerful individuals and groups: The Governors Forum, the Northern Senators Forum, Northern Emirs, the Yar'Adua family, General Theophilus Danjuma, and General Olusegun Obasanjo all associated with the nomination process. The Northern Senators Forum was divided over the issue and the Governors reportedly resolved that one of them must become the Vice President. The Middle Belt was up in protest and some characters from the North West claimed that if the Vice President did not emerge from their geographical zone, Nigeria's unity could be threatened. There has been no talk about quality or merit. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo goes to Katsina to pay a condolence visit and he reportedly told the Yar'Adua family that President Jonathan will sustain the late Yar'Adua's legacy. How does he know that?

In every manner, President Jonathan gives the impression that he is yet to take charge of his office. He should hurry up. He should appoint as Vice President, a man that he can work with, not someone whose only interest is politics and the 2011 general elections. The Governor of Kaduna State, Namadi Sambo has been named Vice president designate, but the Governors Forum is said to have imposed on him on the President. The dirty politicking over the appointment of the Vice President already exposes the dangers in the zoning arrangement and Nigeria's fragile unity. By allowing every matter to drag, Jonathan slows down his government and loses momentum.

When will his initiative on electoral reform begin? What is his blueprint for the Niger Delta? When will the construction companies begin the task of providing needed infrastructure in that region? Or if that is not possible, what structural and constitutional reforms does he want to push through to resolve existing conflicts? On corruption, is he really interested in the anti-corruption war or he is out to use the anti-corruption agencies to settle conflicts within the ruling PDP? These are not the key signals coming out of the Jonathan Presidency. His handling of the appointment of the Vice President can only further divide the PDP. Those whose names have been touted and who have been busy lobbying for support may become new enemies of the president and the new Vice president and do their utmost best to thwart the administration's efforts. In more serious societies, where there are equally divisive issues as in Nigeria, a Vice president would have been announced immediately and all mischief-makers duly neutralised.


And yet what the people want is real change: change in their circumstances or a momentum in that direction. Something has changed however: President Jonathan's wardrobe. He now oscillates between the Ijaw gear, the Arewa cap and the complete Yoruba agbada. One of these days, he will get round to the Igbo red cap, the Tivi black and white cap, and the Efik/Ibibio wrapper. No chance for the Koma people in that wardrobe arrangement, I think. But can President Jonathan just please, hurry up and focus on the important issues of national interest, the same issues that he himself has identified to start with?