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Tony who?

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
If the man talking nonsense is a fool, the man listening should not be.
— Hausa Proverb

A curious story in one of the news dailies a few days ago said that former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair advised our President Goodluck Jonathan to disregard the voice of Nigerian opposition and other citizens who complain over his policies.

The paper reported that Mr Blair was responding to Jonathan’s long list of achievements and initiatives-in-the-pipeline that will improve the economy, security and the electoral process, and his lamentations that these are poorly appreciated by Nigerians.

The occasion was a business and investment roundtable organised on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly at which Blair was invited as a guest of the President. Mr Blair was reported to have urged our President to disregard opposition parties, push ahead with his reform, and ignore voices which claim they are representing the majority, when in fact they represent minority views or vested interests.

Apparently the people who released the story were impressed by its value to our own President. Perhaps they want to impress Nigerians with the quality of people he rubbed shoulders with on the margins of the UN.

Or, perhaps, they value the droplets of wisdom from the former leader of one of the oldest democracies in the world. It is also possible that they intended it to serve as a signpost to a future in which President Jonathan will operate more and more in contempt for views of the opposition and citizens over his policies or performance.

Whatever their motives, the release of a report which said Blair advised Jonathan to disregard views of the opposition in some media have raised some intriguing questions.

Could it be true, in any sense of the word, that Blair would advise our President to shut his ears against opposition and complaining citizens and push on until he reaches the promised land? Could someone have done a bad job at paraphrasing Blair?

Or could the past master of spin have been badly spun, and words of encouragement he uttered have been taken out of context and been given a new context and meaning? Did anyone imagine that Nigerians will believe that Blair has condemned Nigerian opposition in an open forum called to encourage investment and international support for Nigeria?

Well, apparently someone did, but it is significant that the story was not released through Blair himself. Nor was it denied by the government or Blair either as misrepresentation or falsehood. Perhaps the purveyors of that story have very little history of the man who reportedly dished out these profound words of unwisdom.

If they did, they would have been more circumspect in holding up Blair as an adviser to our President, a man who only a few weeks ago was lamenting the very poor perception of Nigerians over his efforts and achievements. Blair may have turned up at that activity on the margins of the UN to reduce his marginal credibility in the manner history is judging him.

A two-time Prime Minister who will be best remembered for his ability to manufacture his own facts where they do not exist; and to take citizens on a long ride by being clever-by-half with their trust, is not exactly a man President Jonathan wants to be seen in the same room with.

A former leader whose performance and personal credibility is threatening to consign his party to a permanent has-been in British politics is not qualified to advise a President desperate to achieve some level of control over the political process of his nation.

A man who put a brave face to say that Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMDs, exist in Iraq, and an all-out assault was justified even when he knew he was lying shouldn’t be even on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The one million lives lost, and the trillions in dollars of damage, and the decades of setback suffered by the Iraqis represent a cross which Blair and Bush will carry till eternity.

This man who has done more damage to the capacity of British politicians to generate any trust from British citizens than any other British leader really should be avoided at all cost, particularly by our own President Jonathan, who should have been reminded that only a few weeks ago, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Blair and former President Bush should be tried by the international judiciary for crimes against humanity.

But in the event that President Jonathan’s advisers are not thoroughly grounded in the Blair blight, it may not be too late to offer a few words of advice. President Jonathan’s penchant for publicizing words of support and encouragement from meetings at the margins of the UN General Assembly (he did the same last year) should be scaled down in terms of their intended impact.

These meetings on margins are largely symbolic affairs, and all parties say nice things to each other, and promise a few more things they can do together. Business and investment roundtables are carefully choreographed affairs at which invitees sing praises and allow Presidents to reel out plans and achievements to programmed applause. No one takes these events seriously, and Nigerians sitting at home among devastating floods, epileptic power supply and threats to their lives will be the least impressed.

President Jonathan’s primary constituency is the Nigerian people. His lament over absence of sufficient appreciation over his efforts and achievements may be the product of his failure to read the situation properly. Could there be so much hostility and criticism because there really is not much to claim as achievement? Is it enough to say most of his problems predated him, and Nigerians should understand if he finds it difficult to solve then? How long does he need to fix power, security, poverty, unemployment, decaying infrastructure, crimes, threats at the unity and survival of the nation? Even two terms and the two years preceding his first term will not be enough, but what can he do now, and who is he talking to about his plans?

Two days ago, we celebrated our second anniversary behind closed doors. Our leaders will not venture out to children and armed forces parades to celebrate our independence anniversary the way we did in the past out of fear. If they cannot venture out, what should citizens, daily exposed to Boko Haram and security agent fights, armed robbers, kidnappers and devastating floods do?

The President said on Monday that he cannot govern Nigeria alone. He needs help. Well, he is the President. Let him reach out and summon, convince, poach or appoint any Nigerian he wants to help him with ideas, strategies and muscle to move this nation away from the precipe. He does not need Blair to tell him what to do.


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