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Our misunderstood President

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Politics – the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”
Oscar Ameringer

DURING the better-managed and choreographed media outing on Sunday this week, President Jonathan said he thought he was totally misunderstood when he made comments on the need for complete deregulation if investment in the downstream sector is going to be substantially attracted to the Nigerian oil and gas sector.

He had been widely reported a few days ago as suggesting that fuel subsidy will be removed in order to make room for additional investment in areas such as refineries. He said provision for subsidy has been made in the 2013 budget estimates, but insisted that full deregulation will eventually have to involve removal of all subsidies.

Students of communication arts and management of media must be wondering what can be done to mitigate the manner our President is routinely misunderstood. When he speaks directly, he is misunderstood.

When he is spoken for, Nigerians see things differently. When he and his spokespersons speak on the same issues, people tend to see different angles.

Last Sunday, Nigerians saw a President at pains to establish a new level of personal integrity and sincerity in speaking directly with citizens. But the issues he took up, and the positions of his administration on a number of key issues must have left Nigerians perplexed over how they got to their current understanding of some of these issues.

In spite of the widely-reported engagement of the Federal government in discussions with the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (a.k.a. Boko Haram) insurgency, the President said there has not been any dialogue anywhere with the group.

Although neither the President nor his spokespersons had confirmed the numerous rumoured initiatives and engagements with the insurgency directly, it could not have escaped his attention that much hype had been built around the idea that the insurgency had been engaged in talks with his government through its members in Saudi Arabia, and had even put out a list of mediators which included General Muhammadu Buhari.

Is it also possible that the President missed the widely-publicised suspicions that the olive branch of the insurgency was a fiction manufactured by his administration to create the impression of successes against the insurgency, and ensnare General Buhari?

Could he have failed to be briefed that even a suspicious olive branch had raised hopes of millions of people over the possibility that this terrible war could be resolved through dialogue soon?

Could it have made more sense to allow dangerous speculation, damaging opportunism from the opposition, and crashed hopes from beleaguered communities to subsist, than an earlier repudiation of claims that talks were going on, or were being offered?

Who were those faceless people who spoke to journalists with such confidence regarding “back-door” dialogue with the insurgency? Are they the President’s men, or people who exploit huge gaps in the manner his administration responds to critical issues of governance?

No plan to speak with insurgents

Now that the nation knows from the President himself that there is no plan to speak with the  insurgents, should we resign ourselves to a long-drawn war, or are there options in dealing with this insurgency being contemplated?

In denying that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s assault on Odi had helped to cripple the Niger Delta militancy, the President implied that force alone is not the antidote to this insurgency.

Yet, force is the only thing his administration appears set to continue to deploy, even in the face of near-universal acclaim that it is becoming increasingly counter-productive. Just one day after the televised denial of on-going discussions with the insurgency, reports said another video had surfaced showing soldiers shooting civilian captives in Borno.

The international media is not likely to relent in digging deep into allegations of extra-judicial killings by security agencies; allegations made time and time again by the community, and routinely denied by the military.

If the President’s answers to questions around the insurgency raised even more questions, his positions on other important issues were no less puzzling.

The President gave himself a pass mark in the fight against corruption, citing electoral reforms as evidence. He said Nigerians blamed every failure and every evil in the country to corruption, so the fight against it must be thorough and total.

But even as he spoke, civil society groups and labour are flexing muscles and mobilising to take him up on the failure to deliver on promises that he will free the oil and gas sector from the stranglehold of corruption and powerful interests.

Petrol queues are reappearing, and more Nigerians buy petrol from black markets than licensed distributors. Most people know of the on-going battles between importers, and the government, and most Nigerians pay for these battles with high product prices.

Would it surprise the President, then, to know that most Nigerians believe he is losing the battle against powerful interests in the oil and gas sector? Is he aware of the damage done to the integrity of his reform process by the drama (and the fall outs) from the presentation of the Nuhu Ribadu report? Should he justifiably expect Nigerians to believe that White Papers prepared by this Ministers on work done by professionals and other people of high levels of integrity on sensitive areas will yield much value in terms of the quality of outputs?

The best President

President Jonathan believes he will be judged the best President Nigeria has had by 2015. But he will not know if he will run for another term until 2014. And he thinks it is unfair to ask him if he will run again at this stage.

So his penchant for not being misunderstood is likely to be enhanced, if he is still unaware that the popular rejection by Nigerians of the tenure extension proposals discussed during the recent hearings on amendments to the constitution has everything to do with his personal ambition.

The recent televised outing of the President revealed a man thrust into power who is grappling to justify his status. There was no evidence that he was engaged in sophisticated double-speak or elaborate schemes to fool Nigerians.

With President Jonathan, what you see is what you get. Unfortunately, what Nigerians get is the impression of a man who genuinely thinks that history has a place for him, but is finding it increasingly difficult to exercise a firmer hand on the levers he requires to shape that history. At this stage, Nigerians generally think he is too far removed from the actual events going on in the name of his administration; and he is too far removed from them.



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