By Femi Aribisala
IN the last election cycle, I was a strident supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan. I wrote extensively in support of his re-election. Elections are never about choosing the best people for positions of authority. They are about choosing the best of the available candidates. This means we are often required to choose the best out of a bad lot.
Because the Nigerian political environment is toxic, some insist my support for Jonathan could not have been driven by principle. They are convinced he must have paid me handsomely for the job. Because some minds are corrupt, they find it difficult, if not impossible, to understand that not everyone’s mind is corrupt like theirs. So, as far as they are concerned, it is impossible to support a sitting president as stridently as I did unless for financial gain.
My support for President Jonathan was all the more puzzling to these cynics because I am Yoruba and not from Jonathan’s Niger Delta. Why then would a Yoruba man be a strident supporter of an Ijaw president unless for pecuniary gain? That is how these small minds think.
One of these people, who goes by the name Tunde Mash, invaded the blog of my article of faith last week to accuse me of writing “dollarised articles during Dumbo Jo years.” He then claimed my “unborn children” will curse my odious memory for trading their future for a few dollars.
However, by the grace of God, I am a man of means. I received no dollars for the articles I wrote during the Jonathan years. You can be sure if I did, EFCC would have sniffed it out of my bank records and come knocking on my door long before now. In this vindictive political environment where every excuse is used to harass, intimidate and threaten the opposition, I would certainly not have been spared.
I was not a member of the PDP. Neither was I a supporter of the PDP. I did not even vote in the last election. But I was a supporter of President Jonathan and against the APC. I owe no one an apology because Jonathan “lost” the election. However, those who bought the lies and promises of the APC owe Nigerians a big apology, given what we have experienced since Jonathan left.
I don’t know President Jonathan personally. I have never met him. Neither have I ever spoken to, or communicated with, him. I never worked for him directly or indirectly. He never paid me one kobo. I would never agree to work for any government. But I am a town-crier by calling and, for this reason, it pleased God to give me a voice in Nigeria.
My faith teaches me to support the Jonathans of this world. Jesus asks that I support the weak. As president, Jonathan was not a weak man, but he was from and represents a weak (minority) part of the country: the Niger Delta. Against the political onslaught of the mighty Northern establishment, Jonathan deserved and earned my support.
Moreover, Jonathan competed against a known opposition, with a political track-record spanning over 30 years. I remain convinced that he was by far the better choice for Nigeria. We needed him to unite the nation and to convince the people of the Niger Delta that we are not only interested in their oil, but also regard them as the esteemed and valuable members of the Nigeria project that they are.
With Jonathan, we would have avoided the restiveness of Niger Delta militants, such as we had after his demise. With Jonathan, there would have been no agitation for a return to Biafra, which is prevalent today. With Jonathan, there would have been no toleration of murderous and genocidal Fulani herdsmen, such as we have today. With Jonathan’s ministers, the Nigerian economy would not have gone to seed, such as we have witnessed in the last three years.
Jonathan’s rejection by Nigerians in a flawed and blatantly rigged election has had most of the abject complications I anticipated and feared. It is pathetic to find some of those who rejected him arguing against the truth of what we have experienced since he left. We are all living in Nigeria, so it is a waste of time to continue to argue against the truth. There is precious little to commend what we have had in the last three years of APC government.
From bad to worse
Anyone who is satisfied with where we are today in Nigeria does not have the interests of the country at heart. How can we be satisfied that, even though we are a blessed nation, we now have the largest concentration of the hungry-poor in the world. This disgrace did not happen in the Jonathan years. It is a development that has only taken place since Jonathan left, in spite of all the highfalutin promises made in order to replace him.
A report published by the prestigious Brookings Institute in the United States entitled: “The Start of a New Poverty Narrative,” says Nigeria has now taken over from India as the country with the highest number of extremely poor people in the world. According to Brookings, there are now no less than 87 million Nigerian living in extreme poverty. This figure is not declining but growing. It is said to be growing by six people every minute today.
The APC government cannot deny ownership of this catastrophe. It happened under their watch. It happened in the years where they budgeted far more money annually than Jonathan ever did, as a result of their heavy borrowing from abroad. This government has returned Nigeria into the status of a debtor nation, with little or nothing to show for it.
How can we be satisfied with where we are as a nation today when, since the last election in 2015, millions more people have been added to the unemployed in Nigeria? According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate was at 6.4% in January 2015. It is now 18.8%. The government promised jobs, jobs, jobs during the election. But once it came into office All Promises were Cancelled.
How can we be satisfied when, in spite of all the noise that has been made about fighting corruption, Nigeria remains congenitally corrupt. According to the latest international corruption index of Transparency International, Nigeria has become more corrupt under the APC than it was under the PDP. In 2014, Nigeria was ranked 136th most corrupt country out of 178 ranked countries. But today, it is ranked 148th out of 180 countries surveyed. So much for the government’s vaunted anti-corruption policy.
How can we be satisfied with where we are as a nation today when we are not only still fighting the scourge of the Boko Haram, but we now have the additional ordeal of the Fulani herdsmen who kill with reckless abandon without government recourse or protection? In their latest onslaught, some 200 innocent people were massacred in Plateau State, with the government and our security agencies acting merely as onlookers.
I could go on and on. From the value of the naira, to the cost of petroleum products, to the consumer price index, to the level of public discourse, to the question of national integration, to our civil liberties as Nigerians, everything has gone from bad to far worse under the current government.
In with the new
Let us get away from all the propaganda and tell ourselves some home-truths: our leadership has failed us. This is now not about making another choice between the APC and PDP in 2019. It is about rejecting both of them. They have become a plague on Nigeria. It is time for something different; something fresh; something new. Nigeria is desperately in need of new leadership.
What we need, to start with, is not even elaborate. We need a leadership that can provide the basic requirements of a responsible government. We need a leadership that will not pass the buck. When you go to a restaurant, you go there to eat food and not excuses. We need a leadership that creates jobs, not one that loses jobs through ineptitude. We need a leadership that unites us, not one that divides us by a blatant commitment to sectional or regional interests.
We need a leadership that provides security for Nigerians, not one that presides over the daily massacre of our people. We need a leadership that believes in the rule of law, not one that feels entitled to violate it with impunity. We need a leadership that respects the Constitution, not one that regards it with contempt. We need a leadership that is answerable to Nigerians, not one determined to silence us.
We need a leadership that will not imprison Nigerians for years without trial. We need a leadership that will use the guns of the military to protect us from external aggression, and not to maim and kill us. We need a leadership that will be transparent and will tell us the truth, not one congenitally devoted to telling us lies. We need a leadership that will get us out of debt, not one that will mortgage our future to debt.
Out with the old
We need a leadership that understands propaganda does not put food on our table or provide gainful employment for our teeming population. We need a leadership that will not fight corruption with corruption. We need a leadership that acknowledges corruption is not the exclusive preserve of its political opponents. We need a leadership we can criticize without fear of harassment or imprisonment. We need a leadership that will not intimidate those who choose to challenge it at the polls.
We need a leadership that leads by giant strides and not by “go-slow.” We need a leadership that is young, dynamic and forward-looking, not one comprising geriatric yesterday’s men. We need a leadership that can fire up and inspire Nigerians, not one that makes us lethargic and despondent. We need a leadership that will protect our right to freedom of worship, not one that looks on as we are murdered in our churches and mosques.
We need a leadership that keeps its promises and practices what it preaches. We need a leadership that understands economics and will not preside over the collapse of the naira. We need a leadership that understands body language is no substitute to cogent public policy. We need a leadership that will make Nigeria attractive to foreign investors. We need a leadership that will extol our virtues to the world, not one that denigrates us abroad at every opportunity.
We need new leadership in Nigeria, we no longer need either the APC and the PDP.