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No better time to speak up


Alabi Williams

Alabi Williams

Former president Jonathan quipped last week, rather proverbially, that, these are risky times to talk about Nigeria. He said so at a coronation event in Gbaramatu, an Ijaw kingdom in Delta State, when some kinsmen wondered why the man is not saying enough, perhaps to defend himself or the government he headed for six years, as well as, the party that gave him that assignment. There was something in the statement that didnít quite click, because Jonathan has been speaking since he left office on May 29 2015.

As former president, especially one who made record by accepting electoral defeat even before final collation of results, he earned for himself and the country some reverence among other countries and leaders of the world. Based on that feat, he is often invited to speak on issues of leadership and governance at regional and world forums. Each time he is offered a podium, he has equally taken the opportunity to say one or two things about himself, Nigeria and governance challenges.

For instance, the last time he spoke was in October, at the famous Oxford Union in the UK, where he was reported by the media in Nigeria to have said that Sambo Dasuki, his former National Security Adviser did not steal $2.2b dollars. That was the story in the major headlines, which was a far cry from the details of what the man actually said. What may be deduced from a detailed reading of what Jonathan said was like an exclamation, of a man wondering how one individual could have stolen that much when from the same purse arms were bought and other legitimate expenditure carried out. He didnít say no money was stolen, or that Dasuki has no case to answer. He said it was impossible for the man to have stolen the entire sum as claimed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Hear him: ìThey said the National Security Adviser stole $2.2billion. I donít believe somebody can just steal $2.2 billion. We bought warships, we bought aircraft, we bought lots of weapons for the army and so on and so forth and you are still saying 2.2 billion, so where did we get the money to buy all those things?î

Part of the trouble with Jonathan, even while he was in office was his inability to make very clear and well understood statements. The other leg of his trouble is the ease with which people refuse to hear him clearly, even the media. The other time, he tried so hard to explain corruption, and ended up sounding as if he supported corruption, since stealing is not the same thing as corruption.

So, I feel that was the exact dilemma the man tried to explain in Gbaramatu, the dilemma of misrepresentation, not that Nigeria has become so totalitarian and risky, to the extent that people can no longer express their minds on issues of public importance. There was also a perception, which that statement foisted on the public space, which was that the guilty are perhaps, afraid to talk. So, Jonathan was no longer bold to talk because of guilt? I saw a posting to that effect and my response was whether members of our once fearless civil society are also guilty, which is why they can no longer speak out on issues that could derail society if left unquestioned.

I found myself asking; where are the election monitors when the unimaginable happened in Ondo and a candidate was ëforcedí into an election in which he could not campaign; where are budget monitors, when Budget 2016 has left more of its provisions unimplemented and nobody is asking questions; where are the rights activists, as they watch the Shiites case degenerate into the worse form of violation in Nigeriaís history, not even in the days of the military did we record such level of losses. If Jonathan is guilty and now afraid to talk, are we all guilty too?

Despite all of that, people have been expressing their minds on policies of this government and those in government are at liberty to listen or turn deaf ears. Former president Obasanjo has been speaking. Former vice president Atiku Abubakar has been speaking. Former CBN governor, now Sultan Lamido Sanusi, has been speaking. Junaid Mohammed, Femi Olu-Kayode and other well meaning Nigerians have been talking to this government. Many in the media have been talking to this government. And so far, I have not heard or read where this government has made it risky for people to engage it on policy issues. As expected, once in a while, individuals in government, whose duties it is to manage public information get touchy and join issues with some public commentators. So far, it seems robust and there are no personal bruises yet. But it will not take long for both sides to abandon civility as the polity is now on verge of injury time. Citizens are getting rather impatient with a government that made too many promises while campaigning for votes. The votes were generously given, but now that itís time to implement, government is lamenting.

When Obasanjo told this government to stop lamenting and face the job it was elected to do, he seemed to be within the limits of public interest and the executive, perhaps, out of respect decided to let it remain like that. But not the legislature, which has always held the opinion that OBJ is meddlesome and hypocritical. The former president had referred to the National Assembly as a ìden of corruption, occupied by unarmed robbers.î They told him he is the grandfather of corruption in Nigeria and the most corrupt Nigerian that ever held public office. They have not forgotten their encounter with him in 2007, when they alleged he wanted to amend the Constitution to remain in office for a third term. The jabs cannot be friendly between the former president and the legislators.

As for former vice president Atiku, who was a presidential aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, and is seen as a major contender in the race for 2019, politics is often read into his public statements. But he speaks all the same. His treatise on the need to restructure the country and make the centre thin and less attractive for combustible politics was (mis) interpreted as posturing for 2019. Chairman of his party, chief John Odigie Oyegun responded that the party was not ready to discuss restructuring. Atiku was therefore, on his own.

Atikuís latest caution over jubilations by government that the northeast has been fully recovered from insurgents was again misconstrued as a political statement. What Atiku said was that the war against the northeast insurgents is not over, until a full restoration of what had been lost, including the schools, churches, mosques and the peopleís psychology that had been bruised. He said: ìMore still needed to be done to restore normalcy in this area. The insurgency remains.††The insurgents still occupy a specific geographical space. They still retain the capacity for occasional deadly attacks. Many citizens in the zone still remain vulnerable and live in fear; and we cannot say that the problem is over until every displaced person is able to return home, to the office, to the market, to the farm, and resume normal activities.î

Instead of reading public interest into this candid statement, it was interpreted as politics of 2019. Yet, bombs are being exploded. Madagali was hit on Friday by two female suicide bombers and it was deadly. †

Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido does not pamper any government. While he was governor of Central Bank, he peppered the Jonathan government to no end, until he was sacked. He did not just talk, but he made a lot of sense. At that time, the APC adopted Sanusi as one of their own, since his public attacks of the Jonathan government swelled their ranks.

Sanusi is not thrilled by the manner the Buhari government is mishandling the economy and he has said so. It is up to government to manage him and others well, so that there are no political backlashes.

This government is running out of goodwill and what it does not need now is ëattack dogsí in the Presidency, who would haul insults at critics. Such did not pay the former government, and will not pay this government. It is in governmentís interest to encourage more critical viewpoints in the public space to provoke it to work. Even Jonathan should be encouraged to speak more!?

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Alabi Williams
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