In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, President Goodluck Jonathan made a campaign trip to the South-west to seek support and votes. In classic Jonathanian fashion, the moment he went off the script, he dropped a bolt from the blue by saying that the South-west was too sophisticated to be run by ‘rogues and rascals’.
In a swift response, the perceived target of the barb, former Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu, hit back to the effect that the current tenant of Aso Villa was basically a ‘drunken fisherman’. The exchange provided comic relief to an otherwise drab and colourless campaign.
However, as soon as the PDP machinery ‘shocked and awed’ Nigerian voters into retaining the presidency, rumours of drunken revelries at the Villa began to emerge. Any thoughts that the indulgencies were merely to celebrate a hard bought victory vanished when persistent leaks about presidential inebriation continued to come out.
Whatever the truth of the president’s fondness for ‘awoof’ liquor, his attitude to power and politics – not to talk of his mien – have regularly served to reinforce the impression that the man is high on something. Is it that he is drunk on power, or needs to be smashed to simply confront the enormity of his powers?
Whenever the President addresses the nation – whether by live/recorded broadcast or via media chats, what most Nigerians talk about is not the substance of his address – which is usually very thin at any rate. The more heated debate is more often than not about his sobriety. ‘Did you see how he mangled the speech’? ‘He didn’t make eye contact even once!” ‘I don’t believe he understood what he was reading’. ‘Was this man really a university lecturer?’
The reports of drunken stupors at the Villa and aboard the presidential jet – literal or metaphorical – lend credence to the perception that ‘Brother Goodluck’ is out of touch with reality and unable to connect with the expectations of most Nigerians. Yet, we need to send urgent messages to him. So, if anyone finds him sober, act quickly!
Start by asking him what the point of sharing cassava bread to his ministers was, when we all know they won’t offend the sensibilities of their delicate palates with products made from coarse cassava. Tell him our problem is not cassava bread, but the fact that despite having an estimated 4 – 5 million ha irrigable area of land, Nigeria still imports food worth over $10 billion every year. Of that amount, N635 billion goes for wheat; N356 billion for rice, N217 billion for sugar and almost N100 billion for fish.
Once Goodluck is clear-headed, tell him that less than 100,000ha is irrigated in Nigeria today and that fewer than 30 of our over 300 dams are used for irrigation, which is why our agriculture is worth only about N15 trillion against its true potential of N40 trillion. Tell him to implement policies to close the huge value gap of N25 trillion – simultaneously enhancing food security and creating millions of jobs.
Who will tell a sober Goodluck that unemployment represents a major social and economic challenge because over 60% of Nigeria’s population is less than 25 years old? Apart from an immense waste of the country’s human capital, it causes losses in terms of lower output and is directly linked to our current state of instability.
If anyone finds Goodluck sober, remind him that in 2003, the unemployment rate was less than 15%, but today, nearly 30% of Nigerians are unemployed. The hundreds of billions of dollars earned from unprecedented oil revenues have simply evaporated, which is why 20 million Nigerian youth (about 45 percent) are jobless. Before ‘Brother’ dozes off, tell him that Nigeria needs to create a minimum of 3 million jobs every year to simply to begin to tackle the unemployment situation in the country.
Is the President still awake?
Tell him that many sectors capable of creating jobs for Nigerians remain untapped, and that millions of vacancies exist or can be created by simply implementing the right policies and tackling corruption – such as demanding the return of the N2.6 trillion stolen by the oil subsidy cabal. Also explain to him in simple terms that the informal sector – which is three times the size of the formal economy – needs to be developed, so our policies must ease and speed formalisation channels.
Is the President alert enough to recall the promises he made about giving us fresh air and transforming Nigeria? Please, pour cold water on him and gently shake him awake. If necessary, use simple beer-parlour expressions he can easily relate with. Tell him that his ‘point and kill’ approach to governance solves nothing and that ‘chocking’ ministers and advisers do not redress the central issues insecurity, inequality, injustice and insufficiency gnawing at the very foundations of Nigeria.
When Goodluck is lucid, tell him that… what do you mean he can’t hear you anymore?!