“Confidence Given To President Jonathan Was Misplaced.”
-Journalist Chido Onumah
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Its size, abundant natural and human resources, its huge population and more should make Nigeria the envy of everyone but what the world sees now seems the contrary. Attacks from Boko Haram with surprising ease, corruption that does not seem to be receding and a President who has so far failed to live up to expectations. Offering a lucid appraisal of the situation in Nigeria, Journalist Chido Onumah Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), in Abuja, says the confidence placed on President Jonathan two years ago was misplaced. Onumah, a former Director of Africa programmes at the Panos Institute in Washington, DC, says using the military to fight Boko Haram is not a lasting solution and quotes public officials who see the destructive politics of the ruling PDP as part of the security problem facing the country.
Nigerians need to rise up and take destiny into their own hands says Onumah who has won several Journalism awards and worked in several parts of the world. It is unfortunate that at this age, the North/South cleavage should trump more important criteria like competence and moral rectitude in the discourse among politicians on who leads Nigeria. Onumah who was also the pioneer coordinator of the crime prevention unit (Fix Nigeria Initiative) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria, has harsh words for President Jonathan who has failed to lead by example in the fight against corruption. “He should not because he has done absolutely nothing to develop the country and improve the quality of lives of its people since he became president,” Onumah says of President Jonathan in response to a question on whether or not he should run for office in 2015.
It has been a year of security challenges with the Boko Haram causing unbridled chaos with what sometimes looks like surprising ease, is that group holding the country hostage?
Of course Boko Haram is holding the country hostage. The Nigerian security forces have not been able to neutralise their capacity to launch attacks at will. As we speak, the man who claims to be the leader, Mallam Abubakar Shekau, who many believe still lives in the country, has not been found and arrested. So, it’s a very very worrying phenomenon especially as the economy of Northern Nigeria has been totally destroyed and Nigeria as a whole is considered a risky destination for business as a result of rising insecurity of lives and property which has been made worse by the activities of the religious group.
The largest country in Africa in terms of population ,with one of the largest armies, if Nigeria is unable to handle its security challenges how can it address those of other countries in the region or beef up its case for a permanent seat on the UN Security council should Africa ever get one?
The Nigerian army is large for nothing. There is nothing to show in terms of military hardware, capacity, training and discipline. The military is extremely corrupted. A Nigerian Army General once described the Nigerian Army as “an army of anything goes”. That captures the Nigerian military. They may be large in terms of numbers but the fighting capacity is not something to cheer about. Eighty percent or more of the equipment is obsolete. A military whose aircrafts fall from the skies very often cannot be trusted to provide meaningful security for Nigerians or the West African sub-region. To that extent, it’s safe to conclude that Nigeria’s request for a permanent seat in the security council of the UN is nothing but laughable.
Still on the security challenges does the fact that President Jonathan is from the Southern part of the country a factor in the onslaught of the Boko Haram?
Oh yes. The circumstances of Mr. Jonathan’s emergence as the presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and how he won the 2011 presidential election is a contributory factor to the security challenge facing Nigeria today. Many groups in the North, and even some individuals in the South are of the view that Jonathan should not have contested the election.
Some Northerners, based on an internal PDP arrangement which advocates for rotation of the presidency between the North and the South, believe it was their turn to produce the country’s president in 2011 after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, a Northerner, three years into his four-year tenure in 2010. Therefore, they felt betrayed when Jonathan insisted he had a right to be in the race. For them, the only way to register a strong objection to the perceived betrayal is to use the demons created by some Northern governors for the purpose of winning elections to make the country uncomfortable for Jonathan.
Having said that, it is important to emphasize that the Nigerian constitution does not recognize the rotation arrangement. To that extent, it is not justifiable for anybody or group to promote violence based on the fact that the president is from a particular section of the country.
Is using the military to fight the Boko Haram a winning option as opposed to dialogue?
Using the military to fight Boko Haram is definitely not a lasting option. The problem is harder to solve because the military is dealing with people who are in the main “faceless” and ready to die. Therefore, as you apply the stick, you have to find a way to bring them to the table. Boko Haram has divided the country not just along ethnic lines, but also along religious lines. All this is because the country has a president who is not tactful in the way he manages the country’s complex problems. Recall that the late former National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi, once said that the insecurity facing Nigeria today was partly as a result of the destructive politics played by the ruling PDP. Many Nigerians agreed with him when he made that statement.
Elections are not due till 2015 and there seems to be debate as to whether President Goodluck Jonathan should run or not, is the debate worth the trouble with so many pressing problems begging for attention now?
Well, this is typical of the style of the ruling party. The party is not about providing direction and development for Nigeria. It’s about grabbing power. The PDP is now thinking about 2015 in terms of how to rig itself into office again. It is not interested in how to provide quality leadership.
As for the opposition parties, they are justified if they begin now to plan to take over in 2015, given the fact that nothing is happening in terms of governance and the incumbent president is giving out different signals suggesting he would run in 2015.
I think the most pressing problem in Nigeria now is how to get credible people elected into leadership positions. Once we do that, every other thing will fall in place. So, to answer your question, the debate is certainly worth it.
How would you size up the Jonathan Presidency two years to the expiration of his term, what have been some achievements and what would you consider big failures?
There is no doubt that Jonathan is a failure. There is nothing any honest Nigeria or observer of Nigerian political scene will consider as an achievement. For me, it’s not even about the Jonathan administration. It’s about the failure of the ruling PDP, a collection of strange bedfellows, since it took over the reins of governance in 1999. The country has been going down, steadily, since then.
You may not be a politician but in your opinion, should he run for elections in 2015?
No. He should not run. He should not because he has done absolutely nothing to develop the country and improve the quality of lives of its people since he became president. For goodness sake, in a country where corruption is seen by many people, including foreigners, as the major problem, this president says he does not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets. So, why should such a man run for election again in this country?
President Jonathan has not justified the confidence Nigerians placed in him. A lot of people gave him the benefit of the doubt two years ago because of his education. He holds a Ph.D. in zoology. It is clear that confidence was misplaced.
Is it just mind boggling to external observers or it bothers Nigerians too that in the 21st century rather than dwelling on competence, patriotism, moral probity and other positive traits, in the choice of a leader, the focus is whether you hail from the North or the South.
This is the tragedy of the Nigerian condition. There are a good number of Nigerians who worry that the thinking in some circles is that the person who leads the country should be Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba or someone from any of the over 200 ethnic groups in the country. This is unfortunate. It is high time we focused on the quality leadership, not which part of the country or ethnic group the leader comes from.
This is what corruption and many years of bad leadership have reduced us to. Until we imbibe and make competence, patriotism and moral probity a permanent feature of our national life, we would not make any headway as a nation.
The press is full of reports about corruption, is the government of President Jonathan consistent in its fight against this canker worm especially when there are reports that those who have profited from scams in the petroleum sector are either high profile Nigerians or influential members of his party?
I just mentioned earlier that the man says he does not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets. What President Jonathan is saying in effect is that he is not ready to lead by example in fighting corruption. And he has further demonstrated this by the lukewarm manner this government is prosecuting the big oil thieves, many of whom are his supporters and friends of politicians in government.
You can see that corruption is part and parcel of this government and President Jonathan only pays lip service to checking it. His appointments, pronouncements, and actions do not show someone interested in fighting corruption. There is a history to this, of course. We shouldn’t forget that in 2006 when he was governor of Bayelsa State in south-south Nigeria, he was indicted for false declaration of assets and for acquiring expensive cars and extensive real estate outside his legitimate income. He was subsequently recommended for prosecution by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). A year later, he became vice-president. That is Nigeria for you!
There was this big fight in the course of 2012 about deregulation and the government caved, is that the kind of pressure needed to force through reforms and policies that will make Nigeria live up to its potential and expectations?
I believe so. I think that all kinds of activism have to be energised to fight the injustices in the system. Nigerians must rise and take their destiny in their own hands.
We saw the examples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and so on. Nigerians must be ready to toe similar lines for them to experience real transformation.
You are the Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information, may we know more about the Centre and what is the state of the media in Nigeria today?
The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy was set up based on the conviction that Africa’s children and youth could benefit from a global phenomenon that is creating opportunities for active engagement and participation of children and youth in voicing their views on matters of concern to them. The Centre leads the effort to introduce media and information literacy into the school curriculum across the continent.
With the support of organizations like UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations and their partners, the Centre works with media and information literacy experts, teachers and researchers to engage students and youth using a “hands on” approach to teaching media, information, and advocacy skills in an engaging way.
Much of this is of course depends on the state of the media in the country. Nigeria has been described as having one of the most robust media in Africa. Since the return of the country to democracy in 1999, quite a lot has changed in terms of freedom for journalists. In the last decade, with the expansion of ICT, the Nigerian media has blossomed. But in terms of safety of journalists, there hasn’t really been any marked departure from the past. The only difference being that journalists are now more prone to die in crisis/conflict zone or killed by what I would describe as “freelance assassins” unlike during the military era when they were directly targeted by the state.
Of course, you can’t talk about the media in Nigeria without talking about corruption. Unfortunately, the media that ought to be in the forefront of the campaign against corruption is mired in corruption. This can be attributed to many reason, ownership and the general climate of corruption in Nigeria. A lot of the media outfits in Nigeria are owned by politicians or those close to them. It is difficult for journalists not to pander to the whims of their employers.
Pan African Visions is very grateful for the time taken to answer these questions, Sir.
You are most welcome. And congratulations on the great job you are doing.