Monday, December 13, 2010

This is a guest post.

A quick visit to President Goodluck Jonathan’s Facebook page might lead one to conclude that he is the Messiah that Nigerians have been yearning for. With 340,000 Facebook fans and counting, he is one of the most popular politicians in cyberspace it would appear, and Nigerians have bought into the notion that their President is both accessible and cares about the issues that affect them, as evidenced by the plethora of comments on Facebook and other online forums. However, a scratch on the surface will reveal that all that glitters is not gold.

Since his ascendancy in May 2009, President Goodluck has made a number of unfortunate missteps, the most prominent of which was his handling of the MEND/Independence Day bombings. Much has already been written about that so there is no need to rehash the antecedent except to say that the events of that day and the days following pointed to a worrying lack of control and statesmanship on the part of the President.

Of greater concern is the increasing evidence that our President is just as power-hungry as his predecessors and the political compromises he has made in the last few months provide strong evidence that if he were to win the election, Nigerians can look forward to very much of the same.
Since the beginning of the year, government borrowing has risen by an alarming 50% and our 2010 budget is a 50% increase from last year. This is particularly instructive considering that this coincides with a depletion of the Excess Crude Account by $3bn since Jonathan assumed office, and our foreign exchange reserves have fallen 20% year-on-year. In essence, the Goodluck administration has spent all of our savings on god-knows-what but is issuing bonds to pay salaries and fund the election, rather than invest in much needed infrastructure that can actually grow the economy and improve our standard of living. This is even more alarming when one considers that more than 50% of our national budget goes to recurrent spending i.e. goes to fund the government. Only 30% of the 2010 budget is devoted to capital spending, the remainder is for government overheads! In addition, it is not just the sums involved but the sheer speed at which all of this has happened that raises suspicions about Jonathan’s reform credentials or suitability for high office.
The Accountant General of the Federation revealed that the sum of more than $24bn had been disbursed to the three arms of government in the 21 month period leading up to November 2010. This is less than half of the $10 billion than President Jonathan is presently trying to persuade foreign investors to part with to fix the investment-starved power sector. Let us not forget the $3 billion that the President approved as disbursement from the Excess Crude Account, less than one month after he assumed office. There are murmurs that this was the necessary payoff to the powerful state governors in return for their support in promoting him to the Presidency.

Still it begs the question: where has all this money gone? Even the much vaunted rehabilitation of the dysfunctional power sector is largely being driven by private sector participation. In the absence of any meaningful development projects, it appears that Jonathan’s modus operandi very much relies on the patronage system to which Nigerian politicians are unfortunately addicted. Unlike Obasanjo who had military credentials or even Yar’Adua who had the support of a large and influential demographic group in the North, Jonathan does not enjoy such broad-based support, even among his own people, neither does he have the political know-how or procedural legitimacy to mount a credible challenge to wily Atiku. His only recourse therefore is to buy everyone off, which makes him a very dangerous incumbent as well as a very dangerous presidential prospect. 
Take for example the special concession granted to Bayelsa state to receive extra derivation revenue in excess of the stipulations of the On-shore/Off-shore Dichotomy Abrogation Act 2004, adding $2 billion in annual revenues to the Bayelsa State government coffers. Timipre Sylva, governor of Bayelsa, was one of the governors who was quite vocal in his support of Yar’Adua. Besides the fact that this concession is in violation of the Nigerian Constitution, it is also problematic because the increased accrual to Bayelsa is revenue that would otherwise have gone to the Federal Government. In addition, it is likely to trigger challenges from other oil-producing states who would demand similar terms, further depleting the federal budget. A weak President from a minority ethnic group who does not enjoy either popular support or support within his own party portends a lot of issues, both from an election conduction standpoint and a governance standpoint. 

As the 2011 elections draw nearer, Nigerians need to see beyond the Facebook hype and start to question whether this man can actually deliver the improvements that Nigerians have been waiting 50 years for. If his intent is to gain office by disbursing patronage, free and fair elections in Nigeria might well be in jeopardy already. And if he does win, I am not sure that the state coffers can afford to keep him in office if he has to continue to buy people off. Nigerians need to very circumspect in their choice of a President come April or they may realize one year down the line that indeed, the Emperor has no clothes!

Thanks to Zehd A. for contributing to Nigerian Curiosity as the Honorary Guest Writer for December 2010. What do you think about the thoughts expressed?

Please read other contributions from previous Nigerian Curiosity Guest Writers -
- Dr. Joseph Okpaku's Barack Obama & America: Who Needs Who More
- Osize's 'Economics of Nollywood: Price'
- Aloofar's 'When Will Nigerians Have Enough?'
- Tosin's 'Fantasy Federal Executive Council Team'
- Temie's 'Sweetening Motherhood' 

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