Going into the presidential election scheduled tentatively for March 28 – tentatively because he and his proxies, sensing defeat, are doing everything conceivable and even inconceivable to scuttle or sabotage it — Dr Goodluck Jonathan has rested his case for a renewed mandate on the claim that he has transformed or is transforming Nigeria in spectacular ways.
Public outrage and scorn have forced them to stop peddling the transparent falsehood that Jonathan has accomplished for Nigeria the wonders Lee Kuan Yew wrought in Singapore, the miracle that Nelson Mandela worked in South Africa, the transcendental change that Dr Martin Luther King’s leadership of the civil rights movement effected in the United States, and the inspiration that has redounded to black humanity from Barak Obama’a ascendancy.
Yet, Transformation continues to be the theme, the centrepiece of Dr Jonathan’s campaign–transformation of every aspect of the national experience.
The opposition APC has continued to espouse “Change” as its campaign theme, despite Dr Jonathan’s wife’s incendiary appeal to the crowds at her campaign stops to stone anyone disrespectful enough to shout “change” to her hearing.
With her habitual resort to coarse abuse, vulgar name-calling, ethnic baiting, and her crass insensitivity to the sociology and complexity of Nigeria, Patience Jonathan has taken first-ladyism to a level of degradation beyond belief. Let that stand as her legacy, and her husband’s.
Now, change is the opposite of continuity. If Jonathan and his campaign are so sure that the path he has pursued for the past six years is the right one, that Nigerians are better off today than they were six years ago and that staying the course will finally lead Nigeria to the greatness for which it is so richly endowed, why don’t they pivot their case on Continuity?
That term rarely figures in their propaganda of hate and incitement because they know that it will give the game away.
Only a masochist will vote for continuity when the past six years have loosed little more than acute deprivation, popular misery and insecurity on the land; when another term of four years under the management that has wrought this devastation presages nothing but the same.
So, pivot the campaign on Transformation. Reel out an endless assemblage of “achievements” as proof, should the usual naysayers still require any, that the Jonathan Transformation is not an illusion conjured up by the “Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria.”
But when you wade through the assemblage, what you see is tinkering – tinkering around the edges, patching, mending, refurbishing, and repairing. There is no fundamental change in the condition, the inner nature or the function of things and institutions, the essence of transformation.
On this basis, Dr Jonathan would have to be regarded as a tinker rather than a transformative figure. That, at any rate, is the contention of this column.
The evidence is plain.
Just the other day, I was going through the first installment of an editorial advertisement in which a grateful contractor or desperate supplicant or a high priest of the Transformation Brotherhood was threatening to inflict on the public a treatise detailing 500 reasons why Dr Jonathan should be re-elected.
The full-page advertisement was a desultory litany of roads in conveniently far-flung regions of Nigeria that Dr Jonathan had allegedly rehabilitated, repaired, or reconstructed. Even if it were possible to verify the claims and vouch for the quality of the work done, if work was indeed done, to call it transformation would still be an instance of unnecessary dignification.
More substantively, one of the planks on which Dr Jonathan’s claim to being a transformer is an excellent example of patching and mending. I have in mind the 1,200 km Lagos-Kano railway track that was supposed to be transformed into a standard-gauge structure for high-speed rail travel.
It is nothing of the sort. The trains run essentially on the tracks laid by Lord Lugard, with some patching here and there. They take two full days to travel the distance. The rolling stock goes back seven decades; passengers are for the most part herded into ill-ventilated coaches, without the slightest regard to hygiene. Neither Dr Jonathan nor any senior official has deigned to take a ride on these trains.
To be fair, you cannot accuse Dr Jonathan of lack of ambition. He has talked of building a West-East railway route, and even threatened to link all state capitals by rail. But talk is not even tinkering, much less transformation.
Lately, they have also been crediting him with the construction of the Abuja-Kaduna fast train, the contract for which was finalised in December 2010, barely seven months after Jonathan was conferred with the full powers of the Presidency following the death of the incumbent, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Jonathan had not quite found his feet then, and could not have been the originator of the project. But he deserves praise for seeing it though to completion.
Yet another plank on which Dr Jonathan’s alleged transformative genius has been erected is the Constitutional Conference that many are citing as reason for backing his re-election. But it was at bottom another job of patching. It was a disingenuous evasion of a Sovereign National Conference, the proper form for the restructuring, without which the Nigerian state will wither away eventually.
The Conference could not have turned out differently, when the Conference was packed with people selected for the most part by the convening authority, operating under rules and conditions designed by the same authority, and beholden to yet again the same authority for its implementation.
By now, the epileptic power supply should have become a distant memory, going by one of Dr Jonathan’s solemn promises. The supply would be so sure and steady, he said, that owners of power generating sets would literally be begging people on the streets to come cart them away for free. But each year, the national output keeps shrinking.
Lacking faith in his own prediction, Dr Jonathan runs his sprawling offices and living quarters in Aso Rock on generators. He has not even thought of building an independent power supply for Aso Rock, let alone tapping into solar energy.
He has built 12 new universities, some of them in areas that can hardly absorb them. But he has made no investments in raising even one of more than 100 older universities to world class. Nor has he equipped a single medical facility in Nigeria to world class, not even the one that is meant to serve the Presidency.
It is necessary to add that hopping from one traditional ruler’s domain to another and handing out bags stuffed with dollar bills in an effort to buy the election, now that Attahiru Jega has blocked the usual methods of stealing the people’s voices and votes, is no transformation.
Rather, it harks back to the colonial-era policy of Indirect Rule. Empower traditional rulers, and they will corral their subjects to do your bidding.
Nor does awarding contracts for rebuilding the school from which the Chibok 219 were plucked by Boko Haram count as a transformative act, especially when as the girls remain unaccounted for more than a year later. Rather, the tawdry election-eve stunt calls to mind George Santayana’s quip about those who double the effort long after they have forgotten the aim.
To say all this is not to say that Dr Jonathan has achieved nothing. It is merely to make the case that his accomplishments belong in the realm of tinkering, not transformation.