100 days in Office: President Jonathan Slow but Progressive-Ekiyor
Dr. Chris Ekiyor is a medical practitioner and is former President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). He has earned a reputation as a skilled negotiator for his work as a mediator for peace and conflict resolution in the Niger Delta and Nigeria overall. Ekiyor is also the convener of the National Youth Integration Summit (NYIS), a platform he believes will provide the opportunity for Nigerian youths of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to chart a course for the peaceful co-existence of the country. In this interview, Ekiyor talks about his assessment of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s first 100 days in office and concludes that the President may be slow but he is nonetheless making progress.
Q: President Jonathan has recently celebrated his first 100 days in office. What is your view on his achievements thus far?
I will say for the umpteenth that President Goodluck Jonathan has put his right foot forward and he is doing what he has to do to restructure the country called Nigeria. This is a country that has done things in a brash manner in the last two years. When I mean brash manner, people wake up in the morning after dreaming and just make decisions; no road map, no initial planning. Budgets are done year-in-year out and they are not implemented. But here is a man who has learnt through the rudiments of being a Deputy Governor, a Director in NDDC, a lecturer, an acting Governor, Governor, Vice President and President — it means he has passed the ropes. So, he has gone through what you call proper tutelage to be able to steer the ship of Nigeria in a directional manner. What we have had over the years has been a rudderless kind of drive; we would be going to the right and then see a rock and then everybody will go to the right and vice versa. But now he has focus and he has set for himself an economic blueprint to implement.
And if you want to take him up on his economic blueprint, you can see deliberate attempt and effort in terms of budget planning and follow up when it comes to what is deliverable to the country. That is not to say that President Jonathan is 100 percent perfect; he has his own shortcomings too. Whereas Nigerians want him to have a bite and be very fast with doing things because they are tired of waiting, but the processes that the country has set on ground cannot be jumped. This is a government of due process and rule of law, not a military government where you can just give a marching order.
Q: It is generally believed that not much has been achieved through the much touted reforms in the power [energy] sector. What is your view?
When we begin to look at the economic blueprint of this government you can but admit that this government has a workable agenda starting from the Power sector. We are all living witness to the fact that power has improved. We may not have gotten there because we cannot get there in a jiffy, but we agree that for every community the amount of man hours spent on burning diesel and generator has reduced drastically. Most people now hook up to the PHCN national grid and get more hours of electricity. And more efforts are being made and the people who are running that project, Professor Barth Nnaji and co., are well positioned. So, you can see that President Jonathan has chosen some technocrats who really understand what they are doing in forming his cabinet. They may be slow but you can also imagine 50 years of nothing done and a lot of backwardness. To revamp those infrastructures will take a process. However, Nigerians are expecting to see this done faster. This is 100 days in a four year government. So, we hope in the days ahead that we will see more power. We have also heard of complaining of short falls. It happens when you are building up power and increase supply there some areas where transformers have not worked for so long, they break down. And these things cannot be replaced immediately but government is making efforts in that direction.
Then when you talk about infrastructure, the facts are there for all to see; they don’t lie. You can see that FG has awarded contracts. The hitherto abandoned Abuja-Lokoja road has come back to life. The contractors have gone back to sites. I don’t know about the Benin section and on the Lagos axis, I came to Lagos by road and I admitted to myself that there is now an improvement between Ore-Benin that hitherto a no-go area. It means that they are working; I saw the contractors on site. Also, roads within Abuja metropolis are on the upswing. They are expanding the roads leading to Zuba, Maraba, kalauGwagwalada. Though, I don’t know what FG is doing in Lagos but I think they should leave Lagos alone. They should come into Lagos and support the Fashola administration and put some federal presence here. I think the areas Nigerians, especially Niger Deltans are worried about are the coastal roads. But on the average, recently the government approved more money for the East-West road because the government wants that road to work. So, you can see that here is a government that listens and responds to the people’s yearnings. They quickly felt the pulse of the Nigerians that are complaining about the East-West road and approved more money. And you cannot blame them, some of these roads where awarded for political reasons initially under the administrations of late President Umar Yar’Adua and Former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But the reality is that they have to be done because they are political commitments.
Q: Corruption is another malaise that continues to afflict the country as incidences of malfeasance have remained rampant in government circles.
When you take that one away, we go into corruption. More needs to be done on corruption and the president has emphasized times without number that he is not party to corrupt process. So, it is not the duty of Nigerians to begin to bring up information, especially the civil service because these corruptions cannot thrive without the civil service. The civil servants are the major culprits because they prepare documents and manipulate files and make people to manoeuvre the process and allow corruption to sail through. I would like to see going forward where the civil service commission should be examined and people would be made to be accountable for certain things. I was impressed with the hiring and firing of those people in the power sector because once they fired one set, the other sets has no choice but to comply. But if you have a situation where if you don’t perform nobody talks to you, and if you do perform nobody promotes you, there is no motivation. So, in the civil service, I expect President Jonathan to put pressure on the office of Secretary to Federal Government and get the country to motivate productive workers and fire unproductive workers and hire new ones. Once people begin to know that their job can be on the line if they don’t their jobs, including Ministers, MDs, Permanent secretaries and staff, they will take notice and that way we will energize the civil service. A lot of things President Jonathan has given the go-ahead to do are slowing down because of the bureaucratic bottleneck of the civil service.
Q: Even the Niger Delta restiveness appears to be staging a comeback?
Niger Delta restiveness, as you can see, a few days go some people protested in the region. The reason for that is not that they are trying to rebel against President Jonathan. I describe it as a euphoria of the moment. The reason being that here were some people that had hitherto been written off in the past but through the amnesty process they are beginning to be trained internationally and here are other people who are asking why they are left out. Again, President Jonathan has responded by making budgetary provision of N50 billion for job creation under the ministry of trade and investment.
The implication is that the ministry must sit up and generate employment using that N50 billion; if they don’t know what to do they should talk to us and we can help them provide a template that they need to quickly generate employment for the massive number of Nigerians that are turning out every day as graduates without jobs. Also, the American Model, the President Roosevelt model, is there to emulate. Americans wanted jobs and infrastructures and the government said we would build infrastructures with our people. So, they awarded all sorts of contracts and got Americans to build it; Americans built those infrastructures that we enjoy today but they employed themselves doing it, not this one where we want to build roads and we employ Julius Berger, oil companies employ all kinds of expatriates for jobs Nigerians can handle. The technical expertise part of the job can be handled by expatriates but the administrative, labour, and basic aspects must be indigenous. For instance, when they are constructing a road, once the technical design has been done by the technical experts, those who handle the equipment and labour must be Nigerians. An N150 billion road project can absorb about 5,000 workers for a period and within the period people will make a living and plan for tomorrow. So, I think more needs to be done in that area.
I also see that the agricultural sector has just set up a road map and that is one sector that has been ignored for too long. The president has identified the area as a core sector and he has said the country needs to work with the road map to develop the sector.
Luckily, Allison Diezani is with the Petroleum ministry because there is minimal crisis in the Niger Delta and more oil are coming. I expect her to begin to look at that area and begin to tackle issues of environmental pollution, especially when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has confirmed that the Niger Delta needs to cleaned up. So, only on environmental cleaning alone, a lot of jobs can be created for the South South and South West. What I am trying to explain here is if you take a sector by sector analysis of what Goodluck has done and if he can provide the supervisory model, then we have a government that is focused on delivering. It is one thing to have a visionary leader and another thing for those working with him to see his vision and drive it. Nigeria is too big for one person to be everywhere but with the President of Nigeria I have seen someone who understand what Nigerians need and is responding in that direction.
Q: When you juxtapose your position with the feelings of the Nigerians in the street, they are two extremes because the economic blueprints are not being felt by the masses.
That is what i have said that the President must double up on. He has provided N50 billion for employment but he must give a marching order to whomever that money has been made available to immediately create employment. What Nigerians are asking for is like you want to eat Amala and you just go to a store and buy it and eat. But you didn’t know that there has to have been a process first. Someone had planted the yam six months ago, someone had to blend it and sieve it, build a fire and bake it; that is where we are in Nigeria. We have been used to somebody who comes and says okay take a contract and instead of executing it, it ends in the pocket of one man, but we are changing from that style of governance. So, we are changing from that; it is a case of changing from the status quo. Even a change from worse to good is not without resistance. People are reluctant to adjust to change until they begin to reap benefit of such adjustments. So, I agree with a lot of the feelings of Nigerians, the government is slow. But I have said it is because of the re-arrangement and re-programming of the agenda of the government. It is like changing the pattern of doings things by throwing money around without results compared to throwing money at an issue and getting results that people at the end need. It was easy in the past, when people are making noise; you call a few big-mouthed people and throw money at them and they go and do sycophancy and confuse Nigerians into thinking that things are happening — that is one approach. The other approach is: why throw money to a few people who will go and confuse the rest? Instead, let’s put the money on the issues that the people are raising and give the people results. Now, the results have not appeared yet, and that is why the people are thinking that nothing is happening. It will take a process of planting, harvesting, and cooking before we finally eat.
However, I don’t know where we are because I am not in government. I know that they have planted but don’t know whether they have harvested. I cannot speak for Mr. President.
But I am convinced that the Goodluck that I know has put his right foot forward and this is just 100 days. In 100 days, no meaningful project would have been completed. You cannot finish a good three-bed roof flat, you don’t expect it to be finished in 100 days as you do a ramshackle building.
Q: Lets talk about the security challenge in the country. Since President Goodluck Jonathan’s days as acting president there have been incidents of bombing in the country and terrorism has become a way of life. It is also believed that the president has not shown tact and neither has he shown the courage to tackle the issue headlong.
There is a difference between a National security challenge and a politically-motivated security challenge. For instance, if Nigeria is under siege by another country, the commander-in-chief gives an order to defend our country, the military rolls out the tankers and engages. But when you have an internal issue where Nigerians are bombarding Nigerians in a faceless manner what you want to do is information gathering. Now, you may be surprised that there is sensitive information at the disposal of the government and that Nigerians are not aware of its existence. Probably very important personalities might have been identified as sponsors of these people and the president is just being careful. I also agree that his patience has been tested and this is the time for him to hit hard on those people who are making the country ungovernable.
But let me tell you what I think — a group of people who are disgruntled and unhappy with Goodluck Jonathan are trying to see how they can flare this administration in the face. A lot of things have happened that have not happened before; here is a minority man who is president. Fifty years ago, it was not possible. But it is change and everybody is beginning to have a sense of belonging. Also, if you look at the federal executive cabinet, you will see that he has tried to provide a very balanced cabinet that reflects the ethnic component of the country which for me was his bane — trying to make everybody feel we are all one. I don’t think the president needs to that; all he needs to do is to look for better hands and give Nigerians results. Once you start giving Nigerians results they will forget where you come from, but he is being unduly careful because that is his nature to be careful. He is someone who is meticulous. So, if you look at the security challenge, what we have is politically motivated and unless we deal with the political root-cause that challenge will continue to be there.
That security challenge is worrisome to every Nigerias, to me and the president and that is why Nigerians are doubtful that he can contain it. Before Goodluck we have had turmoil in this country. You can remember Zaki biam, Kano, Jos and the whole Niger Delta. So, every president who came has a fair share of problems but President Yar’Adua was the only person who took it headlong by granting amnesty.
Q: What is your view on the UNEP Report on Ogoniland?
I think that there is nothing new to those of us in the Niger Delta about the report because those where the same issues that brought about the restiveness, killed Ken Saro Wiwa and caused the problems in the region. My worry about the report is that it is just solely on Ogoni because whatever is happening in Ogoniland is the same in the whole Niger Delta. But I am happy that they admit that it is happening in Ogoniland; it implies that if it is happening in Ogoniland it is happening in Kaiyaima, Patani, Oloibiri and Warri. So, it is a one step forward for those of us crying for justice in the region.
Q: What advice would you give to the President Goodluck Jonathan Administration?
Going forward, Goodluck as president of Nigeria must brave up and brace up and give marching orders for the fast implementation of those things that are can be implemented in the immediate near future to show to Nigerians that he feels their pains.
But in all, the President is on course and should not be derailed or perturbed by all the distractions.