From Uzonna Ononye, Lagos
Starting from the 29th of May, when General Muhammadu Buhari will take the oath of office and oath of allegiance, becoming a democratically elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, four years will simply be a rollover of days and weeks turning into months and then years. If he intends to make anything meaningful out of it and erase the gigantic negative impression and memories, this is certainly subjective though, that many Nigerians have of him, he should give life, from day one, to that mantra to the extent that every citizen can see and feel CHANGE.
The man he is succeeding, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, rode on the back of the type of goodwill that has never been seen in the country’s political history to win the 2011 polls. His popularity and acceptance broke down traditional political borders of ethnicity, religion and perhaps class.
Right from then, President Jonathan, despite the public appeal as one with humble background and a reflection of “he is just like us” syndrome, began to make one mistake after another.
It will therefore be vital for would be President Buhari to note from onset that goodwill and public empathy can only take a President to a distance where character and delivery of good governance will take over.
One of the first major mistakes by President Jonathan was a terrible but consistent poor handling of critical issues as seen during the protests that greeted the removal of subsidy from petrol back in 2012.
On December 22, 2011, a town hall meeting held in Lagos where public understanding of government intention in proposing the removal of subsidy from imported petrol was canvassed impressively. While ending the meeting, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Nigerians that further consultations will continue as government intends to lay the card bare on the table and solicit citizens participation in ensuring that the policy comes with as less pain as possible.
As the year was almost ending, all attention shifted to 2012 for the Civil Society, the Labour Unions and other interest groups who are skeptical about the sincerity of government to come up with alternative ways of checking the massive leakages already identified in the subsidy regime.
According to the minister of finance, “government can no longer sustain the subsidy which has gulped about N1.3 trillion in 2011 alone and which amounted to over 30% of total government expenditure”.
But human rights activist who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba told government to review its strategy.
“If you want to put a burden on us the citizens, first show us the one you are carrying”. Agbakoba ended.
Exactly 10 days after the meeting, while the rest of the world was celebrating the dawn of a new year, Nigerians woke up to the stark reality that a liter of petrol was now selling for N140 as against N65. In the mist of the chaos and confusion coming from all parts of the country, reactions were not in short supply. But only the Federal Government had nothing to say.
Next 16 days saw the growth the spontaneous public resistance to the policy through rallies, processions and protest walks. Some states succeeded in intimidating and harassing the citizens to withdraw into silent lamentation.
Lagos, the state where President Jonathan, nine months before then, during the presidential election, got 1,281,688 votes defeating the dominant party in the state which scored 427,203 votes, could not be cowed until troops took over the state in a brazing show of might.
The mistake by government was not the application of force to quell what shared similar character with the Arab spring that was blowing away governments in the Northern part of Africa and the Middle East. But keeping mute and allowing the protests to begin in the first instance. Then the interpretation to the Lagos rallies as being orchestrated by the opposition was a dumbfounding evidence of disconnect from the real issues of governance.
President Jonathan did not bother to find out why the state he was so popular to run away with over 60% of votes less than a year ago suddenly rose against him. The President refused to accept that he had betrayed the trust and goodwill of the people by as it were, stabbing them at the back with a ‘dreaded new year gift’. He did not understand the extent the years of misrule had eaten deep into the patience of the ordinary citizen who is no longer ready for excuses upon excuses.
It is still debatable concluding when exactly President Jonathan lost the Presidential election. While those who rely on election results will argue that until the March 28, the President had chanced of returning to office, others who stay on the side of performance will insist that the election was lost but not won as far back as January 2012.
If Buhari intends to be different, he should realise that President Jonathan surrounded himself with men whose being were filled with deceit. They mastered the art of telling him those things he would want to hear. Perhaps, that was why every opportunity for government to make a mark through timely intervention was lost to the excuse that “the opposition said they will make the country ungovernable”. Buhari should understand that if Nigerians were impatient with non performing leaders in 2012, it has become an abomination punishable by desertion to fail.
President Buhari should not just take responsibility but also act and deliver not less than 60% of the promises he made to Nigerian in the next four years or else…