Dr Goodluck Jonathan,
President and Commander Federal Republic of Nigeria,
and commander in Chief of the armed forces
Dear Mr President,
thought I should drop you a few lines in this season of letter writing, an art which is fast disappearing as we concentrate on emailing, texting and twitting. This is my second letter to you since your presidency. My first was in November 2010, about the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody in Port Harcourt. I received a letter from the inspector general of police informing me that he has asked for the matter to be investigated. Unfortunately, since then I have heard nothing and those alleged to have committed this heinous crime are still in the police doing the same thing.
The reason for this letter is not unrelated to the recent happenings in the country. The crisis in your political party, the allegations of impropriety and corruption leveled against you by your predecessor, the problem of Boko Haram terrorists and the continued extra judicial killing of suspects like the Ezu river bodies. Besides, I have other concerns about your administration, your legacy and future of Nigeria, which I wish to discuss in this letter.
Before I proceed, I would like you to know that I respect the office you occupy and hold those who occupy such offices in high esteem. I love our country Nigeria, but very troubled by her chequered history and seemingly inability of its leaders to learn from history and experience. I am also aware of some of the constraints high offices place on those who hold it and the many different ways they can be distracted from what is most important.
The letter from your predecessor Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and the several indicting allegations he made against you and your leadership, probity and commitment to Nigeria as a united nation, is revealing and troubling. The allegations if proven, would have devastating consequences for your political future, reputation and place in history. You may be rightly startled as to why he chose to make his letter public, but that belongs to the realm of speculation as the fact and reality is that he made his letter public, and it has to be seen in that light. A public letter, which is meant to expose you weaknesses and inability to rise to the demands of the high office you hold.
The problem may be a bit compounded for you because Obasanjo is one of your many benefactors, and he has said you place him third in your life, which I suppose should give you opportunity to reexamine some of those currently very close to you. However, you should not be in any doubt Mr President, Nigeria is in a serious crisis of leadership comparable to 1966. I was four years old when a bomb dropped by Nigerian air force landed near my school and killed everybody in the house. You are in a position to stop Nigeria slipping into similar anarchy which is why I am writing this letter to you.
I am not a card carrying member of any political party in Nigeria and do not live in Nigeria at the moment. However, for the past few years I have been conversant with the development in Nigeria and have regularly contributed my opinion by way of articles some of which have been critical of your government and actions. However, I have utmost respect for you and the office you occupy and understand the great power it gives you to do good.
This is the hour of great need for Nigeria and if you honestly love Nigeria as you often say, I believe that you will put her interest over and above your personal, political needs and attempt to act in the best interest of justice, the rule of law, accountability and the common good of the greater majority of the people of Nigeria. This is why I wish to draw you attention to some problems in Nigeria, which you can still do something about with your remaining political capital, while this sectarian politics plays out.
I am deeply concerned about the future of Nigeria as a united and peaceful country, where her citizens are free to pursue happiness. I have been jolted by the widening of the ethnic and religious divide in the country, utterances, actions and attitude of many of the leaders, who seem to be hell bent in pursuit of their selfish interests at the expense of common good and unity of the country. I fear that this attempt to entrench sectarian politics in Nigeria may be another ignorant step on the road to perdition, if attempt is not made to reverse it. How can Nigeria develop as a united nation, when politicians seek to gain power by putting knives on the things that hold us together? When I look at the result of what Nigerian leaders are doing, in countries like Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Congo, Rwanda, Afghanistan etc., I fear for the future of Nigeria and wish there is something I can do to help. This is why I have decided to write you, your excellency, the person who is in the position to do something about it and urge you to act because the hand of history is now right on your shoulder.
As you are aware, the Nigerian president and governors have unaccountable power of patronage, which can be very corrupting. I would like you to examine the powers of the president with the view to finding ways it can be made more accountable and stop the president from abusing it, in the pursuit of his personal interests. What I have observed since the return of civilian rules in the administration of your predecessors and yours, is that the Nigeria president has enormous power which has been abused in the pursuit of personal objective. This singular abuse is at the heart of the many problems that has developed, which now seem to threaten your position both as president and leader of your party. You can make the Nigerian presidency more democratic, less autocratic and the presidents less able to abuse their powers to intimidate or frustrate their opponents. To give you an example of what I mean.
During the time of Obasanjo, he was able to withhold the revenues accruing to states, whose governors were not in good terms with him and used the EFCC to selective pursue his political enemies. An example is what he did to Lagos state, when he fell out with Tinubu and the way some governors and politicians were prosecuted and others got permanent injunctions restraining the EFCC from prosecuting them for corruption. Unfortunately, if what one reads from the press is true, you seem to be doing the same to Rivers state because of your differences with governor Amaechi. I recall your problems with Sylvia. Amaechi is alleged to have said that you are withholding some fund due to Rivers state and has stopped some federal developments and projects in the state. No doubt, there may be good reasons for this, if they are true, but it is evidence that something is very wrong with the Nigerian democracy, and the way leaders exercise power, which can be fixed and the only person at this point in the history of Nigeria; who can attempt to fix it: is your good self.
You can ensure that no future president would be able to abuse his powers in this way and manner, by sending appropriate bill to the national assembly to ensure that such behaviour is considered unlawful and make governors more accountable of the resources under their control, which many of them misuse at the moment. I say this because; a good leader changes his country in such a way to make it impossible for those, worse than him to abuse power. I believe that you can do this.
Another area I think you can do something good is in the power of the executives (president and governors) to give patronages. It cannot be right that the Nigerian president and governors have the right and power to literarily deep their hands into the Nigerian treasury and spend public money as they like. You can bring order and accountability to this area. You know the various ways Nigerian leaders steal from the country and how to stop them. You have been a deputy governor, governor, Vice president and now president. You can do something about it, if you want to, so that if you lose power, you would have left a more accountable system, which is more difficult to abuse. You can send a bill to the national assembly to ensure that all contracts would be bided for openly by tendering and ensure that the president and governors do not have the right to award contracts. Rather, they should ensure that all contracts are awarded by open bidding through tendering in a transparent and honest way and manner.
I would also like you to look at the ways governors have destroyed the local government, with the view to restoring the local government as the third tier of government by removing the provision that allows governors to take control of local government allocations. The local government must be restored as a third tier of government, if majority of our people will be involved in our democracy. Local governments should work with state governors, but not under their control.
I think you should look at the cost of government in Nigeria with the view to doing something drastic to reduce it. Nigerian politician are paid too much. You know it. Our senators earn more that the president of United States of America. This is criminal, immoral and unacceptable in a country where more than 70% of the population live on less than a dollar a day and many children walk about without shoes trying to earn a living on the streets. The World Bank says that Nigeria spends 80% of her recurrent expenditure on government, when it needs to spend not more than 35% to be viable. You can do something about this by looking at how other countries like America and Britain pay their politicians and proposing something similar to save Nigeria. You can start by proposing a reduction in the pay and allowances of the president and ministers and the setting up a commission to look at politicianís remunerations, with the view to making recommendation. In fact, if the remunerations of all Nigerian politicians are cut by 50% they will still remain amongst the best paid politicians in the world. You can do something in this area, which can secure your legacy as a transforming president.
I will now draw your attention to some of the issues your predecessor Chief Olusegun Obasanjo raised in his letter and suggest steps you may consider to regain the momentum and do your best for Nigeria. I am a strong believer in institutions and the fact that what any country needs to develop is a government where the leaders are not able to take more than their fair share of the resources, are accountable, just and honest in their dealing with the people, and respect due process and the rule of law. These are dependent on the existence of strong institutions and the character and vision of the leaders, and not on the type of government they operate. I have made the same suggestions in a recent article and have adapted them for this letter.
First, you should consider starting, by setting up an independent public judicial commission of inquiry to look into all the allegations Obasanjo has raised in his letter. This commission should be headed by an honest and independent minded High Court Judge, who is known to have a good reputation, and not one of the corrupt ones, who pervert the course of justice by giving judgement to the highest bidder. This will give you time and breathing space to continue to do the job you are elected to do.
Second, you should look at setting up other commissions of inquiry to look into corruption in the police, unsolved murders, and the various ways the judicial system is abused by corrupt politicians to escape justice, with the view to eliminating them. Nigeria cannot continue to have a judicial system that clears politicians of economically damaging corruption, while it sentences common criminals to death for crimes that have little or no serious consequences to the economy. This is injustice.
Third, your Excellency should establish another commission to look into corruption in the oil industry, how it has been managed and make recommendations of how it should now be managed to make the revealed corrupt practices impossibl in the future. This commission should also examine oil block allocation, and the current way and manner Nigeria exploits her oil resources, with the view to making recommendations, after looking at how countries like Britain, Norway and others, exploit their oil resources. In these countries, companies bid for right to explore and extract oil and pay the government for this right and in addition, the government taxes their profit.
Thereafter, Mr President, you should consider sending the following bills to the national assembly:
- The Nigerian restructuring bill to restructure Nigeria into six regions according to the Ekwueme recommendations, and abolish the state structure. This is the most important structural adjustment Nigeria needs today. This bill, if passed into law, will drastically reduce the cost of government in Nigeria, release money for social investment, and steady the economy. Creating six regions will immediately stop the fragmentation of Nigeria into its ethnic nations. Imagine the savings from Thirty-six house of assemblies and thirty-six state governors, to six regional house of assemblies and six regional governors. Without this, every ethnic group in Nigeria will sooner than later, be asking for their own state and at the last count, there are over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Certainly, no country that wants to unite its people will continue to pander to the wishes and caprices of ethnic nationalists and religious extremists. We simply just have to get serious with nation building.
- The amendment of INEC bill to make the INEC truly independent of the government in power and be able to remove money in Nigerian politics, ensure that political parties elect their candidates in free and fair elections and make the selection of candidates by godfathers a criminal offence. The bill should also set a limit on how much each candidate for an office should spend during elections and hold the candidates responsible for any violent or corrupt activities of their supporters. In addition, the bill should introduce open and verifiable voters register and make it easy for every Nigerian reaching the age of 18 to be included in the voters register, which should also be accessible on line by those who meet the criteria to view it and at the payment of a fee. The voters register should be linked to register of deaths so that when people die, INEC should be informed so that it can remove their names from the voters register. All these will enable INEC conduct free and fair election and sanction candidates that break the law.
- The land use Act abrogation bill. This bill will be the master stroke bill to fix one of Nigerianís most intractable problems and the real cause of most of our problems. The bill will abolish the current land use Act and return lands to their ancestral owners. The idea that a group of people should control the land because they have been elected into office is unjust, criminal and feudal to democratic and enlightened minds. The bill should also establish the rights of people to the natural resources on their land to put an end to the injustice of oil block. There is no reason whatsoever, why somebody from Maiduguri, Abakiliki, Abeokuta or Sokoto, should own the right to the oil in Ogoni or Ijaw land, while those from the area, whose people pay the environmental cost of oil exploration are excluded from the benefits of the resources under their ancestral land. This is the travesty of justice at the heart of the Nigerian problem. We cannot build a country, when it is designed to ensure the political and economic domination of one ethnic group over the rest. It is recipe for disaster, and unless the government takes justice as fairness, and equality seriously, and address the built in injustices in the Nigerian system and polity, no amount of letters will stop the drift to disintegration.
Finally, the government should consider seriously sending a third of the Nigerian army to occupy north east Nigeria and dig into the Boko Haram region and at the same time step up the psychological warfare for the minds of the people in the region. The government should be actively exposing the divisive and evil influence of the way some people use religion in Nigeria, and the fact that Boko Haram is the evil face of Islam and has nothing to do with Ďpeaceful religioní. The people behind Boko Haram should be subjected to justice and exposed as the insane criminal and extremists they are, and offered a choice to give up their arms or face the full weight of the Nigerian army and or law. The government should stop treating Boko Haram with kidís glove. Islamic extremism is a virus that destroys countries and anything that is different from it. It is the vestigial of ancient time when men killed those who are different from them and saw in metaphysical wisdom and exegesis of ancient texts, the end of all knowledge and morality. The government should declare an all-out war against them and sensitise the people to understand that the country is fighting a war of survival. The government should also make effort to help the people to defend themselves by arming some responsible people in the at risk communities. This is how terrorism is fought. No one can protect a man whose enemies are armed and he is not, unless the protector is with him all the time. The current way the at risk communities are protected,shows failure of strategic thinking, as all the terrorists have to do is wait and attack, when the protectors are not around.
By making these reasonable moves, you may be able to stabilise the sinking Nigerian ship. Nigeria is much more polarised along ethnic and religious fault lines than it has ever been in her history. There is need to not only address the anxieties Obasanjo expressed in his letter no matter his motives, but to be seen to be addressing them and taking them very seriously. Nigerians need to know the extent of corruption in the government, the various ways it is perpetrated in the oil industry, criminal justice system and police, and those who have benefited from it. This is the minimum Nigerians expect from you.
I have lived through a conservative, Labour and a coalition of conservative and Liberal democrat governments in Britain, and can conveniently say that a government is not good or bad because of what it calls itself. A government is good or bad because of the values the leaders hold dear, their beliefs, who they want to please and how they want to achieve them. A government is driven by the convictions and visions of the leaders, their attitude to social justice, equality and tolerance. A government is good or bad because of the ideologies it subscribe to and what it is prepared to do, to achieve what it believes to be the right thing.
I have seen the evils of a Labour government that pursues social justice without emphasising individual responsibilities and think that their task is to tax the rich and blame them for poverty, instead of empowering the poor to do for themselves what no one, but themselves can do. I have also seen the monstrosity and insensitivity of a conservative government which venerates selfish individualism as capitalism, serves the interests of the rich alone, thinks it has no responsibilities to those who are unable to help themselves and blames poverty on laziness. Furthermore, I have seen what happens when conservatives and Liberal democrats share power and how each tries to play to gallery to please its members and voters and end up not doing anything very well.
I have come to believe that a government is good when those at the helm of its affairs realise their duties to the poor, obligations to children, elderly and the disabled, their commitment to equality of opportunity and justice as fairness. A good government is one which acts in the interest of the majority of the people, encourage and enable the people to fulfil their potentials by making contribution to the society.
Therefore, Mr President, I do not think it should really matter whether PDP or APC is in power in Nigeria, if those in power have regard for honesty, rule of law, prepared to shun corruption, and care about social justice. No government is good if it does not take individual liberty very serious, does not fight corruption, selective in the way it enforces the law, panders to sectarian constructs and do not lead by example. Nigeria will not be able to develop and join the community of nations, if leaders like you do not demonstrate that they take the values that make for better societies very serious.
What we need to do, is find out what those who seek power believe in, their visions for Nigeria, their concept and attitude to justice as fairness, tolerance, equality and religion and ethnicity. These are the things that make for a good leader and good government. A Nigerian government will not be good because the leader is Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibibio, and Ijaw etc. A government will not be good because the leader is Christian or Muslim. A government is good or bad depending on the attitude of the leader(s) to the rule of law, probity, equality of opportunities, access to qualitative education and health care services and due and democratic processes.
I suppose, we need to start focusing on the things that make for good leadership and government and not on the identities and vehicles politicians use to gain power. What we need to know is who the leaders are and what they are prepared to do with power, and at what price. This, in my view is what matters. Anybody can be a good leader and any party can run a good government, if they pay attention to what is really important and find the will to do them. The problem is not in the party, but with the individuals who make up the party. In the end, political problems are simply human problems and leaders fail because of their values, what they want to achieve, what they believe in, who they want to please and what they are prepared to do to achieve them.
Personally responding to Obasanjoís allegations will not solve anything as you cannot absolve yourself of such allegations without formal investigations. You do not need to respond to them personally. The members of the nationally assembly, who are calling on you to do so, are either ignorant or mischievous. It is Obasanjo who needs to prove that you are corrupt. You do not need to prove that you are not corrupt. Obasanjo should be provided opportunity to present his evidence for independent scrutiny. This is what natural justice demands.
We do not need to look very far to see what happens when a group of people in government choose to serve greed, pursue sectarian objectives and turn their back to civil vales or only allow religious convictions or ethnic prejudices to guide them. If Nigerian leaders cannot learn from what has happened in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic, and happening in Syria, no one can help them and Nigeria is doomed, God forbid.
These and more, are some of the options open to you at the moment, if you are serious about your legacy, place in history and future of Nigeria as a united country. I believe that I have done my duty to my country in its hour of need. You need to take the necessary, but difficult steps needed to change Nigeria for better and may God help you find the courage to do what is just, right and of good report. I am persuaded that, if you give due consideration to some of the recommendations in this letter, with the view to carrying them forward, you may revitalise Nigeria and give Nigerians hope and assurance that the captain of the Nigerian ship is not planning to escape with the only viable life boat in the sinking ship.
Hopeful you will remember that a man can only use power for good or evil. There is no in between. Indeed, as C. S, Lewis said, wickedness is doing the right thing the wrong way. Nigerians will not judge you by your good intentions and pious beliefs, but by your actions and their impact on the country and greater majority of the people.
I wish you a very happy Christmas and a happy new year
E O Eke
This column will now take a long break and would return some time in the New Year, God willing. I wish all my readers, and those who cared to get in contact a very happy Christmas and prosperous new year. I have learnt from all your comments. Thank you.