ne bright Saturday in the third week of April (16/04/11) I made the short walk from my house to Okpara Square in Enugu, full of trepidation and, above all, excitement. I had just turned 50 a couple of weeks before, and for the very first time in my life I was going to vote in an election in Nigeria. I had had opportunities before to come back and vote, but never thought I should waste my time flying back from UK or US, since we all know that most of our elections in Nigeria are rigged. But this time, it was all different, I had returned home, and Goodluck Jonathan was behaving and saying all the right things. I was very encouraged by all the things he said, and very optimistic about Nigeria's prospect. He was indeed a breath of fresh air, and I thanked God that finally my country now has a chance to at least lay the proper foundations for a sustainable development.
I had been overseas most of my adult life, and missed several opportunities to exercise my franchise in Nigeria. Besides, my franchise is something that I guide jealously and would not give it to just about anyone. I could still remember vividly whistling my beloved hymn as I entered the square, in a state of emotion so intense that I was carried beyond thought and self-control. I still remember how the leaves of the elegant trees along the broad road to the square hung motionless, and how their foliages were in their evergreen brilliant colors in that morning warm sunshine. I had cancelled a foreign trip for this purpose after the presidential election was postponed from April 9th to April 16th. The only thing that revolved ceaselessly on my mind in the few days preceding was this vote, and after hours of waiting and accreditation I finally voted for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan...an event that transported me into a trance, a rapture of prophetic exaltation.
Now as I look back wistfully on that day my excitement is replaced with gloom, my dream for Nigeria is gradually becoming a nightmare. It was not that President Jonathan has changed for the worse since the election, no; he still seems to me a man that wishes to transform this country. But there is one minor or rather big problem; it is one thing to wish to do great things, it is quite a different thing to be able to actualize those dreams. I had watched patiently since that election, and have reserved my judgment all along because I felt that the man needed some time to make the promised changes. Sometime last year, our president promised us that Nigeria would change for the better on all fronts in 2013. Well, this is October and the year will be over in another couple of months. Yet I have not seen those changes. On May 29th, our president held an elaborate ceremony during which he and his cabinet showcased all their lofty achievements and challenged us to read and grade him. Even then I reserved my judgment, wishing not to hurry into it until now.
Why now, you may ask, well, I'm writing this on our 53rd independence anniversary and have had a long reflection about Nigeria lately. Although Jonathan celebrated his midterm in May, the man had been president since Yar'adua left the scene in November of 2009, which is almost four years. Some people may argue that he was not immediately sworn in as president. Ok, he was sworn in May 2010, which is well over three years now. The bottom line is that I have watched carefully, followed events closely, and came to the painful realization that our president may not have what it takes to transform this country. He is still in my opinion a very nice man who is ambitious for Nigeria but definitely lacks what it takes to actualize the transformation he desperately needs for Nigeria.
Nigeria is a complex and difficult country to govern. One needs an abundance of passion and unflinching commitment in order to make things happen here. We do not mind our president ruffling feathers if it is for the benefit of Nigerians. I am not a fan of Obasanjo, but he has that kind of passion, sadly he used them too often for the wrong reasons. There is so much that is still going wrong in Nigeria. We are failing our children in education, electricity is still very epileptic and often absent all day, total lack of incentives for small and medium size businesses, and lack of seriousness in tackling political corruption. We are currently spending over 70% of our budget on the salaries and recurring expenditure on less than 1% of the population. Yes, Okonjo-Iweala has worked hard to bring it down from around 80%, but it is still too high. How can we provide infrastructures when less than 25% of our budget is allocated towards capital projects of which less than half of that is actually spent.
According to the Orasanya report, we have more than 900 agencies in Nigeria, most of them without any functions yet consistently budgeted for. His recommendation that most of these agencies be either merged or scrapped has so far been ignored. Many government agencies collecting revenues on behalf of the federal government hardly remit any back to government coffers. Currently less than 5% of all collected government revenues is remitted into government coffers. At best we have an economy that is cruising along without laying the foundation for sustainable development. Our president and his Cabinet often talk about creating jobs when the truth is that no government anywhere in the world creates enough jobs for their citizens. The role of government is to create an attractive environment for the private sector to develop and thrive. On this point, our president has failed woefully.
The ongoing electricity affair is the one that really makes me want to weep for Nigeria. I have warned repeatedly that Nigeria needs massive investment into the power sector if we must achieve this elusive dream of uninterrupted power supply. I had insisted that we need between ten to fifteen billion dollars annually for ten straight years to make this possible. I warned that this is not the telecom sector, whose privatization was a piece of cake. Our president apparently got the message, yet went on to sell off these facilities to many Nigerians who have neither the means nor the resources to make the necessary investment in these facilities. One thing is sure, in spite of Jonathan's dreams and promises; there won't be uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria anytime soon, at least not in the next ten years. And this singular failure represents to me the most profound failure of his administration.
The power sector is the most crucial sector of all the lacking infrastructures in Nigeria. Without it, all the talk about economic take off will remain an illusion. If this president is a man of passion, he could, for instance, make a convincing case to the leaders of the legislator and our governors for us to use most of the money that goes into our excess crude account to finance a robust investment into the power sector. Every time the money accrues to any tangible size, all they do is get together and share the money between the feds and the states to support their security votes and other inconsequential pet projects in their various states. And I wonder, what is more important than steady electricity in this country. As I write this, my gen has been going on now for nearly 8 hours, and it's not even night yet. But it's not about individuals I'm concerned; I'm mostly concerned about its effect on small and medium size business, the very engine we need to kick start this economy to a prominent level.
Imagine if we have invested most of the money that passed through the excess crude account in the past five years into the power sector, I have no doubt that things would have been different by now. As I think back to that Saturday in April 2011 when I voted for Jonathan, that euphoria has long dissipated, and I am no more optimistic as I was on that day. I had put so much faith in Jonathan's ability to deliver, but now I'm sure that I was mistaken. I still like the guy; I still wish him the best of luck. But if I must grade him today, my honest answer is that he has failed me in many fronts. Yes, he has done rather well in several areas, but he has failed on the most important of things that I expect from him. Will I vote for him again in 2015? For now it is unlikely though I have not found any credible alternative. Under the APC, I am not crazy about Buhari or Tinumbu. It is unlikely they will field Fashola for 2015, but if they do I'll certainly vote for him as president. But I'm not naïve to believe that Buhari and Tinumbu have given up on their long held dreams.
Jonathan has been engulfed in a lot of fights lately, mostly within the PDP. I believe that at the end of the day he will prevail in all these fights. He would equally prevail on the constitutional question of whether or not he is eligible to run again in 2015. I believe that his problem is not the Lamidos and the Amaechis of this world, but ordinary Nigerians like me, who he is now losing in great numbers. He will surely need the ordinary people if he wishes to run and win again. As for me, I am now 65% against him and unlikely to vote for him again, but it is still not too late for him to step up and show the world that he is up to this job. For now, I suspect that the job is above his pay grade though I still believe in miracles, and we have another year and half to go before our minds are firmly made up one way or another. Until then, I shall continue to watch and observe and above all, continue to pray for Nigeria.