By Ben Agande
Several months of waiting with bated breath for President Goodluck Jonathan to formally declare his intention to contest for second term or shelve his presidential ambition and return to his ancestral Otuoke home, in Bayelsa State came to an end last Tuesday when a large crowd of Nigerians witnessed the President’s declaration at the Eagle Square, Abuja. Though the event was almost marred by the deadly suicide attack on a secondary school in Potiskum, Yobe State which killed over 47 innocent children a day before the ceremony, the President, in a pensive mood, told the nation why he decided to present himself for re-election and why Nigerians should give him their mandate.
“I am convinced that I have kept my pact with Nigerians, and it is now time to look to the future. With your tremendous support, we have collectively done so much in the last three and half years, but to take our country to the next level, there is still more to be done. History has shown that the path of honour for any true leader is not to walk away from his people in moments of challenges. We must stand together in adversity and overcome all threats to our development. We must defend our future, for the sake of our children. So many things have inspired me in the journey to this moment. I want to appreciate ordinary Nigerians, especially young people, for the solidarity shown to me by contributing their meagre resources to enable me arrive at this point”, he said.
FILE PHOTO: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (R) and Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo greet supporters at a ceremony in Abuja on November 11, 2014. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on November 11 declared his bid for re-election, vowing to finally defeat Boko Haram whose rise in strength during his first term has threatened the country’s sovereignty. The 56-year-old made the announcement to tens of thousands of supporters in the red, white and green of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at a carefully orchestrated ceremony including patriotic music, dancing, prayers and speeches. AFP PHOTO
The decision by Jonathan to re-present himself for re-election must have been a difficult one. Since he assumed office following the death of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, he faced strident opposition from some of the most powerful forces in the land. And prior to the 2011 presidential election, his major opposition appeared to have been the leading political figures from the North-west. The stated reason for the opposition was that since Yar’Adua did not complete his tenure before succumbing to death, Jonathan ought to have allowed another candidate from the North, preferably the North-west to contest and possibly get elected to continue from where Yar’Adua stopped. But the unstated reason and perhaps, more germane one at that, that served as a veritable tool to galvanise the disparate tendencies in the North to be united in their opposition against Jonathan is the fact of his faith. Those who were opposed to Jonathan found it easy to play the religious card by saying that allowing him to rule after former President Obasanjo, a Christian who ruled for eight years, would amount to handing over the country to Christians. It was a story that many ordinary people in the North could easily relate to.
So when Jonathan contested and won the 2011 presidential election, his opponents could not bring themselves to accept that the will of the people should be respected. And their outrage found easy expression in the violence that was unleashed in some parts of the country. If anything, that violence signposted that the Jonathan presidency between 2011 and 2015 was going to be turbulent.
And turbulent so far it has been. From the ferocious attacks by Boko Haram in the North eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, to the relentless attack by opposition parties who coalesced to form the All Progressive Congress, Jonathan’s administration has been the butt of criticism.
For instance, though the nation’s power sector, even with the recent divestment by government, has remained largely comatose, government has recorded remarkable improvement in certain critical sectors of the country. The road infrastructure has improved across the country, the rail sector revived with new lines added, foreign direct investment is on the upward swing and unemployment which has remained the bane of the country has recorded marginal improvements.[ads4]
But it would appear that government has provided the arsenal with which its critics have been bombarding it. The Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, even though restricted to its initial epicentre states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the huge investments in the security services have not been justified because the insurgents have rather gained more grounds, seized more military hardware from the army and have been emboldened by the seeming vacilitation by the nation’s political leadership to deal a fatal blow to its burgeoning. It is this telling sign that critics of the government easily point to as one of the reasons the President should not seek re-election.
It is perhaps under-reportage of his achievements that he sought to repudiate when he reeled out the achievements his government has recorded while formally declaring to present himself for the next election.
While acknowledging that a lot still needs to be done, Jonathan, in what some observers have described as chest thumbing, underlined the milestone he has achieved. “As a result of government’s favourable policies, the private sector is investing over 12 billion dollars in the petrochemical sector, over the next four years. This will surely create millions of jobs for our people”, he stated.
“In terms of gas supply, we have grown from less than 500 million cubic feet per day, four years ago, to about 1.5 billion cubic feet per day currently. Our goal is to attain 4 billion cubic feet per day, over the next four years.
“We have changed the face of agriculture. We moved agriculture away from a development Programme to agriculture as a business. My vision is to create wealth for our people through agriculture.
“We have focused on encouraging the private sector to boost investments in the agricultural sector. As a result, the number of seed companies rose from five to eighty in the past three years. Private sector investment in the agricultural sector expanded by $ US 5.6 billion across the Agricultural value chain.[ads4]
We ended decades of corruption in the fertilizer and seed sectors. We developed a transparent and efficient system of reaching farmers directly with subsidized farm inputs. Before our reforms, fertilizer procurement and distribution took from the needy and gave to the greedy. We restored dignity back to farmers. Today, 14 million farmers, of which 2 million are women, access fertilizers with their mobile phones, through an e-wallet system. Nigeria is the first country in the world to develop an e-wallet system to reach farmers with subsidized farm inputs on their mobile phones. Several African countries are now borrowing this transparent and efficient e-wallet system for their own countries.
“Our national food production expanded by an additional 21 million metric tons between 2011 and 2014, a record, exceeding our set target of 20 million metric tons set for 2015. The Dangote Group, has committed to invest $US 1 billion in commercial rice production and processing. With all these developments, we are expected to be an exporter of rice in the next five years. This will be a new dawn.
“The benefits are showing on our food imports. Our food import bill has declined from 1.1 trillion Naira in 2009 to 684 billion Naira by December 2013, even with our increasing population, a reduction of 40%.
“Nigeria met its Millennium Development Goal One on reducing hunger and extreme poverty, two years ahead of the 2015 target set by the United Nations, and was given an award by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“To sustain this trend, we are encouraging young graduates through the Nagropreneurs Programme to go into commercial Agriculture. We are also encouraging our students in Post Primary Schools to embrace commercial Agriculture through the National School Agriculture Programme”.
But these achievements pale into insignificance as long as the country territorial integrity remains challenged by a group of rag tag men bearing arms against the armed forces. The President will continue to be challenged by the perception that powerful men in government receive a slap on the wrist when they are accused of conducts that do not tend to promote the fight against corruption. Jonathan will be challenged by the thousands of Nigerians who have been displaced from their homes by insurgents and have found solace in strange lands. For a country whose 200 school girls were abducted for more than 200 days ago and there is not word about their whereabouts, the President will be put to task as long as they remain unaccounted for.
By Ben Agande