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Goodluck Jonathan was an exceptional president

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By Femi Aribisala
I WALKED into the east wing of The Palms shopping mall in Lekki, Lagos (popularly referred to as Shoprite); only to be buttoned-holed by a man trying to sell me a Honda Civic parked inside the hall. His sales pitch was that it was the first totally assembled Honda in Nigeria; built completely to Nigerian specifications. For example, unlike the classical Honda, the Nigeria model has a high clearance, being mindful of the potholes in Nigerian roads.

I had no intention of buying a new car, least of all a Honda Accord.  Nevertheless, I could not fail to recognise that what he was touting is one of the many achievements of the Jonathan administration. In spite of the Buhari administration’s daily vilification of Jonathan, the achievements of his government continue to speak for themselves.

Jonathan put in place a policy that provided zero import-duty for completely knocked down vehicles; while discouraging the importation of already assembled cars; old or brand new, by the imposition of heavy import-duties. This propelled car manufacturers to set up assembly-plants in Nigeria that provide jobs for craftsmen, technicians, technologists, engineers, and other professionals across the value chain. The government also made it a policy to patronize locally-made and assembled cars.

The outcome is that local car-assembly is back in Nigeria; literally risen from the dead. Big auto giants, including Peugeot, Nissan, Volkswagen, Kia, Hyundai and apparently Honda, now either assemble, or entirely manufacture, their cars, SUVs, trucks and buses at various locations in Nigeria.  In addition, Nigeria now has an indigenous car-manufacturing company, Innoson, which is not only selling locally but already dabbling in exports.

Limits of  denigration

These days, the most discernible policy of the new APC government is to attack everything Jonathan.  However, propaganda can only mask the truth in the short-term.  It cannot destroy the truth in the medium to long-term.  No matter what APC traducers say, the fact remains that Goodluck Jonathan was an exceptional president by Nigerian standards.

Now is the time to re-affirm this and to invite a more dispassionate reappraisal of the facts, away from the lies and fabrications of the election campaign.  It can no longer be argued today that anyone defending Jonathan is a PDP contractor; a favourite line of defence of Buharimaniacs.  Neither can Jonathan defenders be accused any longer of wanting to replace Reuben Abati as the president’s spokesman. “You can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.”  No matter what the APC continues to broadcast about the Jonathan administration, the truth cannot be silenced.

Fashola’s gaffe: After six months of stasis, Buhari finally unfurled his ministers in the most anti-climatic fashion.  These long-awaited saints and angels turned out to be mostly Santa Claus.

Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, is now the minister of Power, Works and Housing.  At his maiden news conference, tagged grandiloquently: “Setting the Agenda for Delivering Change,” the same Fashola who spent the election campaign running down the Jonathan administration shocked his audience by revealing that, rather than embark on new road construction projects in 2016, he would only endeavour to build on Jonathan’s achievements.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Fashola gave the lie to APC propaganda that Jonathan’s years were wasted years?  If Jonathan was as incompetent as the APC would have us believe, why could the party not launch its own superior nationwide road-building plan, as Buhari had promised in the heady days of the 2015 election campaign?  Why rely on allegedly sub-standard PDP foundations?

Similarly, rather than jettison Jonathan’s power-sector reforms that APC derided volubly during the campaign, Fashola revealed that the government will be continuing with them. Jonathan completed 10 power-plants in Nigeria within three years; the first and highest of such record by any Nigerian president living or dead. The APC had accused Jonathan of awarding the power projects to PDP cronies and financiers who are incompetent and deficient.  But rather than revoke those contracts, Fashola preached continuity.  He also admitted that Jonathan‘s transformation in the power sector is above 50%, and that his job would be to build on this achievement.

Jonathan’s transformation  agenda

Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, also had the same assessment of Jonathan’s achievements with regard to rail transportation.  He pledged to complete all ongoing rail-restoration projects around the country started by Jonathan; as well as extend them to all parts of the country.

Jonathan inaugurated the Lagos-Kano rail line and the Port Harcourt-Enugu mass transit train.  He also embarked on the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line.  Furthermore, Jonathan’s projects include the Abuja-Kaduna fast train line; the 322km Lagos-Benin City line, 500km Benin-Abakiliki line, 673km Benin-Obudu Cattle Ranch line, 615km Lagos-Abuja high speed line, 520km Zaria-Birnin- Koni line, 533km Ega nyi-Otukpo and the Ega nyi-Abuja line.

Thanks to Jonathan, five million Nigerians are now carried by rail, relative to the one million before he came.  An estimated 700,000 passengers are projected to ride the Abuja Light Rail (ALR) on a daily basis.  Only recently, KPMG listed Nigeria’s high speed rail project proposed by the Jonathan administration as one of the global top 100 world-class infrastructures.  The rail is expected to connect Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Warri, Bauchi, Abuja and Port Harcourt; at a cost of $13 billion.

For his part, Audu Ogbeh, the new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, did not even pretend to have an alternative to Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda.  Speaking at the launching of the Anchor Borrowers Programme in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, Ogbe commended Jonathan’s achievements in agriculture, while also praising his ministerial predecessor for the innovations he introduced.

Thanks to Jonathan, agriculture now accounts for 22 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, more than oil and gas which only account for 15.9 per cent.  Under Jonathan, Nigeria recorded a more than 50 per cent reduction in food imports; from an import bill of N1.4 trillion to less than N700 billion.  With the innovation of dry season rice-farming, Nigeria reached 60% self-sufficiency in rice production and became, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the largest producer of cassava in the world.

Anti-corruption  hypocrisy

Rather than hit the ground running, the in-coming Buhari administration has spent the last six months on a campaign against Jonathan and his men, as if it is still shopping for Nigerian votes.  This campaign has become a substitute for policy, leading to the conclusion that the APC never really expected to win the election and therefore does not know what to do now it has been declared the winner.  What the party did during the election campaign was present pie-in-the-sky policies that were never intended to be implemented but were primarily designed to harvest votes.

This accounts for the government’s current embarrassment with its own party manifesto and the denial of its campaign promises.  It has even led to APC legislators being constrained to vote against their own policy; the payment of N5000 monthly to the 25 million poorest Nigerians.  In six months, the much-touted change of the APC has turned out to be counterfeit.  What we have instead is a constant barrage of media trials pertaining to the alleged corruption of the Jonathan administration.

This anti-corruption crusade is clearly not addressed at curtailing corruption.  Its primary objective is to kill and bury the PDP.  Not even the most ardent supporters of Jonathan would insist that there was not rampant corruption under the PDP.  What is unacceptable is the present government’s pretence that corruption in Nigeria is restricted to the PDP when, as a matter of fact, the APC is just as corrupt, if not even more because of its blatant hypocrisy.

The government’s anti-corruption crusade is already without legitimacy because it is unashamedly partial and selective.  Allegations made against APC office-holders are procedurally ignored by the government’s anti-corruption watchdogs.  Some of the APC chieftains accused of corruption have even been rewarded with major ministerial portfolios.  Others have been nominated as APC candidates in governorship elections.

PDP members are labelled corrupt until they declare for the APC; then they automatically become saints.  We are meant to believe that while the PDP used government funds to buy favours and votes during the election campaign, APC managed to spend massively to dislodge the PDP from power without doing the same.  The truth of the matter is that corruption is not the exclusive preserve of any party or persons.  Corruption is endemic to the Nigerian political system.

Selective maligning of the members of the former government will not rid Nigeria of corruption.  Neither will allegations of corruption hurriedly put together for the sake of public consumption, which are then thrown out by the courts.  Corruption has to be addressed systemically and structurally.  But to date, there is little evidence that the government’s anti-corruption intentions go beyond the witch-hunting of the Jonathan administration.

Jonathan’s  legacies

To the extent that the present administration can be said to have any policies after six months in office, they are all legacies of the Jonathan administration.  The TSA is from Jonathan.  The turn-around maintenance of our refineries is from Jonathan.  The re-equipping of our military is from Jonathan.  The improvement in electricity is a Jonathan legacy.  On the other hand, the major policies enunciated in the APC election manifesto remain essentially pipe-dreams.

In spite of APC propaganda, Jonathan’s men keep matching on.  Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, Jonathan’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development  is now President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB).  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Jonathan’s Minister of Finance, and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, is now a Senior Adviser at Lazzard; a prestigious 167 year-old global investment firm.  Arunma Otteh, Jonathan’s Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is now a Vice-President of the World Bank.

To paraphrase Marc Antony of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interrèd with their bones. So let it be with Jonathan. The noble APC hath told you Jonathan was clueless. If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Jonathan answered it.”