It must be frustrating for President Goodluck Jonathan and his staunch supporters that in spite of his achievements, he continues to receive a barrage of knocks from Nigerians, especially in the media.
There are people whose opinion on Jonathan’s scorecard should not be trusted: Those who hate everything about him passionately and those who love everything about him passionately. To the haters, he is clueless, spineless, visionless, and “shoeless”: nothing good can ever come from him. Therefore, anyone who ever says anything positive about Jonathan is an enemy who must have been paid to say so, or is simply a victim of tribalism or religious cronyism. To his passionate admirers and supporters, Jonathan is the best president Nigeria has ever seen or had, and without him, Nigeria will sink into the abyss. Therefore, anyone who criticises him is a bad loser or a critic with links to Boko Haram. So, one can never get the true picture about Jonathan from these two groups of people because, just like those who suffer jaundice, everything looks yellow to them.
But there are those who neither hate Jonathan nor love him: those who praise him when he does something good and criticise him when he does something bad. To a large extent, you can get some balanced and fair judgment of the President’s performance from them.
There are some facts that Jonathan’s haters try very hard to subdue, and they succeed to a large extent. Jonathan has achieved some good results in some sectors of the economy, but these achievements seem to be suppressed or treated as unimportant. He has done well in the aviation sector. The makeover that the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, has wrought in the airports — which used to be dilapidated — is soul-lifting. And all the airports were renovated at the same time to the surprise of many people, after decades of neglect.
In road construction, the Minister of Works, Mike Onolomemen, has achieved some results. Roads that were abandoned for decades have received some attention. The Benin-Sagamu Expressway is one major one. I drove through that road this last Easter and Christmas holidays and felt some relief. In the last few years, travellers used to spend nights on that road. The state of that road was so bad that when the current Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, visited it as the Minister of Transport in 2007, she famously shed tears after seeing the depth of dilapidation that had befallen the Ore part of that road. Surprisingly, that road remained in a deplorable shape until last year when some serious attention was paid to it. In spite of the work done, however, many parts of it, especially in Ogun and Ondo states, are still dotted with potholes, but the road is no longer in a terrible state. It is comforting to know that work is still ongoing on the road.
In the transport sector, that the railway system has been revived, even though the trains are still not modern, is something to cheer about. It was another part of our national life that was allowed to rot and die because of neglect. It is hoped that modern coaches can be introduced as quickly as possible. More importantly, it is hoped that the rail line will soon connect the eastern part of Nigeria to the western part, an omission which the colonial masters made because it did not serve their interest of transporting things from the hinterland to the sea. The colonialists were not concerned about connecting Nigerian cities. Sadly, even after the British left in 1960, Nigerian rulers have not seen the importance of linking the East to the West. Rather, anyone who wants to travel from Lagos to the South-East by rail will have to travel to the North first before linking the East-bound rail. A very ridiculous arrangement indeed!
In agriculture, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, is also transforming that sector. From sanitising the fertiliser distribution to boosting agricultural produce and export, it has never been this good in that industry since the First Republic when the groundnut pyramids as well as the cocoa and oil palm plantations disappeared from Nigeria because petroleum was discovered and exploited in commercial quantities.
In the power sector, there were signs that some improvement had been achieved in electricity supply last year. Some blackmailing led to the resignation last year of the minister of power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, who was the brain behind that improvement. Regrettably, that improvement seems to have been reversed in the last few months, with electricity supply returning to its unflattering state. This is a key area President Jonathan must tackle urgently.
But to Jonathan’s haters, NOTHING is happening in this administration. The news of these improvements is downplayed in the media. Interestingly, the state-owned media houses — the Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria — where these improvements are regularly showcased are snubbed by many of those who believe that Jonathan is not doing anything, because the two media houses are seen as government mouth-pieces given that they are government-owned and had a bad past of praise-singing, especially during military dictatorships. Many people now believe that the news from these two stations about the Federal Government is never unbiased and therefore cannot be trusted.
Why should a President who has achieved some visible milestones always be dismissed as long on promises and short on performance? There are some reasons for this.
First is that Jonathan is not a charismatic leader neither is he blessed with the gift of the gab. He does not have the capacity to fire up his compatriots with words. This is not a terrible minus, for one can still be hugely popular as a leader without being charismatic or an orator.
But the biggest negative of President Jonathan is that he is his own worst image maker. Regularly, he makes comments or takes action that his detractors use to good advantage. He fails regularly to take advantage of golden opportunities; he fails to turn negative situations to his advantage. At a time the Boko Haram would bomb a location and Nigerians are grieving, the President would tell a shaken nation that terrorism is a global thing; therefore, it is Nigeria’s turn to be saddled with terrorism. At a time the rot in the police college is aired on TV and Nigerians are shocked and ashamed of the living conditions of their police officers, the President would make a surprise visit to the college, but rather than take advantage of the situation to boost his popularity, he would say that the airing of the video of the rot in the police college was the handiwork of those who did not wish his administration well.
Another point that works against the President is that he always seems too eager not to hurt his party men and friends, even to the detriment of his administration. The President is usually too careful not to step on any big toe, or even any toe for that matter. Whatever his achievements, the popular belief is that President Jonathan is not serious with the fight against corruption. And with the depth of corruption in Nigeria, it is believed that any leader that treats corruption with levity cannot turn Nigeria around.
And that leads to the next point which is his lack of showmanship. When there is flooding in a state, and the state governor is shown in the papers and on national TV wading through the flood with some of his top aides, it is pure showmanship meant for the cameras. When a governor stops by the roadside to hug a physically disadvantaged person or carry a child about during a tour, it is pure showmanship. When a governor rejects a chieftaincy title from a traditional ruler, or goes into a classroom to teach, or stays by the gate of the state secretariat to check those who are late, or arrests a traffic offender, or decides to participate in a marathon, it is pure showmanship. But these otherwise minor things make a leader popular.
Surprisingly, Jonathan does not do these little things. For a man who is not blessed with oratory, one would have thought that he would naturally have chosen to talk less and use showmanship more to his advantage.
However, the danger in all this is that the words and action of the President seem to suggest that he has given up on the possibility of Nigerians liking him. He seems to believe that it is normal for the masses not to like their President until after he has left office. This is dangerous because it will make him not to bother winning the people to his side.
In 2010 and early 2011, almost every Nigerian wanted his name or his child’s name to be “Goodluck” because of President Jonathan. Today, the story is different. However, many of those who criticise President Jonathan do not do so because of hatred, but because of a feeling of disappointment and frustration. Jonathan can become popular again with the masses and earn their regular commendation. Concrete achievements will help in that regard, but the big factor will be his ability to stop using the current unsuccessful means and adopt a new one.