Fashola, Amaechi, Tinubu And Change – By Shaka Momodu


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Fellow Nigerians, have you heard the news coming from the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola – that former President Goodluck Jonathan constructed more roads than any president ever in the history of Nigeria? He was reported to have made that startling admission on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 in Abuja during his first news conference tagged, “Setting the Agenda for Delivering Change”. He also acknowledged that the transformation in the power sector was above 50 per cent and that he would try to build on it. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read about it in the newspapers.

I had to read the story several times to be sure my eyes were not playing pranks on me and that the news report I was reading was not made up by someone trying to “undo” Fashola in his new assignment. And to be doubly certain, I had to call somebody to read the story aloud to me to be sure some smart Alec wasn’t about to fool me. Then I decided to wait for a denial in the hope that the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) poster boy of good governance, the “prime minister” and the “actualiser” of Buhari’s change was not quoted correctly.

Three weeks after, I haven’t seen a rebuttal. Following on from Fashola’s acknowledgement, the Minister of State for Works, Adebayo Adeyeye, speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily was even more specific with figures, stating with emphasis that Jonathan’s administration recorded more success in the provision of motorable roads than any other administration in the history of Nigeria.  I couldn’t resist the urge to ask what was going on. According to Adeyeye, Nigeria in 2011 had about 4,500 kilometres of fairly motorable roads, and that the Jonathan administration was able to raise that number to “25,000 kilometres of very good roads”.

The truth here is I hardly knew what to make of Fashola’s admission after the fact. If you will recall, in the run-up to the presidential election, Fashola was one of the APC stalwarts who made carnage of Jonathan’s achievements. He repeatedly and savagely tore at the core of the last administration’s programmes and made mincemeat of Jonathan in a caricature of facts that he now acknowledges in beautiful expressions. He made political capital out of the last government’s problems and ripped to shreds every conceivable achievement of that administration.  He declared emphatically that Jonathan achieved “nothing” and as such did not deserve a second term.

Fashola’s campaign of deliberate misrepresentation of the facts and desperation became reckless, cold-hearted and even unpatriotic when he tried to scare potential foreign investors away from the country all in a bid to undermine that government. His gentlemanly mien, apolitical persona and disposition reinforced by the public perception that he had “performed” did much to sway the gullible public to the lying eyes of his campaign narrative. But that is what you get when political novices take front row seats and talk from both sides of their mouth all in a bid to impress.

The zest and tone of his campaign was something of a revelation to many including myself and I dare say no one knew he had the capacity for such political mischief. But it speaks to the fact that science hasn’t found a way to decipher what is in a man’s mind or predict his actions within a given circumstance. The 2015 campaigns shattered Fashola’s image that had formed in the public psyche and revealed a side previously unknown.  I must admit I was taken aback by his resort to scorched earth tactic and I held my breath each time he was on the campaign stump. He rubbed himself in the mud and got dirty happy with his condition. And of course he got rewarded handsomely by Buhari despite allegations of abuse of office.

Lest we forget, in January 2015 when the Jonathan administration reduced the pump price of PMS from N97 to N87 in response to the fall in oil price to the $60 range, Fashola criticised the move as too little in an article titled, ‘PMS Pump Price Reduction and the Economy – My Take Away’. He stated: “I doubt that a 10% reduction is the best that we can get in response to a 50% drop in oil price, and this is simple common sense.

If a product is manufactured at X price and the price of the raw material drops by Y%, I think it is simple economics to reflect that Y% drop in the price of the final product without doing any damage to the cost of packaging or transporting the product. And this should happen vice versa if the price of the raw material heads in the opposite direction.”  Now, 12 months after he wrote that take away as an opposition governor, Fashola’s party, the APC, is now in power at the federal level.  The price of crude oil has dropped to $31 (about 50% of what it was when he wrote that article), the federal government just announced a pump price reduction of a mere 50 kobo which is just 0.57% reduction. Is Fashola there? What is his take away on this reduction now?

Now, let’s go into the nitty-gritty of the repeated denials of Jonathan’s achievements. Speaking at the inauguration of the Cooperative Home Ownership Incentive Scheme (CHOIS) city at Agbowa, Ikosi-Ejirin and the first solar-powered Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) in Epe, on January 7, 2015 as reported in some newspapers the next day, Fashola lamented that all the central government informed the citizens and foreign investors about the country especially on insecurity and rebasing of the country’s economy was untrue. Fashola said: “The federal government is ignorant and later lied to Nigerians. This is an indication that they do not know what to do on the challenges confronting this country, especially on insecurity.”  In the quest for power everything was considered fair game. It is good that Fashola is now playing a major role in this government, we can now benchmark him with his campaign rhetoric.

In this abridged statement by its then National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party lampooned the rebasing, saying the federal government had only succeeded in opening itself to ridicule. “If ever there was a clear play at oxymoron, this was it: The largest economy with the largest population of the poor, the largest economy with the largest population of unemployed, the largest economy with the largest population of citizens living in darkness, and the largest economy with the worst infrastructure.

“Simply put, there is too much poverty in the midst of plenty, and the so-called economic growth which the FG has been trumpeting with its dubious statistics is not a result of any deliberate government policies. Policies of government are expected to result in reduction in unemployment, increase in capacity utilisation by manufacturers, increased access to basic needs of life (food, water, electricity, health care, education, healthy environment, etc), increase in transparency and accountability, etc. On the contrary, the country continues to slip down the ladder on all of these fronts.

“Therefore, President Jonathan and his shadow-chasing economic team should therefore quit wallowing in unnecessary chest-beating over the rejigging of figures and the play on statistics and put their shoulders to the wheel to push our nation forward. If they cannot, they should get out of the way and allow those who are capable to do so. Enough of this choreographed distraction,” the party concluded.

Luckily, the APC got its wish and was elected to bring all its magic to turn things around for the better. Well, the jury is still out on the party, but if as the saying goes, the morning shows the day, the APC appears to be even more clueless than the man it successfully prefixed with that adjective.  A more bizarre admission came from the garrulous enfant terrible of the APC, and former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi and now the Minister of Transportation. Amaechi who made a career out of his attacks on former President Jonathan made his startling disclosure that he never knew railway transport still existed in Nigeria.

His statement as reported in the media sent shockwaves across the landscape. His words: “In fact, I think we have a problem; most people don’t believe that the railway transport is functioning in Nigeria. I didn’t even know until I started this tour, I never knew that the railway was functioning; it was even from his (MD’s) speech that I learnt that there are some coaches or services that go to Kano or Port Harcourt or elsewhere.

“The only time I had seen railways (trains) or the coaches was one or two days in Lagos, and I thought it started from the beginning of Lagos to the end of Lagos.
“So we need to make people become more aware that the narrow gauge is working, and that people can still use it to travel around the country.”

That was Amaechi practically telling the world that railway transportation is working in the country after all – even though it may not be as sophisticated as you have in some advanced countries. In the run-up to the election, Amaechi and his party, the APC and its supporters never acknowledged this achievement by the last government. Rather, they rubbished it as “old useless coaches brought in to fool Nigerians to create a semblance that the rail lines were functioning.” Wait a moment – he said he never knew that the rail as a means of transportation existed in Nigeria? But how can he say that? For the life of me, how can Amaechi claim not to know that railway transportation was revived by the last government after it was abandoned for over 30 years? I remember that in December 2014, right under Amaechi’s nose, the then President Jonathan flagged off the Enugu-Port Harcourt train service. It was reported by all the newspapers the following day.

So how could Amaechi feign ignorance about rail transportation in the country when a rail line connects Enugu to Port Harcourt in Rivers State where he held sway as the governor for eight years? Maybe the Port Harcourt /Aba rail he took a tour on that impressed him to the point of gushing out his feigned ignorance was built by Buhari. But more than anything else is it not ironic that a man who for eight years could not actualise the single most important signature project of his administration – the 9.3 kilometre Port Harcourt Monorail after sinking tens of billions of naira of taxpayers’ money is now the one superintending over Ministry of Transportation, driving the transport policy of the entire country? Well, that is how Nigeria works and that precisely is why we have been sitting on a barber’s chair, swiveling in all directions in motion without movement.

On the former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s call on Buhari to remove subsidy, I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. But here is what I did: I shook my head in pity for this nation. But did he really say that or an impersonator was using his name in vain to try to embarrass him? What has changed between 2012 and 2015? Oh, Jonathan is no longer in power! It is Muhammadu Buhari of the APC who is now the president.

Well, in actual fact it is not so much what he said that is relevant here but what he didn’t say. Anyone with a sense of our recent history and with a long memory will recall the role Tinubu’s then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) played to frustrate the deregulation of the downstream oil sector and the subsequent removal of the highly contentious subsidy in January 2012.  It was the best policy option then as it is now. All the governors supported the policy before it was carried out, but immediately it came into effect and Labour started protests, the ACN governors quickly backed out and aligned with Labour in condemning the then federal government. The Occupy Nigeria group was born with the active connivance of the ACN. Eventually the government had to somewhat rollback the policy. In the last five years plus, the World Bank recently revealed that the country had lost nearly N6 trillion to subsidy that hardly benefits the poor, the very reason often cited for its retention.

Tinubu, who ferociously fought against the re­moval of fuel subsidy during the immediate past administration, finally had the temerity to ask Buhari to do away with the policy for the country to move forward be­cause according to him, ordinary Nigerians no long­er benefited from it. His words:  “In a per­fect world, I wish we could sani­tise the subsidy regime and thus continue with it. However, I have reached the conclusion that there are too many demons in the sys­tem for that hell to be turned into heaven.”

The question is: did ordinary Nigerians  really benefit from the subsidy in 2012 when the then ACN frustrated its removal? There is nothing in Tinubu’s preposition that is new to the clamour to do away with the subsidy regime. As a matter of fact, it is coming quite late and may be an opportunistic attempt to seize the high ground from a coalition of clear thinkers who had long identified and articulated the need to jettison the subsidy regime. Why it took Tinubu so long to see what he now sees as the way forward can be nothing other than petty politics which to my mind has cost the nation huge resources that would have been used for the development of infrastructure. People close to him describe him as sharp witted, a great thinker, a visionary and a bridge builder.

All that may be true as long as it meets his short-term political gains and that to me does not show proud and patriotic wisdom. However, what is often less spoken about him but which is also manifestly true is that the man is neither a true democrat nor is he a principled progressive. A fatal flaw in his credentials is that he is surprisingly blinded by his ambition and desire for power and control which leaves him vulnerable to the same charges he accused others of. And more than his trumpeted democratic credentials, he brooks no dissent.
What is actually happening now is that there is a struggle between the ferocious propaganda upon which the APC rode to power and facts on the ground. And the former is unraveling in the face of cold hard reality of the latter.

Let me state here categorically, there is no denying the fact that Jonathan exhibited extreme weakness on the twin issues of security and corruption. He failed to decisively deal with the Boko Haram menace and the establishment forces behind it early enough. His resort to the policy of appeasement in early days of Boko Haram when decisive military action was needed failed spectacularly.  He failed to rein in impunity among government officials. His stunning lack of will to wield the big stick when necessary defied common sense, and even when the public demanded it, he was shockingly unresponsive.  But Jonathan redeemed himself somewhat with just that momentous telephone call that changed the course of our  democratic history. Happy New Year to All.

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