Jonathan to rebuild Nigeria?

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One of the classic case studies of leadership can be found in Nehemiah, in the Bible. It has a striking relation to the situation in Nigeria today. As a servant, Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem laid in ruins. In contrast to most other leaders in the Bible, Nehemiah fought no war, did not perform exceptional miracles, but painstakingly gathered resources and rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem in record time of 52 days.

Many centuries after Nehemiah, Nigerians are expecting President Jonathan in the next four years, to do the same thing for Nigeria that the Bible character did – rebuild their nation. Jonathan is not expected to fight any physical war in the next four years, but he is expected to fight the scourge of poverty, ignorance, corruption and unemployment in Nigeria. Depending on what your expectations are, you are either in the school of thought that the Nigerian economy is improving greatly or that the economy is seriously in a bad shape.

Whatever group you belong though, there is no arguing that we are not fulfilling potential. And if President Jonathan is as dissatisfied and sad about what he sees in Nigeria, as Nehemiah felt about the wall of Jerusalem, then he has the first requirement (dissatisfaction) for turning this country around. And as Nehemiah did, Jonathan will be expected to pull all Nigerian human and natural resources, which include oil, natural gas, large expanse of land, and other minerals, to build a sustainable and virile economy.

Now, I may not be entirely sure what the features of a sustainable economy will be in Nigeria, but I am sure of the features of the present unsustainable economy I do not want to see. What we see is an economy highly dependent on oil price and volume. Though very clear that it is unsustainable, revenues from oil price and volume is consumed just as it comes to an extent that a three month consistent fall automatically lands us in serious economic trouble. I call that pedestrian economics. It is an economy without serious expression of ideas, initiatives and serious plan for its transformation. It is an economy that cannot attract the conferences such as the World Economic Forum Africa, but a whole set of Nigerian leaders hop on the plane to go.

In many analysis since President Jonathan won the presidential election, I have seen subtle inferences and conclusions been drawn regarding who would be ministers of the federal republic of Nigeria. Many are expecting the names of these ministers as a clue to how the Jonathan presidency will perform. While this is a very important task for any president, I am not prepared to judge any minister in the next four years. In the next four years, it is either the president performs or he does not. I am not prepared to offer stupid excuses on the ground of a non performing minister.

Essentially, I believe whatever we get in the next four years is the president’s vision. It is up to the president how he carries out his vision. I thought that point needed to be made as many often ascribe Yar’Adua’s failure to transform the Nigerian economy to the ministers – I never did, and I will not do the same in the next four years.

The fundamental rule of success in the next four years and that of rebuilding the Nigerian economy is change. We have travelled this path of perdition for so long that we know that it will not get us anywhere. We have travelled the path of corruption, waste and inefficiency for so long that any serious president will know that if he wants his name written in gold, he has to fight it. Mind you, the only way to fight it is to deny yourself the same corruption, waste and efficiency. We have travelled the path of insignificant public investment for so long that Jonathan knows that if he concentrates on delivering significant public infrastructure, and quality ones for that matter, in the next four years, his name will be written in gold. We have travelled this road for so long to know that the simplest and most pragmatic way of improving our airports is to allow private sector management and control through private sector investment. Let me also discountenance the myth that significant progress cannot be made in four years. It does not take ages to change the direction of a country. Within months, a serious president will signal progress, and in a year, we should start seeing it. So, by this time next year, we should have clues of what the next four years would be like. A credible performance by the president will not be something that is not memorable, or something that Nigerians cannot see or touch. This change expected will not be an invisible one. And it will be a change that Nigerians can see even early in his presidency. So, we must see the changes from June 2011.

On infrastructure, the president must ask and receive answers why Nigerians cannot travel in the way and manner other many Nationals travel. Our roads are 19th century roads because ther e is no commitment to it, and our rails are not modern nor functional because president has not ensured it is the case in the past. The quality of our airports does not even compare to the worst in some countries. And why should we begin a project and yes, after so many years, it remains an uncompleted projects? And why should our roads be worse than that of war torn countries? Why should the education we receive be substandard to the ones received, even by Ghanaians? Why should we die needlessly on roads, in hospitals, on streets, in police cells, and when we die on roads, why should we have carcass there for days?
Now, I would like President Jonathan to look back to 2007, and not 2011. To do that, he must assume that we have wasted the last four years, and in my opinion, we have. The opportunities that presented itself in 2007 are still very much present. First, following the cancellation and part payment of Nigeria’s $32 billion external debt in 2005, there was (and still is) a platform for increased foreign investment because the risk of continued devaluation of the currency – naira – became diminished. Second, the over $1 billion paid every year in interest and debt amortization ceased and allow for the opportunity to use such fund for domestic investment purposes.

Third, the debt cancellation is also associated with a period of increasing global commodity prices, also allowing for increased income for growth and development. This is just one opportunity for increased and significant public investment in the next four years.

But the conditions are that the government presided by Jonathan must be prudent, non corrupt, and non wasteful. Through these, the government will have enough to make the necessary investment, and combined with reforms, and other serious economic policies, Nigeria should begin to see economic transformation.

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