By Pat Utomi
It sure is a world of paradoxes. In Paris they tried to murder free speech and the world rose in a rhythm: Je suis Charlie. But in Baga, Damaturu etc. they continue to massacre a nation and even Abuja was deaf and dumb. In response Abuja went on the campaign trial and gave us another paradox.
The known Rose garden strategy typical of American President was turned on its head in Nigeria, with the Villa becoming the chief campaign officer for the opponent. The campaign became so comical if I had the talent I would do a magazine mimicking Charlie Hebdo and maybe the world may have had a chant Je suis Patito.
What a time to be alive, in matters sad and in matters worth the memory. Faith came to earn a bad name in the targeting of both innocents and those who see the world through a different prism.
The clash of civilizations foreseen by Samuel Huntington, as Francis Fukuyama was proclaiming the end of history that has proven itself continuing, seems to have become a season of death. From Syria, through Iraq, to Mali and the North East of Nigeria, the new fundamentalist in Islam, has left a trail of death, bitterness and questions about our humanity. As the world struggles to separate Islam, a religion of peace and justice from those who preach an ideology of death with Islam as excuse, the focus has shifted to the way of containing the terror and the pain they unleash, and how to bandage the wounds and heal the sores of a world of harmony lost. But somehow we seem to be at a loss on a strategy to engage on the matter.
To be fair, I know that there is work in the office of the National Security Adviser to construct a master plan for the economic regeneration of the North East, but the Villa seems so unsure of what to do there that the national leadership appears uninterested, detached and even lacking of human feeling regarding the deaths and disrupted lives that have come with the insurgency so that while French President Francois Hollende has visited the homes of the victims of the Paris killings ours has not gone near the region.
If Abuja wants to boost the morale of the troops giving their lives to secure Nigeria’s sovereignty showing that a President who has a whole Army to protect him is scared of making some quick unannounced visit to a place that is not even the battle line is the wrong signaling. Understandably the foreign media has savaged the President on the matter. As if this is not bad enough the Presidency has chosen to deepen resentment towards the Villa’s handling of the matter by the President celebrating weddings of foster children in flamboyant manner as if all was well, cap this with campaigning for reelection, as if nothing was wrong must have pissed off foreign media who know how a President acts in times for national emergency, deal with matters of local politics and election campaigns.
The way the Villa has come across in the handling of Boko Haram control of vast parts of the North East and the killing of many innocents has been captured and reported by western media in a way that diminishes us all who are Nigerians. While we struggle with the shame this image brings, I have to admit that I am more fascinated by how this has featured in the campaigning of the Villa.
A president in a nation at war typically campaigns as a statesman above the frey, playing the commander-in-chief too busy trying to do what only C-in-Cs at war know well and understand. The Americans call it the Rose Garden strategy where the incumbent stays put in the White House, making presidential sounding statements from the Rose Garden.
What I have observed is the incumbent sounding like an angry challenger trying to attract attention while the APC candidate, Gen Mohammadu Buhari is sounding like the man in the Rose Garden. The paradoxes just seem unending.
As if this is not enough I had hoped for an issues based campaign, especially as the issues are all over the place. It would seem evidently that the man most on top of the issues is Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Even his principal who is playing the Rose Garden strategy seems clearer on his vision of the future than the incumbent seems willing, able or desirous of defending the record of his stewardship and offering a vision of new possibilities. I found that particular peculiar for a six-year incumbent and I am not sure if it is the product of his being too angry with his opponents to articulate his position or something else.
But the issues pull at us from every angle. The economy is in free fall but the President persists in talking about having built the largest economy in Africa when the Legatum report places Nigeria atop the misery index, showing that our quality of life is not more likely a preferred one to one of Africa’s Desert Republics than in “Oil rich“ Nigeria. And this was before Oil prices crashed and our budget was instantly rendered unimplementable. Does it make sense to defend the Naira in the face of disappearing reserves and end up the way we did in 1982-84 resulting in the SAP tumble of the Naira in a way that devastated the newer investors, or should we, like the Russians have just let the markets find their level?
Could we be debating how to make the current oil-price induced crises be turned from a threat to a real opportunity to stimulate the spirit of enterprise and diversify the base of the economy away from this disturbing dependence on oil.
It somehow seems to mean that elements in the policy elite prefer to hope that they can soon return to the old ways as this may just be part of the old volatility of the Oil market rather than a structural shift in Oil economics. I disagree with them, which is why we need fundamental debates. I was hoping these campaign discussions would help orient the Central Bank towards a more wise way of looking at the exchange rate crisis of now.
Two hours after the foregoing was written Breaking News came announcing that the President Goodluck Jonathan had made a surprise visit to Maiduguri. Amazing. Why did it take so long? Was it pummeling on CNN or desperation relative to election?
But his handlers did him a grave disservice not insisting he did this a year ago, or at least within the week of the abduction of the Chibok girls. It also raised the issue of how much a Nigerian life is worth to Nigerian leaders. In my view until the worth of a Nigerian life becomes the central issue in public life, affecting matters of economic choice and war and peace, our democracy will not be optimal in its outcome.
Later same evening CNN reports featured soldiers who said they had to buy their own kits and were not getting proper ammunition. They all blamed corruption. Let us assume they exaggerate. My hope is the lesson about how the culture of corruption is ultimately the death of us is learnt by a political culture that makes light of the subject. Maybe now we will realize the need to see corruption as a killer.
–Pat Utomi is a political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership