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Tunde Fashola: Presidential Declaration, My Take Away



On Thursday 8th of January, 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to Lagos, warts and all, in furtherance of a presidential campaign flag-off. They had advertised this flag-off with a promise to show what they had done in Lagos. I anticipated this visit because I hoped it would provide an opportunity to discuss issues important to the people. When they left, they left nothing tangible behind except violence, attacks and robberies on citizens who had been trapped in the traffic they created. The All Progressives Congress (APC) National Convention had held in the same city of Lagos a few weeks ago without violence and robberies. But that is not my take away. My take away was the presidential speech.

Having ridden to office on the back of civil society (a.k.a Doctrine of necessity), and having been elected by an impassioned campaign of emotion and sympathy (a.k.a ‘I had no shoes’), I expected that a president seeking re-election will understand that his record of service and not sympathy would be the vote catching message. Even though I was in Benin to attend the APC vice-presidential candidate’s town hall meeting, I took the time to listen to the presidential flag-off speech. Mr. President had my attention when he said his message that day, and for the rest of the 35 states and FCT, was going to be focused on young people.
And just as I thought he was going to raise hope, he did what no leader should ever do. He dashed hope. He told young Nigerians that his generation had failed. Yet he seeks their votes to lead them. This compounded the problem. If the president admits personal failure, he was uncharitable in seeking to paint everybody in his own service record. What then is his “Transformation Agenda” about? Failure?
My take away: Leaders don’t dash hope, they inspire it. To be fair, he quite rightly set out the agenda and burning issues on the minds of the Nigerian people when he opened by stating that he was going to address 3 (three) issues of corruption, insecurity and the economy. I expected to hear about a security plan to restore Nigeria’s territory that was lost to terrorists and how to bring back the girls abducted in Chibok, the president sadly said nothing. Instead, Mr. President went for the sympathy message again, that there was an assassination attempt on his life four years ago.

My take away: Mr President, this is a good try but it took four years and on the eve of election campaign for you to disclose such grave national security information. Any attempt on your life as our leader is an attack on all of us as a people and a nation. Twenty-four hours before this Lagos presidential flag-off, there was an attack of terror in Paris in which 12 people were killed. By midnight, arrests had been made; the Government of France had swung into action with 80,000 combined security forces in a manhunt for the terrorists. They pursued the terrorists into a forest, evoking memories of Sambisa Forest.
As I conclude this piece, three terrorists had been killed and one was on the run. After six years, there was no message or plan in this presidential re-election bid speech on how to solve our security problem. Mr. President spent a lot of time accusing his predecessors of not buying arms. Those young people whom Mr. President sought to impress must remember that in the last 20 or so years, our armed forces have been involved in wars/peace-keeping missions in Somalia, Sierra-Leone and Liberia, and their performance was globally adjudged to be outstanding. They used arms.
If Mr. President’s predecessors did not buy arms, which arms did these soldiers use for those operations? It seems to me very simple to accept that armoury management is a matter of inventory management; use and replace. I think young people must see these accusations against predecessors as being without basis. Assuming there is a basis, General Buhari left office in 1985; the technology of arms has improved rapidly and it cannot be his fault that a president in 2015 is seeking to use 1985 arms.
Mr. President still owes Nigerians an explanation about the $9 million cash seized in a plane in South Africa, in an amateurish attempt to buy arms through the back door. As far as corruption was concerned, the president’s silence on the forensic audit report about $10 billion and $12 billion or $20 billion, (depending on whose version between the ministry of finance or central bank), showed an unwillingness to defend his record. I think it would have helped Mr. President’s re-election bid if he spoke about losses to the economy as a result of pipeline vandalism and huge economic losses to the country in terms of stolen crude oil.
Answers to allegations of mismanagement of SURE-P funds being used for political objectives and the unresolved kerosene import scandals would perhaps have been helpful. Instead, Mr. President chose to attack the records of predecessors, many of whom are not seeking re-election.

My take away: Mr. President seems to have forgotten that he is the one seeking re-election and it is his record in the last 4-6 years (not his record as Governor of Bayelsa) that would be helpful to the people in decision making. In case Mr. President has forgotten, he should ask his aides to provide tapes of the Obama campaign for him. President Obama rode into office on a massive emotional campaign anchored on change (and that is where the comparison ends) but in the second term bid, the Republicans were most scathing, unrelenting and uncompromising in the public scrutiny of his first term record. That is what happens in every democracy. It is not about emotion and last minute allegations of assassinations.
Even after Obama had taken out Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for a terror attack on America, it took a most passionate presidential convention speech by his Democratic predecessor, President Bill Clinton, to defend his record of service and ‘save’ the Obama re-election bid. Which one of President Jonathan’s predecessors will stand up for his record of service? As far as the economy was concerned, the president pitched on the size of the Nigerian economy as the largest in Africa. He was silent on why the citizens of the largest economy in Africa still live in darkness. He was silent on why the football team of the largest economy in Africa will not be at the Nation’s Cup, when Cape Verde, the smallest country will be there.

Mr. President, who was addressing young people, would have helped his own case if he had explained to them why Bolaji Abdullahi, a young Sports Minister, under whose tenure we won the Nations Cup, was removed for political expediency. I think Mr. President needs to be reminded that as recently as December 2014, citizens of the largest economy in Africa were looking for petrol in jerry cans across Nigerian cities including Abuja. Instead of revealing the plan for the next four years on the issues which Mr. President chose by himself to address, he sounded angry, and appeared irritated by the demands of his citizens for a better life. I expect that Mr. President will seek to do better as he promised across the next 35 states and FCT.
My take away: A re-election bid is like a job appraisal or interview; the applicant who seeks to serve cannot get angry – Anger is not a strategy. We the citizens must continue to ask questions. Mr. President made promises to us in Lagos such as the construction of the road leading to the Murtala Muhammed Airport. He promised stable electricity. He promised to keep us safe. He promised jobs although Nigerian youths died under his watch while seeking to serve in the immigration service. Mr. President must show us that these promises have been fulfilled, or he must explain why they were not fulfilled. This is the essence of the social contract in a democracy.
He must show us that he will not lose more parts of Nigeria and that he has a clear plan to reclaim the lost ones and rescue the Chibok girls who fall into the generation of young people he chose to address. This is the presidential speech I waited for. I am still waiting. Mr. President has 35 more states and the FCT to convince us not to vote for the CHANGE that beckons.

If you watched the speech given by the APC vice-presidential candidate in Benin City on the same day, please note that he became candidate only on the 11th of December, 2014? 25 days ago (not six years ago) yet he was able in half an hour without a prepared speech to discuss a plan for security, power, jobs, healthcare and social security.


•Mr. Fashola, Governor of Lagos State write from Lagos.


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