by Orji Uzor Kalu
I have watched with curiosity and dismay as events leading to the presidential election unfold. Initially, I had resisted the temptation to join the fray as debates between the supporters of the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, and that of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Okechukwu Buhari, heat up. But I had to change my mind when mischief-makers and political jobbers resorted to pouring invectives on and telling bare-faced lies against President Jonathan despite the good works his administration has done.
Anybody who has followed the trend some of these unsolicited and uncomplimentary commentaries have assumed in recent times will be greatly awed and repulsed. I have been left wondering why our politicians consistently engage in running each other down and fail to acknowledge the goods done by other people.
All of us are sufficiently aware of the past history of our nation – how politicians misused the ample opportunities available to them to develop Nigeria. The semblance of achievements we have had before now was exemplified by the military through fiats and decrees. The era between the second and third republics was characterised by non-performance and ineptitude. Forget all the noise politicians make, there was nothing tangible achieved in that period.
Look at the power sector, for instance. How much had been sunk before this administration assumed the reins of power? On paper much was done, but in practicality there was no sustainable infrastructure in place to drive the sector. Where then went all the billions reportedly sunk into the many power projects across the country? If truly the money was spent on the specified Independent Power Projects (IPPs) as alleged, it is normal then to ask: why is power supply still epileptic?
Experts in the sector would tell you that Nigeria was beating about the bush, as far as the power sector was concerned, before President Jonathan came. It was only when he took over power that practical steps were taken to ensure that durable architecture was developed for the sector.
I have taken a critical look at the architectural and technical frameworks of the administration for the power sector and was perplexed by its content. Judiciously and diligently executed it will make Nigeria compete favourably with advanced economies of the world. The whole idea behind the huge investments in the power sector is to drive the economy and empower Nigerians, especially the youth, through the development of their entrepreneurial skills. Of course, it will amount to a pipedream for anybody to think Nigeria can achieve greatness without sustainable power.
Aware of the sharp practices that had stalled the development of the power sector over the years, the Jonathan administration introduced measures to avoid a recurrence. The launch of the power sector reforms a few years ago by the President marked a departure from the flaws of the past. What we have in place now is a systematic, well-focused plan to make Nigeria self-sufficient in electricity generation, distribution and consumption. The unbundling of the utopian Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), which has opened the sector to more foreign investments, was a strong part of the reform package.
Indeed Nigeria is gradually, as it were, climbing the ladder in its effort to provide clean and sustainable energy to millions of Nigerians that need it. Between December and now there has been remarkable improvement in power supply. Umuahia, which had been notorious for power failure, has suddenly witnessed an improvement. For the first time in recent years Umuahia had an uninterrupted power supply for 48 hours last week. The simple lesson of what is happening in Umuahia, and I believe it is the same story all over the country, is that Nigeria is on a steady march to recovery and self-inventing in power. It will not be long before the sector stabilises to the amazement of our worst critics.
What of the rail system? I remember my first train-ride in life. It was from Enugu to Port Harcourt. This was in 1988. It was a pleasurable ride anyway. After that ride there had been none thereafter. How the train system in Nigeria collapsed to the abysmal level it was before Jonathan came still baffles me. All over the world the rail is one of the largest means of transportation after the waterways. Russia and China are regularly innovating in the sector and building new rail lines to meet their needs. Unfortunately, before Jonathan came, it was almost a dead sector. As you read this piece the sector has revved back to life. New rail lines are being built, while rehabilitation is ongoing on the comatose ones.
Less than a month ago Vice President Namadi Sambo flagged off train services from Port Harcourt to Imo River. It was the first of its kind in the 30 years the rail sector had been in limbo. Many of such projects are going on simultaneously in different parts of the country.
There is no doubt that, when fully developed, Nigeria’s rail system will bring to an end the difficulties encountered in moving large consignments from one point to another. Then to follow is the underground train system as we have it in places such as Europe and the United States. This may seem unachievable. However, there is nothing modern technology cannot accomplish.
Do you, the reader, believe that President Jonathan has done nothing to merit re-election as some vicious critics of his government make us believe? Now read this: before Jonathan came to office our airports were in deplorable conditions. Apart from intermittent air mishaps, the sector was utterly neglected. No visible infrastructure to drive it while workers’ morale was at its lowest. Then enter Jonathan, the game-changer! Today our airports wear new looks with new terminal buildings constructed. In addition, modern navigational facilities for safe flights have been installed making Nigeria qualify for recognition by even the United States Aviation authorities.
There is no geopolitical zone in Nigeria today that has no international airport, courtesy the Jonathan administration. These airports are of international standards, and have been certified as such by the relevant authorities. Coupled with this singular effort is the concerted effort being made by the various PDP state governments across the federation in building their own airports! Top of the list are Akwa Ibom, Delta, Jigawa, Gombe and Bauchi. These states have had their new airports completed and commissioned. Construction continues in some other PDP states. What this translates to is a boom in the aviation industry and a testimony to the readiness of Jonathan and his administration to rewrite the chequered history of the sector.
The emergence of new airlines (local and foreign), and the increased number of travellers at the airports underscore the heart-warming performance of the government in the sector.
Who has not seen the giant strides the government has made in the educational sector? How many universities did we have before Jonathan came into office? According to available statistics fourteen new universities have been added to the original number. In fact, 12 new federal universities were established by the government to ensure that every state in Nigeria has at least one federal university. This achievement is unprecedented in the annals of this country.
What of the Almajiri educational programme which targets the poor northern rural dwellers? The programme, the first of its kind, has helped to refocus the attitude of the poor in the north to the need to acquire formal education. Many state governments in the north have keyed into the scheme by establishing special centres to train their people, particularly the youth, in special skills in order to keep beggars off the streets. The benefits of the Almajiri educational initiative are innumerable. Suffice it to add that the new awareness the programme has created on the subconscious of an average northerner is such that it will not be too long before illiteracy is eradicated in the north.
I need not write about the hundreds of billions of naira given to tertiary institutions in the country as intervention funds to provide basic amenities and infrastructure required to boost learning, and enhance the quality of certificates issued by the tertiary institutions. Such government agencies as the Nigerian Education Trust Fund (NETFUND) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) have contributed immeasurably to the growth we have experienced in education in Nigeria.
Only recently the Federal Government, working in conjunction with the National Universities Commission (NUC), has designed a programme to award scholarships to some Nigerian eggheads to study in the best universities abroad for their masters and PhDs. The idea is to train the desired manpower to drive the Nigerian economy and take Nigeria to the next level of technological advancement. Imagine what would have happened in the foreseeable future if the Jonathan administration had not seized the initiative to train this category of Nigerians for the nation’s technological development.
In agriculture, no administration before this one made the kind of noticeable effort the Jonathan government had made. The Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government between 1976 and 1979 could not match what Jonathan is doing. The focus of the government is to make Nigeria sufficient in food production and exportation. Already the government has put in place measures to attain this goal. For instance, it has revolutionised agriculture which has led to increased yields and drastic reduction in food imports by as much as 5.3 billion dollars. The e-Wallet scheme introduced by the administration has helped to reduce the scams associated with the distribution of fertilizers and seeds to farmers.
Nigeria has now become an automobile manufacturing country. This was something we never ever thought would happen in our lifetime. But it has happened with the foresight of the Jonathan government. The Innoson Automobile Industry, Enugu, now produces locally assembled cars and trucks thereby brightening the chances of Nigeria attaining self-sufficiency in automobile production.
The revolution in the agricultural sector, coupled with the springing up of new industries and optimal production capacity of existing ones, has led to a quantum leap in the number of gainfully employed graduates. The You-Win programme, which has produced new entrepreneurs that now employ other Nigerians, is one way the government is tackling unemployment and empowering the youth. It is believed that in the next four years the number of these entrepreneurs would have grown geometrically with hundreds of thousands of unemployed Nigerians getting employed.
Let us look at some intangible things the government of Jonathan has done that have had far-reaching impact on the lives of Nigerians. Rule of law and constitutionality are one area the government has done very well. This is a democracy for Christ’s sake, where leaders are expected to be humane and caring. Brutality and brashness are definitely not imperative attributes of a democratic leader. For a military leader those may be required. I can state with every sense of responsibility that President Jonathan has performed exceptionally in this wise. He has carried himself with humility and candour and demonstrated a rare sense of empathy and serenity of mind. I doubt if any Nigerian leader before him had ever exhibited such sterling qualities.
I do not subscribe to the wicked insinuations by some faceless persons that Jonathan is lawless. I challenge such people to name a single instance where he has demonstrated disobedience to any court order. The case of the Adamawa impeached deputy governor who was pronounced governor by the Supreme Court is a case in point. The president directed that the court order be carried out with dispatch. There are many of such cases all across the country.
Academically, Jonathan ranks tops. In fact, he is the first graduate-president Nigeria has ever had. He assumed office at a time flaunting one’s academic laurels was globally in vogue. His emergence took Nigeria’s stature to high heavens and increased the prestige of the Office of President. One then wonders why any rational person would want us to go back to prescient times. We need a President who can hold his own anywhere in the world without suffering from any complexes.
I would state here that Jonathan has been a blessing to this generation. He is a special gift from God to Nigeria at this critical period of our national life. I hear some people argue that Jonathan’s government has not been able to fight insurgency in the north east of Nigeria. Even though I agree the government could do more, Jonathan should not be seen as the progenitor of the crisis. It had been there long before he arrived, but only came to the fore in his time.
However, considering the measures the government has established to deal with the situation, it is assured that normalcy will be restored very soon. Let it be known, nonetheless, that terrorism is a global canker that has defied any known solution. It has ravaged even the most technologically-advanced countries of the world. What we need to conquer is unity and oneness of purpose.
From the deepest part of my heart I wish to state unequivocally that it is only a Jonathan that can salvage this nation from the grievous malaise eating it up. A vote for Jonathan is a vote for continuity, good governance and equitable leadership anchored on the fear of God, respect for human dignity, and the good and welfare of all Nigerians.
Orji Uzor Kalu is a business mogul and former governor of Abia State.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.