Evaluated from whichever direction, it is now clear that President Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat in the last election was one of the greatest things that happened to Nigeria in recent times. With hindsight now, it would have been the ultimate disaster to continue what we experienced from 1999 that culminated in the sordid and most absurd of the last five years under Jonathan. We must acknowledge the man for the perverse explanation of the goat and the yam; if we kept the yam in close proximity to a goat, then we endanger the yam. And unfortunately for Nigeria, under Jonathan, we had too many goats in the public space all with the single ambition of eating up as many yams of Nigerian finances as they could get access to! Jonathan’s goats overfed on our national yams as if there would be no tomorrow. When President Muhammadu Buhari last week met Barack Obama, the American President, one of the main issues discussed concerned assistance to repatriate loot hidden overseas for productive engagement with the Nigerian economy. It was estimated that in the past decade alone, about $150 billion dollars was stolen from our country!
Early this week, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who was on the presidential entourage to the USA, also revealed that senior US officials told President Buhari that one minister of the Jonathan administration alone stole the sum of $6 billion. And as Mr. Adams added further, even the Americans said that by the standards of Washington, such theft was “earth-quaking”. Over a week ago, THE NATION newspaper joined many online newspapers to reveal how Nigeria lost about $2 billion to very corrupt sweetheart deals in the oil industry, under the supervision of the untouchable and supremely powerful Diezani Allison-Maduekwe, President Jonathan’s Petroleum Minister. President Buhari also said a million barrels per day of oil were being sold and the proceeds paid into individual accounts. And to underline the gravity of the situation Nigeria continues to face, President Buhari told NTA’s “Good Morning Nigeria” program this week that an average of more than 250, 000 barrels of oil per day is still being stolen from Nigeria! These revelations made sense of the “Jonathan thesis” of yams and goats in its most naked nastiness, and because of a combination of mutually-reinforcing factors, it became easy to understand why Jonathan, who was incompetent at the best of times, became the head of a monumental process of heists at a level which disgraced not only individuals connected to the administration, but also the political party he belonged to. In the final analysis, the theft became a major indictment of the Nigerian ruling class. It became obvious that such a monumental regime of heists was not sustainable and something had to give. The election saved the ruling class project because the Nigerian people rejected Jonathan emphatically and voted President Buhari, who came to power on a platform of anti-corruption and the creation of jobs with an economy envisaged to be working for the Nigerian people through a reform process that is yet to be unfolded.
But the question that should agitate our minds is: Why did we arrive at the sorry pass that the Jonathan administration took us to? What is the nature of the political process and the governance structure of our country that pre-disposed us to having in place such a systematic regime of heists? Why were no long-lasting lessons learnt from the sordid experience of the Abacha regime that remains with us even to this day? Is it inherent in the nature of the class forces that control Nigeria to be easily taken along the route of mindless looting of the country? What then can be the place of the genuinely patriotic and almost messianic zeal of an individual like President Muhammadu Buhari, in helping to stem heists and providing some reformatory leadership for a process of restitution? And can such a process last? Can it even be a success? How will Buhari’s genuine intentions balance out against the backdrop of a federal structure and relatively autonomous states where governors and godfathers have access to huge funds that can and are equally subject to the thesis of yams and goats? What about the structure of the National Assembly that Buhari must work with, and especially its Senate component, given what we know of the controversial records of its leading lights? Have we not been conned? We have a president who is dedicated to the best interests of the country, but who is obliged to operate in a sea of sharks; a political elite of goats whose main interest is to corner and eat up the Nigerian yam! How will things pan out?
The truth is that President Muhammadu Buhari has his work cut out for him, and there is a very tough battle ahead. Those given the responsibility to provide leadership for the development of Nigeria have behaved no better than serial rapists, and the consequence of their mindless looting is a broken country plagued by all kinds of ills today. This is the country that Muhammadu Buhari has to help fix in a short period of four years. It will not be easy for him or all those who believe that change is possible in Nigeria. But we must give change a chance, having seen what a regime of systematic heists looks like under Goodluck Jonathan these past five years!
VOICES FROM WITHIN: TRIBUTES TO UNCLE SAM AMUKA AT 80
As you read these lines this morning, a book of essays is being launched at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs in Lagos. It is in honor of Uncle Sam Amuka’s 80th birthday. Ever the self-effacing gentleman, Uncle Sam had emphatically told Lanre Idowu, the book’s editor, that he didn’t want any book or celebration of the birthday. Thank God that Lanre and his team disobeyed the master this time around, to the glory of all Nigerians and especially all who have anything to do with the media. I think it is very important that we could celebrate the remarkably long life that Uncle Sam has lived and the impact that he has made on the evolution of Nigerian journalism, in over fifty years of direct engagement with our profession; this is without underestimating how his journalism also influenced and flowed into and with the social currents that mark our Nigerian lives in all the decades of his active and productive life. I have deliberately chosen to underline our Nigerian lives because the beauty and eternal significance of journalism is the way that it is interwoven with the social fabrics of society, in the manner that it reflects its evolution as well as providing some of the building blocks of that evolutionary process.
My fascination with Uncle Sam’s professional life is therefore a strand of my eternal love with the contested categories of socio-political existence of Nigeria. Almost imperceptibly but surely, Nigerians come from different backgrounds and in their active engagement in the social space, they help to build values that transcend the more divisive elements of our fault lines that political actors, various categories of intellectuals, from academia to those engaging the public space, often attempt to exploit to advance personal agendas. The creation of a national social ethos is never without its accompanying contradictions, since by its nature the social space is a contested one. Sometimes, we might not acknowledge the distances we have covered and there could be reverses of the process, but the traditions of journalism help very much in creating and advancing the national social ethos and reinforcing values that citizens accept as part of the definitions of their citizenship. Professionals like Uncle Sam Amuka have the advantage of a long life and therefore the opportunity to help calibrate the various phases of the development that I am talking about here.
Of course, it is no coincidence that Uncle Sam has practiced his journalism almost entirely in Lagos. The city has been at the heart of a very robust tradition of journalism from the middle of the nineteenth century. This was related to the role that the city has played in the vital historical currents that defined Nigeria. It was Lagos that those who were freed from the Atlantic Slave Trade returned to, bringing a new consciousness that was formed in the New World of the Americas. Lagos became the city that drew some of the earliest educated people and visiting intellectuals and aspirant but often failed businessmen, who had attempted to participate in the legal and lucrative business in the Niger Delta but were squeezed out by colonial monopolies. They were an aspirant petty-bourgeoisie and were embittered, as Professor Fred Omu noted in his remarkable study of Press and Politics in Nigeria. They turned to the media and helped to create a tradition of combative journalism, which had the consequence of helping to forge a Nigerian consciousness even earlier than the political process that led to the emergence of Nigerian nationalism and the Nigerian state itself. And who could deny that Lagos has always been a social pacesetter, creating and spreading all forms of innovation, faster than they could be copied in the hinterlands? The line can be drawn from John and Thomas Jackson and the fiery LAGOS WEEKLY RECORD, through to the nationalist press activists like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ernest Ikoli, Obafemi Awolowo, and various individuals who helped to consolidate the Lagos journalism tradition, that will then draw individuals like Uncle Sam to Lagos to eventually become outstanding participants, noteworthy contributors and long-lasting pacesetters in the profession. It is not only the gift of a long life that is being celebrated with the book that is being launched today, but a professional life that serves as a remarkably durable bridge between traditions of media practice and generations of practitioners. What is defining is how Uncle Sam has kept going, learning to accept and adapt to and adopting new inventions that impact upon the practice of journalism. It is the ability to re-invent self; remain able to accept new values without abandoning the kernels of the old that has kept Uncle Sam relevant. In Uncle Sam Amuka, Nigeria is blessed to have an individual and professional, whose life embodies just how far the national idea has developed and the body blows that it has also suffered. That we can be celebrating his 80th birthday with the presentation of a book of essays underlines just how much his professional life, social grace and remarkable decency have defined values that we all appreciate in the man. I am glad that Lanre Idowu invited me to contribute an essay to the book. Congratulations again Uncle Sam for a very productive professional life in journalism!
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, firstname.lastname@example.org