Of Presidential Promises And Public Perception


“Obama’s second term is the best thing that has happened to Africa and the Blackman in recent times.”

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan


As I dip into the haystack of information overload, to sift the seed of the relevant from the chaff of the irrelevant, behold a sweet-sour blend of irony or an inter-play of fate coming from President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s Aso Villa abode in Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power. Hurray! It is yet another birthday season. Mr. President clocks 55, November 20. But, alas! The cold claws of death have also stealthily snatched away the President’s younger brother Meni, 45, same day! All blamed ‘brief illness’ for doing its worst. Does it really matter where it occurred? Some said at Aso State Clinic while others claim the morbid supremacy of the National Hospital, Abuja.

Some cynics even wonder why the poor soul was not flown to India if Germany was too expensive. After all, he was a member of the President filial family.  But is there a place in the world where people don’t die, methinks? Trust the cynics, ‘life is cheap in Nigeria’ they say. Adding cynically, ‘imagine the wanton destruction of lives due to road mishaps, dastardly robberies and outright assassination, abject poverty, lack of good public health and incompetence of medics; from Lagos to Zamfara, Sokoto to Uyo, Ebonyi to Borno, Benue to Kwara.’ But the cynics may be on point that death prowls our deadly national streets and expressways! What a paradox of wealth and waste, gain and pain, joy and sorrow? Huge sufferings amidst plenty!

Sadly, the two giant cakes baked specially with black Ijaw cap as icing for the helmsman’s anniversary wouldn’t have been palatable to his bereaved taste buds. What a pity from the pit of the stomach? Here was a gentleman, who recently told Nigerians and the world at large that his hitherto effervescent wife, First Lady Dame Patience, is still recuperating after undergoing scalpel surgery in Germany, for an undisclosed ailment. Now, Meni, his umbilical blood brother demises on the President’s birthday. Surely not the best day for the President! So the heart of the nation must pump sympathy towards the country’s number one steward.

May the soul of the departed meet bliss in eternity and a wish of speedy recovery to the ‘Mother of the Nation.’  To Mr. President, one can only say keep keeping strong, for uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Truly, emotions and sentiments are never the pillars of a palace. Sadly too, those on the throne are insulated from the stones and drones of private pains and pleasure. For the management of a state goes far beyond what happens to the manager himself, partly or wholly!

So let’s put under the microscope of logic the recent promises and pledges of President Jonathan during his latest media exercise to woo public opinion towards his government’s path. As expected, the President’s media and publicity handlers, headed by former Guardian newspaper editorial board chairman, Dr Reuben Abati, put forward a fairly good public relations slant. They tactically avoided the ex British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s folly and banana peel of ‘who’s that bigot woman’, during an electioneering PR stunt that went haywire. Brown blamed his aides and poor temper before and after losing a second term bid as tenant to Number 10 Downing Street.

So Abati and co naturally left out the certified feather-rufflers (apology to El Rufai) in the media team that interviewed the President. Malam Kudu Abubakar of NTA and Martins Oloja, Editor of the Guardian were also joined by Vanguard’s Ikeddy Isiguzo and Saturday Editor of the Mirror, Lady Gbemi, whose questions were close to her expressive ‘chest’ (heart) as twice noticed by Mr. President. For once, the President’s oratorical expressions via live television beamed a fresh air of confidence, a bit of panache, articulation of core messages, and a smart let-off from the hardballs and salvos that made the President refer to Oloja as a political colleague.

However, was this media-show (sorry chat) a true ground for presidential plausibility and public perception adoption?  Many don’t think so. How many of the 170 million Nigerians (according to the President) really viewed, watched or listened to his state of the nation address? Most had no light for such luxury while many couldn’t just care less. I remember praying and pleading with some middleclass folks to give the President their ears, after all they stood awake all-night to hear Obama-Romney rumble in the US campaigns.

To them, I am just a ‘foreigner’; a Diasporan Returnee with misplaced patriotism. ‘Has this government patronized your training academy or PR Consultancy,’ they taunted? My clarion call of ‘think not what your country can do for you but that which you can do for her,’ fell on deaf ears. Instead, I was told to try and take ill and go the public hospital and probably end up in the morgue, or bring back my two kids from Europe to come and do their university studies in government-run institutions or pay through the nose in some contraption and conflation branded private education! One even reminded me satirically of the ‘joyful drive’ between Abuja through Lokoja to my Ondo homestead, or the heinous carjacking sometime ago that robbed us of a family ride and my lovely kaftan, money and phones in broad daylight at Costain, Lagos.

Such is the level of citizens’ despondency and desperation for transformation and development that a mere box-office talk-shop cannot wash-off at one sermon – no matter whose tongue was used. These friends no doubt love their country but hate the way things are being run. They have children in Universities of Jos and that of Abuja, where students have abandoned their less than cosy classrooms for the baking encounter of the dry season sun. Motorways get blocked in the process, commuters’ precious man-hour wasted and the nation’s productivity index decimated.

Interestingly, one of the sweet tweets (on Twitter handle of the media chat) that ‘got through’ the needle’s eye to the President was from ‘Ahead Ahead’ (sounds like Obama’s Forward to Second Term) and it read: ‘Mr. President, you’ll become the most remembered leader in Nigeria if you can fix the Lagos-Benin motorway and ensure adequate power supply to Nigerians.’ To which GEJ, in his newborn PR toga, replied: ‘if that is what Nigerians want I would do it and many more…’ Promises, promises echo the cynics.

Truly, the next day, Bi-Courtney the indigenous toll-collecting contractors billed to build and run via concession that section of the national highway lost the confidence of the man paying the piper’s price. The beat has changed and so the dance steps. Bye to bi-Courtney’s N89b contract, and welcome the Germans and the Chinese road-masters – Julius Berger and RCC. Who cares the nationality of good road builders? Yes, fresh air indeed. This should extend to the Abuja – Okene Road, Port Harcourt – Warri Road, and so on. Mr. President, cant there be an executive bill that all interstate roads in Nigeria be done the Abuja Metropolis way? If we don’t have trains, haba, let’s fix the roads, even if with Dangote and other cement products!

Meanwhile, this President seems to have found a steel-spine to stay-off the hegemony of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a feudal lord for whom Public Relations remains an aberration. Jonathan may not be the first ‘son’ to distance self from the OBJ syndrome. The latter’s biological boy, Gbenga, even went to court to challenged an alleged ‘oppression and suppression’ by his dad. The court referred them home, to treat their matter honourably. Today, the world knows that Jonathan will not follow the General by meting out the ‘Odi cleansing’ on alleged Boko Haram sympathizers without catching them red handed. Being his own-man means that this President can no longer be pulled by the nose, or hurried to do the acts contrary to due process. Thumbs up for him!

However, it is too early to shout uhuru or eureka! Don’t think we are in a land where people seek out a man-made Messiah. Yet, we are still not free from poverty, want, insecurity, unemployment, hunger, corruption and others. These banes and menaces facing our society need be confronted frontally. The issue of staggered election must be considered to consolidate the President’s lofty record of free and fair elections. So also should political accountability become the litmus test for social engineering, good governance and ideal development -borne out of actual transformational principles!

Finally, those who worry about whether or not the erstwhile boy-born-without shoes in Otuoke, Bayelsa State will breast the tape in a pair of sprinting shoes like Usain Bolt come 2015 Presidential Elections; here is your clue.  “Obama’s second term is the best thing that has happened to Africa and the Blackman in recent times. If he didn’t win it would have appeared as if the Blackman cannot govern well and so deserves no second term” , a quote from President Jonathan. A simple analogy goes: ‘if Jonathan fails to win a second term, it may mean that the South South man (Niger Deltan) cannot or is not fit to govern well.’  After all, the President concluded that we should not over heat the polity, ‘but a-four-year tenure is too short a period to impact a country as large as Nigeria.’

Until then, let the rest be history. Get ready to do the Azonto dance; with eyes to sky and feet on the canvass. Leap, leap, leap Alanta’s on tow. Long live our fatherland, Nigeria.

– Alaba Yusuf


Alaba Yusuf is an international journalist and publicist, productivity trainer and PR mentor based in Abuja







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