The Words They Couldn’t Put In Jonathan’s Mouth


On the eve of Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary, President Jonathan’s special assistant on public affairs, Doyin Okupe, came up with a very bright idea. On his Facebook page and Twitter handle, he invited ideas from the public on what the president might say in his Independence Day speech.

It was a rare window of inclusion that soon got responses pouring in. It’s not every time that you have insiders inviting the public to offer suggestions on “critical areas” of public affairs for the president’s speech. My instinct was to send Okupe a link to an article by Sonala Olumhense. In the article, published on May 6, 2012, Olumhense gave a list of at least 38 solemn promises made by the president from 2010 which had remained largely unfulfilled.

Looking at that list today – from his promise to crush Boko Haram and contain corruption to his vows to end polio and roll blackouts – it reads like a forgotten manifesto. I was tempted to ask Okupe for a presidential update. But I held back. I wanted his followers to lead the conversation before offering my two cents.

And sure enough, they did. “Let him (the president) talk to us on how he will fight corruption, discourage ethnic and religious divisions, fight Boko Haram and insecurity,” one of the earliest avatars on Okupe’s Twitter handle said. There were those who wanted the president to explain how $9.3million cash got to South Africa, the people behind the cash haul and if it is true that the money was actually meant to buy arms from the black market.

Some wanted the president to speak about power and nothing else.

“Power is the most important thing,” one of them said. “That will bring the desired multiplier effect on the economy. Give us a deadline on power outage.”

The Chibok girls were not forgotten. A number of Okupe’s followers were distressed about the politicisation of their rescue. They wanted to know what the government was doing to bring back the girls nearly 170 days after their abduction.

On Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary, could the president tell the nation how much longer the country will have to wait to have the girls safely back? The “missing” $20billion came up as well. Finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala promised forensic audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers. How long will it take for the audit to be completed and for the public to know what happened to the money?

The “critical areas” of concern on Twitter were not very different on Okupe’s Facebook wall. Except that a good number of the writers – mostly young people, I suspect – were concerned about 1) the type of company the president keeps and 2) the rate of unemployment which, today, stands at 40 per cent among the youths. There were, of course, those who wondered why Okupe was inviting comments on the eve of the president’s speech. Was this a fool’s errand or was Okupe just wasting his own time?

If, however, Okupe really needed stuff for the president’s Independence Day speech, his followers gave him more than enough lead. Interestingly, the result of the NOI Poll released on September 15 showed that security, corruption and job creation were at the heart of the concerns of the public.

The responses gave me hope. I thought that on this Independence Day – a valedictory one – we would most likely hear the president responding directly to the deepest concerns of the young, most of whom have been at the receiving end of his failed promises of the last five years.

Since the president did not release an advance copy of his speech to the press for the second year running, I waited till Independence Day to see just how many of the suggestions earlier sent in would be contained in his speech.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was mostly talk about talk. A good deal of the speech was hand wringing about Boko Haram, while the other parts were about ongoing reforms in politics, the economy and infrastructure. Since the speech was written to be forgotten on delivery, there was hardly anything in it that Okupe’s followers would recognise even as a passing reference to their concerns. The 2,682-word speech did not contain the word ‘corruption’ even once. It was more promises upon promises.

So, there you have it. In the last Independence Day speech of Jonathan’s first full term as president, not a single word is said about one of the worst demons of his presidency. Those who posted their concerns to Okupe on social media should ask him what happened to their two cents.


Buhari: Not Desperate? Or Not Too Desperate?

At last, former head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, has come out of the closet. He has openly declared his intention to run for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress. Fair enough. What I found a bit hard to swallow was the spin that he is “not desperate” to run.

If at 71, three attempts and a long spell of prevarication he wants to have a go the fourth time, and is not desperate, then I don’t know what desperation is. Not too desperate and ready to be a good party man whatever happens sounds more like it. Game on!




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