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FRANK OFILI

OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT GOODLUCK  EBELE JONATHAN

Your Excellency

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

Mr. President Sir, this letter is not in any way an attempt to continue along the line of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s famous letter “Before It is too late”. Neither is it intended to patronize your administration. I am the least qualified to engage in such braggadocio against an elected president of the Federal Republic whose mandate four years ago was overwhelming. This letter is rather an expression of the feelings of an ordinary Nigerian who stood by you through thick and thin all through the challenging period of 2009/2010, but who unfortunately got disappointed along the way by certain decisions you have had to make as his leader and President. 

 

As an insignificant epistle from yet another irrelevant Nigerian, I would be mightily honoured if this letter attracts your attention at all.  No doubt, hundreds of such letters are written to you every day, and you have capable assistants who determine which gets to your table. I would therefore not be surprised if this one is not confined to history as one useless letter from another errant nonentity. 

 

Your Excellency Sir, everyone knows that leading has never been easy; neither are leaders easy to find. Leaders exhibit a unique blend of charisma, vision and character traits that draw people to them. They exhibit other characteristics too, such as the ability to identify a potential threat and take necessary preventive measures. 

 

When someone makes a decision to lead, like you did four years ago, it is taken for granted that he recognizes the need to attract followers. Followership is key to leadership. To follow, people must feel confident in the direction in which the leader chooses to go. They are enabled and empowered to do their part in realizing the vision.

 

People generally follow leaders who are accountable and trustworthy – leaders who take responsibility. If progress towards achieving set goals derails, the leader takes responsibility not only for the failure but also to analyze the problem in order to find out what went wrong. A good leader does not search for people to blame when something goes wrong. This is what makes the led have confidence that their efforts will not be punished if they take reasonable and responsible risks. 

 

It is in light of this Sir that I find unacceptable you and your agents’ often-stated allegation that the scourge of Boko Haram was the handiwork of enemies who promised to make the country ungovernable for you. My question is if somebody promised to make the country ungovernable for you, and that threat is being carried out, whose duty is it to deal with it?

 

I recall that in your reply to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s famous letter “Before It is Too Letter,” you contradicted your above allegation when you claimed that Boko Haram predated your administration and that it, in fact, started under the administration immediately preceding yours. You and I know that you were Vice President under that administration sir. To now try to distance yourself from that government is, to me, an artful way of dodging responsibility, sir. I am not insinuating sir that you were responsible for the emergence of Boko Haram. I am only saying that you probably didn’t do that which was necessary to tame the monter at the initial stage. You admitted that much recently (more on this later).

Anyway, that is not the essence of this paper. This piece centers on what I expected you to display as my leader so that I can enthusiastically and unquestioningly follow you. I expected you to show commitment to providing us peace and security, fairness, justice, equal opportunity, functional institutions of state, freedom from disease, opportunity for growth and development, opportunity to live a fulfilled life, and above all, sincerity in fighting corruption, the single most important contributor to our national woes today. To be fair, you did fairly well in your first year as elected president.Though there were a few missteps, I put them down as teething problems of an inexperienced president, especially given the circumstances in which you emerged as acting president. However, given what I have witnessed in the past two and half years of your Presidency, I am sorry to say, Sir, that I am no longer inclined to vote you again in the coming election. My reasons are not far-fetched.

 

Mr. President Sir, a leader, should have a vision of what or how he wants his country to be. He shares this dream and direction that other people want to share and follow. Leadership vision goes beyond a mere declaration of intent. It goes beyond your promise of “a breath of fresh air” and your mantra of “transformation agenda.” Your vision should ordinarily permeate the whole country and manifest in your actions, beliefs, and goals. Unfortunately, and I am sorry to say this sir, I have not seen this in your administration. Your promise of a breath of fresh air and transformation of the country remains just that – a promise. It will continue to be a mirage for as long as there is the absence of a well-formulated and thought-through policy vehicle to bring it about. Propaganda a’la Doyin Okupe, Rueben Abati, and Olisa Metu will not make it happen. 

 

There are fundamentals necessary for a vision to excite and motivate people to follow the leader. These fundamentals include, among other things, a clearly set direction and purpose; the vision should inspire loyalty and care through the involvement of the people; it should reflect the unique strengths, cultures, values, beliefs and direction of the country; It should inspire enthusiasm, commitment, and excitement in the people; it helps the people to believe that they are part of something bigger than themselves; it should be regularly communicated and shared; and finally, it should challenge people to outdo themselves, to stretch and reach. All these, sir, I cannot see expressed in your vision of a transformed Nigeria. All I can see Sir is a deliberate effort by highly placed officials of your government to polarize the country along ethnic, tribal and religious lines. These officials plant hatred in the mind of the people and create the impression that Boko Haram was a creation of the particular religion, tribe or the opposition party. They conveniently forget that when Boko Haram strikes, it does not differentiate between religion, tribe or political ideology. That you have so far been unable to call these agents of your government to order is a tacit indication that you probably believe those allegations to be true. This assertion is strengthened by the fact that you failed to unify and galvanize national energy against the monster. In my opinion, you acted like the president of your party, PDP instead of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

When 9/11 happened in the United States of America in 2001, then President George Bush wasted no time in unifying and galvanizing Americans of all shades, race, faith, belief and political leaning in the fight against its perpetrators. President Barrack Obama, a Democrat, followed suit in the manner George Bush, a Republican, fought Al Qaeda. The same scenario played out in the UK and Spain when they experienced terrorist attacks a couple of years ago. The handling of any threat to the nation ought to go beyond petty domestic politics. Unfortunately, it has not been so in our case.

 

Mr. President Sir, agents of your government, are quick to reel out series of achievements which they say you have recorded. No doubt you have recorded some (I shall return to them later), but for now let me remind you that on assumption of office you met Excess Crude Account at $20 billion, today it is about $2 billion; unemployment rate at about 11.8 percent, today it is about 24 percent; exchange rate at N119 to the dollar, today it is hovering between N220 to N230. Today the Naira is weaker than any other currency in Africa. You also met pump price of fuel at N65 per liter when you assumed office, today it is officially N87 (reduced from N97) but unofficially about N110. Fuel queue is also back too. You met poverty level at 54 percent, today it is about 71 percent; GDP growth rate at 11 percent, today it is about 6 percent even with all the hype about rebasing and Nigeria being the biggest economy in Africa. Surely, there is something wrong with an economy which its handlers say is growing positively while a lot of the people grows in the opposite direction. I want to believe the bottom line of economic growth and development is that it should reflect on the people. 

 

When you took over in 2010 as acting President, internally displaced people in Nigeria were in their thousands; they are in their millions. I can’t seem to recollect if there has been any significant foreign direct investment since you took over; under your watch, public tertiary education was shut for over seven months while the number of private universities and private jet owners has increased exponentially. The fees these private universities charge are far beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians whom you swore to serve. Under your watch, the country has no national airline, but the Presidency alone has over 5 in its fleet, and your wife the First Lady has an airline by proxy. Is this your vision for Nigeria?

 

Mr. President, the youth are the bedrock of any society. They also represent the future. Unfortunately, in Nigeria under your watch, I cannot see any youth engagement strategy in the mold of the National Directorate of Employment, and the like (even NDE has been left to die under your watch). Young people all over the world are a vital and important segment of the society. A disciplined focused, and law-abiding youth can create a bright future for any nation. 

Conversely, a lawless and violent youth is a great threat to a country’s peace and security. In the absence of any policy to engage those who are unable to gain admission into tertiary institutions,  or those whose parents cannot afford it,  crime and other social vices rule the land. Little wonder our youth today are more engaged in the insurgency, crime, and political thuggery. 

 

You missed a vital support base when you alienated the young people and instead chose to use septuagenarians and octogenarians in the last national confab. I cannot imagine how you hope to transform Nigeria if you could so deliberately alienate the internet generation who not only constitute over 70 percent of the country’s population but also whose future was in a way being determined at the confab (not minding that the confab report is now gathering dust somewhere). Take a walk on the streets of Nigeria today, and all you will find are children of school age hawking wares, riding Okada or cake – these are vocations that require no special skill, but these kids have no choice because there is no sustainable national strategy for youth engagement. The implication is that there is a huge skill gap due to the absence of career path for those who cannot acquire tertiary education.

 

Mr. President Sir, the widely held belief that your administration condones corruption, and therefore lacks integrity, does not seem to be incorrect altogether – from the look of things. How else can one make sense out of the fact that you granted a Presidential pardon to D.S.P. Alamieseighai, your kinsman who was tried and convicted for corruption? You also pardoned and released from prison Chief Bode George who was also serving a jail term for corruption. Hon Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola implicated in a $625,000 petroleum subsidy scam are also still walking free. $20.8 billion was discovered to be illegally withheld from being remitted to the Federation Account by NNPC egg-heads under your watch. No one has been asked to offer an even ordinary explanation. Diezani Allison Madueke, the Empress (so to say) of NNPC remains a prominent member of your administration despite being enmeshed in another scandal of spending a whopping $10 billion on charter flights. Sir, do you know how much that amount of money can do for this country? Recently, Prof Charles Soludo, renowned economists and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria revealed that the country has lost about N30 trillion in cash, opportunities and expected revenues since you took over. Curiously, instead of taking Soludo serious and asking him to provide more facts, the matter was publicized in much the same way as you treated Boko Haram until recently. Recall that the immediate past CBN governor, and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had also said much the same thing for which you fired him. My question is, is it possible that two successive governors of the nation’s treasury (the CBN) are lying about the same thing? Does it not bother you that these humongous revelations are being made under your watch?

 

Let me not bother with other questionable and ill-advised (in my opinion) decisions you have made, such as giving contract to militants and ethnic militias like OPC to protect oil installations; making ex-militant Tom Ateke grand patron of Federal Government’s Task Force on illegal importation of arms, or awarding the contract to procure arms for the Nigerian military to your friend and confidant, and through black market channels instead of the normal official route. I must not forget to mention also your foot-dragging in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency and the kidnap of over 200 innocent school girls by the insurgent group. Next month, it will be exactly one year since those innocent teenage school girls were kidnapped and so far all you have done to free them is to declare, recently, that your government knows where they are being kept. If that is so, am I now to assume that you had pin-point intel on Boko Haram all along? And if that is correct, my question is why didn’t you take decisive action against the insurgent group before now?

I recall that your former Chief of Army Staff, General Ihejirika, a man you appointed based on his competence, I suppose, informed you that elements in your party, the PDP founded Boko Haram as a tool for political negotiation. Surprisingly instead of taking the information with the seriousness it deserved, you quickly fired Ihejirika – a curious decision by all standards. Recently, you sir, admitted that you did not take the threat of Boko Haram seriously initially. That singular mistake from you has cost Nigeria and Nigerians incalculable human and material loss. Now that you have decided to take them seriously am afraid it is too little too late. And coming just weeks to the general elections, it is curious, in particular against the backdrop that your military and security chiefs instigated the recent postponement of the elections by six weeks ostensibly to enable them to crush Boko Haram. 

 

Now back to the issue of your administration’s achievements. Much has been written about your Administration’s achievements in the agricultural sector, especially the dismantling of the fertilizer cabal. It is also said that under your watch Nigeria is now a net exporter of Ofada rice. While I agree that you have recorded some achievements in this area, I am however bothered by its lopsidedness. For instance, the talk about fertilizer performance is a farce to farmers in the south. My senatorial zone, for instance, is largely agrarian. I doubt if farmers in this area know what fertilizer looks like. As for Nigeria being a net exporter of rice, am afraid I cannot agree with this. I do business with a company extensively involved in rice business, and from information available to me, all I can tell you is that Ofada rice is not anywhere near being exported from Nigeria. Though we have recorded some growth in that subsector, the truth, however, is that Nigeria remains one of the largest importers of rice in the world. Worse is that the quality of rice grains allowed to be imported into our country is not even half as good as our own Ofada rice. 

 

In the transportation sector, your administration has also recorded what many consider as an achievement. These “achievements” are in the form of rehabilitation of federal roads and rail lines and improvement in the aviation subsector. About aviation, I agree there has been the commendable improvement, especially in the area of safety regulations and aviation infrastructural improvement, though airfare is still relatively high. About federal roads and rail lines, however, all I can see is routine maintenance. Mr. President Sir, road and rail maintenance is supposed to be a routine responsibility of government. That your government carried out maintenance work on already existing federal roads and rail lines should not, in my view, be something to beat one’s chest about. I would, however, consider it a great achievement if your government was able, for instance, to construct a new super highway running along the coast from Lagos to Port-Harcourt; or if your government has added more kilometers of new rail lines to the ones left for us by the colonial masters. Mere acquiring of new train coaches does not amount to achievement in my view since that alone would not reduce the cost of transportation. 

Finally, power generation. Yes, some people say electricity supply has improved under your watch. All sort of statistics have been thrown up to buttress that viewpoint, never mind that those statistics have no bearing on reality on the ground. Given the amount of money that has been sunk into this sector vis-a-vis the reality on the ground, at least from my personal perspective, I cannot agree that power supply has improved. Nigeria is still a huge importer of power generators. At home, I get electricity for less than 15 hours in a whole week. I get and pay, huge bills every month. My office is located in a highly industrialized area of Lagos. We are perpetually on gas-powered generators, yet our public power supply bill keeps rising even where it is only a standby. My local government, Oshimili North,  back home in Delta State is on the national grid. The whole of the local government had electricity last under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. Everywhere I go the situation with power supply belies the statistics. So, if the power situation is as bad in the city as it is in the local communities, how then has electricity supply improved? But there are those who are bound to disagree with me. And yes, questions may be asked as to what the states and local governments are doing towards power generation and distribution. The truth, however, is that this problem is beyond them. I do not also accept the explanation that the power supply challenge predates your administration. Your administration’s apologists are quick to point out that President Obasanjo’s regime sunk billions of dollars into the power sector without anything to show for it. My response is that you knew this before you asked for our vote in 2011 and promised to fix the power problem within four years. I guess that before you made that promise, you already had a master plan on how to deliver on it. 

 

Mr. President Sir, it is only a matter of weeks before the next presidential election in which you are once again a candidate. It is quite possible you would win a re-election. If you do, please know it that it won’t be because you performed in your first term, rather it will be because of the usual and unfortunate Nigerian factor.  Whatever be the case, I do not know what kind of legacy you want to leave behind. What I do know is that you made a decision, out of your own free will, to lead this country, and in that decision you made promises and swore on oath as the Constitution requires, to protect and defend Nigeria and Nigerians. In my own estimation Sir, your government has failed in that responsibility, sir. I must now use my power as an electorate to look for another leader. Whether my vote will make a difference is not important to me sir. What matters to me is that I have played my part in search of a better Nigeria sir. 

 

No hard feelings Sir. My warm regards. 

 

Yours sincerely,

Frank Ofili 

24 Fatai Atere Way

Matori Industrial Estate

Lagos