I RETURNED to Abuja on an afternoon flight from Asaba, the Delta State capital, last Sunday. We had been attending the 9th Nigerian Editors’ Conference; an occasion which climaxed with a gala night of music, featuring D’Banj; Omawumi; the Delta State cultural troupe and some of the leading comedians that made Delta the capital of Nigerian stand up comedy.
These events happened on Saturday night, and it was at the same occasion that I was inducted as a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. As I wrote last week on this page, it was that level of peer recognition that one doesn’t lobby for; it was indeed a recognition of the years of toil, pain and pleasure that made us the rounded professionals we evolved into.
In a most emotional and human sense therefore, I associate that moment in my life, with Asaba and Delta state in general. But more fundamentally, is the fact that by being given such an honour in a state other than the one that I was born into, and away from the North, that I am so much identified with, I felt and still do feel a strong sense of connection with the beauty that is this incredibly diverse and rich country that is our Nigeria!
But apart from my personal emotional response to the award that I got in the settings of Asaba and Delta state, there was the aperture that opened into the efforts being made to develop what is a very complex state and one that reflects very much, that incredible tapestry of Nigeria: vibrant cultures; quarrelsome elites; a hardworking population of often very poor people; a huge population of young people searching for a place under the sun and a mix of the positive and negative, almost in an equal measure.
When I found out that our conference was set for the state, I was naturally curious to see how much work has been put into the process of development there. The feeling is understandable, given that Delta is Nigeria’s highest revenue earner but has also been one of the most disturbed in the years of militancy; theft of oil; kidnappings and internecine fights between various communities in the state.
The last time I visited Delta in 2002, I was General Manager of Kwara State Television and was actually driving through to attend the National Council of Information in Owerri, Imo state. Not much was visible in terms of development and in the years after, what one read about the state depressed rather than uplifted. It seemed that the elites of Delta behaved very much true to type; they went on a spending spree as oil money freely came into the coffers of the state and there was so much to indulge the excesses of the contending elite groups from various ethnic backgrounds.
The political class seemed adroit at buying off and playing groups against themselves; and the central issue was always that there was money to throw at whatever emerged as a problem in the inter-elite rivalries which dominated the better part of Delta’s politics from 1999. This was the background that conditioned my understanding of the developments in the state in the past few years.
So when I landed at the Asaba airport last Thursday morning, I was very surprised that this airport which became the butt of innuendo and cruel jokes on the internet in the past one year or so. Opponents of the state governor successfully labelled the project as the typical white elephant, through which millions, even billions of naira, was funneled out of the state.
But contrary to that picture, I saw an airport that was still very much an on-going project in certain areas such as the runway, some areas of the terminal building; the exterior landscaping, to mention a few. But there is no doubt, that on the basis of what is on ground, the Asaba airport, even now, is one of the best in Nigeria today! During a session of our conference, I actually mentioned it to Governor Uduaghan; I expressed pleasant surprise at what I saw at the airport.
In the next two days, we went round Asaba to discover that a lot has been put into infrastructural development, and most impressive was the huge investment put into the renewal of educational infrastructure by the government of Dr. Uduaghan. Primary schools in the state, and we saw a couple of them inside Asaba, have been turned around in an incredible manner, just as much as the renewal of facilities in secondary schools. We were told and shown pictures and records of investments in many areas of development in the state.
Of course within a visit of three to four days, there is not much that we can see and I don’t want to write with the arrogance of “parachute” journalism, which Western journalists have often been accused of when they visit developing countries; but in those four days in Delta state, I was struck by the friendliness of people and the open-heartedness to visitors from different parts of the country. If there was fear about militancy, I got a feeling that the post-militancy period has become rather more hopeful in the state.
In Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the governor, I found a most welcome and an incredible level of modesty and levelheadedness; and the fact that he stayed through and actively participated in most of the sessions of our conference, spoke volumes for his leadership style. I found Delta state very delightful indeed and it is a place that I will forever associate with a most triumphant point in my professional life.
I will certainly go back to Delta to understand its people better and to take in more closely its hopes and aspirations. These were the thoughts I turned around in my mind as we checked in at the Asaba airport on the way back to Abuja, last Sunday.
President Jonathan’s peculiar pattern of political statements
THERE is a peculiar pattern to Goodluck Jonathan’s political statements that should worry us all. While declaring open the 53rd annual general conference of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), in Calabar, Cross River State, President Jonathan said some persons and sections of the country are threatening the nation’s unity, because of their desperate attempt to wrest power from him.
Jonathan did not name the “certain individuals and sections of the country”, but he added that they were creating divisions and hatred in the polity. It seemed to President Jonathan that treasonable statements made to support his retention of power by the Niger Delta ex-militant, Asari Dokubo and presidential aide, Kingsley Kuku, didn’t threaten national unity nor created division and hatred.
The Calabar statement was the latest in a series of un-presidential political statements. Goodluck Jonathan once told an Igbo audience that votes he got in the North in 2011 could only have come from Igbo residents in Northern Nigeria. He also has the knack of making sensitive political statements either inside churches or while receiving delegations of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
I cannot recall other Nigerian leaders, Muslim or Christian, who did that in the past. It seems central to presidential political strategy, under Goodluck Jonathan, that ethno-religious and regional fault lines must be consciously manipulated to consolidate the President’s position. And as the nation heats up ever more frighteningly, in the lead to 2015, the knuckles are becoming barer in the fight for political advantage.
The emergence of the PDM as a political party has upped the ante, because it is being interpreted as Atiku Abubakar’s fallback option. PDM’s emergence seems to rile PDP’s fixer-in-chief, Tony Anenih. He argued, disingenuously, that PDM was not expected to become a political party. It was a movement tucked firmly under the PDP’s umbrella, except that Atiku’s associates have a different view of things, with its registration. Tony Anenih wants to politically bury Atiku completely, but a political corpse’s limb is sticking out of the cemetery of politics, with PDM’s registration.
If Tony Anenih was worried about PDM, there is another potential political dam burst, with rumour that PDP’s five rebellious Northern governors are putting finishing touches to the emergence of a new party called Voice of the People (VOP). There are dangers ahead, because the PDP’s strategy of “winning” elections hinges on control of executive power in states.
The rebellious governors will be joined by Rotimi Amaechi in Rivers and Abdulfateh Ahmed in Kwara. There are distinct possibilities that by 2015, Jonathan’s PDP will face adversaries in APC-controlled states; the VOP seven, as well as party insiders smarting from PDP’s lingering crises. It won’t be a tidy way to face the defining 2015 election. The political uncertainties must also be weighed against the backdrop of perceptions of presidential incompetence and uninspiring leadership!
This is where Goodluck Jonathan’s peculiar politically divisive statements must be put in context. The presidency needs to divide its political foes and as in war so it is in politics: all types of weapons can be freely deployed to subdue opposition and win victory. President Goodluck Jonathan is not naïve. No. He makes those peculiarly divisive political statements because they are central to his overall strategy for the 2015 elections!
A minister’s sack and the gander’s sauce
EARLY this week, President Jonathan sacked Minister of Youth development, Inuwa AbdulKadir. The reason officially canvassed was that there were petitions against the minister. I know Abdulkadir very closely as we live together in Kaduna and socialise very well