The Paradox of GEJ and Transformation Agenda By Adagbo Onoja



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How come  a president whose organizing concept of power is a Transformation Agenda is  still routinely associated with cluelessness, mediocrity and incompetence? It is either these words have lost their meaning or the president has played a fast one on the country, consciously or unconsciously promising transformation but offering regression. It has to be either of the two since the concept of Transformation Agenda is as original and inspiring as Action Group’s “Freedom for All, Life More Abundant” in the First Republic or NPN’s “One Nation, One Destiny” in the Second Republic and Professor Sam Aluko’s “Guided Deregulation” under Abacha. This is to the extent that it encompasses all the other three and even more. It is so holistic and apt for Nigeria at this point in time that one wonders who, in GEJ’s team, could have thought about it and got ‘them’ to endorse it as the organizing concept for GEJ’s leadership.

Tragically, nobody has bothered to illuminate the concept after the election, suggesting that Goodluck Jonathan’s singular contribution to political leadership and power in Nigeria so far was probably no more than an election gimmick to be forgotten immediately after that. But any leader who starts that way has already created problems for (himself) ab initio. It is one thing for a president or a government or a party in power to operationalize an organising concept in breach of one or two of its principles but dangerous to define a president, party or government in terms of a signature tune and abandon the tune as quickly as elections were over.

As transformation means change, the president or the government needed not much justification of the agenda even though doing so remains the starting point. That is where we would have seen a definition of Nigeria, something like Akin Mabogunje’s definition where he argued that “our society is trying to emerge from being a collection of kinsmen and/or subjects of some potentates to becoming citizens of a liberal and modernizing nation-state”.

There are as many definitions as there are tendencies but it is from the president or the government or the party’s own definition that the transformative touch would have been anchored. If, like Mabogunje, the president believed that Nigeria is basically a pre-industrial or an agrarian society, then the kernel of the Transformation Agenda could not be anything but an agro-industrial warfare. The assumption is that an agro-industrial strategy enables such a society to produce or create value and once it can do that, all other segments of the society will hypodermically assume the agro-industrial character and the society would have made a leap from being a pre-industrial to an industrial society along with its institutions and processes. In that sense, issues of the quality and quantum of social services, nature and character of politics, conflict and conflict management and even foreign policy take their cue-in from the logic of the industrial/industrializing society.

In that context, universities, for example, would naturally be qualitative because industrialists would not tolerate graduates with shoddy thought process and skewed skills who would come and crash their industries as personnel officers, marketers, accountants, salesmen and women, supervisors and so on and so forth. This contrasts with the present situation where there are no end users to bother the state about the quality of graduates beyond the grumblings of scattered employers here and there. Since universities cannot be qualitative without the primary and secondary schools being qualitative, the logic of industry reproduces itself in the educational arena. And that is how it happens in the other segments of the society.

It is not as if an industrial or industrializing society is a utopia but that, fundamentally, it has been the best resolution of the crises of production and plenty. It is also not as if any African country today will find it easy to industrialise. There are so many enemies of industrialization in Africa, mostly the typical African state and her foreign patrons. But if there is any African country that must industrialise or perish, it is Nigeria. So, when surprisingly, president Goodluck, either out of historical awareness or sense of shame about the embarrassment called Nigeria, decided that a transformation agenda was the way to go, he was adding value in a strategic sense. But when he started doing the opposite of a Transformation Agenda, he was inviting the paradox we are talking about now.

For, instead of the agenda, there was a regression agenda – mind boggling corruption at the presidential doorstep and continuation of economic terrorism called market reform.  The subsequent incoherence has climaxed in a threat to impeach the president, for instance. Even if the House of Representatives is playing games by that threat, which it has said it is not, it diminishes the person and the office of the president, and Nigeria, of course. From this point, the relationship between the House and the president might never return to normal and it is we, the ordinary Nigerians, who will suffer it most. That conflict will, therefore, become the source of further alienation and instability in the society.

And you wonder why the president, a self-confessed son of poor peasants who could not afford shoes to go to school doing with market reforms which is at the heart of this instability. Why can’t he start by, first, making a grand concession to the peasantry in Nigeria? Where, in Africa, would anyone talk about transformation without the peasants being the core of attention? Is it Zimbabwe or South Africa or Egypt or Kenya? Even in Europe, the peasantry is the focus of development, although theirs are peasants with tractors but they are still heavily subsidized. Subsidy politics is a big issue in the EU, for example. Where is the subsidy in Nigeria for peasants in any manner whatsoever?

Yet, Jonathan is of peasant background like most of us. One would have thought that by boldly introducing himself as such, he was recognizing the heroism of the peasantry, their emergence as the only revolutionary class over time, contrary to Marx’s optimism about the workers which has turned out unfounded. While all the revolutions built on the working class have collapsed, those built on the peasants are flourishing. That is beside their heroism in every war since history, beginning with the peasant wars across Europe to anti-colonial insurgency in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Although they are not directly exploited in the scientific sense of the word, they are in dire existence, particularly in non-industrial society such as ours.

President Jonathan might have learnt from Obasanjo who also did not offer any great concession to the peasantry during his second coming to power. But not only did Obasanjo centralise farming during his first coming as a military head of state, he completed this with a powerful pro-peasant mobilizational Operation Feed the Nation, (OFN). Before Obasanjo migrated from statism in 1975/79 to market fundamentalism in 1999, he, as a military officer, had become a petit bourgeoisie and eventually a capitalist when he went into commercial farming. By 1999, his class sensibilities were indistinguishable from that of any ‘neo-con’ although nothing can justify the primitivity and unruliness of the casino capitalism he supervised between 1999 and 2007, allowing some clever but deluded ministers to seize the engine room of power and allow private parasites, sorry, private sector to mess up the country.

But the incumbent is not of this breeding. Again, we must turn to OBJ’s portrait of the president as a candidate. OBJ described candidate Jonathan as the one Nigeria could not hope for anything better than because he was as fresh as fresh air, without baggage, pure and innocent. Though rhetorical, these were enough to soften many of us against the candidate in our little corners in 2011.

There was a sense in what the former president said. A Jonathan who has not been used to the class privileges of the rogue elephants would have been best suited to take the country out of the situation whereby no force or interest or even an individual anywhere is deliberately planning it. I say this not in ignorance of the fact that there was a time Nigeria had a state which planned for it, from refineries to rolling mills to sugar plants and whatever. Not only were these planned out, the facilitating institutions were also set up such as the banks. Then the wolves came and with them, the rise of sophism- the culture of cleverly explaining away problems instead of debating to solve them.

Subsequently, we began to have economy which is growing but does not manifest in infrastructure or jobs; an economy that was judged on the basis of how hefty the foreign reserve was even in the face of hunger; an economy that could afford to kill a public enterprise in which the country had spent up to $7b just to be seen as privatizing; an economy that allows unfettered transfer of any amount out of Nigeria to build redundant houses outside the country while towns and villages are crying even for ‘match box’ low cost housing units. And yet, the president is on to a Transformation Agenda.

The president of a country is its soul. I am not sure anyone would be fulfilled in calling the president’s person and office to question as goes on in Nigeria today if something fundamentally has not gone wrong. Whatever might have gone wrong cannot be Goodluck’s shattering of the zoning/rotation pact which was so tactlessly handled as to deny him considerable goodwill among those whose goodwill he needed. By the time OBJ came to say that zoning, rotation and federal character were alive in the PDP, the hemorrhage in the party had gone far. It cannot also be that the president is truly clueless. Most presidents are clueless anyway and we have seen many for whom resident intellectuals had to be organised or who had to rush to a finishing school shortly before their inauguration. The rot in Nigeria though recommended a more tendentious hawk with an unimpeachable subject matter mastery of the ways of the masquerade called Nigeria.

All these could, however, have been taken care of if GEJ had been pursuing or tried to give effect to the Transformation Agenda he has seemingly been intimidated or pressured to run away from. But the signs that the current economic anarchy is in nobody’s interest again are all very clear in the violence consuming the society.

Onoja is a columnist with Abuja based Blueprint


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