Jonathan’s half-time: The hard facts By: Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai
We began the assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration by listing a number of the campaign promises he made in 2011 and added that the achievement of those promises was not easy to measure because in essence, they were just broad generalizations with no targets, deliverables or timelines. Perhaps, that was the point of making such vague promises; so that performance cannot be measured and failures would not be easily evident.
This week, we would rely on field visits and the feedback received from readers who responded via email, phone and SMS addresses provided last week. These responses along with other published facts and opinions would form the basis for assessing the President’s performance. Some readers used the platform provided to engage in abuse, diversion and bigotry that the Jonathanians have perfected as response to any questions demanding their accountability. They forget that we are thick-skinned and do not respond to brainless insults. Many more provided on-the-ground status of projects and programs for which we are grateful.
While the perception amongst majority of respondents is that the Jonathan government is significantly underperforming; most of those who work with him or indirectly benefit from the schema of ethnic division, corruption and impunity his administration has perfected are engulfed in praise singing and forget to remind him of his many promises. Let us look to some of the specific commitments summarized last week.
Let us look at his promises in agriculture; President Jonathan’s government appears to have shifted focus from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture expecting that farm output would increase significantly. Nigeria spends about $11 billion importing rice annually. Apart from three new integrated rice mills built by state governments – Ebony Agro Industries in Ebonyi state, Umza Rice in Kano state, Ashi Rice in Benue state and a large-scale facility for production and milling in Taraba State which combined would process some 390,000 tonnes or a fifth of imports – no noticeable steps have been recorded in reducing this massive foreign exchange outflow under Jonathan’s watch. Against Nigeria’s annual import bill of N23.4trillion, are we close to becoming an exporting country by 2015?
Yet the federal government in September 2012 approved another sugar master plan; some N496bn would be raised from private sector funds to finance the 7 year plan. This immediately leads to the question, what informed the government’s focus on sugar when its annual import bill is less than N100 billion as opposed to the very hefty N635 billion spent on importing wheat annually or the worst case of rice? Or even the N100billion expended annually on fish imports? These imports are unjustifiable in a nation that has surface water bodies, reservoirs and wetlands suitable for rice cultivation covering about 14.9 million hectares or about 15.9% of our land mass. The agricultural sector has witnessed more rhetoric and declaration of early, non-existent victories than any real transformation.
The president fulfilled two promises related to the South-East – the physical upgrade of Enugu Airport and completion of the Onitsha Inland Port. The Onitsha port reportedly has a 3000-container warehouse capacity of 40 tonnes each. But how come, nine months after commissioning, the port is yet to commence operations? Why are international airlines not flying passengers or cargo to Enugu? Does completing a project simply mean erecting a structure? Do unused facilities benefit the economy?
Interestingly, Jonathan’s promise to provide water to Onitsha has remained just that: a promise. The state government initiated a new partnership with a Chinese firm to resuscitate the greater Onitsha Water Scheme with the state providing 30% financing over 18 months. After cancellations in 2009, 2010 and 15 months into the project implementation with little evidence of progress on ground, the Onitsha people have reasons to doubt the sincerity of government.
As to the president’s promise of building an airport in every state, the logical poser is: would airports in every state be the best investment to benefit local economies? Is there sufficient passenger traffic to sustain these airports, and do we have vibrant airlines? In an economy with an officially-accepted poverty rate of about 46%, would light rail and better motor-able roads not be more effective? Would it not make more sense if efforts are directed towards fixing the intercity road or the ‘death traps’ that exist in these states, as opposed to building airports with no sustainable flights, planes or passengers?