Monday, 16 January 2012

On......the militarisation of Lagos state

A full excerpt of the speech as delivered by Babatunde Raji Fashola on military occupation of Lagos state:

Dear Lagosians,

For the past few days, I have monitored the developments related to the public protest against the increase in the pump price of petrol.

During that period, I have at the invitation of my colleagues in the Governor’s Forum responded to an invitation from the Presidency.

My role since last Monday till date has been to find a ground of compromise that stabilizes the polity, protects our democracy and prevent any loss of lives.

Inspite of these efforts, we were not wholly successful in preventing the loss of the life of a young Nigerian, AdemolaAderinto who was sadly shot.

I am truly saddened by that ugly development. While I condole with his family, I pledge the commitment of our Government to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice.

I have decided to address you today in view of the very disquieting developments that occurred overnight especially the deployment of soldiers across Lagos.

I have the highest respect for members of our military, especially because they have made a contract with all of us that they will willingly lay down their lives whenever it becomes necessary to do so, in order to protect us.

This covenant is instructive, because soldiers did not sign up to stop us from expressing our grievance about things that we are displeased about.

It is not disputable that the citizens who have gathered in several parts of Lagos like Falomo, Ikorodu and Ojota to mention a few have largely conducted themselves peacefully, singing and dancing while they expressed their displeasure at the way that we have taken decisions that affect them.

That in my view should not offend those of us in Government. The majority of these people who represent diverse interests have not broken any law. If they have, it is my opinion that in a constitutional democracy, it is the police that hasthe responsibility for restoring law and order if civil protests threatens the breach of the peace.

This is not justification for sending out soldiers to a gathering of unarmed citizens. Every one of us, or at least majority of us who hold public office danced and sang before these same people when we were seeking their votes.

Why should we feel irritated when they sing and dance in protest against what we have done?

For me this is not a matter for the military. The sooner we rethink and rescind this decision the better and stronger our democracy will be.

If anything, this is a most welcome transformation of our democracy in the sense that it provokes a discussion of economic policies and this inevitably may result in political debate.

I therefore urge the reconsideration of the decision to deploy soldiers and implore the President and Commander-in-Chief to direct their withdrawal from our streets, I must also emphasize that the rights of free speech and protest is not absolute. They impose the duty not to break the law, breach the peace, endanger human life or destroy property whether public or private.

They also impose the duty to respect the rights of others not to support our protest and indeed to support what we oppose. At the end of the day, it is a contest of ideas in which the most persuasive will get the endorsement of the majority of the people we serve.

I am convinced that our democracy is mature enough to accommodate this. We must do our best to ensure that it does.

God bless you all.

BabatundeRajiFashola, SAN
Governor of Lagos State

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Goodluck Jonathan: The most unpopular Nigerian President ever?

It is a good thing that President Goodluck Jonathan does not personally check his Facebook page. If he did, the level of opprobrium heaped on his comments page alone would surely cause him to immediately overturn his unpopular decision to remove the fuel subsidy. As of the time I wrote this piece, there were 12,391 comments posted on his wall. I didn’t have time to do a poll but I can safely report that the vast majority of them were not goodwill messages. I had intended to reproduce some of them but I just felt the amount of abuse and profanity might embarrass even the most liberal of readers.

Approval ratings and polls are sadly not used as a barometer of public opinion in Nigeria. If they did, it would be instructive to compare President Jonathan’s approval rating as at April 2011 (post election) with January 2nd 2011 (post subsidy removal). That there would be a significant dip is a no-brainer but the margin would be quite stark and possibly historic. This then got me thinking how popular Jonathan was when compared to other Nigerian Presidents and Heads of State. If a general election was to be called tomorrow, would the President amass even a riggable amount of votes?

Umaru yar’Adua was not around long enough to form a lasting impression, one way or the other. Olusegun Obasanjo, was a polarizing figure but managed to get Nigerians to re-elect him so couldn’t have been that disliked. Abacha was of course in a league of his own. Babangida’s worst known atrocity was to annul the Presidential elections, a sin he has never been forgiven for. Buhari’s brief regime was draconian but generally respected in retrospect. Shagari’s rule was characterized by public excesses but he too got himself re-elected. Obasanjo 1.0 stuck to the game plan and handed over when he said he would. Murtala Muhammed managed to create an endearing legacy in six months. Yakubu Gowon endured various undulations; from war criminal to war hero to alleged coup plotter. Ironsi was always uneasy in his role as Head of State. Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa were both regarded as statesmen even if with ethnic slants.

Compared to some of his predecessors, President Jonathan seems to be a decent guy. Unlike an Abacha or even an Obasanjo, Jonathan actually seems to care about his public image. Yet he repeatedly seems unable to gauge the mood of a nation. He has an almost unerring knack of saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. PDP stalwarts are secretly yet to forgive him for violating their constitution and shifting the zoning arrangement. Even as he received wider support for that move, he proceeded to raise eyebrows by reacting slowly and inappropriately to the Independence Day bombing of 2010. His statement, following the attack, perplexed Nigerians when he seemingly absolved MEND of the atrocities before an investigation had even taken place. Prior to the elections, he shut down schools for a registration drive even as his own children continued to attend.

Many of these moves were dismissed as those of an inexperienced head and by the time the April 2011 elections rolled round, Jonathan remained a clear favourite. However 22 million Nigerians were soon questioning their choice when the President started putting out feelers about introducing an extended single term for government executives. Nigerians ransacked their minds to remember if this had been part of the ‘fresh air’ regime he had promised during his campaign. Even as that particular idea encountered turbulence, the perennial talk of fuel subsidy removal began doing the rounds. Things would be done differently this time though, Nigerians were promised. There were to be a series of consultations, town hall meetings, etc. Everybody would get a say, the Presidency assured. As it turns out, nobody did get a say. Not even the National Assembly which remain split on the issue.

As I stop writing, the Facebook abusers have already increased in number. There are now 12,469 comments. By the time you read this, there will be more. Those pleading for restraint are thoroughly outnumbered by those heaping curses and calling for Jonathan’s head. Finally here is one that is printable: “GEJ you have already failed,” it reads. Succint and perhaps premature but no one can ignore the anti-Jonathan sentiment at the moment. He may be currently lagging behind the likes of Abacha and Babangida in the unpopularity stakes for now but the Otueke honeymoon is certainly over.