26th February, 2013
By Dimeji Daniel
I remember that it was exactly 73 days after President Goodluck Jonathan took the reins of power following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s demise that Patience Jonathan launched the Women for Change Initiative with pomp and pageantry in Abuja. According to her, the initiative was a gender-focused movement to mobilise women to take active interest in affirmative action and to promote women empowerment and gender equality in Nigeria.
I watched as she moved round the 36 states stressing the need to “power” women. She urged women to take active part in politics and demand what is rightfully theirs, hinting with subtlety that if her husband was voted into power 35% representation in government was sure for women. In her words: “My ultimate goal in all parts of the country is to enlighten women and children to encourage their husbands so that we all live in peace with one another which brings about meaningful development.”
Whoever came up with the idea of the Women for Change Initiative, despite its piss-poor execution by the First Lady, did a good job. The person must have envisaged that women have a great deal of influence on their husbands and children and so to get women on board was to win men and youth over. And did it work! The answer could be found in the 2011 votes.
Besides the “I was once shoeless” story, Patience Jonathan’s Women for Change Initiative had its impact. It was able to work because women at the grassroots could identify with the First Lady in that she did not look too differently from them in disposition and finesse. Her language was not too different from their language. “Here is a woman whose husband was once shoeless, who also sounds not to dissimilar from us. Which better candidate can we vote for than her husband?” I am sure they must have reasoned. The poor people of Nigeria saw themselves in Jonathan and his wife and concluded that “if they (Jonathan and Patience) could succeed, why can’t we?” The not-to-verbally-gifted also saw in the president and his wife that oratory and coherence after all were not important requirements of being a president. As it turned out, however, whatever representation Jonathan’s wife promised Nigerian women was for their ilk – the Maduekes, the Ruqayyatus, the Otehs, the Stella Oduahs…The poor people were only needed for votes and were soon discarded afterwards. This was why the likes of Alison Madueke and Okonjo Iweala, rather than defend the poor, sided with their once-shoeless boss to inflict the subsidy-suffering on hapless Nigerians, making the poor suffer for their ineptitude and the subsidy fraud that was perpetrated under their noses and perhaps with their connivance.
Patience Jonathan’s Women for Change Initiative was nothing more than Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign tool. That was why it died a natural death after the 2011 presidential election.
Now that 2015 beckons, Jonathan sure could not employ his beloved sonorous-voiced wife to commence another tour of the country to “power” women. Another tactic, though not to dissimilar, had to be employed. It is Labaran Maku’s turn to grasp the nettle for GEJ this time around. Having seen the fiery fierceness with which he defended subsidy removal, there could be no better candidate to persuade Nigerians, who have become more hopeless under the Jonathan administration, to fall in line behind GEJ’s 2015 ambition.
This is the genesis of the jamboree tagged Good Governance Tour. Though globally acclaimed poet and thespian Wole Soyinka has described it as a scam, I believe strongly that it is another campaign tool in the hand of GEJ. What better person to send on this kind of mission than Labaran Maku, a man who defends abnormalities and anomalies with strong conviction? Jonathan may deny his 2015 presidential ambition all he wants, the truth is that he has since rolled out his campaign strategies, one of which is the Labaran Maku-spearheaded Good Governance Tour.
Like the no-longer-existing Women for Change Initiative of the First Lady, the Good Governance Tour is to ostentatiously identify with the poor Nigerian masses. By inspecting and pointing out projects, they intend to showcase to Nigerians Federal Government drainpipes in the name of federal projects. They also intend to appear as making the states accountable to their people, a ploy to present themselves (or Jonathan) as being on the side of the people at the grassroots. In the process, some state governments may be discredited as having not done anything to better the lives of their people. This would then make the Big Brother (Jonathan) who is in faraway Abuja appear more concerned for the people than their state governments which are closer to them.
It is like in our primary school days when we would desire the visit of inspectors from the Ministry of Education to whip our incompetent or lazy teachers into line. Back in those days, the inspectors were our hope of getting back at incompetent teachers. Jonathan and his Labaran Maku-led Good Governance Tour are the inspector who would seemingly be whipping our non-performing governors into line, thereby portraying themselves as the hope of Nigerians and a better alternative.
What Mr. President and his strategists seem to forget is that Nigerians are wiser and cannot be fooled twice. Once is enough and, that is Patience Jonathan’s Women for Change Initiative which guzzled huge funds that could have been used to give hope to millions of ordinary Nigerians. To employ the same method twice is insulting to Nigerians and Mr. President should henceforth stop his strategists, whomever they are, from foisting their insulting babyish contrivances on us. They should not forget that poverty and unemployment have not decimated our reasoning; we can actually see through their deceit and piss-poor campaign strategies.
This is 2013. Jonathan has two more years to fine-tune his reputation. Good Governance Tour (GGT), rather than redeem his image, will dent it the more, especially with the revelation by Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole that a proposal of millions of naira was handed to him by Maku and his co-travellers to fund the GGT to his State. Nigerian youth need to be employed, not on paper or in the mouths of Labaran Maku and Minister of Agriculture Akinwumi Adesina, but in real life. An average Nigerian wants to feel a sense of belonging in his own country and he also needs to feel that there is hope, irrespective of his class or status. He needs to be able to keep body and soul together. He also wants to see his president get serious about corruption instead of the theatrics that has become the signpost of the Jonathan presidency.
If Jonathan can do all these, that does not mean he’d be voted for in the 2015 presidential election. It is just to ensure that he goes down as the president who came, saw and conquered in a little way, rather than one who came, saw and was conquered.
•Daniels writes from Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State