President Goodluck Jonathan has made youths the focus of his stump speeches. He believes the young demographic will be the kingmaker in this year’s aptly timed Valentine vote. And his reading is correct. The winner would be the candidate who persuades youths to think of him as their valentine.
So how has President Jonathan been wooing the youths? He has been selling them his moon trip fetish. He would take us to the moon. He reiterates this in every rally, to emphasize his seriousness.
He reckons that it is a winsome deal. Many Nigerian youths dream of sojourning in distant snow-clad lands. They fill embassy premises, seeking visas. President Jonathan presumes that his lunar ticket is exceedingly more than the would-be emigrants could ask for. But this sounds dated as a manifesto item in 2015.
Nigeria missed out on the space race. It’s been a long while since May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy fired the imagination of the United States of America, by publishing the goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade. Four and half decades have passed since July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon surface and said,‘’ that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’’.
The feasible race President Jonathan always told us we were in is the one to break into the league of 20 biggest economies in the world by 2020. We are five years close to that set year. In this re-election bid, Jonathan would have done well to lay out his plan to bring Nigeria closer to the attainment of that vision by 2019. He is, instead, advertizing a detour.
President Jonathan has never been known to be a space exploration enthusiast. The sudden, inexplicable wanderlust that has seized him and transformed him into a leader eager to evacuate people to the moon deserves study.
He didn’t define our mission to the moon, if only to flesh out the idea. He left us to figure out that. Maybe we are going to catch there to catch fun, to enjoy a walk on the moon without shoes.
But a space detour is out of tune with the times. It suggests that President Jonathan is out of touch. Or, the one he is most likely to turn to for the list of the priorities of the average Nigerian youth, Boni Haruna, his fifty seven year old Minister of Youth Development, got it twisted.
The reality is that Nigerian youths are not asking for the moon. We have never asked for what takes the equivalent of knowledge of rocket science to deliver. Citizens of other countries may ask too much of their leaders, but, not us. We ask nothing beyond a better terrestrial existence.
We ask for the mundane things that other nationalities take for granted in this century. We ask for potable water, more hours of light, state recruitment process that doesn’t scam and kill applicants. We ask for hospitals that don’t leave patients to rot and die because doctors are on the umpteenth strike. Hospitals that are well resourced to treat all castes of fathers – my own father and the President’s 50-bedroom occupying, election time father.
The moon can wait. The moon will become a destination to consider after we have humanized the Nigerian plane; after we have made it habitable for the overwhelming majority of the poor – the poor whose misery cannot be summarized by statistics.
Ironically, President Jonathan is pitching astronomical adventure at a time when the foremost challenge of the country is how to assert dominion over the portion of the earth that the map says belongs to Nigeria. Some lunatics bear rule over a large swath of the Nigerian territory. They have been decimating our population on a scale and frequency that defy accounting.
Their recurring acts of savagery have weaned us of sensitivity. We can barely pause to ponder a new death toll. Our mood is impervious. There is no sense of bereavement – no inner vacuum that is laden with sadness or grief. No feeling of impoverishment that should attend awareness of loss. We have moved from death as tragedy to death as numbers.
This moon talk serves well as filler to pad speaking lot. President Jonathan speaks from very lean material. Absent the history of his rival, there is little to tell the rally. The moon supplement helps prolong the speech. And it adds a pinch of mystique to his prose.
But the moon talk also indicates that escapism may have become the directional principle of state policy. The ruling class vacations abroad. Their kids school abroad. They go abroad for medical checkup. Everything is a good reason to take flight – private visit, pilgrimage or the hunt for foreign investors. They just can’t abide the climate of their creation.
Lord knows that President Jonathan is yet to exhaust ripe candidate sites in Nigeria. The 200 plus school girls abducted on April 15, 2014 are still in Zambisa forest. They have remained virtual sex slaves of their brute captors. The government hates to be reminded that they are responsible for rescuing them. So, #BringBackOurGirls campaigners are treated as dissidents.
President Jonathan has ensured that a Freudian slip mention of the Chibok girls does not escape him even though he is wont to rage against the opposition these days. His capacity for fury has been the revelation of the campaign cycle. But he has yet to permit his fits of anger to make him dabble into the condition of the girls.
The captivity of the girls now appears fated to last till thy kingdom come. Not because we don’t know their bearing. We know the name of the evil forest that they share with wild life. Actually, it is the knowledge of their whereabouts that seems to have lulled the government to apathy. The girls are not really missing. They are in Zambisa. No need to search or rescue.
Of course, Chibok girls are now a catchall metaphor for, and the sole name of, all those carted away by the terrorists. Before that school invasion, kidnappings had been happening in that axis. But because Nigeria could not quantify the value of its lost citizenry as easily as barrels of stolen crude, the people did not matter.
When the Chibok harvest exploded on global media, it did not strike President Jonathan as a desperate emergency, requiring sweeping swift response. His heart was not touched with sympathy. He could not even bring himself to the buffer zone of doubt, to the point where the verification of facts could make him change his mind. There was no need to confirm the story. To him, the trending hashtag and protesters and wailing mothers were a hoax. The opposition had conned the world.
It’s akin to his reaction when resourceful newshounds from Channels TV went to the Nigerian Police College Ikeja and covered the dilapidated pigsty that it had become. President Jonathan blamed his enemies. His foes had procured the journalists to embarrass his administration.
President Jonathan would not visit Chibok to see the parents. He would not even pretend that he could afford a show of compassion. It took the rebuke of seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl education Amazon, who had travelled halfway around the world for him to consider. Then he fulfilled all righteousness: He invited them to his fortress– because boulders like Aso Rock don’t move. The cameras clicked and clicked. And the photo-op affair was over. He had appeased Malala – and that was the end of it!
The moon safari tickles Jonathan because though he lives in Nigeria, he doesn’t live like a Nigerian. He has guards watching over him round the clock. He doesn’t know firsthand what it means to escape with burns from a hut set ablaze in the dead of the night. He has all the creature comforts petrodollars can buy. If he wanted a new jet, it shows up in the budget. And if he wanted to eat more food than he did last year, he would make his food bill higher by 7.4%.
Or, could this be a sign that he has given up active interest in restoring the North East to legitimate authority? Since Shekau and his recruits have been growing more ferocious, sending more children on suicide bombing errands, we could abandon the Nigerian land mass in a greater Exodus, transplant ourselves in space and let Boko Haram establish the Sultanate?
It is ludicrous that the President is promising space exploration when he and the entire armed forces he leads have proved incapable of exploring a nearby forest where our daughters have been hostage for nine months.
It’s absurd to have to say this but the Commander-in-Chief needs to know that what matters most right now is securing Nigerians within Nigeria. To redeem our country from terror: To recover our girls from Sambisa. Not going to the moon.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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