by Ross Alabo-George
I have formed the opinion a long time ago that the only cure for corruption is prosperity.
As I pondered on the lifetime achievements of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, arguably the greatest export of the Ijaw nation and the legend who standardized highlife music in Nigeria, I couldn’t but also reflect on the man Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a big fan of Rex Lawson and also the greatest Ijaw political entity ever, his presidency – its challenges and opportunities.
Rex Lawson died in a fatal motor accident along the Agbor-Warri Road on the 16th of January, 1971, at the very young age of 33. He was billed for a concert in Warri, so he had travelled en route from Port Harcourt, through Aba, Onitsha, and Agbor to Warri. His candle burned out long before his strong legend ever will.
In that day of his passing away, the East-West Road had not been conceived by the rulers of the nation, and the people of the Niger Delta, were mainly dependent on eastern road trunks, as the Region was cut off from the rest of nation.
The death of Rex Lawson was shocking. But the sadness and anger it caused, engendered extraordinary courage in the political leadership of old Rivers State. It took the enigma and political will of the 29 year old Navy Commander Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, military governor of the old Rivers state to dream and begin the East-West road that we have today.
In 1972 when Diete-Spiff started the design of the East-West Road, it was called ‘too ambitious’ and a very tall order, but that is great leaders do: dream. As I ponder, I tell myself that maybe the East-West road may have saved the Cardinal.
Since then, a lot has changed. The East-West road has been constructed, reconstructed, and even washed away by unprecedented flood that exposed the extreme vulnerability and alarming environmental sensitivity of the low-lying Niger Delta. But something unprecedented also happened, something that Rex Lawson must have dreamed to see, or even done a song for, if he were alive today: the emergence of his kinsman as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
At age 33, Rex Lawson had redefined music in Nigeria. Across ethnic lines, his music and fame spread from the creeks of the Delta to the plains of the Savannah, and I hear in those days, one Naira exchanged for one Dollar.
Those were good times, and that is what Nigerians want back. In 2013, as President Goodluck Jonathan steps out to tackle the gridlock on Nigeria, the expectations are high. The president himself had said: “Wait till 2013”, so this is indeed the year of judgement.
In this year, Nigerians look forward to tangible and measurable transformation through rapid sustainable development and solid reforms. Unlike some of the president’s opponents want to amplify, Nigerians do not hate the president: in fact they love him, but they are frustrated at the speed of his delivery of the transformation promise. The president’s calm and steady hand will tested this year; his look before you leap systematic approach will also be validated in this year of judgement.
Somehow, each time I look at this president, I remember Exodus and the story of the exit of the Israelites from the land of captivity. Now the Scripture man described Moses as a very meek man “above all the men who were upon the face of the earth.” The children of Israel rebelled against Moses because he was ‘slow to deliver’ and they cursed him (his speech disorder made it worse with his critics), then his closest allies in the cabinet – his brother, Aaron, and his sister, Miriam- who were supposed to protect him, grew arrogant and despised him because they knew him.
In today’s Nigeria, Moses would have been summarily described as “Clueless”.
In this year, the president’s leadership will be tested. It is a year for gutsy calls. A year to look straight into their eyeballs and say f**k off to close allies – even ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ – when the corporate interest of the state is at stake. I am of the opinion that the gravest sores on the Jonathan presidency, like that of Moses, have been inflicted by his own kinsmen in the cabinet. It is time to shake-up that cabinet, and recruit smart visionaries who will bear his armoury and take his bullets; soldiers of transformation.
In 2013, winning the battle against Boko Haram would not be sufficient; the Federal Government must win the war. The war against Boko Haram has little to do ignorant arm bearing Almajiris, it has to do with Northern politicians who provide the funding and intellectual cover for Boko Haram. It also has to do with the strategic demobilization of evil and desperate forces that undermine education in the North, and then blame the woes of the region on some conspiracy.
I have always believed that the major chasm in the prospects of Northern Nigeria is the failure of parenting. Fathers who send their five-year old children into the dusty cold streets to beg for food should be immolated. Only foolish parents give up on their children, let’s not blame it on poverty: blame it on the lack of will.
Power is the most crucial driver of the Nigerian economy and potentially the single most important pivot for the first phase of the Nigerian transformation. It will be to the credit of this administration if they double the existing national power output by the end of 2013.
Nigeria against the illusion of popular grandeur is a very poor country. Corruption is a recurring characteristic of very poor nations. I have formed the opinion a long time ago that the only cure for corruption is prosperity. Transforming Nigeria into a prosperous nation means we must industrialize and build a strong middle class. The industrialization of Nigeria depends squarely on the transformation of the power sector.
The year 2015 will be judged by 2013. The past year was as winter unto us, and the wide spread expectation is that this year, spring will commence.
Like Diete-Spiff, President Jonathan must dream a big dream for the Niger Delta, beyond the urgent completion of East-West Road.
In this year, let the governors of the ‘rich’ Niger Delta states decide to give their people amenities as common as pipe-borne water, or isn’t it saddening enough that the water supply situation has not improved in Port Harcourt exit of Diete-Spiff? Isn’t it plain travesty that the people, so blessed, are condemned to drink water polluted by hydrocarbon contaminants at rates over 1000 micrograms per litre as evidenced by the UNEP report on Ogoniland.
For those governors who have betrayed the mandate of the masses handed to them, who now govern their states from multibillion naira private jets, God is watching you. If these governors remember nothing else this year, may they kindly remember this line from the Jamaican-American Grammy Award-winning pop singer Shaggy, in his song ‘Why Me’: Take heed: never take advantage of the people that you need.
For our president, transformation does not come easy, especially for a giant like Nigeria that has been asleep for too long. I am sure if Rex Lawson had a chance to play a song for the president, the crooner will play my favourite – a song he wrote like he saw today, like he saw the slackness and greed of our politicians, like he saw the polarization of the nation, like he saw 2013 and was asking the president to do, do and do – Enebate o, Omini saki e (It is dawn, Wake up!)
Rest in Peace, the Cardinal.