By Abimbola Jones
In the past week, discussions over President Goodluck Jonathan’s political future have understandably increased. The President’s ongoing ‘consultation’ with traditional rulers in the South West has invariably added to the frenzy, with many already seeing the shuttle trips as a prelude to his eventual declaration for re-election in 2015. Speculations are already in the air that it may happen in the next two to four weeks.
Last week, I got into that argument by default. As we sat at a pub on the crowded Hogan Bassey street, Surulere, Lagos, discussing the state of the nation, the issue gradually moved on to what should be the South West’s response in case Jonathan decides to run again in 2015. Will he repeat the landslide he recorded against Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria candidate in 2011 in the South West zone or will the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the gale of defections by his party men affect him negatively?
Not only did most of the discussants agree that the South West will once again back Jonathan with their votes if he runs in 2015, the surprise is the reasons they offered for their position. It was a testimony to the growing political awareness of the region, and an indication that Nigerians are departing from sentiments to substance in discussing political developments.
Mr. Abayomi Onabanjo’s reason interested us most. An auto dealer on the busy Funsho Williams Avenue and a card-carrying member of the APC, he was certain the South West has been won over already by Jonathan’s policies in key areas of the region’s economic and social life. He reasoned that the most convincing project that has endeared him to South Westerners is the ongoing reconstruction of the problematic Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The project which is being executed at a cost of over N150 billion (and which is being implemented by both budgetary-N50 billion-and bond financing-N100 billion), involves the expansion of the highway on both sides to accommodate the increased traffic on that highway. According to him, it was the single most important project to the zone which, like the dry-sea port being sited in Lekki area of Lagos, proves that the president is not deterred by political differences with leaders of the zone.
The political significance of the decision by the President approving the Lagos-Ibadan road reconstruction as well as the dry sea port in Lagos, both of which have several positive draw-down effects on the economy of that hotbed of opposition to his presidency, is not lost on the ordinary citizen. That decision to site the nation’s first deep seaport in Lekki, Lagos, is better appreciated when considered alongside strong arguments against Lagos which already has two of the nation’s biggest ports, which handle over 80% of the nation’s maritime activities. He could have chosen from several other options among which are as many as seven littoral states, five of which are controlled by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He would not be swayed.
Onabanjo is not alone in commending the President for the singular resolve to break the jinx that has held down the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Before long, the discussion attracted several others. Not only were they impressed with Jonathan’s policies and projects in the zone, their sense of history had not left them either. Though a fellow Yoruba of the South West, former President Olusegun Obasanjo could not, during his eight-year presidency, keep his promise to complete the Lagos-Ibadan road project that is at the heart of the region’s economy. Over the years, the expressway had become relevant only for political campaigns, with the leadership paying only lip service to its rehabilitation. It did not matter that several hundreds have lost their lives on that road due to accidents caused by its poor condition.
In November 2012, the Jonathan administration had summoned the necessary political will to cancel the failed Lagos-Ibadan expressway concession contract earlier awarded to Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited in 2009. The company had proved unable to carry out the Build Operate and Transfer agreement which had authorized Bi-Courtney to construct the more than 135 kilometre road and run it for 25 years, at the cost of N86.5 billion, prompting the re-award of the contract to Julius Berger and the RCC construction firms. While Julius Berger is handling section 1 which spans Lagos to Shagamu interchange, RCC Nigeria Limited is responsible for section II which spans Shagamu to Ibadan. The Federal Government had so far committed N50bn for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the road while both construction giants have already made a difference, with a promise to deliver substantially on the project before the set-out of the rainy season.
As the people of the South West commend what is going on along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, they are encouraged with the huge rehabilitation work that has reached advanced stages on the Sagamu-Ore and the Benin-Ore highways. Silently, the President has substantially upped the ante of the road transformation network in the nation’s economic nerve-centre as well as all round the region.
Beyond these projects, many agree too that the South West has benefitted the most from the administration’s transformation agenda in rail transportation. Even when plans are still being made for rail services in other parts of the country, most parts of the South West geopolitical zone have been enjoying rail services, mostly between Ebute Metta in Lagos to Jebba in Kwara state.
After decades in the doldrums, the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, had in December 2012 revived the Lagos-Kano train route to complement the existing Lagos-Ilorin intercity train services. It was a defining moment for Jonathan who had made the issue a priority during his campaigns for the 2011 presidential elections. In 2009, the Federal Government had re-awarded the contract for rail rehabilitation to the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC, which got the 488 kilometre Lagos-Jebba span, and Costain West Africa which got the 638 kilometre Jebba-Kano end. The contract signed six years earlier between the Obasanjo administration and the CCECC to modernize the Lagos-Kano rail line, was suspended two years later following a dispute.
While these landmark projects may not in themselves guarantee Jonathan the support of the South West, some lessons can be derived from the Surulere discussion. The most important is that the days of ethnic politics are giving way to politics driven by issues. While Nigerians are beginning to appreciate the profundity of the ongoing transformation in most sectors of the nation’s life, Jonathan will be judged for a second term on the basis of the people’s conviction about his performance and what he has the capacity to do that will positively impact their lives. On this score, Mr Onabanjo may not stand alone,