For those of us who have known and worked with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai during parts or all of his public service years, Reno Omokri's response on behalf of the Jonathan administration to the essay "Jonathan's Tough Choices" was both hypocritical, riddled with falsehood and exaggerated achievements. It was hypocritical because Reno claims a friendship with El-Rufai but quick to attack his person, while ignoring the facts of his message. The several falsehoods including obvious ones like the now-made -perfect-by GEJ "Benin-Ore Road and the general celebratory tone” of the response have compelled me to write this rebuttal.
I have known and worked with El-Rufai since 2000, and in 2003 published a biography of sorts about his BPE years. I am putting my bona fides and biases upfront so the reader is fully informed and judge. I am not going to be like Reno Omokri (suspected to be George Kerley, and other Internet aliases) and fail to reveal my associations.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me begin by unmasking him. Reno works for Joe Trippi Associates, a California-based political consulting firm that specializes in using social media like Facebook and Twitter in political campaigns. The firm has had a multimillion dollar contract with the Jonathan-Sambo campaign to spin and highlight Jonathan's every slight yawn into an "achievement" and attack anyone who even suggests that Jonathan is not the messiah Nigeria has been waiting for. Various web platforms and NGOs like Build Up Nigeria, Neighbour to Neighbour, Jonathan Project, Fresh Air, Door to Door, etc. were established by the likes of Reno and funded by the Jonathan-Sambo campaign to do this. Reno oversees these operations in California, and has recently moved with Joe Trippi to Nigeria to continue this important consulting assignment.
From all accounts, Reno is working hard to be, and likely to end up being some presidential aide of sorts very much like Femi Fani-Kayode was to Obasanjo before his elevation to be a minister. I wish him luck in his spinning but he must be put on notice that he will be rebutted anytime he forgets the words of American Senator Patrick Moynihan that "everyone is entitled to his opinions, but no one entitled to his own facts!". Facts are sacred while opinions are free.
Reno specializes in citing his opionions and passing them off as facts. For instance, he started by claiming that 'independent sources including the British government' rated Nigeria's economy as "the 4th fastest growing in the world in April 2011". Really? Can he name the independent sources and the British government website? Can the British government measure the growth rate of our economy in 2011 before the year is ended? What are the facts? The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the Nigerian economy in 2010 as the 12th fastest growing in the world - BUT without creating jobs! So what is Reno celebrating? - Growth without employment opportunities of the previous (Yar'Adua) year and passing it off as Jonathan's achievement.
The other "Jonathan Achievements" are similarly flawed and false. The growth in the telecoms sector as well as the clean-up of the banking system started when the president was either a deputy governor in Bayelsa, or a sidelined vice president under Yar'Adua. The tax collection increases are truly the efforts of Ifueko Omoigui who was appointed first by Obasanjo then re-appointed by Yar'Adua, and recently Jonathan wanted to reward via an early and extra-legal removal from office! What credit is Reno claiming for Jonathan in all the areas referred to? Reno also attempted to clap for Jonathan for "reduced spending" in a year in which nearly the entire revenues of the Federal Government would hardly cover the salaries and overhead of an over-bloated, under-motivated and under-performing government. Subsequent articles by El-Rufai including the one that lead to his arrest have detailed this in a way that exposes Reno's half-truths and outright falsehoods.
As a former staff of BPE, I will educate Reno on Power Sector Reforms because it was the National Council on Privatization that conceptualized the reform and the roadmap that Reno is claiming to be Jonathans. And it was El-Rufai who as DG of BPE, led the rewriting of our National Electric Power Policy in 2000, and steered the first passage of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act in 2003. It was El-Rufai's vision and successors that ultimately got the same law passed in 2005 and the set-up of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Go and check the power sector reform roadmap of BPE in 2003 and you will see virtually everything in the 2010 Roadmap was taken from that. And Reno, check your facts, El-Rufai never had any stint at NERC! He was a visiting lecturer for a day, and nothing more!
Reno's comments on the railway system are simply laughable. A contract to build an entirely new, standard gauge dual track railway system between Lagos and Kano was signed with the Chinese company CCECC by the preceding administration. El-Rufai's point is that the contract was scheduled for completion in 2010 but remains either cancelled or suspended, and certainly uncompleted! Reno's response is to mention diesel locomotives in the 21st century! What a joke! Reno talked about a new airport - constructed by Jonathan? Which one? If he is referring to the Enugu International Airport, it has been in existence from the 1970s, and it was the preceding administration that invested in its expansion and upgrading. And it was under the tenure of Femi Fani-Kayode as Minister of Aviation that the reforms that made our skies safe, including the Total Radar Coverage project implementation began in earnest. Boasting about this as if in February 2010, we had plane crashes which miraculously stopped because of President Jonathan is nothing but a sleight of hand - claiming the work of others without giving them credit.
I will not even bother to respond to Reno's insult about the implied improvement in our roads. Reno's boldness and dishonesty went as far as suggesting that the Lagos-Ore Road is now perfect. This Lagos-Ore road in Reno's essay must be one of the freeways (expressways) in California where he usually lives, not in the Nigeria we live in. He then proceeded to insult our sensibilities by listing over "50 tangible infrastructural investments and policy initiatives" that his hyper-achieving President Jonathan has "completed" in his short time in office. I will take a few of the outrageous lies and enlighten readers so that they remain careful of the Reno Omokris of this world in the future:
Though the Total Radar Coverage (TRACON) project was commissioned in 2010, it was not quite completed and aviation operators have told me that the country still does not have total radar coverage.
So Reno's spin is not quite factual. Please get the president to have the project completed.
New international airport? Which one? Aircraft from many countries have been flying into Nigeria since the 1960s I believe. What is Reno's point? Since he lives in the US, American carriers flying direct to Nigeria may mean a lot to him, but really, is that an infrastructure or policy achievement?
The efforts of CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi have indeed stabilized the banking system, but like Soludo's reforms, we should be hesitant in celebrating too early. The jury is still out on AMCON. The focus must be on managing monetary policy amidst rapid fiscal expansion caused by the government's election year splash must remain.
This administration has revived the textile industry? Has Reno visited the textile factories in Ikeja, Kaduna, Kano and Zamfara recently? And by the way, the textile revival fund, along with the cotton growing fund were initiatives of the Obasanjo administration, which were stalled by the Yar'Adua/Jonathan administration, and therefore yet to show tangible results.Militancy has indeed been curbed in the Niger Delta by spending an average of N3 million per militant per ann um. Reno's cost-benefit analysis is right in the short run. We can pay-off militants and earn more from oil production, and hope it does not encourage other fringe groups to get violent in order to attract similar pay-offs. Decisions that solve problems in the short-term may sometimes have long-term implications for the society. We should all therefore celebrate this thoughtfully, very thoughtfully.
There is no need to rebut all of Reno's spins about our 'improved security', arrests for bombings, the 'perfect 2011 elections, etc - because everyone knows it is simply "Nigerian-bold-face" to thump one's chest and list them as truth. Even the contracts for CCTV cameras installed in Abuja that Reno is claiming for Jonathan were awarded by the Obasanjo administration. At a time when Nigeria faces grave internal security threat, and continually suffers from derelict infrastructure on all fronts, it is imperative to ask Reno and his deluded compatriots to advise President Jonathan to squarely face the realities in our dear country by addressing the myriad of challenges such as power shortage, insecurity, lack of good transportation system, avalanche of unemployed educated youths etc, rather than percolating controversies on single tenure.
Ajayi Olatunji Olowo is an Abuja based Legal Practitioner and Human Rights Activist.
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