Public Opinion: Jonathan’s Verdit

Public opinion is the aggregate attitudes, beliefs and views held by a group of people. In  other  words, it is the  complex  collection  of  divergent  views  about certain  issue  or issues. Public opinion as a term has   its etymology in the French word “L opinion” first used in 1588 by Montaigne.  Public opinion gained currency in the 18th century through urbanization, political and social factors in Western Europe. Of the earliest scholars to theorize the concept of public opinion, Jeremy Bentham’s postulations were most   compelling. Apparently,  he  posits  that  public  opinion  is a  very  influential  factor that  compels leaders  to  adopt  utilitarian principles–policies  that  ensure  the  greatest  happiness  for  a greater  number  of the people.
          Besides  Bentham, German sociologists  such as Ferdinand  Tonnies  and Jurgen Habermas  as well  as American  sociologist  Herbert  Blumer viewed public  opinion  as a   collective  behaviour  or views  that best  serve  as a  social  function in the society.  It is regarded as a social gauge of public debates and discussions.  Nonetheless, in  contemporary  times,  public  opinion  has been having immense  influence on political  sphere  and on  public  administration.  More so,  there  have been rapid spread  of public  opinion  measurement  across  the world, especially  in the  developed  nations. Just as there  have been  analyses  of  critical  public  opinions  in these  advanced  climes,  due  to its profound influence  on  politics, policies,  marketing,  phenomena,  crimes,  cases,  and  individuals,  among  other issues.
          Public  opinion  is the  bedrock of  liberal  democracy, and as  such, plays  a huge  role  in a  typical  democratic setting and  development. It influences and foretells the pattern of voting in elections, influencing public polices, above all, bridging the gap between the government and the citizenry. While in advanced societies, public opinions are often gauged and evaluated before certain salient public policies are even brought to fore. However, in the Nigerian context, public opinion barely influences politics, government, as well as public policies.
          Nigeria’s  chequered contemporary history  is plagued  by leaders who  often  disregard  public opinion  in pursuance  of  their selfish  interest,  the prebendal  interests of their  cohorts,  ethnic  groups’ as well as those of some foreigners. During the prolonged spell of military misadventure into governance in Nigeria, public opinion was often raped, gagged, ignored and bastardized. This was of little surprise or concern to Nigerians  since  the anti-democratic  nature, posture and system  of the military  was synonymous with repressive measures. Even as tough as the military dictators were, they also caved in to some public opinions. Their  repressiveness  often do not bow  to the verdict  of public  opinion  on  all  but the issue  of their reluctant  exit  from  power.
          In this regard, a transition programme is often used to placate public opinion, in order to hold on to their de facto rule.  Ex-military rulers such as  Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and  Sani Abacha were  two  notorious leaders  with penchant for undermining  public  opinions,  even on issues  of grave national  concerns. This glaring  fact explains the prepoderance of issues such as political crises,  political  instability,  sanctions  and  criticisms  that  trailed  their  infamous  administrations respectively. If Nigerian past military  dictators could be pardoned  on  the yardstick of their authoritarian  nature and  style  of administration  as well as the idiosyncracies  of  the  leaders,  what  about  the civilian  regimes  in the  contemporary  Nigeria?
          Indeed, between 1999 and 2007, the Olusegun  Obasanjo’s administration  flagrantly  and incessantly undermined  public  opinions. His constant  Freudian  slips often expressed  his tacit  avowed neglect  of public  opinion on numerous  issues. Some  of such issues include  new Naira notes  and coins, increment in fuel prices, ban of the importation of certain products, sheer  disregard  to the rule of law, worrisome electoral  frauds,  marginalization of oil bearing  communities, rampant corruption  among  public  servants, controversy-brimmed privatization  and commercialization of some hitherto  government-owned  enterprises,  incessant  and unnecessary  foreign trips,  undue appointments,  violations  of the  Federal Character  Principle, public policy levity over the handling of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula issue, and excessive  repressive  measures in the polity, as well as the dumb  neglect  of sports men among others.
          In only few instances, Obasanjo’s disregard  for public opinion  was stoutly  resisted  by the ever  recalcitrant, labour unions  and other pressure  groups in the country.  One  can at least,  blame  Obasanjo’s  negative  disposition  to public  opinion  on his military  background  and his antecedent as ex-military  ruler, after all, they often say that you can take a man from the military but you cannot take the military from the man.  It should however be noted that, even  the political maneuvers and chaotic 2007 General Election that  brought the  Musa Yar’ Adua’s administration to power were visibly against the tide of public opinion.  Admittedly, the unfortunate demise of president  Musa Yar’Adua led to president  Goodluck Jonathan emergence  as president, to complete the Yar’ Adua’s tenure  in 2009.
          By right, president Goodluck Jonathan  duly contested  the 2011 General Elections  and won, which was in line with the opinion of most  Nigerians but against  the political permutations and interests of some political  cabals  and  sectional  bigots’ interests.  Unfortunately,  the disgruntled cabals and  sections  of the country have been secretly  promoting  terrorism,  unleashing  untold  violence  and  wanton  destruction of  lives  and  properties, since  the inception  of Jonathan’s administration.         Apparently, the  political instability  and  insecurity  that  has  ensued  since  then, have  compounded  the  challenges of  governance in   president  Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration.   Obviously, these daunting challenges include endemic corruption, comatose power and energy issue, negligence of infrastructural development, maligned poor state of education and problematic privatization and commercialization programme as well as the poor state of sports development. There is also the spiralling unemployment rate, the ironic menace of poverty among many Nigerians, as well as the Freedom of Information Bill and Petroleum Information Bill challenges among other thorny national issues.                                           
             In all of these, president Goodluck Jonathan has just suddenly realized that the public opinion euphoria that greeted his emergence has waned a great deal barely two years into his administration, turning music to war song. The president has apparently gotten the unsavory verdict of public opinion–that he fare abysmally on many critical issues. So widespread is this public opinion that many are castigating him in the Niger Delta as well. Public opinion has already crucified the president as sheer failure, while there is barely any disagreement whenever his performance is being debated in virtually all over the nooks and crannies of the country. This critical issue has vehemently dazed a man who maliciously and brazenly undermined public opinion to initiate his controversial fuel subsidy removal policy at the turn of the year.
          It is instructive to note that against public opinion, Jonathan’s administration has failed to tackle corruption headlong, so is the lingering insecurity in the country despite his awareness of the culprits and masterminds of these social problems, based on the damning revelations of various probe panels’ and security reports.                                                                                                                    president Goodluck Jonathan’s philosophical statement at the opening of the 52nd Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association at the International Conference Center, Abuja, though contradicting the legal maxim of nemo judex incasasua (no one can be a judge in his own case), President Goodluck Jonathan was the unwarranted  judge  to  deliver the  verdict of  public opinion. 
          As a  seeming  biased  judge, his  verdict  was  incoherent as it failed to state the areas  and reasons  why he has become the butt  of the barrage of criticisms in the  country . Thank God he spoke of his will to become “the most praised president” in the world. It was  Theodore  Roosevelt  who  quipped  that  “it is hard  to fail,  but it is worse  never  to have  tried  to succeed”. Apparently, when the ex-governor  of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige was  embattled  by his estranged “god fathers” brigands,  he simply  performed  realistically, to warm  his way into the embrace  of public opinion. This goodwill he still enjoy to date.
          President Goodluck Jonanthan, of necessity, must learn from the lessons of Dr. Chris Ngige. Thank God this fact seems to  have  dawned  on him as he strategize  for 2015.  He  has  suddenly  realized  that the only way he can surmount the army of  opposition  growing  in some sections of the country is to endear himself  to the  masses. Hence, he has vouched to reverse the trend. This is a categorical, appropriate and philosophical twist  as well as an expression of the dire-needed political  will  to transform Nigeria.
          Little wonder Norman Vincent Peale remarked that “people become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves, they have the first secret of success”. It thus, now remains to be seen how he would match words with actions . Whether this promise to deliver the dividends of democracy will join the long catalogue of president Goodluck Jonathan’s unfulfilled promises remain to be seen in the coming years.
 

 Written By Johnny Eshikena Bob


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