Caught between the iceberg of possible defeat and the tempest of certain shame, this is a crunch moment for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan indeed. With the economy unhinged, the naira in a free fall and his approval rating increasingly stuck at the nadir barely three weeks to the presidential polls, it is clear something is about to give in the world’s most populous black nation.
In a way, the near destitution of Jonathan's Nigeria of today bears a faint similarity with the dire circumstance the United States found herself a decade ago. Creeping global financial crisis had weakened America's economy, exposing the underbelly of the Republican Party, made softer by the costly adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stretched beyond the limits of his modest cognitive abilities, President George Bush had no answer. His Republican party would pay a colossal price in the next election, made historic not only by restoring the Democrats to power but also the crowning the first black president, Barak Obama...
From the pan-Nigerian formation at his disposal to clinch the presidential trophy in 2011, how ironic that the regiment behind Mr. President now consists mostly of dubious contractors and political mendicants. Back in 2010, a broad coalition from across the nation’s divides had gathered at Aso Rock gate to champion GEJ's coronation as acting president following initial disappearance and eventual incapacitation of Yar'Adua, invoking the spirit of the law. By raising their voices and standing to be counted for what was just then, those citizens no doubt helped in large measure to give patriotism its true meaning.
Today, the big tragedy is that from that lofty overtones of 2010/2011, agitation for GEJ’s reelection is increasingly hijacked by the likes of Edwin Clark, Tompolo and Asari Dokunbo with their bankrupt idea that the national yardstick for leadership selection and recruitment in the twenty-first century be determined only by base clannish consideration, even after their kinsman had convincingly failed the preliminary aptitude test.
Drunk on new-found power, Asari and co would, in fact, regroup in Yenagoa last weekend and openly threaten to levy war on Nigeria should Jonathan lose theFebruary 14 poll. They spoke after meeting with Governor Seriake Dickson at the Government House. In sheer contempt of the much-trumpeted anti-violence pact signed two weeks ago by political parties. Characteristically, Mr. President looks the other way. No less confounding also is the DSS' loud silence so far. Like bullies, its operatives appear adept only at showing strength over hapless members of the opposition.
Of course, these overfed political hirelings are only looking for what to eat. Their worry actually is the sustenance of obscene contracts and other mouth-watering largesse they are getting from Abuja. So, they cannot possibly be speaking for the generality of Niger Delta people who, just like other Nigerians, are at the receiving end of Jonathan's fumbling and wobbling.
Now, GEJ's new fair-weather friends want to show their own love is greater than the unconditional national brotherhood shown him in 2010 or the pan-Nigerian solidarity of 2011. Unable to sustain the argument of logic further, they then resort to hurling personal abuse or issuing threats like ill-bred motor-park touts (apology GEJ).
But they miss the point. Before a global audience in Turkey in January 2011, Jonathan had hinted he would do only a term. As editor-in-chief of a national newspaper then, this writer recalls that it was the lead story in most national dailies on February 1, 2011. It helped to finally disarm some northern agitators who had mounted a vociferous campaign that one of their own be allowed to fly PDP’s flag in the pending presidential polls in view of “Yar’Adua’s right to two terms”.
Having enjoyed fifteen months of the four years of Yar’Adua’s first term, GEJ pleaded for four more years, if only to write his own name in gold. If granted, he boasted that his focus would be to make blackout history in Nigeria. His exact words: “ If I’m voted into power within the next four years, the issue of power will become a thing of the past. Four years is enough for anyone in power to make significant improvement and if I can’t improve on power within this period, it then means I cannot do anything even if I'm there for the next four years.”
For the avoidance of doubt, he ruled out the possibility of Nigerians in Diaspora participating directly in the voting exercise of 2011: “I would have loved that the Nigerians in Diaspora vote this year. But to be frank with you, that is going to be difficult now. Presently, the law does not allow the voting outside Nigeria and so this year Nigerians in Diaspora will not vote but I will work towards it by 2015 even though I WILL NOT BE RUNNING FOR ELECTION (emphasis mine).”
Against this weighty backdrop, that GEJ could still keep a straight face today and be gallivanting all over the land asking for a renewal of his tenancy at Aso Rock could only mean two things: a contemptuous assumption the nation is condemned to amnesia or he sees no shame in not keeping his words. But what defines a man is honour. The most elementary measure of a man’s honour is the weight his own very word carries.
To be sure, newspaper reports of GEJ’s Turkey declaration would certainly not have become an issue now had he delivered on his own self-assigned priority: power and security. Weighed against the resources and opportunities available, the hard truth is GEJ has failed woefully on both counts. Today, power supply remains epileptic with all Nigerians sentenced to pay more for darkness.
Under Jonathan’s watch, we have been treated to some funny coinages like GENCOS (Generation Companies now humorously pronounced as GECKOS) and DISCOS (Distribution Companies) in the name of liberalizing the energy power. But like everything, the devil has been in the details. Public assets as well as the commanding heights of this critical sector have only ended up mostly in the hands of GEJ’s cronies with little or no clue on how the sector should be run. They are often the first to announce multi-billion naira donations at any fund-raisers hosted by their benefactor. As Edo governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, recently put it, “Nigerians will never have power as long as PDP remains in power… And when PDP said they would be in office for sixty years, I am sure they meant to say sixteen years.”
Really, had GEJ delivered on power alone, the generality of Nigerians themselves would by now be the ones championing his return “to continue the good works”. We would, therefore, have been spared the abominable spectacle of a clown on parade wherever PDP’s campaign train had stopped in the past few weeks, uttering words that make little or no sense.
Today, the mess in the power sector is perhaps only equaled by the bungling of the national security. Whereas the Nigeria GEJ took over in May 2010 boasted of 774 councils. Today, close to thirty of those territories are being occupied by insurgents, with their dark, blood-stained flag fluttering defiantly there. Over 200 Chibok girls are yet to be accounted for under GEJ’s watch. While it is true that Boko Haram took inspiration from the global terror order, the truth that still needs to be admitted is that the Nigerian variant has metastasized largely on account of official impotence. While it is now so convenient to accuse our ill-equipped soldiers of running away from battles with the rampaging insurgents, what is often added in hushed tones, perhaps out of charity, is that the nation itself is left to endure the shame of a runaway commander-in-chief.
Despite strident clamor, GEJ never saw any wisdom in visiting beleaguered Borno until few days ago. Footages of Mr. President were shown on national television touching the foot of a wounded soldier on his bed. Very touching indeed. But coming in the middle of electioneering, many are left wondering if the visitation was not entirely a political gimmick.
Again, whereas the national navy is starved of funds, its statutory duty has been outsourced to a known thug at a jaw-dropping fee. Perhaps, the only area where presidential competence has so far been demonstrated was in neatly loading millions of dollars, sack after sack, into a rented jet on the way to secure arms from black market in South Africa.
So, Asari and co need be reminded the case against Jonathan is not personal. It is about changing a model that does not work and stave off national hemorrhage inflicted by thieving incompetence. Those who have had personal interactions with Mr. President are often quick to attest his good nature. But the guy you engage in the debauchery of beer and banter in a pub is not usually the type you need to think up fresh ideas to drive changes in the boardroom. In fact, last week, a joke gained currency in the social media. It goes thus: “If you insist PDP must return in 2015, then also pray that God should run your life the way Jonathan is running Nigeria.”
Today, the prosperity PDP and its town-criers tout is not shared. Under GEJ’s watch, human condition is growing more desperate in Nigeria. For the first time in recent history, federal workers marked the yuletide season last December without salaries; the same month “friends” raised a whopping N21b for GEJ's reelection at a single sitting. Many states can no longer fulfill the most basic of their obligations: salary payment. Under GEJ’s watch, our common patrimony has been squandered. President’s own excuse for owing salaries was most hilarious. He blamed it on computer glitch. But he failed to explain whether the same computer hitch affected his own “security vote” or the manna funneled to the growing tribe of fat cats around Abuja and elsewhere.
So, taken together, we can now see the mortal danger in depending solely on mere good-luck rather than hard-work for salvation. True, the nation had been seduced at the outset by possible hypnotism of the name, Goodluck. Mindful of the meteoric rise of its then self-effacing bearer, not a few began to ascribe to him a talisman of sorts. To them, it explained how GEJ had his path charmed to a huge political fortune by first emerging governor of Bayelsa by default in 2005, then ending up as heir to a dying president in 2010. A transmogrification to be found only in the never, never world of fairy tales. So, in case none had existed, a new fable had to be invented to serve the myth of Goodluck Jonathan as he arrived the national stage.
Unfortunately, like every product, the good-luck talisman bears its own expiry date. But GEJ probably also counted on its efficacy to hypnotize the nation into forgetting the past. Only that could explain why he chose to accept to run for a second term last year against the solemn promise he had made in 2011.
Compounding this epic failing is the chronic loss of the sense of symbols and the inability to find the right word to, at least, inspire hope at otherwise defining moments. For a man whose administration, rightly or wrongly, is now commonly dismissed as a cesspool of corruption, one would have thought that Jonathan and his minders would be circumspect. But it would seem nobody really gives a damn, as usual.
Nothing perhaps graphically illustrates this lack of the sense of symbol than how GEJ chose to flag off his presidential campaign in Lagos two weeks ago. On a day he literally threw presidential comportment to the winds at the Lagos stadium blaming all the nation’s woes on all but himself, to his left on the podium stood Femi Fani-Kayode, a notoriously cheap but loquacious political whore on whose bejeweled neck EFCC’s sword is still dangling for money laundering. To his left lurked Adamu Muazu whose own baggage with EFCC is in excess of N5b. And standing somewhere behind him, like patron saint, was Bode George who not too long ago successfully completed a jail term for graft while presiding over NPA. (Well, George may now be amusing himself by brandishing a belated discharge from the Supreme Court, it is however debatable how much weight that carries in the ultimate court of public opinion.)
Again, consider GEJ's misspeak in Enugu few days ago. Recall he had sensationally redefined political theory last year with a new ground-breaking postulation that ‘stealing is not corruption’. Anyone still in doubt about what GEJ had in mind only needs to replay the tape of his Enugu outing. His intention, it would seem, was to appeal to local sentiment at Buhari’s expense. So, while addressing a crowd of supporters at the stadium, he argued that what Jim Nwobodo, the local political hero, “stole” as Anambra Governor between 1979 and 1983 was ‘too small’ compared to the long jail term slammed on him by the Buhari regime in 1984! Ha! They say you are a thief, then you proceed to the market square to flaunt a goat earlier declared missing.
Too bad, those inelegant words simply went viral on the social media. But, as usual, that hardly mattered to the Jonathan people. A quick rebuttal here, little clarification there could have helped mitigate the effect of what was clearly an own goal. But their minds are elsewhere. Rather than device fresh ideas to stave Jonathan’s sinking makeshift canoe, these quack spin doctors are busy hunting for Buhari’s certificate that is not missing, perhaps just to justify their next ration of ‘stomach infrastructure’.
In the final analysis, GEJ may be left with a consolation prize after all. If his party loses the February 14 polls as all indicators now clearly suggest, he can at least return to his native Otuoke with this epithet: the first sitting president to lose election and took his fate like a man.