It is well past the time for Goodluck Jonathan to hold a “World Press Conference” and address all the questions being raised today about his alleged complicity in the various corruption scandals being unearthed by the EFCC. This is not the time for him to hide in his Otueke cocoon of imperturbability. This is not the time for the “my-people-called-me-to-serve, it-is-not-my-decision” nonsense spewed by many politicians when they don’t want to be held responsible for their decisions. This is a DUTY, nay even the RESPONSIBILITY, that Jonathan owes us as a nation; owes his supporters, especially his diehard ones who still adorn their homes and offices with his picture; and owes his entire family and himself. But we can forget about his debt to his family and to himself for now. Let’s discuss his obligation to us as a country and to us, his supporters.
He may have forgotten, but millions of Nigerians (including yours truly) remember how they risked their lives, limbs and livelihoods; shouted themselves hoarse, and wrote endless epistles to get him into the saddle as Acting-President during the so-called Doctrine of Necessity mess when it was clear the Yar’Adua cabal was not going to allow him step up to the Presidency. And when it was time for him to run for his own first term, many Nigerians trooped out to vote for him, genuinely believing that a candidate who wielded a PH.D would take their country to the El Dorado of their dreams. Although that dream turned out to be an illusory mirage, Nigerians did not complain too much since the democratic process of changing Presidents worked and Jonathan was shown the way out.
So, Nigerians have not been asking Jonathan to come explain why he did not improve education enough; why electricity was worse when he left office than when he took office; why roads remained in acute states of disrepair; why people still went to Nigerian hospitals to die rather than to get well. Nigerians are smart enough to know that those are policy decisions or indecisions that you find in all governments all over the world.
What Nigerians deserve to ask Jonathan and what he must provide answers for is how diligently, how transparently, how frugally he was with the nation’s finances. Lately, there have been torrents of accusations (and admissions) of outright stealing of government funds, some of which could not have happened without the President’s imprimatur – written or oral. Some of the sleazes have just been too mind-boggling for the President to not, at a minimum, be aware of them and acquiesce. And when a principal actor like Sambo Dasuki (the NSA) names the President as the one giving him marching orders, Jonathan just cannot bury his head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich as if nothing is going on around him. In this day and age, even in Nigeria, public office demands accountability.
Jonathan can continue to whistle past the graveyard all he wants; he just needs to remember that the corruption investigations going on in the country right now are a referendum on his stewardship as President. While history may paint him differently in the future, he has a duty in the present to come out and clear himself. It provides an expiatory avenue for him. He can talk to us and deny (or accept) culpability in all or some of the accusations and then go home and retire with his conscience at ease. If he is culpable and comes clean about it, I am sure President Buhari will consider his degree of purgation, remorse and contriteness and grant him pardon. No Nigerian I know wants Jonathan to go to jail. But by keeping mute, Jonathan sends the arrogant signal that the impunity for which his government was known is still alive, and he is above the law simply because he was once a President. That was Nigeria of the past.
Some people have posited that the former President is so very distraught and embarrassed about the extent of damage people he trusted did to the nation’s finances under his name that he can’t think of any explanation that will go down well with Nigerians. Well, if true, that feeds the narrative of someone who was cowardly and clueless when he was in power and is still cowardly and clueless now out of power. That would be pathetic. This is not a task he can have Doyin Okupe or Reuben Abati or any of his other minions do for him. This is something Goodluck Jonathan has to do for Goodluck Jonathan. His media aides can prep him as hard as they can so he can be a bit more articulate when addressing the world. But Nigerians don’t need all that. We take Buhari the way he is. We take Obasanjo the way he is. Everybody is not going to be a Wole Soyinka…a wordsmith. All we want is candor. If we find him believable, we’ll cut him some slack. Jonathan must know he can’t just keep walking around as if everything is hunky-dory and Nigerians, notorious for their collective amnesia and infinite sense of forgiveness, will just let him be. Gone are those days.
Gone are the days when a deposed Head of State was accused of participating in the counter-coup that killed his successor and he never had to discuss the veracity or otherwise of the accusation with Nigerians. Gone are the days when a President annulled an election with fiat and refused to answer questions about it. Gone are the days when a deluge of accusation pointed in the direction of one President as being behind the parcel bomb killing of a journalist and he refused to discuss the matter with Nigerians. Gone are the days when a sitting Head of State and a challenger to the Presidency both died in mysterious circumstances within a month of each other and the suspects never had to discuss their complicity in the matters. Gone are those days.
These days, we ask former Presidents about their complicity or otherwise in Halliburton or the rumor that they funded a third-term agenda. We ask former Heads of State why they promulgated a decree that jailed journalists indefinitely for doing their jobs and another decree that retroactively sentenced drug pushers to death. In countries beyond our shores, Presidents have been questioned, while in office, about infidelity and abuses of power. And they have been consistently questioned, after leaving office, about the same things. Presidents have been questioned about lying to their countries about why they went to war. The Presidents may not have liked the questions, but they answered them. The people may not have liked the answers they got, but at least, they felt good that they held their elected officials accountable.
Here in Nigeria, our ex-leaders act as if we are still in the era of Bashorun Gaa, or Uthman Dan Fodio, or King Jaja of Opobo where leaders were pretty much omniscient, omnipotent and infallible. For goodness’ sake, if I am at an event that a former President is attending, I am required to rise to my feet in honor, respect and deference to him as one who once had the onerous responsibility of governing the country, regardless of whether I agreed with his policies or not. When I am driving and the convoy of an ex-President approaches, I have to give way to him because he is a VIP. That respect and honor I have to give do not come cheap. They come with the ex-President knowing that the privilege he had, of ruling Nigeria out of millions of other more qualified people, comes with the responsibility to be accountable to the people. He must be prepared, for the rest of his life, to give account of his stewardship.
Ex-Presidents are, in reality, Presidents for life; if not in action but in emoluments. Up till this very day, President Shehu Shagari is still drawing a paycheck, even though he was just slightly better than Jonathan and ruled only for four years. Even worse is Ernest Shonekan, who ruled for less than four months. He is still answering the prefix “Ex-President” and drawing a paycheck along with other benefits. Consider Yakubu Gowon; ditto Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar who forced themselves on us as Heads of States and are drawing retirement paychecks from both the military and the Presidency. And they will all be paid for the rest of their lives.
Goodluck Jonathan is now a member of that special club, although, he did not join in the analogue era of Shagari. He joined in the digital age of Buhari’s second coming when Nigerians demand and deserve answers for their questions on probity. So he needs to gather his loins, say his prayers, and step in front of the Klieg lights of a TV station and start answering questions. Even his own party, the PDP, has told him to speak up. This deafening silence from him is definitely not golden.
Ibadan, Oyo State