Strength in Defeat

Politics and Public Office has never been for the faint hearted. Beyond the fact that those who choose to tread this path are responsible for the welfare of their electorate, they are subject to blood thirsty opposition and media. The media can be particularly ruthless as was seen during the last British general elections where the Labour Leader Ed Miliband saw his deceased Sociologist father described as “the man who hated Britain”. Or the manner in which pictures of him eating were used to portray him as weird.

That said, there’s some value in observing Politicians when released from the pressure cooker environment of Politics. This tends to involve a lot of reflection and a clarity of thought and vision. There’s a theory that Politicians are at their best when smarting from defeat. This has been true in the cases of Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband who in the abdication of the leadership of their parties spoke with a candor that they had struggled to display. In Miliband’s case, his social media persona has lost the blandness and seen him target the opposition with wit. In essence, the exit from frontline political office tends to have a liberating effect on its victims.

The case of Goodluck Jonathan 

Segun Adeniyi’s book Against the Run of Play, which looks at the last Nigerian Presidential elections, shines light on the factors which allowed an incumbent President to be defeated roundly for the first time in Nigerian history. I thought a lot about President Goodluck Jonathan and his spell out of office. A while back I wrote suggesting that Jonathan could serve as a hub for the revival of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as it got used to its new status in opposition. The logic was that as one of the party’s senior members who’d had his time and still had the benefit of youth, he could use some of the goodwill to build on the party’s strengths in his strongholds: the South South and South East. A ruling party is only as good as its opposition. The Buhari government needed a party to keep it on its toes in a manner similar to the way it did in opposition particularly through its spokesman and now Information Minister, Lai Mohammed. The PDP have made a complete mess of this and President Jonathan has done next to nothing to suggest he has any concern about the progress of his party. He has tried to pick his words but the few times he has spoken, he has given the impression that he’s a sore loser failing to acknowledge the shortcomings and character flaws that saw him trounced by a man Nigerians had been consistent in rejecting. Of all Mr Adeniyi’s interviewees, he comes out worst. He references conspiracy theories in a bid to explain his loss.  The book and its narratives confirm some of the fears that existed about Goodluck Jonathan. As a Politician, he was weak in controlling his camp, getting them to buy into the cause and also in his acceptance of dissent. His failure to accommodate erstwhile allies who opposed some of his positions strengthened the hands of the opposition. He also sold himself short by choosing to interact with the world through regional lenses. Against the backdrop of the sensitive political dynamic in the wake of his completing President Yar’ Adua’s term, this was inviting trouble.

The Moral of the Story

The Goodluck story carries a lot of lessons. One is that more circumspection is required in selecting candidates. A grass to grace story or good intentions are not enough.  Whilst it might not have been design, the present government betters the previous in this regard in selecting as Vice President, a respected Lawyer and Pastor with a track record of achievement. This should be a bar moving forward. In the periods where he has stood in for the President, he has proved popular. Also, in a country where there’s so much religious and ethnic sensitivity, it underlines the need for leaders who are more subtle in expressing whatever biases they might have. It also raises a point about why in a post Boko Haram Nigeria, more ethnic integration is required. Ethnic integration will help us become better Nigerians. Bola Ige who nearly ran for the Presidency in 1999 is a positive representation of this. The late Ige grew up in the North – his autobiography memorably titled Kaduna Boy – spoke the 3 major Nigerian languages. Reading President Obasanjo’s autobiography, My Watch, I got the impression that he was threatened by Ige’s bid as his background would have made him infinitely more relatable across the country. Even Obasanjo who is famously reviled in the South Western region is a good example of a detribalised Nigerian. It also highlights the need for a political system that focuses on ideology. In its absence, the Nigerian electorate have been denied a proper barometer for selecting candidates.