Custodian Guest Blog: The Jonathan Presidency: Looking Back

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By Olajide Salami

There are several proverbs that best describe president Jonathan’s loss at the polls. First among which is that Hindsight is 20/20. Second is the rather dire “He who the gods want to kill, they first drive mad”.

Having watched events unfold the way they have, the President must have taken at least some time to reflect: To go over recent events, wondering where he went wrong, if he did at all, what he could have been done differently.

While there might be other reasons he may have lost, I believe foremost amongst them are the reasons I shall highlight.

His wife. “He who finds a wife has found a good thing”. So they say. Over the course of the past few decades, Nigerians have come to identify with their Commanders in chief and their wives. Mariam Babangida. Maryam Abacha. Stella Obasanjo. Turai Yar’ Adua. You see where I am going. In their own different ways, these first ladies, became cursors of a sort, of the kind of men we had at the helm. In President Jonathan’s case, my first significant memory of his wife was when at his swearing in after the demise of President Yar’Adua, they both, despite the heaviness of the moment, looked to each other and smiled. It was heartwarming. I thought to myself at the time “This woman better not be like Turai oh! Any way she won’t. They suffered Turai’s heavy handedness firsthand. They wouldn’t be foolish enough to let that happen”. I was wrong. Hence this paragraph. We have heard all sorts of things about Patience Jonathan but the one thing that struck me as completely hare-brained, was her bout with Rotimi Amaechi. At some event in Okrika, where she hails from and where Rotimi Amaechi presides as governor, she broke protocol, leaving the governor feeling disrespected enough to storm off. The President could have better handled that situation, especially its aftermath. Some background; Rotimi Amaechi was electorally the president’s biggest ally at the time. He had delivered just under two million votes at the 2011 polls: the largest en bloc vote the president attained during those elections. The president could have done better than keep quiet and let that situation fester. Worse, was the way the Chibok situation was handled. I make bold to say Nigeria has in its population, a spectrum of intelligentsia that will, be at par with corresponding intelligentsia in any other constituency in world. Deep-rooted tribal sentiments among the general populace notwithstanding, it was cringe worthy to watch our first lady give a comical first reaction from the government as regards the kidnap of our daughters. Nigeria deserves better than that. The Nigeria of Macaulay, Awolowo, Azikiwe, Bello and Balewa deserves better than to have a First Lady who during the presidential campaigns, referred to our brothers and sisters in the North as “born troways”. 1.9million residents of Kano agree with me.

Rotimi Amaechi and the six governors of the nPDP. The fallout of the Amaechi situation left the president feeling disrespected. As a result, he took it upon himself to undermine the Rivers State governor whenever he could. Cases in point: The Nigeria Governor’s Forum fracas and AIG (then Commissioner of Police) Joseph Mbu. Seven governors of the PDP had grouses to iron out with the president. They wanted the PDP chairman sacked. They wanted Amaechi reinstated and his suspension from the PDP lifted. They wanted the president to commit to serving one term and packing his bags. While the president may have found their requests onerous at that juncture, other options were available. Reinstating Amaechi would have cost nothing more than a smudge to his ego. Bamanga Tukur should have been sacked and events afterwards have proved so, meaning the request was not unreasonable. The last request however, I agree he could not accede to. It is his constitutional right to contest. It is in his nature, subconsciously, to aspire for higher office, just like the rest of us as Aristotle once said. The governors asking him not to was unfair. However, I maintain they could have been brought around. Babangida Aliyu was. Sule Lamido was.

The effects of that fallout led to a stronger and more vibrant opposition, as five governors collectively decamped. This may, in isolation from all other reasons here stated, be the singular most important reason Jonathan lost. You cannot purchase governors of five states in the market as if you are buying cigarettes, to borrow an analogy from the president. The new political equation with the decamping was such that the three most populous states (according to updated census figures and electorally from the 2011 elections) now resided in opposition hands. This also meant all the major traditional leaders from the Emir of Kano, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Ooni of Ife, the Oba of Lagos to the Sultan of Sokoto, to name a few (in no particular order of hierarchy) presided over their subjects in states controlled by the opposition All Progressives Congress. Personally, I think this was a political faux pas, with the effects seen in the way the president had to transverse opposition grounds seeking votes just before the elections. “Much little. Much late.”

An amalgam of worthy mentions include the Immigration recruitment exercise, the face off with the then Central Bank Governor, the “Obasanjo imbroglio” and the Nigeria Governor’s Forum brouhaha. It is stupendous to think that Nigerians with as much right to the land as any other citizen, died in search of a job advertised by government, with the recruitment exercise itself shipped out to private contractors. Even more perplexing is that the minister with responsibility in that ministry has not been arrested for the tortious breach of duty, yet still holding the same job he did when the unfortunate incident took place. The buzz around him keeping his job is that he is a nominee of the Senate President David Mark, the president’s ally and key man in Benue state. To highlight the failure of leadership here, the president lost the majority votes in the 2015 presidential elections in Benue. It is thus pertinent to ask: To what end have these innocent lives been lost with no one facing the penalties as stipulated by the law for negligence of such magnitude? The president had no need to descend into the arena to exchange hostilities with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. It was an episode that could have best been handled by political maturity. The man was on his way out anyway. The Obasanjo imbroglio was simply the result of bad advice. Former president Obasanjo is the sort of character you have to “handle”. Properly handled, the president would not have had to run to Otta with egg on his face when looking for votes. As for the Governors Forum, never has a sitting president had to descend so low. Never has a sitting president reached so far into the depths of ignominy, as at the time, especially in that particular context, just to score a political point. The implications were wide reaching. For the President to have subscribed to the idea that 16 was greater than 19, it would mean that Mr President’s mathematics was askew. If the president could “unlook” 19 being greater than 16, at a microcosm of elections by potential presidents in waiting, then when general elections came, what else would he “unlook”? All the President had to do at the time to defuse tension was congratulate Amaechi on his victory. Instead the president left us all with the impression that even when caught on camera, the mathematics we were taught in school, is inferior to political mathematics.

Ultimately, President Jonathan has displayed an acute failure in leadership. He allowed himself to be shielded by vested interests. He turned the seat of power to a hang out of militants and hoodlums that may very well take up arms against our democracy in protest of his defeat. To an extent, blame cannot be entirely heaped on his shoulders. Perhaps he did not aspire to the Presidency. Perhaps all he wanted was to be Governor of Bayelsa then retire to Otuoke. Perhaps. That decision has now been made on his behalf with the victory of President-Elect Muhamadu Buhari.

That’s the thing about leadership. Whether you have it thrust upon you or not, it makes demands of you. Leadership demands you step up to the plate. Leadership demands to see how malleable your mettle is. President Jonathan failed to step up to the plate and accordingly, Nigerians speaking with their multiple voices, in the multiple languages h elected to vote him out. It is their right. And if President Elect Buhari forgets this, Nigerians will come out to exercise that right again.

After a conclusion had been written for this piece, President Jonathan called General Buhari to concede. I heard it said, but did not believe. Buhari confirmed it himself. This Jonathan. This Jonathan that called to concede, is the Jonathan we should have had this four years past. This is the Jonathan, Reuben Abati should have been allowed to project. This is the Jonathan that should have been seen to be at the helm of affairs of our great nation, not his wife. This Jonathan could never have had someone filled with as much vitriol as Doyin Okupe, speak on his behalf. This is the Jonathan Nigerians railed against Turai Yar’adua for. In danger of being overly presumptuous, I make bold to say this is the Jonathan a majority of Nigerians voted as their president in 2011.

True to form however, the same people that have encouraged Jonathan towards perfidy for much of his presidency, have begun to sing a Nobel Peace Prize tune. Their position is that by conceding, President Jonathan has quelled the possibility of bloodshed across a spectrum of the country. Not a bad argument. In the Nigerian context. In the face of common sense and the rest of the world however, one does not get a cookie for doing what he ought to do in the first place. He contested, lost and conceded. This ignoble rhetoric suggests that President Buhari’s task is a lot bigger than first feared. The agents of mediocrity that have held sway around our leaders in times past are presently flailing as the Jonathan government rounds up. True to their parasitic nature, they will be looking for ways to rebrand their togas of averagely thought-out ideas, mediocrity infested policies to the President in waiting hoping to entice so they can keep living off the nation to the detriment of its citizens. One can only hope a President Buhari possesses the presence of mind to recognize them for what they are, separating them from himself and his cabinet, so Nigeria can leave them where they belong: In the annals of our mediocre past.

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