I have not particularly been a fan of the Jonathan presidency. I have nothing against him as a person. If anything, I admire his very simple demeanour – no offensively expensive attire and everything about his person radiates simplicity and humility – well as much humility as the demands of the office permit and the need to have the necessary rough edges to ward off those seriously after his job or eager to pull him down.
My reservations stemmed mostly on a principled opposition to his stance on the zoning controversy in the run-up to the April 2011presidential election and my belief that he has underperformed in office. I however always give him one credit: the improvement in the credibility of elections since Professor Attahiru Jega became INEC chairman, I believe, owes more to President Jonathan than to any integrity that the electoral umpire might have brought with him to the office. In my opinion, in our type of society and the peculiar brand of democracy it spurns, elections are free and fair to the extent that the express instructions or body language of the president permit. In Local Government elections, it is transparent only to the extent that the Governor of the State wants it to be. Until now, there has been nothing to suggest that the President sees elections as a ‘do-or-die’ affair. I recall that when Professor Jega cancelled the National Assembly elections on April 2 2011, mid way into the exercise, President Jonathan was said to be in his home state of Bayelsa, in a queue, waiting to cast his vote, meaning he was not even consulted before the cancellation. If the President was miffed by that ‘insult’, he never expressed it publicly. Under a ‘strong’ President like Obasanjo, such an embarrassment would have been probably enough for his removal from office, if not making him a guest of the EFCC, on real or contrived allegations of corruption. President Jonathan earned a lot of my respect by the way he handled the situation – despite the fact that Jega’s INEC had literally blackmailed the country into getting every Kobo he asked for.
In the past I had written about the re-invention of Jonathan since the April 2011 elections – from a public persona of simple, almost naïve president who does not mind changing his mind several times on an issue to one who is increasingly becoming ‘Obasanjonized’. This is not altogether a bad thing because I still regard Obasanjo as a great leader, the best the country has had – despite his shortcomings and lack of grace. In our type of society, without developing some necessary rough edges and being able to firmly mete out sanctions to those who deserve it, all manner of obstacles, under various ideological, political, religious, ethnic and ideological persuasions, will be contrived to block your options. In Nigeria, turning the other cheek when slapped – as espoused by most religions – will be an invitation for more and deadlier slaps. Which was why the late Mokwugo Okoye, a member of the firebrand Zikist Movement during the nationalist agitations for independence, declared that he had chosen to meet Moses (who advocated an eye-for-eye when slapped) and Jesus Christ (who preached ‘turning the other cheek’) half-way, by plucking out the eyes of those who slapped him, not as revenge as Moses preached, but as a deterrence to others.
I have argued in an earlier piece that the ding-dong between Governor Amaechi and President Jonathan is just politics, in furtherance of their personal ambitions for power and glory and not anything actuated by any higher philosophy. I disagreed with the argument that it was heating up the polity but felt that it rather provided a needed entertainment, which our politics has largely been denuded of since the Fourth Republic. Unlike in the Second Republic where we had political entertainers like the late K.O. Mbadiwe (the self-styled man of timber and calibre), Dr Chuba Okadigbo (famed for his grandiloquence), the fast-talking Uba Ahmed and others with fanciful names like Mamman Ali Makele and Alhaji Alhaji Alhaji, our current crop of politicians are even incapable of giving us quotable quotes. Most are simply boring. Apart from few dog-fights such as provided in the epic battle between former President Obasanjo and his Vice Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, political news in the current dispensation have lacked any entertainment value. Until the current face-off between the presidency and Governor Amaechi, there have hardly been political sagas, with enough in-built suspense, that will force the electorate to monitor closely how the whole story will end. In essence, such political dog fights have a way of increasing political participation and the education of the electorate.
The fallout from the recent elections of a new Chairman of the Governors’ Forum however appears to be introducing a macabre dance step to what I had all along seen as a mere political entertainment. Both Governor Amaechi and his opponent in the election – Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, who is widely believed to be sponsored by the Presidency, claimed victory. My concern with this development is that what I consider the greatest legacy of the Jonathan presidency – eschewing a do-or-die politics appears now to be under threat. This is an ominous sign for 2015.
The reaction of the presidency to the ‘humiliation’ that Governor Amaechi defeated its anointed candidate is truly frightening – not because Amaechi is completely blameless because he is not. At least he should share part of the blame for flouting his party’s directives, going on a frontal fight with the Big Man in our type of society (rather than fighting him sideways as survivalists do) and for subtly fraternizing with the opposition party. The concern however is that whereas in the past President Jonathan had been among the first to congratulate any candidate who defeated his anointed one – as happened with Ikedi Ohakim in Imo State and elsewhere – in the just concluded NGF election, a splinter group was formed, apparently with the active connivance of the presidency, each claiming to have won the election. On top of this, he was immediately suspended from the PDP by the party’s National Working Committee.
This immediately brings the memory of Côte d’Ivoire as we approach 2015. In that country, Laurent Gbagbo, who was the country’s President from 2000 until his arrest in April 2011, lost the 2010 presidential election to Alassane Ouattara but refused to vacate. If the putative APC is able to overcome all the obstacles on its way and manages to defeat the President in the 2015 election (if he decides to run), are we going to face the Côte d’Ivoire scenario? The outcome of the recent NGF election, which pitted not just the presidency against Governor Amaechi but also the putative APC against the rump of the PDP loyal to President Jonathan, ought to highlight this question as demanding urgent answer in our political agenda.
There are several losers in this debacle between the presidency and Governor Amaechi. One sure loser will be the PDP, which by suspending Governor Amaechi shortly after the controversial election, lent credence to the perennial charges against it by the opposition parties that it lacked internal democracy. How can a party justify suspending a member, a Governor for that matter, without even the formality of inviting such a person to disciplinary hearing? This is giving the opposition a big ammunition to grandstand – even though internal party democracy in the various opposition parties is no better.
Another loser will be Governor Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. Though I am suspicious of the media marketing of the achievements of various Governors (I call them Bill Board Governors), Governor Akpabio, with his peculiar theatrics and biography conflating with clever media marketing of his achievements in Akwa Ibom, comes across as a likeable character. However this epic ends, Akpabio will be seen rightly or wrongly as someone used to factionalize the Nigerian Governors Forum, and a Governor, who like a ‘small boy’, was being used to teleguide the biddings of the Presidency. How could such an apparently intelligent fellow allow himself to be so diminished?
I am also surprised that Governor Jang agreed to vie for the Presidency of the NGF at this time, knowing that he would be automatically seen as the candidate of the presidency. Already labelled – fairly or unfairly – as a ‘divisive figure’ in Plateau State by his critics, doesn’t Governor Jang realize that being a factional chairman of the NGF would accentuate his label as a ‘divisive figure’?
For President Jonathan, the controversial outcome of the NGF elections could cut both ways: while it would probably force more PDP supporters to sympathize with the APC – overtly or covertly – it could also send a signal that the weak President Jonathan, being trampled upon by all and sundry, is gone for good, and that the new President Jonathan will be willing to fight you toe-to-toe, if you fall out of line or dare him. In essence, as Jonathan transmutes from a President who wants to be loved (including for not wearing shoes to school), to one who engenders fear (especially among those lusting after his job), two critical questions are raised: which of these two personas will secure the presidency for him in 2015? Which one is better for our type of society and its peculiar brand of democracy?