DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN firstname.lastname@example.org
A unique feature of the phenomenon of President Goodluck Jonathan in the politics of Nigeria is the role that providence has played in his political ascendance. We may input a similar extraordinary intervention to Barack Obama, whose improbable political journey climaxed with the catalyst provided by the collapse of the American financial system, so called Wall Street crash; and hurricane Sandy, as the immediate backdrop to his triumph in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Many Nigerians would likewise attribute the dispensation of heavenly benevolence to the military and political career of President Olusegun Obasanjo. At least, on two occasions, 1979 and 1999, he was gifted the leadership of Nigeria on a platter of gold.
In the calculation of Nigerian governorship candidates, the ideal candidate for the office of the running mate, is one who has no independent personality, who is suppliant and totally lacking in charisma. It was said that beyond the requirements of this general standard, Jonathan was a cut above the others in conformity to specification. The more paranoid and gross the governorship candidate, the greater the attention he pays to the qualities of deference, passivity and childlike submissiveness in his deputy.
And they do not get more superfluous than the late governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamiesiagha. A few years into the first term tenure of their ticket, his principal was made to pave the way for Jonathan’s assumption of substantive governorship by a combined pressure of external and internal forces (within the state) through the instrumentality of the constitutional provision of impeachment.
I bore witness to the unfolding of the next phase, the Nigeria wide manifestation of his peculiar luck. I make the claim that one hour to the announcement of his name as running mate to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, he was completely and blissfully oblivious of the roll of the dice in his favour. And as it was in Bayelsa, so it became in Abuja. In a near repeat of the precedence of the Bayelsa State experience, (and within a few years of the Yar’Adua presidency in 2009), his principal was made to cede office to him by reason of transition to the great beyond.
In 2011, his incumbency was returned in one of the least problematic presidential elections in the contemporary politics of Nigerian. The fable of the myth of his unusual luck transcended the shores of Nigeria. Shortly after he became president, Christiana Amanpour of the CNN, inquired of him how he came by the name that dogs his political career, Goodluck.
Confronted with insurmountable odds in the presidential election of March 2015, his charmed political career seemed to have run its course. He then managed to retrieve victory from the jaws of defeat with his globally acclaimed graceful concession of defeat, which dispersed the dark clouds of a perfect political storm gathering in Nigeria’s horizon. From this political Olympian height, he was brought low and humbled by the waves upon waves of the revelation of stupefying corruption scandals associated with his stewardship. This attribution was grist to the mill of a successor regime in dire need of a scapegoat to deflect growing public disenchantment with its crass inability to match propaganda rhetoric with the irreducible minimum of public expectation.
Rife with generous doses of fact and fiction, stories of unconscionable graft and corruption under the watch of the Jonathan presidency appear exceptional for a number of reasons. One is that the willingness and capacity to foster transparency on public deeds has strengthened exponentially across the international community given the facility provided by the shrinkage of the world into a global village.
The internet technology revolution; the world wide web (www); the super information highway are, here, of the essence. Second is the quantum leap in national revenue gifted by the positive half of the boom and bust cycle of the international oil market. Third is the Jonathan newcomer timidity and incapacity to exert leadership discipline which might serve to moderate the wild and unrestrained impulses of a privileged fraction of the national elite to bleed Nigeria dry.
Fourth is the quest to acquire an overkill financial muscle towards the prosecution of what promised to be a most expensive aspiration for a second term — made uniquely prohibitive by running against a common consciousness of adversity and deprivation across the Muslim north; and reinforced by the formidable alliance with the dominant segment of the South-west political elite. Fifth is the definition of the Jonathan presidency as the long awaited avenging angel for the indigenes of the Niger Delta region to redress its regional bloc marginalisation in the access to the Nigeria public till-kept replenished mainly by the inflow realisable from the exploitation of the crude oil endowment lumped beneath their swamps and creeks.
Before filliping over to the other side of the same coin, let me make a clarification and qualification of the title above. In the instant, I define positive Goodluck as the variant of luck that actively facilitates and advances your progress and aspiration in a desirable direction. Negative Goodluck is the other variant of luck that shields and precludes you from danger and intrusive untoward occurrences. I thereby contend that contrary to the thinking that the good luck streak of Jonathan petered out with his defeat at last year’s presidential election, it is only the positive variant that has taken a respite. A compelling reading of the past one year is the extent to which the governance challenge has been dramatically compounded by a seeming conspiracy of fate — a volatile combination of unanticipated aggravation and dark premonitions.
The perspective that has made the victory of Muhammadu Buhari a blessing in disguise (and easy to accept) for Jonathan partisans and Nigeria at large was the easy to predict imminent bloodletting that would have attended the pronouncement of a contrary election verdict — in favour of Jonathan. Regardless of the veracity or otherwise of such a verdict, the probability is that the result would be repudiated and greeted with the actualisation of the prior threat to render Nigeria ungovernable. By temperament, they do not come more pacific and retiring than Jonathan who would most certainly recoil from the prospect of tipping Nigeria over into the pit of violent political upheaval.
The Western powers were culpable in the inadequacy and handicap of Jonathan to grapple with the crisis of the Boko Haram insurgency. The ill will and obstructionist disposition of these powers was manifest in their advertised determination to block the sale of desperately needed weaponry to Nigeria. The tenuous excuse of the liability of human rights abuses in the prosecution of the anti-insurgency fight is just what it was — excuse. It was an excuse that masked the cold power politics calculations and belief that the insurgency was obliquely connected to a regional wide animus over the loss of the fullness of the rotational presidency slot occasioned by the premature exit of late President Yar’Adua. And that this bitterness may be assuaged by a change in leadership from Jonathan to a candidate of northern Muslim origin; and that there would follow a multiplier effect in a commensurate containment of the insurgency.
This was a correct prognosis — to the extent that the re-election of Jonathan would potentially deepen the prior regional hostility and result in a consequential escalation of the associated crisis of the insurgency. To this smouldering accelerant, let us now throw in the potential reinforcement of the unforeseen complication of the Fulani herdsmen crisis. As it is usually the case with Nigeria, this controversy has been subject to polarising conspiracy theories. The most colourful is that the herdsmen are sleeper agents waiting to be activated and converted into a sponsored militia of ferocious hordes in the event that Jonathan was declared the winner of the 2015 presidential election.
In the likelihood that this improbable suggestion boils down to the figment of the fertile imagination of a paranoid citizenry; and that the herdsmen rampage portends nothing more sinister than the banditry of a criminally disposed nomadic contingent, it still harbours a degenerate and combustible ethno-regional dimension that would push Nigeria to the tipping point-more so-were Jonathan the incumbent president. The chances are, in his typical political awkwardness and feeling the pressure to placate an implacably wounded north, Jonathan would hurry to railroad the passage of the putative national grazing rights reserve bill or any similarly designated proposed solution backfiring to become the problem; a measure that has demonstrated enormous potential to prompt the indignation and repudiation of the south. And thereby get hemmed in between the rock and the hard place.
Without the fillip of the bust in the buoyancy of the crude oil market, the economy of Nigeria was never far from becoming a basket case. The rhetoric of the diversification of the Nigerian economy has remained stuck at the level of policy prescription and thus ensured that Nigeria remains trapped as a victim of the boom and bust cycle of the international oil market. Even after making adequate allowance for the adjudged incapacity of the Buhari government, the truth is that the best economic manager would still come up short in fulfilling the public welfare expectations of Nigerians in the short term. And in the extenuation of being a new comer, the All Progressives Congress (APC) government has a leg room for kicking down the can and demand the understanding and perseverance of the Nigerian public.
Under the circumstances, it is a no brainer to imagine that Nigerians would have been far less tolerant, bordering on persona non grata of the continuation of the Jonathan presidency. It was Buhari himself who wondered aloud why the element of hard luck for Nigeria tended to attend his assumption of the political leadership of the country — as was the case in 1984 and as it is the case now. As he made his concession of defeat to Buhari in the presidential election, Jonathan exuded the aura of a man totally at peace with himself; of a complete absence of trauma. The educated guess is that he would have been overwhelmed by the burden of the present Nigerian conundrum which shows no sign of abating. It is a moot point whether Jonathan may want to be president now.