The recently released book titled Facts Versus Fiction: The True Story of the Jonathan Years, Chibok, 2015 and the Conspiracies by one of Dr. Jonathan’s former aides, a Reno Omokri makes very interesting reading even though it fails in its task of exonerating the former president from the many charges he is facing today in the court of public opinion. By appearance, mannerisms, and expressed imagery, Dr. Jonathan comes across as a simple, easy-going, peace-loving, and transparently honest individual. His performance in office should have earned him a B+ or an A-, but for some of the people who were supposed to assist him. Although many of them failed him and Nigeria, there are still some successes and achievements worth trumpeting about. That was one of the goals of Mr. Omokri’s book.
The Jonathan Presidency was remarkable for some noteworthy achievements that include modest economic growth, reasonable naira exchange value, the thriving (even if by default) of multiparty democracy, robust funding of the education sector, liberal provisions of financial support for infrastructure across the nation, more respect for Nigeria abroad, government declared interest in providing necessary agricultural inputs, and on and on.
As fascinating as the successes in some sectors may be, Dr. Jonathan’s greatest achievement was not even material but actually spiritual and soul-based, although not in a religious sense but in the cultural and humanistic sense that we are more than matter, flesh, and blood. Dr. Jonathan is obviously a religious person but more than just a Bible-quoting zealot, he is an example of a spiritualist in quest of nirvana by trying to avoid evil and do good.
There is abundant easy-to-find evidence in his public and private life to show that the young Ijaw man who never aimed or aspired to be President (not even Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State) meant very well for Nigeria. Unfortunately, some of those who worked closely with him seem to have abandoned him, leaving him open to all those virulent attacks from the current APC Government, some disgruntled former and current PDP politicians, and professional praise-singers out to beguile President Buhari, VP Professor Osinbajo, and Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Dr. Jonathan will be the first to admit that he is not a saint and we don’t expect his defenders to be extravagant in their portrayal of him. Two years after they left office, we expect at least four good historical, analytical, and objective accounts of what really transpired. That is why many of us rushed to get and read Mr. Omokri’s new book, which is actually a big pamphlet or monograph of exaggerated 110 pages with many whole sections repeated in other parts. Nevertheless, this is a courageous effort that deserves praise in some respect.
Although the book is flawed in many departments from the title, cover page, foreword and the style of presentation to its aggressive post-publication marketing, it still deserves praise for Mr. Omokri’s courage in producing it now. The flaws are easy-to-fix mistakes that can be corrected in the second edition. Among these are the many typographical mistakes, the mix-up in the table of contents, the number of publishers, and above all not focusing strategically on the demonstrable achievements of the Dr. Jonathan Presidency.
Three of the structural flaws are the arrangement of the chapters, the unnecessary duplication of sections of the book, and the selection of the three items in the appendix. The book opens with the first chapter “The Conspiracy to Remove Jonathan” which paints a picture of Dr. Jonathan as a victim of alleged intrigues by US officials and some Northern Nigerian politicians. A book subtitled “The True Story of the Jonathan Years…” should open with incontrovertible evidence of successes and achievements from the period, out of respect for the principle of primacy in persuasive communication. The book should also have ended with further elaboration of those success stories of achievement in the last chapter, out of respect for the principle of recency.
The second structural flaw is the unnecessary repetition of whole paragraphs, sections, and pages, verbatim, more than once in some chapters. For example, some of what we have on page 12 appear again on page 21; parts of pages 13 and 14 are repeated on pages 22 and 23; parts of page 15 appear again on pages 23 and 24; parts of page 17 are repeated on page 26; and parts of page 20 appear again on page 29. These should not be difficult to correct in a new edition.
The third structural error which also reflects poor judgement in content management is the presentation of Mr. Jonathan’s GCE statement of result, the WAEC result, and the letter from Barrister Nyesom Wike to the Borno State Governor Dr. Kashim Shettima. The examination results in particular are not necessary, as they add nothing to the story of Dr. Jonathan’s performance in office.
Apart from these structural flaws, two other blemishes that deserve correction in a reworked new edition of the book are the dangerous comment about the former US National Security Adviser, Ms. Susan Rice and the quality of the FGN projects that were selected to illustrate superior achievements. The categorical statement, first made on page 13 and repeated verbatim on page 21 that the former US National Security Adviser Ms. Susan Rice “was the person who on July 7, 1998, made the tea that the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 Nigerian Presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, drank minutes before passing away after reportedly foaming at the mouth” is clearly libellous and should be expressed more safely and elegantly.
Mr. Omokri could have done a better job of marshalling persuasive arguments with demonstrable evidence based on facts and figures from public and private sector sources, and indeed from many reputable international organisations to support his position that the Jonathan Government performed well in many areas. Unfortunately, some of the illustrations he selected achieved the opposite effect. Among these is Chapter 2 where the reader learns that the Dr. Jonathan Government set out to establish 400 Almajiri schools (page 33) but in the end managed to build 165 of these (41% achievement). Chapter 3, The Economy Under Jonathan (pp 37-60) has mostly propaganda stories of Federal Government accomplishments in almost every state. It is obvious that Mr. Omokri relied exclusively on contractors’ and government officers’ reports in describing these projects as accomplishments.
These flaws and blemishes notwithstanding, Mr. Omokri deserves praise for his courage and determination (obviously without much support) to speak up on behalf of a beleaguered former boss. Such courage is not common. Nigeria needs more courageous people like Mr. Omokri. The young writer has a bright future but must pay more attention to his craft and style.
Books on the true stories of the President Jonathan years are needed very badly now not only by former and current PDP stalwarts and all Jonathan’s friends, but also by the APC Government and the Nigerian public. The old and new PDP should not be silent about the numerous success stories and achievements that include the successful conduct of the last presidential election. The credibility of the APC will significantly go up multiple notches if it accepts the undeniable fact that despite obvious failings in some areas, the Dr. Jonathan and previous PDP regimes were not completely bereft of any remarkable achievements.
On its part, the Nigerian public must become more demanding of current and previous office holders to tell the true stories of their challenges, failures, and achievements. These stories can be told directly or through proxies. Mr. Omokri has shown what can be done by one young courageous writer, in the interest of public enlightenment. His effort deserves commendation.
––Dr Charles Okigbo, the pioneer Registrar of APCON now teaches strategic communication.