11th November, 2014
By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
No, dear reader, you are not seeing double. The title is correct and it is not a reprise of an earlier piece bearing a similar title on Muhammadu Buhari. And, no, this article has not been prompted by any need I felt to balance my take and pretend to be even-handed in my approach to what seem like the principal candidates for the office of president of Nigeria in 2015. Should I find that one candidate is superior to another in my considered judgment, I would not fail to point that out. Neither have I been motivated nor goaded into writing by the hackneyed responses of some Buhari supporters who barely or inattentively read the earlier piece which made clear that the royal road to a second term for Goodluck Jonathan would be a Buhari or even an Atiku candidacy in the presidential elections next year.
I would like to start with a declaration. Jonathan will get a second term as president not because he deserves one but because the All Progressives Congress (APC) is so politically inept and morally bankrupt, not to talk of its being devoid of a vision, that it is proving incapable of offering Nigerians a real alternative to both Jonathan and his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
To locate the case that I wish to make, we need to go back to 2010. The then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was about to settle on Nuhu Ribadu for its presidential ticket. My worries then about Ribadu will be articulated in a future piece on him and his so-called defection. I shared with friends back then that I thought that the 2011 elections were going to be a watershed event in Nigeria’s political history, especially at the federal level. I said then that the 2011 presidential election was an open one with absolutely no favourite candidate. It was an election that the CAN could win with Ribadu atop its ticket given his pedigree, at that time, despite what I considered his lack of principles demonstrated after his initial removal as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
What was crucial was that he was clean, had what we would call extremely high favourableness and extremely low negativity ratings across the country. What is more, he would be running against a twice-accidental public servant—first as state governor and, later, as president—with no personality and barely in control of his party machinery. Of course, there was an important caveat. Of greater importance was whether or not the sponsoring party and its powers that be were willing to fun and execute a full-fledged presidential campaign. As all who follow politics in Nigeria know too well, not only did the ACN not run a decent campaign; it did not run a campaign at all!
It beggared its candidate and was busy negotiating an ugly power-sharing pact with another party. It ended up with an unprincipled directive to its supporters to split their ticket voting ACN locally and a different party at the presidential level. Thus was lost the possibility of a campaign and a candidacy that would, at least on paper, have rattled the cages of the PDP and positioned the ACN as a genuine government-in-waiting. The party lost that opportunity and the same mentality or maybe I should say that its realization that that opportunity once lost has entirely escaped its group led it to the sterile merger with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the remnants of a handful of no-name parties to form the APC.
Let us get back to Jonathan. Here was an accidental president who first had to do battle as Vice President with the cabal around his terminally ill boss and to require the support of nonpartisan others to step into his constitutionally-sanctioned role as successor to his principal. He became president by default. He has been there now for six years having won his own mandate for the last four in 2011. Although the latter-day Youths Earnestly Ask for Goodluck Jonathan [Remember Abacha?] otherwise known as Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) as well as hacks like Chika Okpala now are a ubiquitous presence on Channels Television joyfully trying to sell us on the out-of-this-world transformation wrought in the country by Jonathan’s administration, I think it is fair to say that the evidence may not be there for nonpartisan observers like me to see.
When he took over, power was the problem in Nigeria. Six years later, power—its generation and distribution—is still the problem in Nigeria. Maybe the signal transformation that Jonathan has wrought is the undeniable fact that we are a certified “stand-by power” economy! By contrast, whatever people hated about Olusegun Obasanjo, everybody talks about his signal achievement in the telecommunications sector. Even if he had needed to do a selling when he was in office, no amount of shilling by any number of spokesperson and “transformation ambassadors” would have succeeded in pulling wool over Nigerians’ eyes seven years on had it been a false transformation. I am not sure but it appears that the reason Jonathan needs so many snake-oil salespersons around him is precisely that the so-called transformation agenda is a certified dud!
Yet, I do not think that the failure of the “transformation agenda” is enough to say that Jonathan does not belong in our future. Obasanjo wasted his first term ensconced in the suffocating embrace of some of the dregs of Nigerian politics. His second was his term of redemption. Jonathan’s people, I am sure, would want to argue that he needs his second term to secure his legacy and correct the mistakes of his first term. I am even willing to go along with the position that finishing Umar Yar’Adua’s term should not count given some of the opposition to his accession to office within his own party.
No doubt, Jonathan would not be the first in the annals of the presidential system borrowed from the United States to ask for second term after a not-so-distinguished first term. That is the nature of the beast. If I may use a boxing analogy, however poorly a champion fights in a title defence, the challenger must beat him comprehensively, preferably, knock him out, in order to come out as the new champion. In the present case, Jonathan must have chalked up some failure or failures that literally make him unfit to continue in office. It is this signal failure that, I argue, must disqualify Jonathan from being a part of Nigeria’s future in the office of president.
Here is the case. When all is said and done, whatever the form of the state, in all of civilized history, no state has or deserves to have legitimacy that is not able to protect its subjects or citizens. In other words, the ultimate function of government, the very reason for its institution is to guarantee the governed a reasonable expectation that their lives, poor, rich or merely okay, would unfold under reasonably secure conditions procured by their governors, the basis of their legitimacy, without the governed having to revert to self-help and its attendant limitations and conundrums. When a government fails spectacularly at this most basic duty, its legitimacy fount dries up quickly and if it does not voluntarily leave office, it usually does not want for challenges to its tenure.
Jonathan’s signal failure lies in its absolutely horrendous record when it comes to securing Nigerians in the leading of their lives, howsoever miserable those lives are for the teeming majority of Nigerians. The undisputable monument to shame for the Jonathan administration in this regard is its utter ineptitude in its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency. When Jonathan took over from Yar’Adua, the insurgency did not have a single square kilometre of territory under its control. Six years later, almost the entire northeast region of Nigeria is under occupation by forces that are not those of the Nigerian state.
Unfortunately, ours is not a decent society. Were we a decent society, the government that has presided over such loss of territory would be put on its back heels and scrambling to justify its continuation in office. What makes our situation worse is that the worst impact of the insurgency is being borne by those who cannot even resort to self-help, e.g., forming vigilante groups: children. The kidnap of the Chibok girls is much more than a symbol: it is the ultimate indictment of a government that has absolutely no sense of its responsibility or is too thick to know when it has failed woefully.
Given that the president is the head of the political arm as well as the head of the military arm—he is not called the Commander-in-Chief for nothing—if there is any meaning to those titles, it must include taking responsibility. It is not enough for the president to keep changing his national security team as if its members were diapers. If he keeps picking the wrong people to run his national security team, he is responsible. If he appoints the right people but does not inspire them to perform or under-equips them, he is responsible. The funny thing about being responsible is that it sometimes requires leaving office when the failure is repeated in a pattern or is particularly catastrophic. Both conditions are met in the saga of the Chibok girls.
As I said earlier, the Chibok girls’ case is the ultimate monument to the shame of a government that is simply incapable of protecting its citizens, especially its most vulnerable citizens—its children—who, by the way, must be nurtured and protected at all costs if the polity is going to have a future at all. And the girls are not alone. As I write this, news just broke of another attack on a high school in Potiskum, Yobe State, involving the deaths of another 49 young lives and scores injured. Meanwhile, the PDP candidate for office of governor of Zamfara State, Ibrahim Gusau, and his supporters are dancing shameless on Channels Television at the launch of his campaign at the same time that the world is being fed news of the carnage in Potiskum! Why bother about a slaughter of kids in school when the important task of launching a campaign for office is on queue!
No, the girls are not alone. Before them, 43 boys were murdered in their sleep at another school and the president, just like his party representative in Zamfara State at the moment, and the time-servers that wait on him hand and foot did not see anything wrong with hosting a party in celebration of a dubious centenary of the fleecing of our agency as a people in the constitution of our de-formed polity. There have been other kidnaps of other children and women since Chibok. None of these matters to our president who is preoccupied with securing a second-term that, I dare say, he has not earned.
Notice that I have not dwelt on other security failures—bombings across the entire northern Nigeria region; pipeline vandalisation and oil bunkering and the privatisation of security in these sphere to erstwhile bandits of the Niger delta region; the fact that not even the Nigerian government dare operate in the public square of its own capital for fear of a repetition of a previous Independence Day bombing a few years back. National day is now celebrated in the President’s living room. No matter, just let me have a second term, says the president and his verandah boys and girls. I don’t need to remind Nigerians of the government’s failures and their gory details.
All that matters is the second term. It is almost as if the president’s minions know their s has been a disastrous term, almost mirroring Obasanjo’s first term in its sterility in the area of notable achievements. Their obsession as well as that of their principal with a second term puts the lie to their claim of transformation effected by this government. Were this president secure in his much-trumpeted achievements, his place in our history should be more than assured. I am convinced that his handlers know that there is not much legacy to bequeath. That explains their maniacal determination to wring a second term out of the Nigerian electorate.
One of the verandah boys came out the other day to say that no president resigns in the midst of a war. Really? A proper education would have told him that Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) quit while the Vietnam War was still raging. He could have soldiered on believing, as I think our president probably does, that he had a divine mandate to continue the war and win it in his second term. His greatness consisted in part in his realisation that if did not already have a legacy at home, given what it would take for him to continue in office in a second term, even if could win one, he threw in the towel and refused to present himself for re-election.
The latter issue is where the historical similarities between Johnson and Jonathan are most instructive. Nigeria, right now, is a country riven by severe divisions. Ironically, that division is Jonathan’s ticket to a second term and he is busy stoking it, especially the religious one. What with a ‘pilgrimmage’ to Jerusalem prior to declaring his second-term ambition and his resident “chaplain” in the person of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) president trying to pass him off as the elect of God and defender of Christians against Boko Haram!
Why would Jonathan not think of resigning or not seeking a second term? Ordinarily, in addition to the self-serving lies and proclamations about service to the people that are standard fare for politicians, we may think of ego as a justification for clinging to office. But, and this is the rub, Jonathan, like other public office holders in our country, has no ego worthy of the name. I am positive that Jonathan does not wake up any morning and worry about his place in history, his contributions to humanity, how the world was before he came into it and how it would, pace his own contributions, when will have left it. In short, as I have written elsewhere, I do not see any evidence of a sense of self, of an individuality that would be hurt by failure and discomfited by the fate, unknown but most likely horrific, of 217 Chibok girls, or the fate of the other school children that have been killed, maimed—physically and psychologically—for life, or displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria while this sad presidency has lasted.
No it is not him or his personality that is at stake. After all, he is not in office as Goodluck Jonathan, simpliciter. He is in office rather as “the minority areas president”, “the south-south-in-chief”, “the first Ijaw-at-the-head-of-the-trough”, and any thought of resigning would not be in terms of Goodluck Jonathan the person but of removing the retinue of hangers-on in whose name he claims the presidency. This is the ultimate tragedy of an unthinking collectivist ethos and primordial even if antiquarian communalism that is the bane of our political discourse and practice today.
To admit that he has failed is not a personal thing: it is a collective failure tarnishing all respective collectivities just iterated. Additionally, the direct presence of the feeding trough, at the head of the table on which sits the “national cake”, will all be in jeopardy for those who feel entitled. Such is the mess that we call Nigerian politics today that even nonpartisans like me are not doing due diligence by putting on the table the question of the president’ current tenure and his worthiness for another term.
Is Jonathan going to get a second term? No thanks to the peculiarities of Nigerian politics and the criminal incompetence of his main opposition, Yes. Does he deserve one? Hell, NO! Here is a man who has no ideas, stands for nothing, has no vision and, yet, he is and will be president of what supposedly is the most important country of peoples of African descent on earth. What a people!
Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A.