Adieu Jonathan, Bienvenu Buhari By Simon Kolawole
How time flies. Really, really flies. Five years ago — on May 6, 2010, specifically — Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the president of Nigeria. That was three months after assuming the office in an acting position. A year later, he won the presidential election, defeating Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. And four years later, Buhari came back to defeat him. On Friday, he will bow out of office in peace and in one piece. Again, I’m glad that I’m alive to witness this historic change of baton between a sitting president and his rival. Again, I’m glad that I’ve witnessed 16 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria. Better experienced than read in history books.
Five years on, how would Jonathan feel after leaving office? I guess there would be mixed emotions — just like typical human experiences. He would look at some things and be glad. He would remember some things and feel sad. He would review certain things and get mad. He would be thinking: I wish I had done that thing another way. Many of us deceive ourselves by saying we have “no regrets”. But we all have. That is why we are human. We wish we had done something better or said something better. We wish we had chosen a different path or stayed the course. But above all, we wish to be remembered for good.
Can Jonathan look back at his tenure and tell himself he put in a good shift? Going by what he said in the build-up to the 2015 elections, he was certainly convinced he had done enough to earn a return. He pointed to the expansion of rail, air, water and road infrastructure. He presented his scorecards in agriculture, education for the vulnerable (Almajiri and girl-child) and local content in the oil sector. He highlighted the improvements at several teaching hospitals and how kidney transplants and open-heart surgeries are now being performed there. He also pointed to the modernisation and re-tooling of the armed forces.
In an article I wrote last year, “My Grouse with Goodluck Jonathan”, I indeed listed these achievements but pointed out two critical issues which I said he did not address convincingly: corruption and insecurity. I somehow expected them to be the biggest issues that would shape the 2015 electioneering — not the Almajiri schools, not the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, not the second Niger bridge, not the privatisation of power utilities, not the GDP. The unending Boko Haram attacks and sustained allegations of corruption would damage any government any day, especially as Jonathan’s responses were rather too tenuous or too late.
Jonathan, in my opinion, dilly-dallied over several damaging allegations of corruption. He held tight to the minister of petroleum resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, for too long, despite all the NNPC sleaze. On top of that, the Chibok tragedy drew a harmful global attention to his government. The harassment of the Bring Back Our Girls movement by the security agencies only succeeded in wiping off Jonathan from the social media — his previous forte. He got millions of new enemies as reward. Chibok was tragically turned into comedy by the first lady. I’m sure Jonathan would look back at these issues with regrets, even if he won’t admit it publicly.
Jonathan was either misled on the enormity of the Chibok tragedy and other Boko Haram-induced tragedies — or he himself utterly underestimated it. Boko Haram was heavily politicised. It became a cheap campaign tool. APC and PDP sought to take maximum political advantage of the calamity. They were busy pointing accusing figures at each other. While this went on, Boko Haram continued to grow in weight and height. But, as I always argued, it was the responsibility of Jonathan to crush Boko Haram — no matter who was behind it. Helpless Nigerians could not be lamenting about Boko Haram and Jonathan too would be lamenting. No, it’s not done!
Late Oronto Douglas, one of Jonathan’s closest aides, was like a brother to me. But we argued often over Jonathan’s stewardship, and he always made the point that the press was too hard on the president. He was saddened that Jonathan was not getting enough credit for the progress recorded in many sectors of the economy under his watch — particularly in the production of rice and cotton, water resources, rehabilitation and construction of federal roads as well as the signing of legacy laws such as the Freedom of Information Act and Disability Act. I could understand Oronto’s frustrations, but the Nigerian private press has never been pro-government since 1859.
As we now wave “goodbye” to Jonathan, no doubt he would be wishing in his heart of heart that Nigerians would remember the good things about him, not just his failings. I can assure him that those who will remember him for good will always do — and those who never fancied him are not about to change their minds. While I believe he did many good things, it is also glaring that his more pronounced failings ultimately undermined him. I think there were many things he could have done much better, and in moments of introspection, he would wish he had sought better counsel and chosen a different path. That is history now.
But Jonathan can also take solace in the fact that some leaders are only appreciated after they are gone. Buhari himself was vilified and savaged until he was overthrown in 1985, but many Nigerians have come to agree that he was on to something and could have changed Nigeria fundamentally if he had been allowed to continue with his mission. President Olusegun Obasanjo was battered in the media from 1999 to 2007, but today he is many people’s hero and their moral authority. When you review what certain prominent Nigerians used to say about Obasanjo and what they are saying about the same man today, then you know there is hope for Jonathan.
And as we say “welcome” to Buhari, I need not remind him that Aso Rock is the hottest residence in Nigeria. It is one place where you will be sweating even with all ACs switched on. There are tough decisions waiting on his desk — decisions about electricity and fuel subsidies, a bloated public service, crushing overheads and fighting corruption without being accused of highhandedness or using kid gloves. Managing a country where everybody is a renowned expert on good governance is no child’s play. There are wild expectations that he can turn stone to bread. The PDP, wounded and humiliated, will be full of vengeance: Buhari should expect a full dose of media war.
Nigeria’s power politics is very complex. Buhari could find his early decisions and appointments being analysed along ethnic and religious lines. That is the way we are. Obasanjo was accused of implementing “Afenifere agenda” in his early days. Jonathan was accused of stalling the dredging of River Niger when he became acting president. Buhari should prepare for his own baptism of fire. But having won the presidential election on the basis of his integrity, he has the moral capital to inspire the birth of a new thinking in us. As complex as we are in Nigeria, we are not impossible to lead — as long as we can see the sincerity of purpose in our leaders.
Welcome on board, Mai Gaskiya.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
POWER TO PDP?
There was a lot of drama on Saturday as APC senators-elect flexed their muscles on who the next senate president should be. At the end of their retreat, they were divided between Bukola Saraki and Ahmad Lawan. Saraki says he has 35 APC senators behind him. The magic figure is 55. APC has 63 senators while PDP boasts of 46. If Saraki gets 20 PDP senators to back him, he will be home and dry. Lawan has not yet given us his own figure, but PDP senators could eventually break the deadlock if APC can’t settle for a consensus. Tricky.
I am amused each time I hear APC chieftains say the party doesn’t believe in zoning and that national assembly positions will be filled on “merit”. Is there is any part of Nigeria that does not have competent candidates if an office is zoned to them? Does zoning preclude merit? And if indeed APC does not believe in zoning, why did it pick Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a southerner, as the vice-presidential candidate to a northerner? After all, Malam Rabiu Kwankwaso came second at the primary and could logically be Buhari’s running mate! This grandstanding over zoning is really comical. Hypocrisy.
ALHAJI OR MR?
The media office of the president-elect says he should be addressed simply as Muhammadu Buhari. The idea is that as a civilian president, he should drop his military title, Major General. In 1999, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo settled for “Chief”. Ordinarily, we should be able to address Buhari as “Alhaji” or “Malam” but I notice an attempt to avoid a religious title. What about “Mr” then? Well, typical Nigerian mentality thinks a “whole president” shouldn’t be called “Mr”. “President Buhari” will certainly be the most common, but we will run into problem saying: “The President of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari…” Clumsy.
And so, here we are again talking about no fuel and no electricity. Nigerians are practically living in hell. Oil marketers are not keen on importing fuel because it is now classified as a “political risk” by banks. And despite an installed power generation capacity of nearly 8,000mw, Nigerians are living in pitch darkness because of yet another gas crisis. We are now generating less than 2,000mw! These crippling crises have made sure President Goodluck Jonathan will not be leaving on a high. No wonder many angry and disillusioned Nigerians regard PDP’s 16-year rule as a waste. Sad.