What More Can Jonathan Do? By Akin Osuntokun
President Goodluck Jonathan is anxious not to be seen as rocking the political status quo. Proof positive of this is the recommendation of a requisite 75 per cent majority threshold as the alternative option to consensus in passing the resolutions of the National Conference. The geo-political distribution of the appointments he has made is also reflective of a status-quo bound president. He has a conciliatory, almost apologetic, and accommodating temperament — yet he attracts the implacable hostility and unprecedented demonisation of his political opponents. Even if he were resolute on staying beyond 2015, it is difficult to see what much else he could do to placate his political foes.
A new dangerous dynamic has been introduced to the already fraught 2015 presidential election. And that is the resolve to preempt the outcome of the forthcoming elections — as it becomes increasingly likely that the incumbent president will carry the day. I came to this conclusion in the wake of the apparent determination of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State to instigate a violent political upheaval. Any individual or political party who believes the momentum for victory in the 2015 elections is on his side will not behave the way Nyako did. Anyone who believes in the possibility of securing the exit of Jonathan through defeat in the 2015 will not labour to instigate political upheaval neither will such persons find any reason to support or defend what Nyako said.
A fellow columnist asked on this page a week ago ‘who does Nyako speak for? Well that is the million-dollar question and the precise indication of the danger Nigeria is currently enmeshed. Believe it or not, he speaks for a large number of people (by no means the majority) — many of whom you cannot categorise as belonging in the fringe looney column. And as we can see from Nyako’s, manifesto, the question is no longer about competence or incompetence of the president. It is now about conspiracy theories of the most absurd and malevolent kind, comparable to the Nazi attribution of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. Yet Nigeria must persevere and ask what other options, no matter how unpalatable, can be explored in the dire situation in which we find ourselves; and bend over backwards until the limits of reason and perseverance are exhausted.
My journey to this juncture has been tortuous, laborious and enervating. I was in considerable shock to learn that what I considered so obvious on the absurdity and self-destructiveness of Governor Murtala Nyako’s manifesto was not so unintelligible to a considerable swathe of opinion across his target population. Nigerians seemed to have become mutually unintelligible. I had argued on the basis of what I considered to be a mutually shared value of self-enlightenment, rationality and objectivity — as most opinion writers did. And I felt that the value should make the overwhelming majority of Nigerians abhorrent of Nyako’s fulminations. I cannot be sure that this aspiration was met and it is safer to assume the contrary — that it was not.
I then reverted to the liberal political science mode of conflict management, which is the assumption of value neutrality. This requires you to think from the standpoint of detachment; and divest yourself of the value-laden position of who is right and who is wrong and limit yourself to the cold facts of the moment. That fact is people are hurting and it matters not whether I believe there is a reasonable basis for this emotion. It is akin to externalising yourself from the conflict situation-in the manner in which a non-partisan external arbitrator, American, British or the OAU will cast a perspective on the crisis from the somewhat far-off distance of a dispassionate and uninvolved foreigner. The perspective will probably look at the Nigerian leadership tradition with a view to extrapolating what leadership style adjustments may better serve Jonathan going forward.
I have not always agreed with the personality many Nigerians knew as my principal and I don’t agree with the position he had taken on President Jonathan especially his open letter to the president. I thought it was premature and precipitate. Others of less charitable intentions may seize on it to rationalise the unthinkable. One unpalatable consequence of this intervention is that it has radicalised the passion and position of the opposing protagonists and rendered them less amenable to seeking the middle ground.
But you would have to grant that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has, arguably, been the most successful leader of Nigeria and has an uncommon understanding of managing its stresses and strains.
He has a style that appears to have stood the test of time. And it is the deliberate cultivation of the assurance and confidence of the ‘outsider’ and giving him a sense of shared ownership-in the anticipation of his sense of insecurity; it is the conscious act of tilting the balance of the burden of bearing responsibility-in the apportionment of blames on yourself and your own. He strives to do this not only in deeds but more importantly in gestures and symbols. Obasanjo has not always done this with the requisite sensitivity and tact and has, on occasions, taken the implied logic of tough love to the dysfunctional extreme of self-hate and reverse discrimination.
Critics will likely take serious exception to the portrayal of this character trait as a virtue. They are more likely inclined to be agreeable if I invoke this as virtue in political models like Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. Or maybe I should just call it plain statecraft without any high ideal implied. Let me then make a quick detour to the exemplification of this trait in my political hero, Obama. By all objective standards, African-Americans require the special attention of any American president. And there was this expectation that — from the logic of who wears the shoes knows where it hurts — Obama was going to come out with a Marshall plan for the socio economic emancipation of the blacks. His response was that he would give special attention to improving the lot of all disadvantaged Americans and in that process the lot of his fellow black Americans would be bettered.
Before Obama was the world historic transcendental personae of Mandela- who bravely articulated and embraced the self-sacrifice and tough love demands of stabilising post-apartheid South Africa, the preparedness to bear the brunt of the burden of resolving a conflict in which he was more sinned against than sinning himself. It is the ascendant capacity to reach out in understanding and goodwill to the offending party regardless of the justness of his cause and the unjustness of his persecution. In the exposition of this statecraft he is what the philosophers call the ideal type, the perfection — towards which we strive but the practical world would prove incapable of attainment. It is the ultimate conflict resolution model which was recently given a new lease of life in project “forgiveness” being promoted and championed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Now back to Obasanjo whose controversial exertions in this regard had proved effective but had not endeared him to his Yoruba kith and kin. It is a behaviour that recognises the fact that a preponderant proportion of the political elite of a section of this country harbours a palpable sense of insecurity whenever it loses the political headship of the country. Not long after he assumed office as military head of state, General Olufemi Olutoye approached him and broached the subject of ethno-regional lopsidedness in the hierarchy of the military especially as it affects their common ethnic affiliation. Obasanjo immediately breached the intended confidentiality and Yoruba bond and invited his deputy, the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to join and listen in. Olutoye was subsequently retired and the rest as they say is history.
In the interim between his election and inauguration as president in 1999, the Afenifere (Yoruba) oligarchy invited him for a discussion on pan Yoruba interest — as it pertains to his impending presidency. Obasanjo accepted and went for the meeting in the company of the late Waziri Mohammed, Donald Duke and Chief Tony Anenih. It caught the Yoruba leaders off guard— as he intended. The leaders protested, in whispers, at the presence of the non-Yoruba associates. He countered with his own objection at what he called a design to ‘tribalise’ his presidency — to the hearing and no doubt approval of his entourage. You will all remember his open chastisement and rebuke of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) representative in Jos in the course of his intervention in the crisis precipitated by the deepening ethno-religious antagonism in Plateau State.
On his assumption of office in 1999, he deliberately ceded so much latitude and power to Vice-President Atiku Abubakar that it almost backfired and resulted in potential palace coup. This dysfunction aside, the initiative substantially worked in stabilising his administration and gave his deputy’s regional constituency a sense of co-ownership of the Obasanjo administration. The vacuum created by his estrangement from Atiku in the second term was filled by the deliberate promotion and exhibition of political appointees from the region as crown princes. There is no reason to believe that Jonathan has not similarly empowered his subordinates but you can always take the horse to the river, you cannot force it to drink. And this is one area the president is critically and dangerously exposed.
It may be that Vice-President Namadi Sambo is of different political constitution and temperament but he compares poorly with Atiku in terms of political utility. His lack of capacity to rise up to the political demands of this office seems to have cost his principal dearly. And the incapacity or unwillingness is not limited to the vice-president. Down the ladder we have similar occupiers of strategic positions in Jonathan’s government, who, for whatever reason, have failed to demonstrate sufficient sense of shared ownership.
In an ironic twist of fate, the only top functionary who initially demonstrated the wherewithal and willingness to serve this proxy — as he did during the 2012 subsidy withdrawal debate, is the suspended Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Even in the negativity of his departure you cannot fail to acknowledge his capacity to play whatever role he chooses to play — with pomp and bombast.
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