Don’t Write Off Jonathan Yet By Olu Obafemi and Banji Ojewale
But many of his critics would have to be advised to be cautious because it would seem that Mr. President is not yet all over with.
Grave errors have been made either inadvertently or ill-advisedly, but as the bubble nears its limit, Mr. President seems to have caught the bug of the so-called “structural solution” fever to Nigeria’s problems. He has called for a national conference just when it would appear that he was sinking. Whether that was being smart or being wise is already a raging debate; however, what is not in question is that he has astonished everybody.
Those who have already been dreaming of replacing Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party in Aso Rock come 2015 are furious that Jonathan appears to have handled the carpet under them, and is bent on pulling it. For, if he pulls through with the conference, their dreams would evaporate. So Jonathan and the conference must be stalled. The danger here is, if this is not a political gimmick, the All Progressives Congress that has mounted the most blistering criticism on Jonathan’s intention in convening the conference will be shooting itself in the groin. That is why there is a need for caution.
President Jonathan is in the classic tradition of Nigeria’s heads of state since independence. None of them nursed the ambition to become the country’s leader in the sense of understanding its manifold problems and then articulating plans to address them. They had leadership responsibility given to them without their preparing for it. As for the soldiers, they were outsiders who stole what they did not understand and made a thorough-going nonsense of it, totally complicating a country that was already problematic. So, up until when he stunned everybody by making a 360 degrees turn to convoke a national conference, the APC especially saw him as a “kindergarten in the Presidency”. Others were pretty much angry that Jonathan was “disappointing and indecisive”, as he appeared to lack the leadership strength to arrest the drift of the country to the edge of the abyss.
This patent leadership inadequacy had prepared the grounds for a probable change, which the opposition had successfully, or so it seemed, prepared itself to exploit come 2015. But all of a sudden, the groundswell of disappointment in Jonathan was significantly reversed by the President’s choice to divert into the road of a national conference. The “Nigerian spirit” stirred in pleasant surprise and became favourably disposed to give Jonathan a chance. Besides, his choice of the personality to chair the committee to put together the modality for the conference tended to suggest that Mr. President was bent on doing something different from what past leaders had attempted and failed with; he appointed a chieftain of the most determined and consistent advocates of a Sovereign NationalConference – Afenifere.
That was a masterstroke. Even if the critics would argue that it did not guarantee success, it upset the apple cart. It probably is the reason the APC is so uncomfortable for it provided a dreaded lifeline that could resuscitate Afenifere and position the group in strength to dampen the fortunes of the party in the South-West. The party’s panic is understandable but its decision to boycott the conference is flawed because it holds out the possibility that the party has acted beneath the national interest. Boycotting a conference that is fundamental to the corporate existence of Nigeria, and for which all constituent nationalities have agreed is necessary, and have also expressed willingness to participate in, is poor leadership judgment on the part of the APC.
Nigeria is in trouble and we are all aware of this. The best that we can do at this juncture in our history is to go the extra mile together to find a solution to our problems and challenges. And if the same President that many of us thought didn’t have what it takes to lead us home now makes a 360 degrees U-turn to say, “Let’s talk about the future”, that on its own deserves our attention. For us in the Leadership Search Initiative, this change of heart by President Jonathan isn’t coming from the blues. That “something” which has to give for Nigeria to return on track for national salvation appears to be unfolding in ways that would seem to confound our credulity. This is not the time to be incredulous or selfish or partisan. We are in a pragmatic situation that calls for deep thinking and selfless leadership judgment which unfortunately has not, in this particular instance, been demonstrated by the APC.
The party needs to review its decision to boycott the national conference. It is in its own interest as much as it is in our collective interest. President Jonathan has pulled a surprise no doubt about that; but to denigrate his purpose as a political diversion or a ruse to prolong his tenure smacks of unpresidential judgment and would appear to detract from the depth of understanding by the APC of the political dynamics at play in the country now.
Even if Jonathan had exhibited weakness before now, that he could summon the courage to decide for the kind of dialogue that will address the fundamental issues at the heart of Nigeria’s failure is in itself a miracle. To move another bold step forward and include the National Assembly in the process of this dialogue makes this conference different from Sani Abacha’s and Olusegun Obasanjo’s. It is rather premature to be suspicious of the National Assembly’s involvement, because there is no way that the parliament will overrule what the peoples of Nigeria have decided to agree upon. These, we believe are the considerations that should inform participation.
It is also the reason we shouldn’t just yet write off President Jonathan. He may appear weak, indecisive, perhaps even slow; maybe unpresidential so far. But if he pulls through with this conference, he would become the greatest hero of Nigeria in over half a century since the country’s independence.
Anybody who is working or planning to work against this conference should think again. Its success has the capacity to end the political career of any leader that stands in the way. Also, if Jonathan causes its own failure, it will be a tragic end for his political career.
•Obafemi and Ojewale are promoters of Leadership Search Initiative in Lagos
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