How President Jonathan Unhorsed Himself, By Prosper Ahworegba
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the first Nigerian President to lose an election. It is a strange phenomenon in this clime given the fact that the system has always assisted an incumbent to win. This is referred to as
Much has been written on Jonathan’s failure to clinch a second term in office and much more will be written, in days, months and years to come. And it will be a subject of research and dissertation for students, scholars and researchers from Nigeria and across the world.
Since I became literate and analytically aware of my environment, I have been a keen presidential ‘watcher’: taking notes of their actions and inaction,
and the successes or failures of their regimes. On Jonathan, I can unequivocally conclude that he
I came to this conclusion given the power of the office of the President of Nigeria which he didn’t deploy to best use, unlike Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States of America who was in a similar situation.
Truman was the Vice President to
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was in office as Vice President for only 82 days before Roosevelt died. So
the Presidency was his on a platter for the first four years. Roosevelt hardly contacted him, even to inform him of major decisions. It is on record that the President and Vice President met alone together only twice during their 82 days in office. Truman was not in the know that the atomic bomb was developed and ready for use, not until the death of Roosevelt. He was treated with disdain as a Vice President, but once sworn in as President, Truman asserted himself and popularized the phrase, “the buck now stops here”, which he displayed on his desk. Never ashamed of his home state, the reverse side of the sign read, “I am from Missouri”. He was treated with disdain perhaps because of his lowly background – he grew up in a farm, didn’t earn a college degree, had very poor eyesight, he was a haberdasher, etc. He got on the ticket as a running mate to Roosevelt through what was dubbed “the second Missouri compromise”. Truman took far-reaching decisions in office and won a reelection that he was widely expected to lose.
There is no doubting the fact that Jonathan who had some disadvantages including being from a minority ethnic nationality, is meek. But meekness is not one
of the qualities of great leaders. It has never been. Even in the bible, Moses who was described as the meekest man in the world of his day, didn’t get to enter the promised land as the opportunity eluded him.
A cabal capitalized on Jonathan’s meekness (which some mistakenly dub humility) and was almost denied his constitutional right of acting President when his boss,
President Yar’Adua became incapacitated due to ill-health. It took protests by Civil Society Organizations to stir the Senate to invoke the doctrine of necessity
before he became the acting President. Unlike Truman on whose desk the buck stopped when he was sworn in, President Jonathan didn’t assert the authority of the office. He continued as if he was still the Vice President and made one grave error after another, including inadvertently ceding the great powers of his office to a kitchen cabinet including but
not limited to Patience Jonathan, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Diezani Allison Madueke, who carried on
as if there was no president.
I discuss vide infra, some of the reasons I believe contributed to do Jonathan in, and eventually
unhorsed him. As the President, the buck stops on his table. Consequently, he takes responsibility for the failure of his appointees and government.
1. Poor media team: Politics is all about good strategies and effective communication. The president’s media team, with the air of invincibility built around their principal by political jobbers who proclaimed that PDP will rule for 60 years, set about cavorting and carousing. They left the media space to the well-oiled APC media machine that successfully hung the tags, “Clueless President”, “Kindergarten President”, etc, on Jonathan. These phrases which almost became the President’s middle name because of his failed media team, prepared the ground for his failure.
The media team grossly underrated the opposition and believed that it was a matter of time before APC disintegrated. For example, the ebullient Dr. Doyin
Okupe averred that APC would disintegrate within a year, failing which he should be called a bastard.
With such mindset, it is no surprise that the President’s media team were unprepared for the missiles of the more efficient and articulate APC media machine. To Dr. Okupe and his colleagues in the President’s media team, there was no opposition. In an article entitled, “Why the President must sack his media team”, mid last year, I adduced reasons why all members of the team should be disengaged immediately, if the President is to survive the impending hurricane.
If the tragic error of retaining the ineffective and ineffectual media team that was more concerned about their pockets than the President’s re-election is pardonable, the President
committed political harakiri by the appointment of a renowned loudmouth with corruption cases to answer as Head of Media of his campaign. By ‘leaving the ball and going for the legs of the opponents’, the loudmouth succeeded in squandering the little goodwill the President had left.
2. Display of Gross Insensitivity: The President displayed gross insensitivity severally, but two
instances stand out and will suffice for the purpose of this essay. First was his appearance in a political event in Kano, about 24 hours after the Nyanya bomb blast that killed over 100 of his compatriots. In the rally, he danced to a local variety of music called Skelewu. The Guardian, renowned for its fierce independence, in a scathing editorial, aptly captioned “The Insensitivity in Kano”, lampooned the President for the indiscretion. And the effective APC media team latched onto this and made a mincemeat of the President. The damage done by that act of
indiscretion, was never totally fixed before the election.
The other act of gross insensitivity of President Jonathan was the disconnect with the citizenry when
he attended the lavish wedding of his niece few days after the Baga massacre that claimed about 2000 lives. The President was quick to condole with the President and people of France over the Charlie Hebdo killings whereas the Baga massacre wasn’t officially mentioned until several days after. Even at that, the number of casualties was downplayed.
3. Out-shining the boss: The first law of power, according to Robert Greene’s best seller, “The 48 Laws of Power”, is ‘never out-shine the boss’. Flouting the laws of power have grave consequences.
It is apparent even to the unwary that President Jonathan was ‘made’ by former President Obasanjo. But no sooner had the President settled in office than he alienated former President Obasanjo, his boss and benefactor. Jonathan’s new ‘god-fathers’ like Chief Edwin Clark were allowed free reign, including relentlessly abusing and threatening his erstwhile boss, without reining them in. The soured relationship with former President Obasanjo was one of the major causes of the downfall of Jonathan, because the former became one of the latter’s most vicious critics. President Obasanjo is the only Nigerian who has ruled the country for 11 years. He is respected within and outside the shores of Nigeria. His presence and position on issues cannot be
discountenanced or wished away. His virulent criticism of Jonathan, documented in an 18-page letter
was an uncommon ballistic missile that did damage like no other. And Jonathan, in a bid to get even,
spoke of Obasanjo as an elder statesman behaving like a motor park tout. This statement was
considered by many as uncouth and ungracious of a President.
4. Uncontrollable wife: Jonathan’s problems were compounded by his wife who was too visible and too powerful. Stories had it how State Governor’s who wanted favors from the Presidency were made to wait for hours on end for her. This didn’t go down well with so many of the governors. They bidded their time to take their pound of flesh.
Additionally, the ‘problem’ the President had with Amaechi that snowballed and left the governor with no option than to seek solace outside of the PDP, was attributable to the President’s wife meddling in the State’s affairs. The many gaffes of the President’s wife during the campaigns, including the infamous instruction to ‘stone anyone chanting change’ and “we nor be like them, we nor dey born children throway’ nailed the coffin of the president’s chances at the polls.
Knowing her cerebral limitations and her uncommon propensity for gaffes which the Nigerian public
mercilessly parodies, it remains a matter of conjecture why the President didn’t rein her in.
5. Insecurity: The inability of the President to curtail the advance of Boko Haram along with the conflicting signals from the military, also served to deny the
President chances of re-election. This was compounded by the massacre of students in Buni
Yadi and the Chibok school girls kidnap. The President’s failure to speak on an issue as grave as
the kidnap of over 219 school girls until some two weeks after, made him look indifferent, detached,
insensitive and very uncaring.
6. Corruption: Corruption was a major campaign issue by the opposition because the government of Jonathan appeared to pay lip service to curbing it.
Nigerians know that corruption remains the biggest social issue. The fuel subsidy scam, pension scam, the alleged missing $20 billion, the cash seizure in South Africa, the alleged N10 billion spent on aircraft charter in a year by the Petroleum Minister (who
refused to appear before the National Assembly with tacit support of the Presidency), Oduah-gate, etc, without serious efforts at prosecuting those involved, in the midst of grinding poverty being experienced by a majority of Nigerians, made it look like it was official policy of the Jonathan’s government to promote corruption.
In addition, DSP Alamaseigha’s presidential pardon is unpardonable. To rub it in, Alamaseigha was embedded in the Presidential Villa as a ‘live-in godfather’ and very prominent member of his kitchen cabinet.
And to make matters worse in the sphere of corruption, the President introduced sophistry into the definition of stealing and corruption, with his infamous “stealing is not corruption”. Add this to his, ‘I don’t give a damn’, when asked why he wouldn’t
declare his assets, the electorate became convinced that he was incapable of tackling corruption.
7. Employment Scam: Unemployment is a major social problem. As a result, many government institutions and agencies capitalize on the desperation of job seekers
to fleece them. While other countries give generous incentives to those aspiring to join the military, paramilitary and civil service, the reverse is the case in Nigeria – they are made to pay exorbitant amounts for the recruitment forms. The immigration service, supervised by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Abba Moro, fleeced some 720,000 job applicants of N1,000 each amounting to about N720m and herded them into stadiums in the scorching sun to write aptitude tests. Some 20 of the job seekers were killed due to exhaustion and
This is a scandal that could force entire governments in developed countries to resign. Yet, the President didn’t deem it fit to fire the Minister who superintended the scandal. Abba Moro is still serving as the Minister of Internal Affairs. Indeed, Abba Moro was honored during the last national awards.
8. The untouchables: The government of Dr. Jonathan
had some untouchables which included the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Finance Minister to whom he outsourced the economy as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the Minister of Internal Affairs, etc. The Soludo seminal letters in the twilight of the campaign brought to the fore the unsuitability of the Finance Minister for the position. Soludo had averred that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s economics was rusty since she served in the
administration department all her years at the world bank. That the economic successes they recorded
under the Obasanjo regime were largely due to team work.
Under Okonjo-Iweala as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the Nigerian economy was rebased and it became the biggest in Africa. Yet this hasn’t translated to more jobs for the teeming unemployed. The Naira has been on a free fall.
9. Poor Management of Squabbles: The President showed poor management of petty party squabbles and allowed them to fester and escalate to his eternal
regret. The Amaechi episode was poorly managed. So also was the squabble that led to the decamping of some governors and other notables to form the
new PDP, enroute APC. Had he managed these squabbles properly, the story could have been different today.
10. Choice of Vice President: Jonathan’s choice of his Vice/running mate, is anything but excellent. A running mate complements the candidate as he is supposed to be vibrant, charismatic, articulate and a
political heavy weight who can imbue hope and rouse the electorate to a frenzy. Namadi Sambo has proven to be a political paper weight. That a Vice President couldn’t sway voters to make a major impact for his party in his ward in Kaduna in all elections since he became Vice
President, speaks volumes on his choice and retention.
Finally, Max Siollun wrote, “Buhari’s victory is historic
and unprecedented. However, Jonathan was responsible almost as much as Buhari was.” I agree
With the benefit of hindsight, it could be deduced that some of the actions of Jonathan were deliberate and calculated to lose the elections. If not, why would the President confess in an interview after the election that he has been in a cage for the past 16 years?
A cage is not a place of comfort. It is an enclosure made of bars, mesh or wires and it is used to confine or contain something or someone. Granted he spoke metaphorically, but the import of that statement is not lost in discerning Nigerians. The freedom of a man in a cage is severely curtailed. And knowing that the love of freedom is innate, no one would want to remain in a cage. Consequently, a caged man escapes at the slightest opportunity.
With this in mind, don’t think me ungracious if I aver that Jonathan could have voted for his opponent to free himself from the ‘cage’. A forensic examination of the votes from Otuoke could be revealing.
This post-mortem exercise is timely to enable the incoming government of Gen Muhammadu Buhari avoid some of the pitfalls that made Jonathan so unpopular, and eventually brought him down,
four years after he had an overwhelming pan-Nigerian mandate,
The seed for Jonathan’s failure was sown in 2011 when the opposition wore him the tags of ‘cluelessness’ and ‘kindergarten president’; tags that his media team miserably failed to take down.
Therefore, campaigns for the next elections should begin in earnest on May 29, 2015 through the quality of Buhari’s ministers and other political appointees.
Appointing ministers without baggage – real or imagined – will authenticate the change that was chanted during the campaign. Secondly, the media unit of the
governing party and the President’s image makers
should not go to sleep in the vain hope that the erstwhile behemoth is dead. Far from it. It was merely scorched. They should continuously put the public and government on the same page.
Jonathan’s media men and his party waited until the
electioneering period before telling of the accomplishments of the President. Their effort was too little and too late. Up until today, not many Nigerians are aware of the revolution that took place in the agricultural sector under President Jonathan, uncommon accomplishments that the ever critical APC has come to acknowledge, albeit after the
Dr. Prosper Ahworegba
Physician, Healthcare Consultant, Public Affairs Analyst and Political Strategist is the Author of “The Nigerian 100: The Most Influential Nigerians Of All Time”.