With a widespread feeling of being indecisive and sheer inability to satisfactorily confront the urgent challenges facing the nation, President Goodluck Jonathan is perceived as a burden on a country he has pledged to transform
“We will fight for JUSTICE!
We will fight for all Nigerians to have access to POWER!
We will fight for qualitative and competitive EDUCATION!
We will fight for HEALTH CARE REFORMS!
We will fight to create jobs for all Nigerians!
We will fight corruption!
We will fight to protect all citizens!
We will fight for your rights!”
The above words were not spoken by any aggrieved labour leader demanding reforms and good governance from the government. Indeed, they were golden words from President Goodluck Jonathan, part of a speech he delivered at the Eagle Square on September 18, 2010. That was when he declared his intention to govern Nigeria, at the presidential primaries of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The speech, cast in the mould of the late American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King’s famous address entitled, “I have a dream,” showed the President in one of his moments of brilliance. In it, the President declared:
“Let the word go out from this Eagle Square that Jonathan as President in 2011 will herald a new era of transformation of our country; an era that will end the agony of power shortage in our country.
“Let the word go out from here that I will be for the students, teachers and parents of Nigeria a President who will advance quality and competitive education. Let everyone in this country hear that I shall strive to the best of my ability to attain self-sufficiency in food production…
“Let all the kidnappers, criminal elements and miscreants that give us a bad name be ready for the fight that I shall give them. Let the ordinary Nigerian be assured that President Jonathan will have zero tolerance for corruption.”
And he specifically asked his party men and women and, indeed, Nigerians at the Eagle Square to “tell all those at home that as we celebrate our 50 years anniversary as a nation, Goodluck has come to transform Nigeria and I will never let you down.”
It was a speech well crafted apparently to put the President in sync with the mood of many Nigerians who wanted a more proactive President that would transform the nation and deliver the much-expected dividends of democracy.
Jonathan had succeeded the late President Umaru Yar’Adua first as acting president, then as President that year and was looking forward to a mandate from his party to contest the presidency and rule for four years on his own ticket. The speech was meant to evoke emotion and translate into support and votes within the party and from millions of Nigerians. It did because the President correctly read the minds of a majority of the people who gave him the votes, expecting him to fulfil all the promises contained in the speech and indeed several others.
But six months after a fresh mandate and 18 months in the saddle as president, some people are beginning to have second thoughts about whether the President actually meant all that he said or if he is properly equipped to walk the talk. As it is, the country appears to be drifting as the President has, as yet, been unable to put many things right. The economy is tottering and millions are unemployed; many factories are shutting down due mostly to epileptic power supply and inadequate infrastructure like good roads. Within the period Jonathan assumed power, the nation’s foreign reserves dropped to about $32.92 billion just as the banking sector is still reeling from avoidable crises.
The education, health and other social sectors are going through crisis while the judiciary, an institution hitherto insulated from the malaise of social ills, is not even spared by corruption, which is perhaps at its highest level so far. And talking about corruption, billions of naira have gone to the drains. A recent Wiki Leaks report named a former first lady and some other highly placed Nigerians, including military officers, as suspected oil thieves who are allegedly responsible for the disappearance of about 91 million barrels of oil annually from Nigeria. The country is said to be losing about $5 billion or N750 billion to non-metering of oil wells alone. Yet some politically exposed persons accused of corruption are still walking the streets as courts sit on their cases.
Perhaps the worst challenge being faced by the Jonathan administration is insecurity and violence. Boko Haram, a terrorist Islamic group, has wreaked much havoc in the North, particularly the North-east states of Borno, Bauchi and Yobe and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, where it has killed hundreds of innocent people. Between June and early this month alone, the group attacked the police headquarters, the United Nations building, both in Abuja, military and police barracks and banks as it made governance almost impossible in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the group has succeeded in curtailing the official activities of the presidency, literally boxing-in the President and his aides. The magazine learnt that the President almost avoided attending the recent Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, conference in Abuja following security reports that the venue of the event might come under the attack of Boko Haram.
Eagle Square, where the President delivered the aforesaid brilliant speech, is now unofficially declared as a no-go area. It should have hosted the President and celebrants on October 1, 2011, the nation’s 51st independence anniversary, but the presidency changed the venue to Aso Rock, the official residence of the President due to unfavourable security report. The President was learning from experience. On October 1 last year, when the nation clocked 50 years, bombs allegedly thrown by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, killed and wounded some people near the square.
Besides Boko Haram and MEND whose activities have subsided in recent times, ethnic and religious warlords have also been reigning almost unchallenged in Plateau, Kaduna and other areas in the central part of the country while armed robberies, kidnappings and rapes have featured more prominently in the southern states.
It is not that the people expected President Jonathan to tackle the challenges immediately but they expected that by now the President would have created a path leading to their solution. Much more worrisome is the belief in some quarters that the President, in spite of criticism, is yet to bestir himself to the reality that he should be an executive President constitutionally empowered to be the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, as the nation’s chief security officer, the number one Nigerian, the chief executive officer of the Nigerian federation, and the formal and informal symbol of the country’s strength and unity. To successfully discharge these functions, the President is expected to be firm, decisive and straightforward, applying carrot and sticks when he should, coordinating and driving his lieutenants towards achieving stated goals. The opinion in many quarters is that the President is not playing very well these roles and that his style is crippling his efficiency as a president, almost making him an additional fundamental burden on the nation.
“Jonathan’s style of leadership is rather slow and dull, which contrasts to what Nigerians are used to in the eight years of (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s regime,” said Francis Njoku, a legal practitioner who observed that Obasanjo was bold, decisive and courageous. “Obasanjo did not mind whose ox was gored. But from Yar’Adua to the present time, we are being treated to a different style of governance. In the case of Yar’Adua it is understandable because he was battling with life-threatening sickness, which eventually took his life. But in Jonathan we have a healthy and virile person, but he has not been decisive, he has not been able to put his foot down. The way his government is going, it seems as if they are not in a hurry and that Nigeria can afford to wait. His administration does not seem to have a defined mission. It just takes matter as it comes.”
Gabriel Olusanya, a professor and former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs shares Njoku’s opinion. To him, Jonathan is too relaxed in his approach to governance; sometimes when you expect him to take a prompt action, he would not do so. I think he needs to be much more proactive in dealing with affairs of state. Most times, he does more talking rather than action, which I think would not augur well for the transformation agenda he has been talking about.”
Apart from agreeing with Njoku and Olusanya, Tola Dayspring-Adenusi, a Lagos-based architect, sees Jonathan as an “accidental president” from whom much should not be expected. “All along, I knew he doesn’t have the capacity for that office… when you promote any person beyond the level of his efficiency, then the deficiencies begin to show,” Dayspring-Adenusi observed. He is particularly unhappy about the President’s “kid glove” approach to the Boko Haram insurgency. To him, the demands of Boko Haram, including making some states in the North Sharia-compliant, “border on treason,” adding that he did not expect an executive president to handle such with levity. Many people the magazine spoke with seem unhappy with Jonathan’s handling of religious and ethnic clashes and killings in the North, including Boko Haram and the Jos killings. Even politicians, particularly those in the opposition, have been very unsparing. They wonder why Jonathan could not deal with those behind the mayhem in spite of his disclosure that the government knew their identity.
“At the beginning when he ought to have been able to use the first set of suspects that were arrested to trace their actual sponsors, he was witch-hunting and pointing accusing fingers at innocent people. And then he has been boasting that government knows the sponsors that they were going to publish their names. If he is sure of what he’s saying, let him publish their names. Why is he afraid of the sponsors of such mayhem across the country if he’s sure of himself?” queried Godwin Erhahon, chairman, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Edo State. He blames the situation on cowardice on the part of Jonathan.
Even for Idada Ikponmwen, retired brigadier-general and chieftain of the President’s party in Edo State, “It is sad to say that even though we have a humble, humane and God-fearing President, we have not departed from the past. We have not seen any mark that we are making a marked departure from the past since the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.” According to him, Nigerians expect efficiency and that those who fail to do their jobs should be sanctioned. “If failure to address issues that need to be addressed squarely is weakness, then may be one can say his administration is weak. But that is not to say that we do not appreciate that Nigeria is a complex nation – complex in many respects,” he said. Ikponmwen still believes that Boko Haram insurgents, like the Niger Delta militants, must be brought to book. He said, his views apparently tempered by his allegiance to the President’s party, “There is no reason why those who are behind this carnage cannot be identified and brought to book. Failure to do that to these people, more than anything else, makes one feel that government is inefficient and weak. There is no question about that. And it is very sad that one has to say this when we have a President who has the knowledge, a humble background, the support of the masses to make the difference, if people are not seeing enough of the difference, there is bound to be concern.”
By this argument, the retired general expects Jonathan to bare his fangs when necessary in view of his education and the overwhelming mandate he got from the people. But Jonathan believes otherwise. He had told a bewildered nation that some Nigerians “will want the President of this country to be a lion or a tiger, someone with that kind of strength and force and agility to make things happen the way they think. Some others will want the President to operate like a military general, like the chief of army staff commanding the troops. Incidentally, I am not a lion, neither am I also a general. Some people will like the President to operate like a Biblical king, the all-powerful person. They want the President to operate that way, to have the character of a Goliath. Unfortunately, I am not one of those.” A general describes this as an “unpresidential statement” in view of the constitutional provisions that make Jonathan the Commander-In-Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces.
Expectedly, Reuben Abati, President Jonathan’s chief spokesman, dismissed all insinuations that his boss has been a weak and ineffective leader. To him, what people see as signs of weakness are actually indices of strength. He said the President is a truly patriotic leader “who is wholly committed to improving the quality of life of all Nigerians. He is a very thoughtful leader, much given to deep reflection and consideration of issues before deciding on the best possible course of action. The President is also a consensus-builder who is ever willing to consult the broadest possible range of stakeholders to determine the most acceptable way forward on issues of national interest.” Abati said the President’s remarks, that he is not a general in the army and that Nigerians should not expect him to behave as one, were misinterpreted by mischief-makers. “The President may not have served as a General in any army, but through the sacred mandate entrusted to him by the people of Nigeria, he is the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria today and fully capable of discharging the great responsibility of commanding all the armed services and security agencies in the country for the purpose of protecting lives, properties and the territorial integrity of Nigeria,” Abati explained. (See full interview)
Abati finds solace in the words of former deputy governor of Lagos State, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, who says Jonathan’s leadership style “is not any different from those of other leaders. The problem with Nigeria is that we are used to military style of which language is force. In democratic government, things work differently. The President is not expected to give orders like a military man and act irrationally even without ascertaining the cause of a problem. In a democratic setting, issues need to be understood, examined well before any action could be taken. There should also be consultations with people because the President is not ruling alone; he has to carry the people along. That is what is happening now.” Bucknor-Akerele, who is a PDP chieftain in Lagos, believes that the President is trying his best in solving the security challenge. “I believe that some people are creating this problem to discredit his administration.” Joe Igbokwe, Lagos State publicity secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, an opposition party to the President’s party, did not wear the toga of a biased politician in assessing the President. Rather, he decided to look at the issue as dispassionately and as decisively as he believes it should be. At the end of the day he appears to have the same view as the former deputy governor, and even more logical. Igbokwe insists that, “The security problem we have in the country with respect to Boko Haram is man-made, and President Jonathan is the target… If Buhari had won the April 2011 presidential elections, there would not have been this current security question in Nigeria. President GEJ (Goodluck Ebele Jonathan) is the target. They do not want him to succeed. The game plan is this: if we cannot stop him from completing the four-year term, let us stop him from contesting in 2015. It is all about 2015 and we know these things. It is cheap blackmail and the world knows about it.”
But some leaders in the North fault Igbokwe’s argument. They feel that what is happening in the North is a reflection of people’s anger and frustration as a result of poverty and neglect which they say Jonathan should immediately address. For instance, the CPC national secretary, Buba Galadima, said many people in the North feel marginalised and excluded from wealth and opportunity. “The people are sympathetic to certain principles and ideas,” he told the BBC recently, adding that, “if people feel they are being denied anything or an injustice is being meted out to them, then there is a likelihood that they will take the law into their own hands and help themselves.” But should the President be the one to answer for the poverty situation in the North, exclusive of the governors and other leaders in the area? Galadima even accuses the President of discrimination and unfair treatment of the Boko Haram “militants” as against their counterparts in the Niger Delta. He says that former militants from the Niger Delta were given generous financial packages from the government to keep them out of trouble. “Why didn’t the President crush the Niger Deltans? That’s a question a lot of people in this part of the country are asking,” he complained, adding that, “instead, they are being rewarded for the economic destruction they brought on Nigeria. Why can’t the same be true for Boko Haram?” While Galadima has indirectly disclosed the apparent cause of the crisis, his argument has underscored Ikponmwen’s insistence on bringing all suspected criminals, whether in the North or South to book. However, those who argue that the government should negotiate with the sect shy away from the fact that the challenge in that area is that the members are mostly unknown and leaders in the area are said to be not so willing to champion the negotiation. Then, they seem not to remember that a recent attempt by Obasanjo to chart the cause of negotiation ended in a tragedy.
From Galadima’s submission, it is important for Jonathan to understand the apparent slippery terrain in which he has found himself. In this area, Igbokwe draws a comparison between Jonathan’s style and that of former president Obasanjo, arguing that Obasanjo, alias OBJ, “is a general in the army and GEJ is a ‘bloody civilian’.... OBJ understands his constituency, the army and other security outfits; it may take GEJ some time to understand this. OBJ understands the dirty politics of Nigeria being a participant for close to 40 years. GEJ lacks the experience. Their style of leadership is completely at variance. OBJ would have taken wars to Borno State to checkmate the menace of Boko Haram and many innocent people would have died. But GEJ would not do that because of his background and training. He will not want to shed innocent blood.”
While Igbokwe’s perception of Jonathan is that of a dove and humanist in power, many others believe that the President is weak, fearing that this could cost the nation the transformation which he not only promised, but one which Nigerians earnestly desire. It is said that many of his aides, including ministers and governors, are exploiting his weakness and meekness to deceive and arm-twist him into taking some unpopular decisions. Insiders say that in most cases, the President has degenerated into appealing and appeasing people to nudge them into a consensus even on issues over which appropriate laws or agreements have been made. They cite the case of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, over which agreement had earlier been reached between him and state governors and a law already passed by the National Assembly. That the President is still allowing debate over it is said to be proof of his lack of firmness, and perhaps indecision.
Also, the President is said to have surrounded himself with men from his clan thus narrowing his purview on issues. It is believed that his choice of lieutenants, particularly in the area of security, betrays his ignorance about the armed forces and his emphasis on survival of self. It is said that a stronger President would have kicked out some of his security chiefs who have allegedly allowed insurgents to break into their rank and file such that intelligence reports get leaked to unpatriotic elements, as sources claimed happened in the Damaturu incident where Boko Haram extremists killed no fewer than 150 people.
For many Nigerians, the President must change tactics so as to move the nation forward. Olusanya says he must adopt a much more serious attitude to issues. “He has to be more assertive, particularly in coordinating the activities of his ministers. Even when they bring people from abroad, they keep talking about the same issues, infrastructure for instance, without doing much to change the situation. What we want to see is action…. Whether he is a general or not, he must find a way of coordinating his ministers, so that they can be more effective than they have been so far.” Ikponmwen agrees, saying that people expect decisive actions, not rhetoric. “This country requires more than appeals to make good progress. We must have the right people in the right jobs. We must have transgressions of the law dealt with properly. We must have issue of poverty addressed. We must have people who have displayed illegal wealth called to order,” the retired general insists.
But Enechi Onyia, an Enugu-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and former chieftain of the defunct Great Nigeria People’s Party, GNPP, strikes a pessimistic cord. To him, the challenge is not with Jonathan alone but the circumstances in which he found himself. “He inherited many crooks that are part and parcel of the PDP system. It will take him time to get his act together… I think Jonathan has good intentions about Nigeria, but the way and manner he came to power; the pattern of governance already established by his party; and the lack of interest for the common man are challenges that may mar his efforts,” Onyia stressed.
President Jonathan still has over three years to make amends, learn from the past and listen to wise counsel so as to achieve his transformation agenda. It is only then that his September 18, 2010 speech and the rhetoric therein can be meaningful. And then he can tell Nigerians that he delivered on his promise.
Additional reports by
ADEKUNBI ERO, ANAYOCHUKWU AGBO, RAYMOND MORDI, JULIANA EZEOKE and AYODEJI ADEYEMI.