GOODLUCK Jonathan has always counted himself a lucky man. He became deputy governor, governor, vice president and president without ambition or prayer, without a campaign or mass appeal, without money or structure. He rode nature’s express. He floated on the wind of fate. He washed up ashore to a feast of kings. He was even better than the character in Jerzy Kosinski’s immortal novel Being There, about a fellow without quality. From tending a garden, he suddenly was, by popular acclaim, going to be the president of the United States. A nondescript soul morphed into the sole monk of the enclave.
Only the paths of royals are so oiled. So, Jonathan must thrill to the moves of Buhari loyalists who are plotting to make him a royal again. They want him to be president and succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. They want him to be not Nigeria’s royal, but theirs. They want to make him a president after the northern heart. It is not because they love Jonathan. It is because he can be their boy and buoy; their sweet heart and southern beau. In a headline report from ThisDay newspaper on October 4, they are saying that Jonathan is a good man and that qualifies him to be president again.
They said, “He handed power peacefully and nursed no bitterness against anyone and therefore will not be a threat to the interest of the north.” It is not only a machination of a hegemon, it is also naïve. When did Jonathan, in the eyes of this same group, become a saint? They are trying to canonise a man who, they told us, had supped with the devil. “Saints preserve us,” noted French writer Balzac. But how do you radicalise a devil into the holy one for Nigeria? Was he the one they campaigned against? The target of their adjectival invectives: They described him as clueless, incompetent, and corrupt?
They rode on his back to the presidency. He was the bogeyman and also the victim. Jonathan fell to them. The clueless man became humbled. I was there at the Eagle Square at the handover. Jonathan put up a brave and sunny front on the day he expected to begin his second act as president. He waved his hand feebly, smiled often and benignly, spoke less, but his body language was subdued. Melancholy draped him.
Buhari gave a hint of embrace. He said Jonathan had nothing to fear about him. He was right. Jonathan has not fallen under his radar, if his minions sometimes have. Recently, he has been a darling of the presidency. He became an ambassador of peace and democracy on its behalf and embarked on a shuttle diplomacy over a coup in a West African neighbour.
Maybe they see him as a pliant soul, a man they could cudgel about. Hence they are seeing him as a better person than an unknown figure who may erupt from the south to give them a headache. They may look at their tenure without pleasure and torpedo any effort by the north to reroute its way to power after another Jonathan term, since he will not be able to run the country for more than four years. He fulfilled a mandatory four-year term in his first coming.
The Buhari loyalists have been out of their depth over who succeeds him in 2023. The clamour has been it should come to the south. The north has had its share of eight years. They also have seen the futility in the mathematics about how many years the north has had the seat since 1999. It is a mischief of numbers. They also are not at peace with the appeal to the northeast. They are therefore in a geopolitical trap. They have to come south, and if they do it must be a person of their choice. Jonathan they think they know. So Jonathan should have it. They think by doing so, they can coalesce the Jonathan followers, the Azikiwes in the southeast, the militants and their kin in the south-south and the southwesterners who saw a shoeless hero.
The move is a patriarchal pandering to zoning. It is zoning without zoning. They want to put Jonathan there, so he may keep watch for them until they return. They want to come like a thief in the night. But we don’t have to watch and pray because we already know the day and the hour. We have seen the signs of the times, and we know that they want to make Jonathan the Judas of the south to betray his people. They want him to be the Uncle Tom of Nigerian politics. By making Jonathan their point man, they believe they are giving the devil his due. That is, if it’s the South’s turn, we will give you but on our terms.
There were two main objections to the Jonathan era, and they account for why he lost in 2015. One, he ran a corrupt government. Two, he ran the war on terror with a supine hand. Today, are the Buhari loyalists saying they want to hand over power to a man who did not run this country with clean hands? Are they saying they have given up on the war on corruption? Many have accused the administration of looking the other way on major issues of corruption. Is it the NDDC probe that seems to have gone into abeyance? Or the series of allegations against mainstays of the administration that now slide into memory? Even it was because of the Jonathan mess that Buhari noted that if we don’t kill corruption, it will kill us. Was it mere opportunistic rhetoric? Is it a surrender of the war on corruption? Are we saying Jonathan should continue where he left off in that department? So, did we vote him out in 2015 then?
The war on terror had initial hope in 2015, and even the administration’s glib spokesman said it would end that year. It is worse today, threatening to make a martyr of a dauntless governor. The chief of army staff has become a sort of buffoon in the fight, with his men dying and mocking him on social media and deserting the force. Billions of Naira flow into it but blood buckets gush out. Jonathan had famously said that Boko haram could be in his kitchen. We are not winning the battles, so the campaign now seems out of reach. To give the Otuoke man another chance is to imply we fell into a “one chance” in 2015 and 2019.
The root of this is to say that it is not about vision, but about power. So, if the Buhari loyalists see power as the only dividend of democracy, so why make such grandiose claims about ending terror and killing corruption? They may even be mistaken about Jonathan. Jonathan does not bow to godfathers. Remember the story of Obj, who turned against Jonathan and made a public show of tearing his PDP card. The Owu chief is too ashamed to queue for another card. He did not de-register from the party. He only tore it as an act of a geriatric impresario. Jonathan did it to Obj, who can he not do it to? If it works out for the Buharists, they will be surprised how the Otuoke man will execute an about-face. They say he has learned his lessons. They may be surprised what lessons he has learnt after he smacks them in the face.
Let who succeeds Buhari be about virtue, not clique; about democracy, not calculating roguery. We are not running a democracy in the guise of feudalism. It is consensus, not caste, that makes a modern state. Jonathan may try his luck if he wants. It is his right as a Nigerian. No one should foist him on us. Not least the same people who disgraced him. If they think Jonathan is the right man, let them not do it in the shadows. Let them come out openly and explain and also answer the questions I have posed here.
To try to foist Jonathan is to see the south and the country as a plaything for a hegemon’s ego. To see democracy as a ruse to use for narrow goals.
Succession goes through a long process. Let the country go through it, not by fiat but by agreement. If they want somebody from the south-south, they can work the process and there are quite a few who can do it from the region. But to stick to one man, and say it is their royal choice makes us feel used. As a writer said, “crowns tumble hourly.” Let no one take the people’s will for granted.
(Published in The Nation newspaper of 05/10/2020)