Jonathan and the 2023 Shoe Lenders, By Olusegun Adeniyi

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President Goodluck Jonathan rode to power in 2011 on the strength of popular national support, particularly from younger voters. But barely eight months in office, then presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati had concluded that Jonathan
was being unfairly harangued by the media and certain stakeholders. He located these harsh criticisms in “the circumstances of President Jonathan’s emergence: how he was the underdog without shoes that nobody gave a chance, the man that everyone helped all the way to the throne, and now that he is there, he no longer remembers those who made him king!” In what he wrote as a rejoinder to the column by Chief Dele Momodu (Bob Dee), Abati concluded that President Jonathan “asks for one favour: the ‘shoe-givers’ should allow him to walk with the shoes and effectively implement his agenda for national transformation…”

That metaphor of the ‘shoe giver’ by Abati became the central thesis of my column, ‘The Borrowed Shoes’ a few days later, (on 9th February 2012) and I used Tunde Kelani’s film, ‘Agogo Eewo’ (The Gong of Taboo) to illustrate my point. ‘Agogo Eewo’ (where the allegory of a dancer and some shoe givers was deployed) is a sequel to ‘Saworoide’ which ended with the death of the military usurper, Lagata. In the movie, the process of installing a new king was hijacked by two corrupt but powerful chiefs within the community who imposed a prince they thought they would be able to manipulate. But the moment their man was enthroned, the falcon could no longer hear the falconer. The new king started by curtailing the excesses of his wife who wanted to exercise the powers of a ‘First Lady’. Having won the battle at the home front, the monarch began to deal with the rot within the community to the consternation of these corrupt chiefs who decided to fight back.

While still perplexed about how to handle the chiefs, the king had a dream in which a sage recounted to him the story of a poor but very good dancer who went for a dancing competition with borrowed shoes. Distracted by the ‘shoe-givers’, he decided to call their bluff by dancing barefooted. This show of defiance so impressed the crowd that people began to offer the dancer their shoes. The moral of the story, as I explained more than ten years ago, is that the king had a choice to make: either embrace self-serving ‘shoe givers’ or pitch tent with the people.

As I reflect on the exchange between Abati and Momodu as well as my own intervention at the time, recent events in the polity offer new perspectives on the allegory of the dancer and the shoe lenders. Last Friday, supporters of President Jonathan besieged his Abuja office, demanding that he declare interest in the 2023 presidential election. Responding to the agitators, Jonathan said: “The political process is ongoing; just watch out. The key role you must play is that Nigeria must get somebody that will carry young people along.” Barely 48 hours later, Abati tweeted: “Jonathan set to declare for 2023 presidency under APC.” And there has been no official denial of the report.

“In politics,” according to former American President, Franklin D Roosevelt, “nothing happens by accident. If it does, you can bet it was planned that way.” To that extent, we can conclude that the placard-carrying persuaders at Jonathan’s residence were acting on behalf of powerful ‘shoe givers’. But I see a problem here. Since 1999, Jonathan has been a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under which he served as deputy governor and governor in Bayelsa State as well as vice president and ultimately president of Nigeria. He was defeated in 2015 by the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari who flew the flag of the then main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) cobbled together by a number of strange bedfellows. That same party—where more than a dozen titans are currently jostling for the presidential ticket—is where we are told Jonathan wants to actualize his aspiration.

Let’s be clear, Jonathan has not officially thrown his hat into the ring. And all the talk about joining APC remains speculative. But should he eventually dance to the tune of the persuaders, here are five scenarios that could play out. One, Jonathan could join the APC, obtain a waiver to contest the presidential primaries and lose. That would be humiliating and not a few people would condemn the opportunism of such a failed attempt. Two, as improbable as it may seem, party undertakers could force the ‘consensus’ option of Jonathan as flagbearer on the APC. This would require a presidential sleight of hand of maximum proportion. Will Buhari do that? I doubt. Three, should that happen, and Jonathan becomes the presidential candidate of the ruling party, there is a possibility that he could lose the election. That would also result in great reputational damage for the former president. Four, Jonathan could contest as APC’s candidate and defeat whomever is fielded by the main opposition PDP. While some may argue that only the end justifies the means, I will come to this point shortly. Five, although I am not a lawyer, I am aware that there is also a legal angle to Jonathan’s aspiration that is quite unclear. Should he decide to join the presidential race, I foresee a situation in which some people may approach the court for the interpretation of Section 137 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (4th alteration) signed into law on 11th June 2018 by President Buhari. It states that “A person who was sworn-in to complete the term for which another person was elected as president, shall not be elected to such office for more than a single term.”

Meanwhile, I do not subscribe to the notion that Jonathan should not accept the APC offer on grounds that the ruling party has spent the past seven years demonizing him. For me, that is precisely what makes the ticket attractive. A combination of the way he conceded in 2015 even before the result was declared, his educational background and relatively young age have helped to raise the global profile of Jonathan. At home, many of his clever supporters are already selling the idea that the APC Mandarins have suddenly realized how difficult the job of running Nigeria is hence they are now begging Jonathan to come back and rescue the country from the mess they (APC members) have created. So, if I were a Jonathan handler and had the option of choosing for him the platform to return as president, the APC would be ideal. If only to permanently shut the mouths of his traducers!

This now brings me to the implications of the foregoing scenarios. In my presentation at the annual conference of the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) Lagos Chapter last October, I illustrated my point with the famous refrain by Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo. Whenever he calls me on phone as he regularly does: “Owo yin ni Nigeria de ku si bayi. Awa ti se ti wa” (Nigeria is now in the hands of your generation. Members of my generation have done our bit). But apparently not satisfied with telephone conversations, Adebanjo (who clocked 94 on 10th April) had been persistent in saying we needed to see. On 8th March this year, I heeded that invitation by going to Lagos and returning to Abuja immediately after our session that lasted about three hours. Quite naturally, our discussion centred on the past, present and future of Nigeria and we agreed to disagree on many issues, as they say. To put it mildly, the elder statesman can be quite rigid about his convictions. But I was not surprised when, after a meeting of socio-political groups from different parts of the country, Adebanjo said the Igbo people should produce the president of Nigeria in 2023 in the interest of equity, justice, and fairness. That was the same argument he canvassed at my session with him and it was an issue on which we both agreed. But Adebanjo also added something on Tuesday: “The unfortunate thing is that President Goodluck Jonathan allowed himself to be disgraced by mentioning the fact that he was considering whether to be president. For what?”

That should mean something to Jonathan’s handlers. As president, Jonathan enjoyed more support from the Southeast than any other part of the country. With Adebanjo and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark on the train of those who argue that in the interest of equity in the distribution of opportunities in a plural society such as ours it is the turn of the Southeast, how does the aspiration of Jonathan fit into this clamour? Even if, as Senator Orji Kalu has already concluded, the Southeast may not get the slot in 2023, a formal bid by Jonathan could be considered a plot in the efforts to scuttle it. Especially given reports of the cold calculation by a number of hegemons that the main attraction is the former president being the only southerner who is statute-barred from seeking a second term should he win.

As things stand, most southern politicians can see the sectional machination behind the sponsored lobby to have President Jonathan back. And it will be vehemently resisted by APC aspirants who include the sitting vice president. Other leading politicians who facilitated the formation of the APC will also view the co-opting of Jonathan as a grand betrayal by Buhari should it happen. They are likely to immediately gang up against the former president. In the aftermath, the party will implode and splinter. At the end, even if these political undertakers succeed in their plot, a Jonathan presidency under such a compromised arrangement will be seen as a gross betrayal and cultural exploitation by people of the Southeast who have always stood by him.

For sure, Jonathan has a right to contest the 2023 general election should he decide to. And it is also within his right to choose the political platform under which he believes he can actualize such a dream. But Jonathan is a former president who has risen beyond relying on the benevolence of ‘anonymous’ northern governors for his ambition. There are a few questions the former president may therefore need to ponder: Should he make himself vulnerable to the machination of shoe lenders who may be using him for the actualisation of their own nefarious agenda? Can he seek the presidency on his own terms? Will the rewards of such a political adventure outweigh the costs?

This now brings me back to dancing. It is a serious art form, a meaningful ritual, and a culturally significant pursuit which a ‘naughty’ legal luminary (now of blessed memory) once described as the ‘vertical expression of a horizontal desire’. Randy Laistis, a professor of English at Goodwin University in Connecticut, United States, reminds us in his essay, ‘What do shoes do?’ that footwear can sometimes stand as a symbol of identity or as a synecdoche of the wearer. “To talk about being in someone’s shoes or to think about what it’s like to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, even to imagine that you have some big shoes to fill, is to contemplate stepping into a different identity – as if the shoes, not the person wearing them, determines who you are.”

To extrapolate, it can be dangerous to build a political career or nurture a serious ambition on the benevolence of shoe lenders. They do not always mean well, as we saw in ‘Agogo Eewo’ and as Abati also alluded in his 2012 intervention. Therefore, President Jonathan should carefully examine the motives of those who are trying so hard to lend him their shoes for the 2023 general election. I sincerely do not believe it is in his interest to dance to their tune!

▪︎ The Passage of Alaafin

Following last Friday’s passage of the 44th Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi Alowolodu III, there have been several tributes on the life and times of the deceased monarch. The Premium Times obituary by Taiwo-Hassan Adebayo is by far the best of them all. “He was 83 and had ruled for nearly 52 years, the longest of any Alaafin in modern history. He thrived against adversities that marked his way from childhood, survived storms, and championed the culture and tradition of the Yoruba,” Adebayo wrote. “He was a mortal. He fought battles, most times conquering. He was intentionally tough and brutal, apparently due to his experience, which shaped his insecurities and determination to prevent the injustice and difficulties his father suffered from befallen him. But many of his harshest critics will agree he delivered on his original role as a traditional ruler and custodian of the culture and tradition of his people.”

May God comfort the family Oba Adeyemi left behind and may He grant him eternal rest.

▪︎ On Fidelity Bank

In my column last week, I referenced a viral video of a live band playing outside the premises of Fidelity Bank, with the claim by a customer that the bank failed to reverse a failed transaction. I have been informed that the bank does not owe the man in question and the video was a picketing exercise that had nothing to do with his claim.

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com

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