President Goodluck Jonathan’s self-admitted label as “the most criticised president in history” has since become his badge of identity. He wore that badge again at a recent CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, which continues to draw criticism from all quarters.What shocked me was how much poorer he performed that he did in his interview with the same reporter three years ago. In the recent interview, Jonathan’s diction was awful; his demeanour was pitiful; and his responses to a number of questions were off the mark or incomplete.
He did not show mature understanding of Boko Haram or how to contain it. He tacitly admitted to corruption allegations of “$7bn a year” by government officials. Asked about what he was doing to curb the theft of “400,000 barrels of oil a day”, Jonathan shifted the blame to the foreign refineries that purchase the stolen crude, instead of addressing the problem at the source. Neither Amanpour nor Nigerian watchers of the interview could reconcile Jonathan’s response to power “shortages and outages” with available facts on the ground. Jonathan even violated the rules of turn-taking by interrupting Amanpour in the middle of her questions, with “How”? “No, No.”
But then, it could have been worse. What if he gaffed as he is wont to do? What if he lost his thought in the middle of a sentence? What if he dosed off in the course of the interview? Come to think of it. Don’t we sometimes cringe when we watch Jonathan address the nation on the Nigerian Television Authority? Don’t we sometimes gnash our teeth whenever Jonathan speaks on his feet, even at a funeral service? Why would we expect him to be transformed on the world stage?
However, this should not detract from the real symbolism of the recent CNN interview. It signals the implosion of the Jonathan Presidency. If after three years in office, a president could not speak confidently on his feet about his country’s major problems and proffer concrete solutions, such a president can no longer improve, handler or no handler. If the Jonathan presidency is not already spent, then it is open to serious re-examination.
It is not an unexpected outcome, because the Jonathan candidacy was a political balloon inflated by powerful interests in the Peoples Democratic Party. These are people who know Jonathan. They know he will never make a good president. However, he is good enough to be manipulated, thus allowing them to plunder the nation’s resources as much as they could. But the balloon started deflating on April 16, 2011, when the most violent protests followed his election. Further deflation would follow his inauguration on May 29, 2011, when Boko Haram struck in four states and has never let off since then. In no time, everything else began to fall apart. Armed robbers, kidnappers and pirates went to work. Road accidents increased as the roadways worsened. Airplanes began to crash as a result of poor regulations and safety checks. Even floods covered more areas than ever before. Jonathan’s “bad” history was already in the making.
It is not the case that Jonathan did not occasionally try to do the right thing. For example, he confronted subsidy thieves at the behest of technocrats in his administration. He set up a panel to probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. He also set up committees to look into other problem areas. But nothing came of the reports and the full rewards of the subsidy removal have yet to be reaped. At every turn, Jonathan has been held back by the same powerful interests. Why is this so? Why does Jonathan appear as a weak leader? Why does he appear to lack a strong voice in his own administration?
Three factors stand out. First, the man was never a presidential material. Apart from fortuitous appearances on the corridors of power, there is nothing in his background that makes him a leader. Second, instead of being prepared for the Presidency, it was packaged for him. So, he never really had time to think through the onerous task of leadership; of what he would accomplish; and how he would accomplish it. Never mind his Declaration and Inauguration Speeches. They were prepared for him. The speeches were a string of promises, none of which has been fulfilled. Similarly, you could not pin him down to specifics on the campaign trail, as he appeared to stand for everything, from generating employment to generating power, from improving schools and hospitals to building roadways and railroads.Nothing much has changed since he assumed power, at least not much for the people to see, feel, or experience.Third, if you look closely at Jonathan’s prepared and campaign speeches, you would find neither an ideological core nor an underlying philosophy of governance. No successful leader is known to lack both.
The critical question now is: What to do? First, if Jonathan and his handlers do not want to bring further ridicule to this nation, they should observe two simple rules: One, Jonathan should give only prepared speeches on all occasions. Two, he should no longer grant interviews to foreign reporters.
Second, if Nigerians want to break the jinx of poor leadership and perpetual misrule, they should begin now to look for their next president. In doing so, they should rise above political party, region, ethnicity, religion, and personality. They should reject candidate imposition and rigged elections. They should look for a proven leader, who can talk on his feet at home and abroad.
Third, if we want this country to survive till 2015 and beyond, then decisive action is needed now. Civil protests should be mounted against the ongoing plundering of the nation’s resources; against mounting insecurity; against poor infrastructure; and against poor educational and health care facilities. At the same time, citizens must demand the diversification of the economy, especially now that the United States is looking more and more inwards for its own oil supply and as other nations join the oil production race.
Fourth, the protests should not be limited to the Federal Government alone. Citizens should protest poor governance at state and local government levels and challenge their governors and local government chairmen to perform. But citizens must also be willing to contribute their own quota by paying appropriate taxes. I will have more to say on this subject later.
For now, it is important that we do something other than keep hoping for the best. Otherwise, we may be inviting the worst scenario—this nation may fail.
– Niyi Akinnaso (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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