Remembering Jonathan

Change was nothing but a chimera sold by snake oil salesmen and saleswomen. We were warned, by those who feared, that embracing the chimera would be a disastrously wrong turn on our road to democratic progression. They had seen through the smokes-and-mirror agenda of the All Progressives Congress, APC. But their voices were drowned out by sonic boom of the propaganda machine wielded so effectively by the leading opposition party.

The APC’s rallying mantra was “Anybody but Jonathan”. That is President Goodluck Jonathan, a gentleman leader whose disposition wasn’t suited for the do-or-die politics that deforms our nascent democracy.

APC’s desperate ambition to take over power was fuelled by the naive complicity of a large proportion of the public. Most Nigerians, especially those who ought to have been more discerning, freely rented their brains to the snake oil merchants.

Muhammadu Buhari, who was selected to front the change, had previously lost three presidential elections solely because of the universal perception that he was most unsuitable for the nation’s highest office. His antecedent spoke loudly of a man who didn’t have the slightest acquaintance with what leadership entails.

We were repeatedly told that this glaring weakness didn’t matter. That he had had his moment of epiphany and shredded his reflexive inclination to strongman politics. A man whose only comfort zone was wielding power without accountability to no one.

The contest for the presidency was all but over when, of all people, Professor Wole Soyinka, a strident critic of Buhari whose voice commanded attention and evinced respect and genuine admiration, made a decisive intervention.

The Nobel laureate had been successfully enlisted by Buhari’s promoters to endorse him. In a most surprising U-turn, equivalent to eating his own vomit, he threw his considerable weight and impeccable credibility behind Buhari.

His reason for doing so was a study in unvarnished sophistry. A trait never hitherto associated with the man of letters and a sterling reputation for consistently advocating for real progressive politics.

He said that, having observed Buhari from a distance and reinforced by the assurances of the general’s close associates, he was persuaded that he might have become a changed man. And that whatever his residual reservations about Buhari, he was a more acceptable proposition than four more years of Jonathan. He hoped that, at least, Buhari would be like a reformed Mathew Kerekou.

Kerekou was a military dictator of Benin Republic for many years until he was forced out by a popular civil uprising. He later came back for a second stint as the country’s leader when he contested and won the presidential election.

Like Kerekou, Buhari won the 2015 presidential election – controversially. As all previous elections, the 2015 poll was flawed. How can Kano State’s 1.9 million votes in the presidential election, without a single voided ballot, be explained? Or the hundreds of thousands of the under-aged who lined up with their PVCs in the open to cast ballots?

Of course, all that didn’t matter. What mattered to those who believed in the ‘Buhari mission’ was that he would be president at last.

Buhari had made history as the first Nigerian politician to win a presidential election at his fourth attempt. But Jonathan made an even more significant history by conceding to Buhari even before the final tally of the votes was announced.

Jonathan had consistently said that he wasn’t desperate to win elections and nobody should rig any on his behalf. His most memorable words were: “My political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”

There were ample grounds for him to challenge the outcome. But he weighed the upheaval that would inevitably follow, if he refused to accept the result. And he decided otherwise. By doing so, he saved the country from bloodshed and left power in dignity and with his integrity intact. Today he is far better regarded, both home and abroad, than the man who succeeded him.

But there are many who don’t appreciate what he did, conceding power, after a dubious election, without a fight. Or doing the very minimal of launching a legal challenge to the election of his opponent. As he said, God elevated him from the pedestrian level to the glory of the mountaintop. Why would he tempt God by wanting to cling to power at the potential cost of thousands of innocent lives?

As president and commander-in-chief, he was privy to intelligence that elaborate plans had been made by some politicians to trigger violent protests all over the north if Buhari lost the election. The politicians were in locked steps with those whose sense of entitlement says they are born to rule – and always disastrously.

Today he is far better regarded, both home and abroad, than the man who succeeded him.

To them, Jonathan was an insufferable usurper of their presidential slot. After eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo and being out of the power loop where easy patronages could be accessed, they were hungry to be in charge again. The presidency of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo, was truncated by his death after only about three years in office.

Jonathan became president. Even though he was constitutionally entitled to get it as the Vice President, the north never forgave him for his good luck and charmed circumstances. And when he decided to run for his own term in 2011, further deepening the angst of his “ enemies”, he was inviting trouble. This he got in many forms.

The most egregious and disruptive was the Boko Haram terrorism that many prominent northerners openly supported. Some had threatened that they would make the country ungovernable under Jonathan’s leadership. Buhari himself had, in 2013, unequivocally said that, the fight against Boko Haram terrorists was a declaration of war on the north. Many northern leaders, not only the politicians, weaponised the limitless bestiality of the terrorists to demonize Jonathan and make his administration look bad and incapable of dealing with the problem they caused and nurtured in the first place.

But Jonathan was smarter than them. They were all dumbfounded when he accepted defeat. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t in the script they had prepared for the political war against him and his party, the PDP. He wasn’t Buhari who had threatened, three years prior to the election, that “if what happened in 2011 is allowed to happen again, … both the baboon and the dog will be soaked in blood.”

Buhari had always believed that he lost elections unfairly despite that he had near zero chance of winning because of his limited political reach. Yes, our elections are fundamentally flawed. But Buhari never had what it takes to win a national election until he was adopted by the APC, and got the endorsement of people like President Obasanjo and Wole Soyinka.

Today both of his two prominent promoters are gnashing their teeth in regrets. While Obasanjo has somehow admitted his mistake of ignoring Buhari’s damaging limitations to support him in 2015, Soyinka has been eerily silent. Apart from occasional feeble interventions, by his high standards, he has been largely anonymous. His usual vibrancy and truth telling to power have been missing.

On the other hand, Obasanjo has employed his most lethal political weapon – letters – to call out Buhari for his failures as president. He has written three to express his concern about the direction of the administration. Concern shared by millions of Nigerians who have now realized that the Buhari in Aso Rock is the one we had always known: severely limited in many critical ways, insular, provincial, and incompetent. And not the one dressed in borrowed, ill-fitting robes and labelled a born-again democrat – or reformed autocrat – by the snake oil merchants of APC.

It’s been five years since Jonathan left power. Nostalgia buffs of all kinds are remembering how things were never as bad as they are now. What we have today is not what we were promised. We were sold a lie, and the chickens have since come home to roost for us.

After four years of ‘change’ and one year of ‘next level’ of smokes and mirror, what we’ve got is mass misery.

And a country, drifting sadly and dangerously into unmitigated chaos.

As we reach the milestone of five inglorious years of Buhari’s lacklustre presidency, it’s important we remember Jonathan, the man who gracefully exited power and saved the country from bloodshed. In doing so, there are two critical points to ponder.

Jonathan was the most abused president in Nigeria. He was insulted, endlessly demonized and called all derogatory names under the sun. Yet nobody was ever arrested by the DSS or the police and charged with insulting the president. Criticizing the president then, no matter how toxic and unfair, was not criminalized. It was the same under Obasanjo. Now it’s a criminal offense to criticize Buhari. Even though there’s no law on which that’s hanging.

For Jonathan, elections were not wars that he and his party had to win at all costs. During his tenure, opposition parties won many off-season gubernatorial and legislative elections. And he was always the first to congratulate the winner irrespective of his parry. So when he lost in 2015, it was easy for him to accept the outcome and move on.

In the last five years, that has radically changed. All elections must now be won by the ruling parry. All the gains made from the incremental improvement of the electoral processes under Jonathan have been frittered away.

So Buhari and his party felt no qualms in presiding over the worst elections in Nigeria’s third stint at democratic governance. He gladly endorsed being blatantly rigged into a second term. He couldn’t run and win on his record, which was dismal and advertised his grand deception of change. There has been only one change: that which has made worse all the problems he inherited and put the country in a very precarious position.

President Barrack Obama once said that, because all elections have consequences, we must be careful how we vote and for whom we cast our ballot.

Buhari’s and his party’s ascension to power is a striking reminder of Obama’s timeless admonition that, a people’s emotional and irrational decision at the ballot box can and will lead their country to grief. It gets really bad when they don’t have the means of correcting their mistake.

APC is in power and Buhari is president. But he has never been there for us and will never be. He’s now a god in Aso Rock, who, we’re rudely reminded by his minders; we must feel privileged to see and hear from very occasionally. And when he does appear and speak, he’s as distant from us as ever.

It’s really poetic justice that we’ve got the president we deserve.

Remembering Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan
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