December 25, 2013 | Opinion/Feature
THE GRAND AMBUSH: CHRONICLES OF PRESIDENT JONATHAN'S TRIBULATIONS
One thing is certain about the Jonathan Presidency. It will go down in history as the most attacked presidency in our democratic history - whether rightly or wrongly, history shall tell. His ascension to power as acting President was very turbulent, even when the constitution was clear as to what should be done. His election was fraught with many battles as well. There was the gang up by a group of Northern elders who worked to ensure that only a candidate from the North emerges President. They harmonized their ambitions and came up with a consensus candidate. They failed! There was also the post election violence where lots of innocents were massacred unjustly in protest against Goodluck's victory; not minding that the election was adjudged free and fair by both local and international observers. Within this period, Boko Haram got international reputation, unleashing countless mayhem. Bombs blasted with reckless abandon, limbs blown apart, churches and mosques torched, charred bodies littering the streets. The Goodluck Jonathan presidency has met several 'landmines'; most of which seemed to have been deliberately kept by those who do not even want him to settle into his job, let alone succeed. Thus far, the exploded 'mines' are so many that it's pretty difficult to track every single one of them, but in this article, I shall attempt to chronicle a few. Dateline 6th June, 2011: In strong defiance against party rules, zoning structure and corporate preferences, Tambuwal emerged as the 7th Speaker of the House of Representatives. Some members of the ruling PDP had formed an alliance with opposition parties, and so Speaker Tambuwal was elected without the blessings of the Presidency and the leadership structure of the party. This was a political ambush ab initio. It was a clear affront to the President and the leadership of the party. The 'political mine' exploded right in their face. For political observers, this was the first major sign that the Jonathan Presidency was in for a tough sail. Time has proved them right, as Tambuwal has been over time embroiled in a steamy romance with the opposition; a relationship that seems to have birth several children out of 'political wedlock'. While the reason for this rebellion is debatable, however, one thing seems common in all the analyses - regional politics and other clandestine and interloping interests were at play. Certain PDP politicians, especially of core northern extraction, were not happy that President Jonathan unbalanced the zoning equation; not minding the fact that President Jonathan's initial emergence was more of a force majeure than conscious political maneuver. However, the truth is, if President Jonathan's emergence unbalanced the equation (albeit unintentionally), Speaker Tambuwal's emergence was a product of conscious strategy that clearly jettisoned whatever was left of zoning. It left a picture of a President with no control over of his party's congressmen. On the surface of it, this looked like victory for democracy, or so they sold it to the public; however, this was the first real political ambush on the President, and it laid the foundation for the stormy sail that was to come. Next stop, composition of the federal cabinet. If the President was in doubt of the opposing forces within his party following Tambuwal's emergence, I'm sure this exercise would have made things clearer to him. President Jonathan had gone out to get certain technocrats who were not known politicians, to occupy key positions in his cabinet. Finance, Power, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Communication Technology, etc where some of the ministry that looked to be given to purely technocrats with little or no political standing. This annoyed some of the top brass of the status quo benefitting politicians. Appointing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and increasing her powers, was met with severally criticisms from within the President's party. Her world-class qualifications and reputation didn't count for them. Her new role as the Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy means she was firmly rooted as the head of the fiscal arm of government, and this was bad news for certain politicians. For some, she was too strict for their liking and might not do their bidding. For others, they felt this might be a slight on former President Obasanjo, considering how his relationship with the Finance Minister ended during his regime. They did all they could (something they are still doing) to undermine her world-class profile. President Jonathan held his ground and nominated her, but this left several 'strong' politicians fuming. President Jonathan also nominated a politically unknown but professionally astute Akinwumi Adesina as the Minister for Agriculture. They fumed! How could he? That ministry has been exclusively for Northerners, and so it must be. To make matters worse, he is not even a politician and has no known history of compromise. Oh no, what becomes of the fertilizer racketeering? Anyway, President Jonathan held his ground and appointed this fine professional. Today, he is the 'Golden Boy' of this administration, and the results are there for all to see. But, wait a minute; do these folks care about results? Definitely, No! Money, regional politics all come ahead of results and performance on their scale. Jonathan was not done yet in stepping on toes. The nomination of Olusegun Aganga angered the core politicians as well. They argued that President Jonathan should look within the party and he'll see professionals since he seemed obsessed with technocrats. There was even a heated debate as to which state he comes from, just to thwart his nomination - Edo? Lagos? Never mind, Nigerians understand. Prof. Barth Nnaji's nomination was also met with stiff opposition. He was not politically known, and his time as a Special adviser to the President, he clearly showed his desire to turn around the power sector through privatization. This, we all know was bad news for certain elements and so they fought his nomination as a substantive minister. Need I mention the appointment of the late Gen. Andrew Azazi as NSA at the time? Yes, NSA - that office that is an exclusive preserve of a section of the country - so they say/think/want. Truth is, President Jonathan made appointments that were patriotic and professionally correct, but politically incorrect (given our dirty politics), and so certain powerful politicians teamed up and fought back. That fight, is still raging on. These were powerful offices with huge budget sizes, and the politicians expected to lord over such ministries and oil their political machinery as usual. This was not possible with the technocrats, as all of them still had a strong career ahead of them. In all fairness, the technocrats in the cabinet have done very well, professionally. However, same cannot be said of their contributions politically. So, should a President jettison his oath of office to satisfy a few politicians just to have his calm? Should he sacrifice performance for political expediency? Should the President trade-off the people for the politicians? You see why the landmines will keep exploding? The president's policies have also contributed to his turbulence. While I could name several of such controversial (but not necessarily negative) policies of the GEJ administration, I will constrain myself to just three for lack of space and time. President Jonathan, after consulting with the governors and industry stakeholders decided to withdraw fuel subsidy. This was greeted with a loud uproar by the masses, and rightly so. They felt they were suffocating under the yoke of failed governance, lack of infrastructure and a complete absence of social security over the years and so were not ready to embrace any policy that will make them pay more for anything, no matter the academic advantages outlined on paper. After series of protests, the government reconsidered their decision and made a partial reduction rather than the complete withdrawal. However, the truth is, while the masses were making genuine protests against this policy, there was a small but powerful group that was benefitting from this huge subsidy drain, and who did everything to scuttle this proposed policy. Theirs was not for concern for the masses, but for personal gains at the expense of the masses. They did everything possible to unsettle the government, just so they can continue in their act. This powerful cabal infiltrated every strata - the media, unsuspecting masses, etc; stirred up all manner of controversies, just so this policy will fail. Today, through the public hearings, we all know the magnitude of fraud perpetuated by these people. The second is the transformation going on in the agriculture sector. The overhaul of the fertilizer distribution and the introduction of the electronic wallet scheme was greeted with protests. Even before it started, certain persons who have over the years benefitted immensely (at the detriment of the poor farmers) from the fertilizer racketeering, did all they could to discredit this scheme. This group of persons, mainly from a section of the country, had engaged in racketeering of the product, at the expense of their own people, and making billions off the scheme. They would not go down without a fight. They manipulated unsuspecting masses, they modulated the media. Today, these reforms in the sector are internationally acclaimed as successful; however, this has left a privileged but strong cartel out of business. They have been fighting and will continue to fight. Lastly, the privatization of the power sector had its fair share of turbulence. While the average Nigerian may not understand the battles fought to get this done, this remains one of President Jonathan's biggest achievements. There were those who benefitted from the current epileptic power situation. There were others who saw power as the last frontier - they felt if President Jonathan succeeded with the privatization and over time solve the power problem, it would be difficult to unseat him. Together they fought every move made by government to privatize the sector. They sponsored newspaper adverts, rallied willing tools in the organized labour, and tried to dampen the whole process to make it lose public goodwill. Prof. Barth Nnaji was a casualty of this (even though I personally believe he should have known the battle he faced, and be more careful). Today, the Jonathan administration has successfully crossed that huddle; power is now in the hands of the organized private sector. I am hopeful, in the coming years, clear improvements will be felt in every home. Still wondering how the President picked up so many enemies? Date line, 31st August 2013. A group led by former vice President Atiku Abubakar and seven other governors, most of which are loyal to former President Obasanjo, stormed out of their party's (PDP) National Convention, apparently sensing that the election will not go in the way of their candidates. The group which was later known as New PDP, held a press conference where they announced what they referred to as the new leadership of the party with Baraje as the Chairman. The G7 and Baraje barraged the Jonathan presidency with lots of invectives, throwing in every available spanner in the wheel. While the rest of Jonathan's battles were waged by masked men with clandestine motives, this was an open confrontation of the Presidency and the leadership of the party. The secret moves against President Jonathan had precipitated to the open; the men behind it had taken off their masks. To cut the long story short, following unfavourable court judgment, loss of public goodwill and the lack of the wherewithal to fight the leadership of the ruling party from within, five of the renegade Governors have since crossed over to the opposition APC. It would be recalled that these political 'stowaways' have been embroiled in a long standing 'extra-marital affair' with the APC before the eventual cross pollination. The hatred of the Jonathan Presidency has seen enemies gravitating together and becoming lovers in the process. Anything to get Jonathan out of Power will do; after all the Chinese say: The enemy of your enemy is your friend. And so, the 'political mines' kept exploding. Date line 9th December, 2013: Enter Speaker Tambuwal with a scathing attack on President Jonathan. In that speech, the speaker accused the President that his body language showed he was encouraging corruption. As expected, this speech was given amplitude, airtime and large bandwidth, especially at a time the opposition was in 'war mood'. While many saw this as a politically correct speech, properly embellished to get public sympathy, others saw buried in it a grand plan to deliberately undermine the President, as the coming events would suggest. This was the beginning of what would appear to be a series of synchronized torpedo attacks and artillery bombardment of the Jonathan Presidency. The biggest political ambush in recent times had just begun. While Nigerians were digesting this scathing attack on the President by the speaker, the media was awash with another shocker the next day: a certain letter from the CBN Governor Lamido Sanusi to President Jonathan, informing the President of a missing $50 billion in oil proceeds - an amount almost twice the country's annual budget. Again, this was amplified to the high heavens, especially by the opposition. However, amidst the outrage, many sensed something sinister. Several questions came to analytical minds: (1) How is it possible that the nation lost an amount equivalent to the size of her budget for 2 years, yet stayed afloat? (2) Is it possible to lose over 70% of your primary income, yet remain afloat? (3) How come this letter, written months earlier, only surfaced shortly after the Speaker's scathing attack on the President? (4) It's also curious that the CBN governor did not draw the attention of the President to these "missing" funds for almost 2 years. How did he balance his books for the year ending 31st Dec. 2012? How has he been doing his monthly and quarterly reconciliation with such amount hanging unexplained? (5) How come his figures are below that declared by the NNPC? How long has he been working with such "wrong" figures without noticing? (6) What efforts were made to clarify the figures with NNPC and other agencies before going public with a letter of such damaging effect to our economic outlook? (7) How come the CBN Governor who is supposed to be the calming figure in the economy was now the alarmist? Questions, questions, questions. Anyway, the explanation by NNPC and the other agencies, and the admission of the CBN Governor of his 'error', has cleared the questions above. With the emergence of overwhelming facts, he was fed the humble pie. If his letter was meant to put President Jonathan in bad light, it did a lot more than that. It also painted the nation's economy as one that is poorly managed, and for someone who is the head of the monetary policy wing of the economy, he unknowingly passed a vote of no confidence in himself. In that press conference, the once steely and confident Sanusi, caught a solitary and dejected figure - he was caught 'pants down' and so had to admit that he was indeed the one with the wrong figures. That said, as an observer, it's pretty easy to note that while the leaked letter travelled at supersonic speeds, Sanusi's confession of using the wrong figures crawled at snail speed, receiving little space in the media and airwaves. Media complicity or simply our penchant for peddling bad news? Anyway, let's move on the real shocker. While Nigerians were struggling to come to terms with Sanusi's leaked letter, another letter was leaked to the press the next day. This time, the writer was former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This was one massive 'landmine'! That 18 page stinger contained all sorts: President Jonathan accused of being an ethnic champion and clannish, a dishonest person, a dictator who is intent on killing his own people (snipers trained abroad, political watch list, etc), an anti-party operative, encouraging corruption (reechoing Tambuwal's point), etc. The letter even cited the false alarm raised by Sanusi's letter, suggesting the former President had seen a copy of the letter even before it was leaked to the public. Surprised? What other evidence do you need to know that this looked like a well hatched chain bombardment? The former President, who was a civilian president for 8 years and military head of state for 3 years knows very well, the effect of such a letter (especially the security implication) in the hands of the public. The former President also knows how to access and verify most of the information fed to him, yet he didn't seem to do that. I'm sure he must be embarrassed by Sanusi's fictitious figures by now. Well, I won't dwell too much on this; President Jonathan has already responded for himself and Nigerians have both letters at their disposal to draw their inferences. That said, my chronicle of 'landmines' is not an excuse for President Jonathan not to perform. Rather, it is an x-ray of his unfortunate working condition. The President still needs to do more to earn the trust of the people of Nigeria. He must continue upgrading infrastructures and create an atmosphere that encourages job creation. He must also realize that his office is political in nature and therefore he must get his politics right as well as his policies. There are certain political liabilities in his cabinet that he must purge. If those managing his politics can offer as much politically as the technocrats in his cabinet are contributing to the economy, most of these landmines would have been defused effectively before they exploded. The President must fold his sleeves and realize that it is not easy to be President of a robust country like Nigeria. The intrigues, the gang-ups, the scheming, etc, they will always be there but he has to rise above them. He must be ready to take tough decisions, both in his politics and in his policies. Most importantly, he should ensure he is on the side of people by making people-centric policies. No matter the gang-up, if you are on the side of the people, there will be very little to fear. That said, I still want to emphasize again that there is no President in our short democratic history that has been so ganged up against like President Jonathan - sworn enemies uniting to fight him, ideologically incompatible groups becoming compatible over night, Political parties merging to form a stronger front, acidic letters flying around, etc. The President must realize that the storm is gathering, and at this point, the battle seems inevitable. More 'landmines' will explode. From the tone of the President's reply to Chief Obasanjo, I want to believe he is fully aware of this. Permit me to end with a quote from that letter: 'your letter conveys to me the feeling that landmines have been laid for me. Therefore, Nigerians need to have my response to the issues raised before the mines explode.' Mr. President, roll your 'anti-bomb squad'! Written By Engr. Robinson Tombari Sibe
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