THE JONATHAN TO JONATHAN TRANSITION
On May 29, there will be a Jonathan to Jonathan transition as President Goodluck Jonathan takes the oath of office for a term of four years as Nigeria’s President: it would be a significant moment in more ways than one. On that day, Goodluck Jonathan will be taking the oath of office after an election in which he was the principal candidate not a side-kick, the first time he would be winning an election as a front runner in his short but eventful political career. With 22.5 million votes, about 10 million votes more than the first runner up, and 20 million votes more than the second runner up in Nigeria’s presidential election held on April 16, and more than 25% of the votes in about 31 states (in excess of the Constitutional requirement), with his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), winning majority seats in the National Assembly and in state governorship and legislative assembly elections, and with local and international observers praising the elections as credible, free and fair, despite observed glitches, Dr Jonathan can speak confidently of having a strong, legitimate claim to the office of Nigeria’s President.
Given the circumstances preceding his emergence – he was a much troubled Vice president to a sick President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; when his boss went abroad for treatment, he refused to hand over to him as required by the Constitution, it took the National Assembly invoking a “doctrine of necessity” to make him Acting President, even then he had to contend with the Yar’Adua cabal which treated him shabbily, and when he eventually became President, by the force of the Constitution, following Yar’Adua’s demise, Northern politicians insisted that he could not be President beyond 2011, because Yar’Adua was yet to complete the North’s eight-year “allocation” of presidential seat, and that only a Northerner can complete that tenure, not Jonathan or any other Southerner.
Jonathan has survived despite the consequential intrigues: he and his party won convincingly across the North, and his three main Northern challengers (Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN and Ibrahim Shekarau of the ANPP) lost at the polls. One other fact of Jonathan’s election is that there is no individual or cabal that can claim credit for his success in the 2011 elections. Indeed, many of the “sacred cows” and the influential forces in the PDP, who once paraded themselves as either Jonathan’s Godfathers or the masquerades behind his throne lost woefully in their wards or polling booths (Obasanjo, Anenih) or barely managed to survive or they lost completely. Even the ones among them who have survived cannot boast that they “made” Jonathan. Jonathan is President because he is the people’s choice. He is no longer anybody’s “boy”, no longer the political tyro that everyone reserved for the position of deputy because he is loyal and well-behaved; he is now his own man and he has shown much greater capacity and dexterity than his now expired Godfathers or anyone else credited him with hitherto. He therefore has no reason anymore to look over his shoulders. He should know this, and if he does not, he should be reminded that the Nigerian people expect him to make the best use of the opportunity that he has been given. If he fails, he will be the one to be held responsible, for he can no longer offer excuses.
He needs to know that the Nigerian people voted for him not just because of the promise of his campaigns, but in part, for identity reasons. This is one President who seems to represent the face of change. More than any other President or Head of State since independence, Jonathan is distinguished by his proletarian background. He is not a Prince, his ancestors did not control empires, he became prominent politically because other people thought they could use him. He did not own a farm or a chain of businesses, and when he declared his assets as Vice President in 2007, many Nigerians chuckled. As recently as 1998, he was a regular Jo next door who according to one tale, travelled to Abuja for the first time, not in an aircraft, but a night bus! He probably did not travel business class until he became Governor of Bayelsa state. He himself made much capital out of his humble background when in the course of his campaigns, he disclosed that he went to school without a pair of shoes, no school bag, his family could not afford to eat rice, and he trekked many miles to school. His parents’ most important contribution to Nigeria is that they gave birth to him!
There is indeed an inspirational angle to that story: He said: “I was not born rich, and in my youth, I never imagined that I would be where I am today, but not once did I ever give up. Not once did I imagine that a child from Otuoke, a small village in the Niger Delta, will one day rise to the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was raised by my mother and father with just enough money to meet our daily needs.
“In my early days in school, I had no shoes, no school bags. I carried my books in my hands but never despaired; no car to take me to school but I never despaired. There were days I had only one meal but I never despaired. I walked miles and crossed rivers to school every day but I never despaired. Didn’t have power, didn’t have generators, studied with lanterns but I never despaired.
“In spite of these, I finished secondary school, attended the University of Port Harcourt, and now hold a doctorate degree. Fellow Nigerians, if I could make it, you too can make it”, he said
Lucky Jo is not just President today, he makes many other Nigerians feel as if they too can rise to the highest office in the land, without having to worry about their parental background or whether or not their ancestors controlled empires and resources, and that indeed power does not belong only to those who believe that they are “born to rule.” But in this lies the key challenge that Jonathan faces. Nigeria has given him shoes to wear, bags to carry, and he no longer has to trek many miles: he must make good use of that opportunity! For more than a year, he has enjoyed the benefit of what may be called a dress rehearsal in office; he cannot claim that he does not know what the issues are, what Nigerians want and what is expected of him. He must not forget his roots. If he fails, he will not be forgiven.
It is part of the reality of the office that he occupies that many money-bags, CEOs, people looking for oil wells, people who already own oil blocks and who want more, will begin to befriend him afresh; they want his favours, they would want to be his friend, they want to belong, they want to protect what they have. If they thought he had been a caretaker President, now they would seek his favours with much greater desperation, knowing that he is now fully in charge. The only problem is that in this class can be found all the rent collectors, debtors, speculators, ten per centers, buccaneers and thieves who have brought Nigeria to a sorry pass. Those are not the kind of friends that Jonathan needs. He must give them a wide berth and be the people’s President. He needs to prove that he deserves the mandate that he has been given and that he represents change in a true sense, not the status quo. There were millions of Nigerians who did not vote for him or his party, and among those are persons who are already convinced that Jonathan is just a lucky man who has no idea what is at stake, based on their own assessment of his performance so far. He needs to prove such people wrong, and win them to his side and the only way to do so is for him to prove worthy of the Presidency.
He is the first Nigerian President of Ijaw, Niger Delta and South South extraction. In the context of Nigeria’s geo-politics, that means a lot. Jonathan’s victory is not just his alone, the people of the Niger Delta understandably share in his glory. The people of the Niger Delta, whose oil resources account for 90% of Nigeria’s total annual revenue have often complained about marginalization and the deliberate disempowerment of their people, the degradation of their environment due to oil exploration activities, and gross injustice. This resulted in low level insurgency in that part of the country turning the Niger Delta into an open wound in the Nigerian polity. Ahead of the elections, Niger Delta militants expressed support for their kinsman’s candidacy noting that they were prepared to make Nigeria ungovernable if Jonathan did not win. Now, their man has won, what next for the Niger Delta?
An obvious assumption is that Jonathan’s victory will translate into better fortunes in the Niger Delta and the cessation of the aggression against the Nigerian state. The caveat to this however is that the kinsman theory of power in Nigeria is severely short-sighted, that is, the expectation that a man in power represents his own kinsmen first and foremost, does not necessarily guarantee any special advantages for the kinsmen or their communities. Many years of Northern domination at the centre under military and civilian rule never brought Northern Nigeria any special advantages, with the North having the largest population of out-of-school children, miscreants and the poor.
Many Yoruba do not feel any sense of achievement either on account of Obasanjo’s many years in power, in fact the people of Ota where Obasanjo lived before 1999 are amazed that their neighbour could be President for eight years and his government could not fix the bad federal road leading to the community. In the same manner, the transformation that the people of the Niger Delta seek may not occur under a Jonathan Presidency, what is certain is that they have already lost the moral right to complain any further about marginalization. Other Nigerians will expect that nobody in the Niger Delta would threaten hereafter to sabotage Nigeria and bring it to its knees as has been the case since 2005, and that the over 300 Niger Delta warlords will join Jonathan in proving that indeed the Presidency does not belong to only a select group of Nigerians, recycling themselves. Even if Jonathan wants to serve his people, however, beyond making the South South fedora cap and walking stick popular, he must realize that he is President of all Nigeria and he must seek to be a statesman, not a “sailor-fisherman” in Abuja.
There are very urgent priorities that he must address. He must make the transformation of Nigeria his chief priority. It took only two Presidents in Brazil (Fernando Cardoso, 1995-2002 and Lula da Silva, 2003 -2010) for that country to embark on the path of economic progress, and in both Brazil and South Korea, even in Ghana next door, the point has been well proven that good leadership is what helps a country in the long run. When he takes that oath on May 29, Jonathan will be signing a pact with history. He can either sleep walk through the four years or make significant difference. We recommend the latter. He should start with the power sector. His government has already announced a road map for the power sector. There are plans to privatize the power sector. He must hurry up. He won’t be the first President since 1999 to talk about the same issue. Nigerians are no longer interested in such talks. They want results; they want regular electricity supply and the expulsion of the diesel importation Mafia. With regular power supply, the Nigerian economy will be jump-started, life will be easier for the ordinary man and this will be one way of demonstrating change. Jonathan should be the President to translate all the talks about power into measurable results.
It is a shame that the Nigerian education system has failed. Even poor and lower middle class families now send their children to private schools, and the rich send their children abroad. Many urban-based families do not have a child in the Nigerian public school system, the same system that produced most of the people now in the corridors of power. It doesn’t require much creativity or intelligence to rescue the education system. With PDP Governors in the majority across the country, it should not be difficult to secure a broad-based, nationwide buy-in, and lead the process of revamping the education system. Jonathan should aspire to be known as the education President. The failure of the Nigerian education system robs the country of the capacity to compete, and encourages the breeding of miscreants and illiterates who can be easily recruited for dastardly purposes.
Jonathan should fix the country’s transportation crisis. He should seek to be the President who solved the Railway problem that other Presidents before him, mismanaged. He should make all Federal roads motorable, and where these Federal roads fall under the jurisdiction of state governments, they should be handed over to those states, thus reducing the burden on the Federal Government. It is scandalous that more than a year after the Jonathan Presidency began, there has been no Federal road that has been put in a better shape that anyone is talking about. Beyond May 29, his government must resist the temptation to keep busy with ceremonies, we have had enough of such things: hollow cabinet meetings and announcements of contracts that have been awarded but which never see the light of day, fictitious job creations, needless travels across the world, meetings and receptions that amount to sheer indulgence, courtesy calls by traditional rulers and all kinds of groups that serve no purpose, empty promises that the government does not intend to keep and so on. Jonathan must settle down to the assignment and get his hands dirtied. He must fight corruption, reinvent the Nigerian civil service (which over the years has been turned into an evil service); and pay more attention to internal security and the national economy.
We do not expect him to run a one-man government. We expect him to stand by the ideals of democracy which he espoused as a candidate, and to be a champion for national unity and integration. He must make the period 2011- 2015, the true beginning of a new and positive era for Nigeria. We are waiting and watching.
Written by Reuben Abati.