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Goodluck and the substance of power

By The Rainbow

ONE Saturday morning, during the closing days of 2010, I was at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, to pick up a friend who was visiting Lagos from the regions and had graciously accepted to spend a night or two with my family. His flight was a little late in arriving and so I sauntered to the nearby newspaper stands to buy a few titles and more usefully pass the time. Paper in hand, I walked back to my seat in the waiting area of the Arrival Hall and soon found myself in the midst of a small group of fellow idlers. The discussion swung wildly from one topic to another, but by far the trending topic of the day (you guessed right!) was the then ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua's dithering over the handover of power to his deputy against what everyone considered his better judgment.

One of my co-discussants at the arrival hall conference was an elderly, jovial gentleman who insisted that what was playing out was a divine chess game with a predictable outcome. He said with a man named Goodluck in the corridors of power, everyone else was a spectator. And for good measure, he added that were he still in the business of making babies, he would have most certainly named his next child Goodluck! Nevertheless, he promised, his very next grandchild had no choice but to bear that name since he was intent on having the rare fortunes of Goodluck Jonathan within the family.

Today, three years after, I wonder whether the man carried out his threat. I also wonder what would be his current state of mind concerning the name, given recent turn of events. In three years, the name Goodluck has gone full cycle from an awe-inspiring acronym of divine providence to a veritable symbol of half-hearted leadership and unfulfilled dreams - at least in the eyes of many Nigerians.

It is not only the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East that is draining the joy out of the Jonathan presidency. That can be classified as an 'external' threat. It gets worse when the 'enemy' is from within. Like when his 'brother Governor', Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, becomes the most disgruntled of the 36 governors across the country. Piqued by the president's perceived role in orchestrating his troubles within the Governors' Forum (a faction of which he now chairs) and his state assembly (which sought to impeach him), Amaechi had decided to pay Jonathan back in his own coins. He has since transformed from a jovial, forward-looking governor to an embattled monster at the heart of the opposition. At the last special convention of the PDP, he led a band of disgruntled governors, mostly from the North, to walk out on the president and the ruling party and form the 'New PDP'. For those who might be unfamiliar with Nigeria's geo-politics, Rivers is right next to Jonathan's home state of Bayelsa; both states are from the same South-South geo-political zone of the country; and Rivers is also the home state of First Lady, Patience Jonathan. This is original 'home trouble.'

As if that is not enough, Mr. Jonathan suffers from the additional baggage of his overzealous kinsmen who rather than make salutary contributions that would enhance the profile of their 'son' and better his prospects and legacy, are busy insisting that he must stay in power for another four years whether or not he performs - because it is their turn! And if that fails, they have threatened the rest of their countrymen with hail and brimstone. You don't need to be a PR expert to know that these folks have probably done more harm to the president's re-electability than all his other 'enemies' put together. With their every word, they alienate the rest of the president's originally huge support base across the country by turning the man from President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to President of the Militant Republic of Ijaw.

Yet another 'home' trouble for GEJ is the strike by university teachers which was close to the 100 day mark at the time of writing this piece. In case you have forgotten, the president holds a PhD in Zoology and was a university teacher in his previous life – before the lure of politics took over. So, with even his kindred spirits on the war-path and with no settlement in sight, everyone is wondering: where has Goodluck's luck gone?

And that is not to mention the challenge of a First Lady whose public appearances and utterances regularly generate more PR migraines for the President's handlers than the whole of the Federal Executive Council put together.

In his quiet moments, Mr. Jonathan must be wondering what hit him. Where has all the goodwill gone? Why are all these happening? Has God deserted me? What must I do to bring back the good times…? If I had the privilege of being one of his advisers,  I would send him a note every morning to say: 'Be still and be of good cheer. This too shall pass. Everyone who holds power has his time of turmoil. It happened to Biblical Saul, David and Solomon. It is an inevitable test of will and character. All you have to do is keep your eyes on the ball; be relentless in delivering on your campaign promises; have a succession plan; and do not stay one day longer than necessary. That is the difference between Mandela and Mugabe.'

Decoding the last part of that advice, I know, will be a tough call for the president. He strikes the pose of a man with a paradoxical attitude to power. He loves to be president. That much can be deduced from his obvious pain at even pondering the prospect of 2015 outside the seat of power. He feels it will be a mark of weakness to leave after 'only one term.' But at the same time, he looks like a man ill at ease with the heavier burdens of power. He prevaricates in the face of serious challenges requiring decisive action. His response: Set up a committee to look into the matter. And while the committee is hard at work, another committee is in the making to consider the findings of the earlier committee. And so problems don't get solved. They only get shelved. Will the president set up a committee to look into his exit strategy from office? Truly, as William Shakespeare once said, 'The very substance of ambition is the shadow of a dream.'

Permit me to add that the greatest and noblest exercise of power is to willfully walk away from power.

• Anazonwu, a marketing communications practitioner, writes from Lagos.