JONATHAN'S VICTORY: BEYOND THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENCY (2)
Goodluck Jonathan does not really have a reputation in the political arena that can be used as a parameter for assessing the direction in which his government will go unless it is his reputation for modesty. However in the last year it has become clear that he is not easily shunted off any course that he decides to follow. His determination to create a credible electoral process was signalled when he sacked the once-powerful Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Professor Maurice Iwu and replaced him with a political scientist from the North who has a reputation for independence and the promotion of radical political ideas.
The relationship between Professor Attahiru Jega and Jonathan proved to be based on a foundation of mutual respect when the first in a series of polls was suddenly called off by Jega in the middle of the exercise. Jonathan had actually travelled to his remote village to cast his vote in the National Assembly polls when INEC announced the postponement. Insiders who witnessed the confrontation between the President and the Chairman that followed this describe Jonathan as having been coldly angry when Jega went to the Presidency to explain the circumstances that led to his decision. However, speaking to the press Jonathan professed to be fully in support of the decision as long as Jega deemed it necessary. It was clear that he wished to maintain the semblance of genuine independence for the Commission and to avoid any suggestion that he was interfering in its conduct of its task. This attitude on his part helped to convince many voters to turn out especially for his own election and it will be interesting to see whether challenges to this process will vindicate or undermine this resolve on his part.
It will be unfortunate if the aftermath of Jonathan's victory should lead to the disintegration of democratic accountability that his promise to allow free and fair elections portend. His emergence as an elected President has been touted as ushering in a new era that will provide the opportunity for all Nigerians to participate in governance without having to overcome the obstacles of tribal and regional selectivity. Unfortunately the spectre of mob violence sparked by the announcement of Buhari's defeat in certain parts of Northern Nigeria threatens to overturn this promise. Jonathan will have to put together a new coalition of forces that will be able to restore stability to the polity after the electoral season has ended. This will test his fabled 'good luck' to its limit.
A vocal segment of his supporters promote his success as having largely been driven by divine intervention and many of the promoters of his cause tend to be outspoken fundamentalist Christians. Jonathan himself does not subscribe either publicly or in private to these assumptions. He has said that he does not believe that faith is as important as either hard work or social compromise in generating success in public service. He might have to rein in a number of the most outspoken of his advocates. Their euphoric insistence on portraying him as some kind of religious messiah could aggravate the fault lines of Nigeria's religious divide if they refuse to absorb their leader's personal modesty and diffidence.
Jonathan's record as a lecturer at the Rivers State College of Education in Port Harcourt in the 1980's was that of a dedicated and thorough pedant. Some of his colleagues in the former Oil and Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), which has been replaced by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have said that he stood out in that organisation for his ability to encourage his fellow workers to cooperate with him and give their best in the field and in the office. As Deputy Governor he was praised for his steadfast loyalty to his boss the beleaguered Alamieyeseigha even when that worthy was arrested in the UK and then turned up in Nigeria having jumped bail.
At no time did he utter a single word in condemnation of his boss although it was widely speculated that President Obasanjo was putting pressure on every politician in Bayelsa State to abandon Alamieyeseigha at the time. In the same way when Yar'Adua fell ill for the last time Jonathan refused to initiate moves to force him out of office when a small group of conspirators around the President appeared to be hiding the true nature and seriousness of his illness from the Nigerian public. In the end the National Assembly had to virtually rewrite the rule book to force him to assume the role of Acting President and then his toughness immediately surfaced in the National Executive Council (the Nigerian Cabinet) when he read the riot act to some Ministers who appeared to be hesitant in giving him their full support. Jonathan's record over the past year as President in his own right has however been a mixed bag. He has exhibited some elements of firmness and a vision for a new consolidation of principled conduct in his handling of the electoral process but at the same time he has also allowed some misconduct and malfeasance in governance by some of his allies to go unchecked. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to allow such lapses now that he has an unassailable mandate.
The challenge of controlling the Nigerian State as an elected President will not be an easy one for Jonathan even though his party has managed to hold on to a substantial, though reduced, majority in the National Assembly. Throughout the nation the rejection of solid PDP majorities in a number of states indicate that the Nigerian people are becoming increasingly critical of the politics of privilege and are seeking a new order of commitment. That they gave Jonathan the overwhelming personal mandate that he sought indicates that they expect him to be a leader of consensus rather than of partisan introspection. His major objective should therefore be to build a government based on partnerships and competence rather than simply to reward political cronies for their perceived loyalty to the party. His fabled ability to forge alliances and to build a stable political atmosphere in which to operate will be tested to its limit as he sets out to cool post-election tempers in a nation that has begun to witness serious political dysfunction in some areas.
Jonathan's victory at the polls could be the beginning rather than the end of political unrest in some states where he has recorded overwhelming triumph in the presidential elections while his party recorded losses in both the National and State Assembly polls. His victory will challenge him to rise above the claims so often touted by his supporters that his elevation by accident in the past was evidence of divine destiny rather than political ability and to prove his own belief that hard work and a commitment to genuine service can create the atmosphere for peace and stability in society. If he achieves this in even a small measure he will have risen above the challenge of being always regarded as an accidental inheritor of power. He will then have commenced the journey towards equity and the genuine transformation of the economic potential of the Nigerian state that he has advocated throughout his relatively short but incredibly exciting political career.