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HE NEEDS STRONGER BICEPS

By NBF News
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One of my concerns for Goodluck Jonathan in his days as acting President was whether he had the spunk, the liver, and the mettle to give robust leadership to the country. Prior to that time, you could not credit the man with acts that showed pluck or grit, not as deputy governor in Bayelsa, nor as governor, and as vice president later. So, one had genuine reasons to fear.

After a court pronounced that he could exercise the powers of a president due to the prolonged illness of his principal, the then President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Jonathan caused a strongly worded statement to be issued, reading the riot act to ministers who were then working against the emerging order. I rejoiced, saying maybe we had a worthy leader at last, one with enough muscles to flex. But former oil minister, Prof. Tam David-West, disagreed with me. His words: 'His biceps are too weak. You must have a political base to make the kind of statement Jonathan has made. But he has none.'

I remember I did a piece on January 22, 2010, in which I prayed that David-West would be proved wrong. And I sincerely meant it, because Nigeria needs a leader that is both strong and focused, a man who knows his onions, and who gets his acts right most, if not all of the time. Eleven months later, would we say Goodluck Jonathan is that kind of man? Big poser. In less than three months, Jonathan has lost three major political battles that cast doubts on his adroitness and sagacity in the game. Is he truly inexperienced as recently leaked to us by Wikileaks? Do we have a man who truly lacks a political base, and so his adversaries make mincemeat of him at will? Are his biceps truly weak?

Let's consider the major political battles Jonathan has lost in a matter of weeks, and which possibly betray his lack of depth and adeptness at the game.

By October this year, the Electoral Act 2010 had been passed, and its provisions made public. We were all set for the 2011 polls, then scheduled for January. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) pleaded for more time. So the elections got shifted to April. And that was when the president sent a bill to the National Assembly, seeking to amend the Electoral Act. What were his prayers?

He wanted political appointees like ministers, ambassadors, presidential aides, and such others, to be recognised as delegates who can vote in party primaries. Of course, you know this would confer great advantage on a sitting president seeking the nomination of his party, as all these appointees would naturally vote for him. But what did the senators do to the proposed amendment? They threw the bill out with such ferocity that the paper got almost incinerated by the heat of their anger. The door was firmly slammed against what one of the senators called 'a toxic proposal.' And I asked myself. Why should a president that wants free and fair polls at all levels propose such foul and abhorrent legislation? And is there any tact in bringing it after the original law had been passed? What if INEC hadn't asked for more time in the first place?

But the wobbling and fumbling was not done. The presidency came through another way. In cahoots with the leadership of the National Assembly with which it had suddenly struck a new romance, there was suddenly this harebrained, harum-scarum attempt to make legislators automatic members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of their respective parties. Of course, that status would make them automatic voting delegates at party primaries, but the amendment would also shut out local government chairmen, youth leaders, women leaders, and hundreds if not thousands of others as delegates. It would give unfair advantage to a sitting president, and constrict the political space against his opponents.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate were poised to pass the law last week. But there was so much antagonism from the public and the political parties, even strangely from the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that the Senate had no choice than to throw out the bill. For the second time, the president's gambit kissed the dust. Poor gamesmanship once again. And than came the third political loss at the NWC meeting of the PDP in Abuja last week. The order of primaries is that the presidential candidate would be chosen after the governors. President Jonathan wanted the order reversed, while the governors preferred that the status quo be maintained.

If he got his ticket first, the governors would not be sure he wouldn't work against their interests in the various states. Jonathan begged, cajoled, threatened, blew both hot and cold at the NWC. The governors did not budge, and that was when the president reportedly broke down. He fell apart. Almost in tears, he accused the governors of treating him badly, saying there was never anything he wanted that they acquiesced to. The jeremiad oscillated between desperation, intimidation and outright appeal to emotion. To pacify the president, the governors gave him a placebo. Twenty of them endorsed him as candidate of the PDP, with the tacit understanding that they would support him to win the primaries. Just about 24 hours later, Jonathan equally got the endorsement of the South-east governors, who were not at the NWC meeting in Abuja.

The president lost his third major political battle in quick succession, but went home pacified, with the 'endorsement' predicated on running just one term. In August, after a rash of affirmation had come from all angles, including both the serious and the nondescript, I had done a piece with the headline, 'Jonathan: Not yet the true endorsement.' I described the charade going on as 'swindle, fraud, roguery, trickery, sizzle.' Now permit me to add three more words. Farce. Travesty. Buffoonery. If the president swallows this so-called endorsement hook, line and sinker, then he can swallow anything. 'He that leans on man finds him a broken reed.' But someone of Jonathan's stature should already know that, shouldn't he?

How can a sitting president lose three political battles in quick succession, and get so bludgeoned, pummelled, till he becomes punch drunk, and goes on bended knees? Maybe his biceps are truly weak, and need strengthening. The primaries on January 13 will show the true position. But even if Jonathan scales the PDP primaries hurdle, can he withstand the hurricane blowing from the north? I mean Hurricane Buhari, a cyclone that has now made a beeline for the presidential villa. Anyone who stands in the way will simply get blown to kingdom come.