Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings—remember him?—the archetypal soldier, reformer, quintessential revolutionary and former Ghanaian head of state, was in Nigeria recently. He delivered a lecture at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka at the end of which newsmen almost mobbed him.
Why did they have to mob him? The reason is not far to seek: the man is a credible elder statesman and news source who suffers no fool gladly. Therefore his views on President Jonathan’s style and two-year old presidency mattered a lot.
Recall that while Rawlings was busy sincerely cleansing the Ghanaian Augean Stable years back, and doing so sometimes not knowing from where the next meal would come and thus paving the way for the unmistakable all-round progress in Ghana today, his Nigerian counterparts ceaselessly shouting empty “unity”, “unity”, successfully blind-folded us with khaki, bastardized our federation and federalism, looted the economy and left it comatose.
The result today is all the problems which Obasanjo tried his best for eight years to solve but with little result and which, if the truth must be told, President Jonathan has been saddled with—problems which together with that of Boko Haram, Jonathan has surprisinglingly been tackling with visible results, especially in the area of electricity, rail rehabilitation, tertiary education and roads and airports reconstruction.
Two years on, no one has successfully faulted his foreign policy. In Awka, Rawlings fielded many questions but the one whose answer attracted my attention most had to do with President Jonathan’s then unpopular response to the security challenge posed by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Rawlings told pressmen that Jonathan’s approach to the matter was in order, because it was in consonance with Nigeria’s fledgling democratic order. In an oblique reference to what happened at Oddi, and Zaki-Biam, Rawlings wondered whether those criticizing Jonathan for taking no rash action wanted him to tackle Boko Haram in a manner characteristic of military regimes.
The Ghanaian elder statesman advised that Nigeria ought to develop its democracy capitalizing on Jonathan’s approach to leadership.
As somebody who did not vote for Jonathan in 2011 owing to what I regarded then as his kid-glove response to the problem of incipient but evident terrorism, I couldn’t but be taken aback by Rawlings’ baffling commendation of an approach which was overly short of the will to declare instant emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
I did not quite come to terms with the meaning behind Rawlings’ stand until recently when President Jonathan finally stunned everyone with what I rather saw as “home-grown emergency rule” in those states.
Why did I associate his action with the so-called “home-grown democracy”—the pet object of some discredited Nigerian leaders of the dim and distant past? Novelty! Notice the innovation—the entire democratic structure: the Executive and the Legislature in those states, unlike in the past, were left intact.
Not even the crisis-riddled state branch of that contraption that calls itself Africa’s biggest political party was sacked. A selfish president would have exploited this rare opportunity to sack and later replace them with his men. What of those antagonistic governors and legislators?
They could have been easily removed, too, and replaced with stooge administrators who would deliver the states to him in 2015. But we didn’t see anything like that. As Nigerians, we have always blamed our woes, and rightly too, on bad leadership.
But there is no way we can encourage good or exemplary leadership except we learn to give kudos to any leader no matter his place of origin when he does well, and skin him alive when he fumbles. The prevailing pull-him-down attitude is not only counterproductive but certainly ridiculous.
In any case, whether we admit it or not President Jonathan seems to have noiselessly redefined for us the mantra of “home-grown democracy” and in a way vindicated Flt. Lt. Rawlings.
Considering the long time it had taken him to weigh available options and arrive at the action he took, it is possible that had he any alternative with a more humane face, he would have certainly avoided emergency rule for its deleterious effects.
Quite irrespective of the deafening calls for action, emergency rule, in point fact, symbolizes one of the appalling tragedies of politics that sometimes in democracies great ends can often be achieved only by means which rob the ends of a great deal of their endearing worth.
In the present circumstances however one only hopes that our troops would be faithful, as they appear to have so far proved, to the rules of engagement not only because theirs is no foreign assignment but also for the obvious reason that the whole world is watching us.
This said, however, it is also important to warn errant politicians in those three states who are mainly to blame for the emergence of the Boko Haram problem: they should make no mistake about it; the President reserves the right to adjust the emergency order in the light of reason, especially to remove any or all of the governors or even clear the state legislatures, based on precedents, should they take anything for granted and continue to behave as if it is still politics as usual. Any lessons from all this? Yes, many.
But one and only one of them seems to stand out and that is that “still water”, as they say, “runs deep”. The same teeth which Jonathan bares in laughter he might use also to bite. I personally am beginning to feel that the man is neither the noodle nor the coward some of us thought he was.
His visits to Yobe and Borno states, in my view, spoke volumes and the outcome, particularly his Maidugri Declaration, remains a big lesson to the wise. It had taken him almost two years to consult widely and think through emergency rule. This, again in my view, is real democracy in word and in deed.
A President, according to Professor Hargrove, in a democracy, must be required to go through the pains-taking exercise of persuading other power holders to accept his views otherwise we have no democracy. The process of persuasion, bargaining and hammering out of consensus keeps democratic norms alive. If a president is free to do as he wishes, in what sense can we say that we have a democracy?
For the first time, I now hear some people admit without fear of name-calling that “the man has not done badly, in spite of the fact that he has hardly been given any chance to perform.” My advice for him therefore is that he should build on the emerging favourable public opinion and never rest on his oars.
According to H.G. Wells, what man has achieved is but a mere prelude to what man is yet to achieve. Let him govern with the talents he possesses, for in the words of Henry Dyke, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. Nzeakah writes from Ota, Ogun State.