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Friday, 6 December 2013

Jonathan as the fiddler-in-chief?

Jonathan as the fiddler-in-chief?
Former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, is famous for saying that 48 hours is a long time in politics. That statement is a vote for speed and clarity of thought and action.
It is, of course, a truism that without a clarity of thought reflected in clear-cut strategy, decisive action becomes impossible. A good strategist is one, who knows where he is going and sets about mobilising forces and resources to align with such goal.
But so far, nothing illustrates the absence of these elements in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration more than the recent defection of five of the G-7 Governors from the powerful PDP to the opposition APC. The defection seemed to me like a last resort, more like the rebound affection of a lover scorned who may end up with the next available suitor that showed a bit of kindness. Otherwise, give it to the devil. Over the years, PDP had built a formidable reputation as the place to be for power mongers and many people who left the party only did so when they had been so hounded and brutalized by the monster that they had no choice.
Leaving is their way of making the point that PDP is not the end of the world, but in most of the cases, even those that left often ended up returning, feeding into the myth of the party’s invincibility and hubris. Otherwise, the conglomeration of those coming together into what is now potentially a majority party in opposition, APC, is more of marriage of convenience than any stretch of ideological affinity. Yet, if that is what it would take to dislodge PDP, who cares, as long as the point is made that power is no party’s eternal heritage, but subject to the will of the people.
We may never know how much of hubris is responsible for the tactless, witless and arrogant way the presidency and PDP had handled the grievances of the G-7 Governors, up until they delivered their blow of leaving the party. Or how much of it is just a matter of sheer lack of grasp of the power game, especially by President Jonathan in particular and his handlers in general. There is no question that the root cause of the crisis in PDP is the question of power realignment for 2015 general elections, with particular emphasis on who becomes the president. While President Jonathan would like to exercise his right to second term, there are many, including, as have now become so evident, members of his own party, who felt that his performance so far in his first time has not been up to scratch.
It is even particularly embarrassing that some of those, who hold such a dim view of the president’s performance are not just members of the Northern political elite, who desperately want power back or the vocal South-west elite, who are pushing for a change at all cost, but also dissenting voices from the president’s South-south zone represented by Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and former Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva whose second term dream was burst by the president. In a manner of speaking, a man’s worst enemies are usually the variety called, the enemy within or to use a popular spiritual lingo, household enemies. Even Amaechi seems to be grappling uneasily with the dilemma of seeming to stand in opposition to a south-south brother against a potential northern candidate.
The build up to the defection of the governors was long in coming. First, the futile power struggle of the president’s men with Governor Amaechi was the first signal. It was not just that the attempt to impeach Amaechi was frustrated by the Governor’s stiff resistance and the coalition of forces in the National Assembly who took over the Rivers State House of Assembly, stalling possible impeachment move, Amaechi went on to win 19 votes at the election of chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum against the 16 votes for Jonah David Jang who was the president’s anointed.
Faced with the devil’s alternative, the president lost the grace of magnanimity by sticking with the fiction that 16 was majority over 19 votes! Then followed the now famous walk-out drama at the PDP convention at Abuja by the G-7 Governors led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The apparently well orchestrated open humiliation of the president was not just unprecedented, it was also made worse by the fact that even though those behind the drama had prepared the Yar’Adua Centre as an alternative venue, the president’s handlers didn’t seem to be aware of the plot, despite their access to diverse security reports, thereby exposing their principal to needless embarrassment. I had always wondered whether it was a case of internal sabotage, the usual arrogance of those at the helms, a case of confusion in high places or simple lack of vigilance.
Once the implosion in the party became open, the only options left for the president was either to call the bluff of the G-7 Governors or to negotiate. It would have been inconceivable that by walking out, the G-7 Governors realistically hoped to wrest the party from the president. What was more likely was that it was a high-stake bid for negotiation, a quest for concession and perhaps, a degree of balance of power rather than total control. This is the essence of democracy which we see in operation in other climes as exemplified by the perennial battles between President Obama and the far right GOP activists in the US Congress who recently shut the government down for weeks.
But for three months, it seems the negotiation had been marred by lack of good faith and decisiveness especially on the part of the president who had so much to lose. This point can best be illustrated with two examples from history. In 1992 when Bashorun M.K.O.  Abiola arrived Jos, venue of the SDP convention to choose the party’s presidential candidate, he discovered that 12 of the 14 SDP governors were backing either Alhaji Babagana Kingibe or Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, leaving him with only Chief Segun Osoba firmly for him, and Chief Kolapo Ishola who was partially on his side. Despite money already disbursed which disappeared into different pockets other than the delegates, fresh money was also needed to mobilize. Abiola had only that night to reverse the mountainous obstacles against him. His wife, Dr. Doyin Abiola, was dispatched to Lagos with Abiola’s private plane to bring fresh money while Abiola, Osoba and co spent the night moving from governor to governor, delegates to delegates, until he had gained enough support to secure ultimate victory. On that night, 12 hours made a world of difference between victory and defeat, and between history and an event. With the type of indecisive tardiness on display at the seat of power today, Abiola would not have stood a chance in a hell.
Then, in 2002, almost all the PDP governors led by Atiku had turned their backs on President Obasanjo, insisting he was unsuitable for a second term and advising him to go for a Mandela option of voluntary one term only—an echo of what some of the governors want Jonathan to do. But again, overnight, the crafty old Obasanjo, one of Nigeria’s truly imperial presidents, stooped to conquer the ring leaders of the governors, negotiating, begging and kneeling to some of them, to allow him a second term. He won them over, albeit with fake promises—the point here being that he moved decisively!
Once he had won though, he was to deal with all those that gave him tough time. To some of them, he reportedly boasted, “I knelt down for you for ten minutes but I will make you kneel down to me for life!” The morality of Obasanjo’s behavior is not so much the issue as the fact that he moved decisively to deal with threat to his second term dream in a pragmatic manner rather than Jonathan’s woolly and dithering negotiation that seems to linger for ever.
Jonathan’s desperate parley with the two governors is evidence that perhaps, in retrospect, the president now recognized how critical some of these governors are to his second term ambition, despite the grandstanding otherwise. It is perhaps possible that the president’s handlers had relied too much on the enormous power of the president to rally party structures on his behalf rather than face the political reality on the ground that may ultimately defy presidential power at the polls. Or more realistically, as some sources argued, the president had been hostage to some crony bad advisers who mistake the corridors of power for real politick.
You don’t linger when astute APC politicians are busy fishing in your garden, promising everything to those you had needlessly deprived, only for you to move promptly to scramble for the remaining two governors after you’ve lost five of them already. It makes you wonder at Jonathan’s decision-making process. Perhaps, this is a reflection of how he runs the nation too, fiddling while the nation burns, a good enough reason to explain why much of the time, nothing seems to be happening. It makes you wonder: is there a captain to this titanic ship called Nigeria or are we just drifting on our own, hoping by some good luck, to avoid the ice berg? I truly fear and tremble as 2015 looms large.


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