The victim president
By Sam Omatseye 14/11/2011.
It is not easy to defend Goodluck Jonathan. Even when he enjoys apparent advantage, he commits what tennis fans call unforced errors. He is the yanga that wakes up trouble.
When I draped him in serpentine prose and called him His Excellency the Snake, readers’ reactions were mixed. Some said it was a felicitous metaphor, hitting the bull’s eye. But a few others endorsed the point while asking for milder animal metaphor. If the man said he was no lion, and no tiger, and one needed an appropriate animal metaphor, the sly ways of the serpent fit like a slough.
Last week, I felt vindicated. When the shadowy religious group known as Boko Haram struck again and took down over a hundred lives, his reaction upset good conscience because of its cowardice. Rather than take responsibility, he acted the victim. He evinced the quality of the coward. He said most of the countries in the world were assailed with terrorists, so it was excusable.
Not long after, the United States issued a warning over three hotels in Abuja as targets of terror. They included the Transcorp Hilton, the Sheraton and Nicon Luxury, which are frequented by the foreigners, including Americans, and well-heeled Nigerians.
Rather than show gratitude, his government lashed out at the publication of the warning. They should have warned them in private, they insisted. It became obvious that the United States had shared information with them before in private and they probably pooh-poohed it. That was why the Federal Government said it was nothing new. If it was nothing new, why did they not respond when it was new, when they first received the intelligence? The Americans obviously did not want to play poker with the lives of their citizens. If the Nigerian government recoiled from action, they did not. What is wrong with making such augury public anyway? They learned from the United Nations building tragedy.
The purpose of intelligence is not to make it secret. That would be intelligence for intelligence sake. The purpose is to save lives and hound down the culprits. In the United States, once there is an inkling of an attack, the public is alerted with a view to co-opting the cooperation of the civil society since security is a collective endeavour.
But Jonathan’s men acted like Jonathan. They pushed the blame elsewhere, and wanted to smear the Americans as if there was a great breach of diplomatic behaviour for exposing the incompetence of Nigeria’s intelligence officers.
Jonathan wanted to act the victim. It was not his fault, he went on; blame the hoodlums. Is that how the commander-in-chief should respond to such a matter? I forget that he claims he is not a general even though he is a commander in chief. Talk about farce!
He has a police chief called Hafiz Ringim whose men reportedly mix with the Boko Haram folks, yet no helpful arrest has happened. How can Ringim handle this when he could not save his convoy from the infiltration and bombing by the group? It is obvious we have an incompetent police chief. Jonathan deployed soldiers all over the place. They went to war without intelligence. War without knowledge is a waste of brawn and calories. A day after a report that arms were recovered from day-to-day searches in Borno State, the sect struck. It made the security services look absurd, like jokers in a grand scale. We have an incompetent secret service.
Jonathan has done nothing to ask from them a grand idea and strategy for dealing with the problem. How can he find that grand idea? He does not think grandly. No one can pick one grand idea he has espoused since he took over the country over a year ago. A coward has no bold ideas. A snake is one of the cowardly animals. It does not think big or strike far. It strikes as though it has not stricken. You feel the bite but you don’t see the assailant.
That is what Jonathan is trying to do, and we see this everywhere including in the handling of the PDP governorship screening in his home state of Bayelsa. It is all about the process. The governor was cleared by the only legal body with the power to do so. This was made clear by the lawmakers from the state. Even if the National Working Committee is to clear the group legally, it has turned what is a simple process into an abracadabra. Why can’t they clear Governor Sylva? If they have a reason, why can’t they come out with the reason?
The president has received several groups, including the governors, and he says he is not involved and only the leadership of the party should handle this. Who is the leader of the party? In a democracy, once a party produces a president, he or she is the party leader. Can Jonathan say the NWC is not reporting to him? He should stop kidding us. That again is the quality of the snake, striking furtively, in the dark. Finally they disqualified him out of frustration from Saturday’s mammoth rally. They could not even wait till Monday. They did it on a Sunday as though it were an emergency.
Look at the issue of oil subsidy, and you see President Goodluck Jonathan playing the victim again. Those who oppose him want to derail his government, topple him and bring him down. Would that also include the majority of Nigerians who do not want it? That would mean he understands that he is unpopular. He wanted to place the blame on somebody else. There was nothing wrong with subsidy, he wanted us to believe. It was just the case of some subversives who want him out, he Mr. Goodluck, the man with the most magical meteoric rise in the firmament of Nigeria’s political history. He went as far as to lie in the name of Muhammadu Buhari, saying the former general and rival in the presidential race wanted the removal of the so-called subsidy.
Buhari responded promptly through his spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, and showed that Jonathan had again committed an unforced error. He wanted to hide under Buhari like a green snake in a shrubbery. But it did not work. Odumakin explained that Buhari only questioned the mathematics of the so-called oil subsidy claims, propounding questions such as how much do we produce and sell the oil per litre abroad, why endless demurrage charges, why round tripping, etc. How did questioning the logic become an endorsement?
How do these legitimate acts of opposition amount to trying to topple his government? President Jonathan’s only antidote to such relentless pounding is performance. He has not put together any blueprint against terror. No silver bullet for power or for the economy. He pitches the removal of oil subsidy as a source of funds for infrastructure. Then he unveils a contract to build toll gates all over the country. Is he going to charge us for fuel and then for traveling in order to build roads? Haba!
But the tragedy of Jonathan’s show of victimhood is that he is so Nigerian. Most Nigerians want to blame somebody else for their woes. If it is not their in-laws, it is their enemy in the village or the neighbour’s wife or the other ethnic group or the pagan, Christian or Muslim heretic. Jean Paul Sartre probably had Nigerians in mind when he quipped: “Hell is other people.”
If Jonathan embodies this flipside of the Nigerian character, how can he be transformational? He has not risen above the nether parts of the crowd. Herbert Spencer wrote about a cadre of leaders: “Before he can remake his society, the society must first make him.” The flipside of Nigeria made Jonathan, so how can he remake Nigeria? How can he be transformational?
Transformational leaders rise above the times. Jonathan should.