by Olatunji Dare
‘Without hesitation, no,” he said, his voice tinged with pained disappointment.
He went on to relate how Dr Jonathan would arrive at meetings not having studied his briefing papers, and how he would often doze off during meetings he himself had convened.
Nor was the eminent person impressed by Dr Jonathan’s inner circle, men and women who had no business being on such hallowed ground – “ ragamuffins,” — he called them. They caroused far into the night, with their host holding court– as it were.
I had no reason to doubt my source, a person of few but measured words. But I checked his assessment with two other public figures, persons of consequence in their own right, who were also in a position to know whether Dr Jonathan was up to the job.
Each, separately, concurred in the assessment of my first source.
That was early in the Jonathan presidency. As the years passed by, he may have cut down on the night-time carousing and learned to stay attentive and engaged during meetings. But mastery of his brief, or of any public issue for that matter, eluded him throughout his presidency, now mercifully set to end next Friday.
You could never accuse him of having a firm grasp on any issue, be it commonplace routine or recondite, despite his advertised doctorate in ichthyology. You could never accuse him of profundity, of lofty thought, the type that springs from a lofty mind. You could not even accuse him of honest-to-goodness blandness.
Dr Jonathan was, well, Dr Jonathan.
It has to be said, however, that he did not seek the office. He did not envisage public office outside the bucolic enclave where he had spent his entire life until national service took him to Osun State. And as soon as he completed the one-year deployment, he returned to familiar surroundings. All his three degrees came from the University of Port Harcourt, which further locked him into the insularity that he was never able to shed.
Catapulted from deputy governor in Bayelsa to state governor, to vice president, and then to president of the Republic in two dizzy years, from obscurity to celebrity and to the global stage as it were, Dr Jonathan was more than overwhelmed.
Nothing had prepared him for such preferment. He never rose to its opportunities.
Instead he took refuge in a Transformation Agenda that was more slogan than substance, so much motion but, alas, very little movement. Meetings of the Federal Executive Council became contract bazaars, at the end of which contract awards were solemnly announced as if they were epochal achievements. And for the most part, nothing was heard again about them.
Dr Jonathan felt much more comfortable traipsing all over the country in gaudy apparel to attend to the affairs of the dysfunctional PDP than sitting down and contemplating how to make Nigeria work for the masses of the people. Nigeria was working well for him and his cronies. The formerly shoeless boy had a fleet of 11 executive jets at his beck and call, a one billion naira budget for food and beverages. What could be sworn with a system like that?
Being at the helm and reveling in the perks was what mattered the most to Dr Jonathan. Performance was of no consequence, whether at the national level or in the states where the PDP held sway, more by crook than by hook. Perversity and impunity thrived without even perfunctory remonstrance, especially in the PDP states or in the ministries, departments and agencies headed by its stalwarts.
It is in fact the case that, the greater the perversity and the impunity perpetrated in those domains, the greater the tacit support of the Jonathan presidency.
The PDP was never a political party, in any case. It has always been a patronage organisation, held together by the power of federal patronage. One of its chieftains, Iyiola Omisore, spoke a greater truth than he intended or realised when, in a plea for party unity, he urged squabbling camp followers to remember that the PDP was nothing without the presidency.
Omisore was splendidly vindicated when, following the PDP’ rout two months ago in the general elections, its senior officials and card-carrying supporters started jumping ship by the thousands. The cookie on which they had gorged themselves remorselessly for 16 unbroken years had crumbled.
Jonathan presided over a comprehensive collapse of state institutions and the national value system. In almost no area of national life can Nigerians say with confidence that they are better off today than they were four years ago when Jonathan was voted into office on his own.
At its best, Nigeria generated in the Jonathan years only a small fraction of what a platinum mine in South Africa generates for its operations. When they work at all, Nigeria’s four oil refineries produce less than one-half of the nation’s needs; the balance is imported through a system that is about as transparent as a steel door.
Nigeria has been mired in corruption on a scale beyond belief. But to Dr Jonathan, the problem is ordinary stealing, and we only compound matters when we call it corruption.
Faced with the devastation over which he has presided, it might be thought that a contrite Jonathan would accept that he was not up to the task, thank Nigerians for the jolly good ride he has had, and humbly vacate the scene.
Instead, he engineered a false consensus to clinch the PDP’s presidential ticket and sought desperately to buy or steal the presidential election, employing in the process some of the most despicable tactics ever seen in these parts.
Instead of consolidating the ethnic solidarity that had triumphed over the machinations of a cabal bent on preventing him from taking power following the death of his principal, and had thereafter given him a strong mandate for a substantive term of his own, he resorted to ethnic-baiting and incitement.
In the twilight of his disastrous tenure, Dr Jonathan launched out on an activist streak, making major appointments, dismissing senior personnel, setting up new institutions, threatening to link all 36 state capitals by rail, and even vowing to become a statesman, as if that is a position to which one can appoint oneself.
He has even cast himself as a super patriot who has always been ready to lay down his life for Nigeria. Coming from a president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces who could not bring himself to go near Chibok where Boko Haram abducted 230 young women from their school hostel and stole their future, this has got to be the height of delusion.
The system collapse Nigeria is experiencing now is an eloquent epitaph to Dr Jonathan’s inept rule. The damage he has inflicted on every aspect of Nigerian life will be with us for a long time. What he is handing to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari is nothing less than a poisoned chalice.