There is good luck and there is good luck. As the good old Greeks would have put it, call no man lucky until he has carried his luck to his grave. Like a Shakespearean play, life is full of strange twists and even more remarkable turns. The very combination of lucky circumstances that has propelled the formerly shoeless boy from Otueke to the pinnacle of electoral fortunes in his country has also made him the first sitting Nigerian ruler to be electorally dismissed. It doesn’t get more Delphic.
But the Jonathan story is still unfolding. As the youngest patriarch among the paleontology of under-achieving paterfamilias, Jonathan may yet surprise us as a statesman where he has disappointed as a political practitioner. It may well be that Jonathan is more temperamentally suited to the elevated art of statesmanship than the dark science of political magic.
Nevertheless, we must return an interim verdict on the Jonathan years, and it is as damning in its dismal details as it is as disagreeable and even disgraceful in its essence. Never in the history of Nigeria has there been a more divisive and polarizing president. Never has such incompetence combined with cluelessness and such in your face impunity coupled with sheer vindictive malice. Jonathan leaves behind a country that is so badly distorted politically, economically and spiritually that it will amount to a wry understatement to conclude that the country is in the grip of a deep systemic rot. It is much worse.
But however much we rail at him, however much we excoriate him in anger and deep disappointment, we are also railing at and excoriating ourselves. Jonathan is the ultimate product of a deeply disfigured polity and a luckless pawn at that. At any point in time, a ruler is the sum total of the strengths and weaknesses of the polity that throws him up and an accurate reflection of the forces at play and the balance of power. A system which allows a few privileged military officers to annul the electoral will of a whole country and which permits some demented autocrats to impose their political choice on the nation is bound to throw up a Jonathan as the end product of political infamy.
So here we are at the very nadir of our political and economic fortunes. The good news is that hubris has finally met its match in a resurgence of national will and a reawakening of national consciousness. Perhaps we had to get to this gate of hell in order to come back to our senses. Nothing concentrates the collective mind of a nation more than the thought of imminent extinction. The very idea of God’s own people or God’s own nation is one of the pious and energizing myths of national creation. Nations are not products of divine proclamations but products of human will and self-surpassing exertions.
By early 2012 and at the time of the petroleum subsidy hoax which has now returned in all its horrifying dimensions to see off Jonathan, it was clear to all discerning folks that Nigeria had a problem ruler on its laps. By that time, this column had a full measure of its man, describing Jonathan as a boy-emperor handed a toy rigged with explosives. It is perhaps owing to this nation’s legendary luck and the close attention of the international community that Jonathan was prevented from detonating himself and the nation along.
Those who fought valiantly on the streets and in smoke-filled rooms of endless strategizing to rescue him and the nation from the clutches of an overreaching cabal became Jonathan’s sworn enemies. As he came under the spell and political sorcery of tribal hegemonists and clueless power neophytes, Jonathan began playing the ethnic and religious card in such a derisive and abysmal manner that the pan-Nigerian coalition on which he rode to power gave way completely, leaving him at the mercy of infantile thugs and some senile political delinquents.
From then on, it was one constitutional infraction after another; one act of daring impunity after another; one assault on the institutional integrity of the country’s judicial and legislative foundation after another. At a point, it seems as if Jonathan derives a sadistic pleasure in cocking a snook at the country’s old power establishment and the relish of the psychologically tormented in imposing disorder on fragile order. Like a chap who killed his parents and asked the court to set him free on the grounds that he was an orphan, the chutzpah was quite breathtaking in its brazen audacity.
In a multi-ethnic post-colonial nation with multiplicities of countervailing and mutually cancelling power centres, it takes intricate networking, durable bridge-building and exemplary wheeling and dealing to cobble together a dominant power bloc. You cannot serially insult and humiliate a people publicly only to turn round when elections were approaching with bales of dollar to bribe their renegade leaders. Jonathan has been taught an elementary lesson in power politics.
Even after allowances might have been made for defects of character and personality, it is only the remarkable structural disfigurement of the country that can explain how Jonathan became president in the first instance and why he became such a horrendous presidential disaster with such damning disclaimers even from the normally diplomatic international community.
Standing logic and rationality on their head, Jonathan’s rabid partisans have been hollering that by conceding defeat at the time he did, he has snatched eternal victory from the jaws of bitter defeat. The question to ask is whether he had any real choice in the matter. The morphine of power addiction often wears off in the wake of imminent self-destruction. The eternal catch22 logic suggests that one’s concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers real and immediate is the process of a rational mind. Lucidity intervenes in the face of political morbidity.
In the nearest future, we will know what really happened. As a means of easing off hapless and heedless African rulers who are about to detonate their country, the international community normally offers political sweeteners. In the heat of the battle for Monrovia, the illiterate and abject Samuel Doe was rumoured to have been promised a prestigious American fellowship. Valentine Strasser, a former disc jockey in Freetown who became head of state through the instrumentality of military brigandage, was given a scholarship to study in one of Britain’s leading universities.
Strasser accepted while Doe demurred only to be brutally dispatched shortly thereafter. But at the last check, Strasser was living in a hovel outside Freetown with his mother. Sierra Leoneans do not even want to be reminded of the period, not to talk remembering or honouring him as a former head of state.
Statesmanship is not a title or honour to be bequeathed. It is earned. Exemplary leadership is not a function of an isolated instance of grace and common sense but the cumulative hulk of good and noble deeds accruing over a period. Judging by the havoc and mayhem he has wreaked on the country in the last six years, it is clear that Jonathan is neither a statesman nor an exemplary leader.
It is instructive that so soon after conceding defeat, Jonathan, like somebody recovering from a benign trance, simply reverted to his default mode of petty malice and vindictive witch hunting, deliberately loading the dice of destabilization against his successor and conqueror through questionable appointments and even more questionable confirmations while abandoning real governance. If General Buhari were to respond in kind, then Nigerians must brace themselves for a stormy session of outlandish revelations ahead.
But after all atonements have been made, let us be ready to forgive the man from Otuoke. A man cannot give what he doesn’t have. He has been plucked from nowhere by the power protocol and thrown into a brutal coliseum that he could barely comprehend. We must now return to the original labours of our founding fathers who were not just politicians but theorists of the state. Given the systemic rot, the promise of good governance emblematized by Mohammadu Buhari may just not be enough. Nigeria needs a new architecture of the state. Let that old debate which was terminated in 1962 now resume in earnest.