|Abimbola Adelakun – Of Goodluck Lamentations|
There are hardly dedicated presidential historians who set themselves to the task of researching the lives of past Nigerian Presidents, their political ideologies, personal idiosyncrasies and the quirks of history that made or marred them. That lack, therefore, makes one to welcome the effort, which ThisDay editorial board chair, Segun Adeniyi, has made to chronicle the historical events that led up to the 2015 Presidential election victory and defeat.
Adeniyi’s book, Against the Run of Play, accounts for the unprecedented unseating of an incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, by his contender, Muhammadu Buhari, during the 2015 Presidential election.
I came off the book with four thoughts: First, Nigeria is perennially unlucky in its choice of leaders and the only dedicated activity by politicians is winning elections – by any means foul. There seems to be nothing else that counts in the totality of their actions that is not about electoral victories or power retention.
Second, in this soiled dehumanisation, the so-called conservatives and progressives are barely distinguishable in their policies and politics. Nothing in the way they angle for victory betrays their ideological leanings. Third, party conventions and procedures that throw up candidates in a democracy make the concept of “people’s choice” almost an illusion or at best, a satire.
Fourth, the book’s narration of the 2015 elections, when pitted against the ongoing activities in the Nigerian political scene, tells us that we are about to extend our 56 years of solitude. Current news headlines – Chief Bisi Akande’s doublespeak on Buhari’s health, speculations about 2019, and the President’s aides expressing certainty he would win the election in 2019 – make one conclude that nothing ever changes in Nigeria.
All through my read, I could not help but wonder where and how Nigerians factored in these political calculations that led to electoral victories and upset. There were scant indications that Nigerians themselves were a driving motivation for the politicians’ desire to earn power. It was all about the use and abuse of power.
This disregard for the people, ironically, is part of the hubris that brought Jonathan’s government down. From his post-mortem of his loss and as recorded in the book, the former President does not seem to have considered that in a democracy the people count for something. His personal reflections seemed content to look in every direction and everywhere else to place the blame for his electoral defeat except within his actions. He seemed to have taken it for granted that he was entitled to a second term and that the shoddy and aggressive campaign by members of his own party, along with his wife’s legendary blundering, did not matter to voters.
Whether he admits it or not, Jonathan began his steep descent when he began to mistake the cries of the public for the disgruntled moans of his traducers. If he had paid attention, he would have found that he started to lose the election long before the first Nigerian collected his/her voter card.
I was bemused reading him blame his loss of the election on a web of local and international conspiracies. He appears to believe that the media criticism about corruption in Nigeria was fake news and that former US President Barack Obama wanted a change of government in Nigeria more than Nigerians themselves did. Jonathan alleged that America desperately wanted him out that they pressured both Britain and France to remove him.
While it is a historical reality that Western governments regularly intervene in other countries’ elections, Jonathan will have to work extra hard in the memoir he promised to write to convince us that his defeat was extroverted. It is curious that Obama has such an omniscient influence in Nigeria to the extent that he was able to convince those living in the hinterlands (where some have not had electricity supply for donkey’s years) to vote against their own President.
Almost two years after Jonathan was sacked from power, he is understandably sour and has apparently not given much thought to the angst that built up in the polity against his second-term ambitions. His attitude is not all that surprising. He has consistently failed to acknowledge the power of the people as historical agents who, occasionally, manage to generate the required outrage necessarily to force the hands of their leaders.
In 2012, Jonathan similarly dismissed the fuel subsidy protests at Freedom Park in Lagos, claiming that the passion that drove the movement was paid for by propagandists who did not want him in office. By ignoring the underlying issues that drove the protests, he steeled himself against any prospect of understanding and addressing the people’s fury. He once complained about being the most criticised President ever, probably construing himself as the victim of discontented folks who simply did not want an Ijaw man in office.
Willfully blind to shortcomings, his latest responses suggest that he might never have sincerely inquired if the anger of the people against him was not justified. Apart from the fuel subsidy saga and the frequent allegations of corruption, he probably does not imagine that the death of 16 job seekers at the failed immigration recruitment exercise fuelled resentment against his government, in particular for the lethargic manner he responded to the deaths. The Chibok girls’ abduction and the way his government (and his wife) handled such an important issue made him seem like a weak and indecisive leader. By the time the world media – spurred by the news on the burgeoning of a sect that could kidnap 276 girls in broad daylight – focused their gaze on his shortcomings, Jonathan became entirely undone.
Since he is going to write his memoirs at a future date, he should do all of us the favour of more reflective thinking about how the common Nigerians he repeatedly spurned perceived him and his government. Rather than persist in arguing that some of the reports about corruption were exaggerations, he should put himself in the shoes of poor and oppressed Nigerians who had enough of corruption scandals and probes that were not meant to go anywhere.
By the way, Against the Run of Play helpfully documents various incidents in our recent past, but all of which have now receded from the public because other scandals have long overtaken them. While flipping through the pages, one is reminded just how the scandal-prone Goodluck Jonathan administration was and how it came to be perceived as irredeemably clueless. One soon realises just how atavistic our government and governance mechanisms are. Virtually everything is done haphazardly; there is neither internal coherence nor philosophical anchor to propel the ship of governance. They just do what they must do to win votes, simple.
One final take-away from the book: I could not but marvel at the genius of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the power and principality who somehow manages to be present where events that define almost all political and historical epochs in Nigeria take place.
At each of those times, Obasanjo has managed to don the toga of patriot and Messiah, while he taints the political space with his hypocritical self-righteousness. Anyone who has carefully followed Obasanjo’s political trajectory in the past couple of decades will not be taken in about his soteriological delusions. Obasanjo is as much a problem as the problems he tries to help Nigeria solve. This man has probably never thought about it but the legacy of illegalities, amorality and endemic corruption he gifted the nation when he was President created a framework that still defines statecraft till now. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Obasanjo will not go away and just let Nigeria be. At some point, we need to exorcise this ghost and banish it into Hades where it belongs so that the nation can be set on a better path.