By Ajong Mbapndah L
In over fifty years of independence, Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth had more than its fair share of turbulence. Its crisis have spanned from religious with acrimony occasionally erupting between Muslims and Christians, leadership where the corruption and incompetence of some civilians was always exploited by an avaricious military to grab power until recent times. For over a decade now, the country has enjoyed uninterrupted civilian rule with current President Goodluck Jonathan at the helm since 2010 when he completed the mandate of late President Musa Yar’Adua and subsequently earned his own mandate which is currently ongoing.
The peculiar name Goodluck amply sums up the political career of Mr. Jonathan. A man who progressively found his way to the pinnacle of political power in Nigeria with minimal effort. Serving as Deputy Governor in the State of Bayelsa, Mr. Jonathan became Governor in 2005 when sitting Governor became embroiled in a corruption scandal that swept him from Office. Mr. Jonathan played the role of the loyal Deputy until the process played itself out. He was bracing up to seek a mandate of his own as Governor when to the surprise of many, he emerged as the running mate of Musa Yar’Adua the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party –PDP for the 2007 elections. Sworn in as Vice President in May 2007, Mr. Jonathan served in the shadows of President Yar’Adua until 2010 when his extraordinary goodluck resurfaced again. On January 13 2010, a Federal Court granted him the power to pilot state affairs as President Umaru Yar’Adua sort medical treatment in a Saudi hospital. The Nigerian Senate followed suit in February 2010 confirmed these powers to act. Jonathan continued as acting President upon Yar’Adua’s return and upon his death took the oath of office on May 2010.
Getting his own mandate proved tough. Scaling through the primaries was already a hard sell with acrimonious debates on whether the flag bearer of the ruling PDP had to come from the North or from the South. Jonathan’s opponents argued that according to the informal arrangement of zoning, it was the turn of the North to produce the next President considering that a Southerner in former President Obasanjo had served two uninterrupted terms. Jonathan went ahead to win primaries and eventually the general elections.
The Goodluck that guided the amazing journey of Mr. Jonathan to the zenith of Nigeria politics seems to have hit speed bumps in recent months. The problems he inherited were many .Corruption was still way too rampant; the Niger Delta remained a powder keg which could go off at any time despite the efforts to address it with the amnesty program. On his already very plate comes one of the most serious threats the country has faced in recent history: the Boko Haram. This previously little known Muslim sect has earned itself worldwide for causing attacks in Nigeria with reckless abandon. On August 26 2011, the sect bombed a United Nations building in the capital city of Abuja. President Jonathan labeled it as an attack not just on Nigeria but also on the International Community and told reporters that all will be done with the United Nations and other world leaders to ensure that terrorism is brought under control.
On Christmas day 2011, the Boko Haram made even bigger news with multiple bomb attacks, some targeting Christian facilities and dozens killed. The attacks were roundly condemned by Nigerians and the wider International Community. Mr. Jonathan on his part earned severe criticisms from fellow Nigerians from his rather lackluster reaction to yet another embodiment of galloping insecurity. The borders of the country were sealed and some states like Yobe, Jos, Niger and Plateau placed under a state of emergency. The Boko Haram took its menace further by declaring that all Christians living in the largely Muslim part of the country should leave and Muslims in the largely Christian South should do same.
Acknowledging the complexity of the threat posed by Boko Haram, President Jonathan admitted on January 8 that the sect represents a worse threat to the country than the civil war of 1967-1970. At a Memorial Day Church service in Abuja, where he spoke on the deteriorating security situation in the country, Jonathan said “some of them are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary arm, while some are in the Judiciary.” Mr. Jonathan went on to say there are even members of the sect in the armed forces, police and other security agencies. During the civil war President Jonathan said “we knew and could even predict where the enemy was coming …but the challenge today is more complicated”
While the impact of the palliative measures taken are still to be measured, the Christian groups think the government has not done enough to make them feel protected. Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria believes the killings suggest a pattern of ethnic and religious cleansing. “We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves, we are also saying today that we will do whatever it takes” the Pastor says.
Still licking its wounds from the Christmas day attacks, the Jonathan administration and the entire country was stunned again when on January 20, security facilities and government buildings in Kano were the target of more bombings. The casualty rate was estimated at about 176 from the attacks on a regional police office, an immigration office, and a building used by the state security police. “They are not spirits” President Jonathan implored Nigerians on a visit to Kano after the bomb attacks. “Look at your neighbours and know what they do, and if there is any suspicious movement ,inform security agencies” the President implored his compatriots who live in fear not knowing when to expect the next attack.
On Tuesday 13 Dec 2011, the 2012 budget presented to the National Assembly removed provisions for fuel subsidy. On Sunday January 1st, the Jonathan Administration ignored the concerns of many Nigerians and went ahead with a controversial to abolish fuel subsidies. A very thorny issue in Nigerian politics, a poll conducted by the Alliance for Credible Elections showed some 80% of citizens opposed the plan which amongst others kept the price of fuel affordable for Nigerians.
The immediate effect of the measure was that fuel prices shot up, a thing considered by many Nigerians as unaffordable for them in times of economic difficulties. Sold at 65 naira or 0.41 dollar per litre prior to the removal of subsidy, Nigerians were going to start paying 141 naira or 0.89 dollar. The intensity of the protests that followed had eerie reminders of the Arab spring. Huge crowds led by Labour leaders in Nigeria and civil society groups literally brought Nigeria to a standstill.
The government of Jonathan blinked and a reduction of the fuel price to some 97 naira 0.64 US dollar placated Labour leaders who called for an air to the historic show down. “We are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again,” the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress Abdulwaheed Omar said. Although the argument from government officials that removing the subsidies estimated at circa $ 8 billion annually will free up resources to fund public projects like roads, electricity, and clean water has its merits, the cost was considered by many Nigerians to be very burdensome. To some this policy reportedly favoured by the Bretton Woods Institutions meant depriving ordinary Nigerians of one of the few benefits they can identify with from the huge oil resources of the country.
“In both crises, the President has been accused of dithering. After Boko Haram blew people up in their churches on Christmas Day he took a week to visit the scene. On the fuel issue, he appeared to hide from public view before performing a U-turn and buying off opposition to the reform. Those in the West who hailed Mr. Jonathan as a reformer now deride him as “indecisive”, saying he takes weeks over minor matters”. Says Daniel Howden writing in the Independent newspaper in the UK. His election ignited hopes that Africa’s most populous country might be changing direction. Yet nearly a year on, Nigeria appears closer to civil war than a new economic dawn, Howden says. While Nigerians got cheap fuel, a cabal of politically-connected fuel importers looted the subsidy system of billions of dollars of public money, Howden cites from a recent conclusion of the Nigerian Senate.
“The argument for the withdrawal of the subsidy, which cost the government of $7.67bn last year was clear and has been backed by development economists such as Paul Collier at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies. He argues that the subsidies represent a cash transfer from Nigeria’s overwhelming poor majority to its wealthier consumers and fuel profiteers and that the money would be better spent on social programmes” Howden writes in his piece “Good luck Jonathan”. “The Senate report on the cabal of fuel importers which named names – several of them very close to President Jonathan – led to no action” Howden makes a point which portrays the dilemma Jonathan finds himself in. How does he walk the line between power brokers who have profiteered from system that has held Nigeria hostage for decades and the legitimate aspirations of a people who have had enough of it and want a new direction for the way things are handled in the country?
There was little luxury for a honey moon for Mr. Jonathan after he assumed office. It has been nothing but a galore of challenges for him. Its size, population, complexities, complicated political history, conflicting interests, vaulting ambitions of its politicians and a restive citizenry et al means the job of governance in Nigeria more herculean than what may obtain in other countries. The excitement of his resounding electoral victory was over shadowed by a wave of violence that engulf several parts of the country especially in the North.Did Mr. Jonathan underestimate the enormity of the challenges that he will face? His easy going demeanor may make some to conclude in the face of severe crisis may make some answer in the affirmative. But there is much that Mr. Jonathan deserves credit for. He looks like every ordinary Nigerian with his own kind of Cinderella grass to grace tale. The President elections of 2011 that he won got rave reviews and there has been a sincerity to improve on the electoral process.
Jonathan may lack the cunningness of Ibrahim Babaginda which earned him the sobriquet of Maradona or the abrasive style of former President Obasanjo but he has shown a willingness to listen and to compromise. Putting speed breaks on the subsidy saga Jonathan said “Government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships and commends Nigerians who have put forth suggestions and credible alternatives in this regard. Government also salutes Nigerians who by and large, conducted themselves peacefully while expressing their grievances. Let me assure you that government will continue to respect the people’s right to express themselves within the confines of the law and in accordance with the dictates of our democratic space.”
The state of Nigeria today is a very pale reflection of its potentials. One of the richest countries in the continent, Nigeria was amongst the first African countries to join the elite oil producers’ cartel dubbed OPEC. Whereas the oil resources have transformed entire economies around the world, corruption, bad governance and the absence of credible leadership have left behind a country where short of where it ought to reasonably be with its potential. President Jonathan is only amongst a handful of civilians like the late Tafarwa Balewa, Shehu Shargari and the late Musa Yar’Adua who have held power. Even President Obasanjo came from a military background despite enjoy two four year terms as a civilian elected leader. The military has occupied power for a greater portion of the over fifty years Nigeria has been independent. In the wake of the security challenges and the fuel subsidy brouhaha, some pundits expressed fears that the military might make a dash for power. One wonders if the mood of Nigerians today no matter how dire will entertain any move by the military to grab power. “Coups belong to a different era” a critic of Jonathan said.
Nigerians are eager to see results, and frankly Africa as well needs a strong Nigeria to provide the kind of leadership that is sorely missing across the continent today. From Ivory Coast to Libya, Africans have been reduced to the role of spectators in the regulation of crisis. Where is the leadership of Nigeria, where is the leadership of Jonathan many in the continent?
The mandate of Mr. Jonathan is still early but he was elected to meet challenges and to solve problems. There is the risk that Nigerians may not have amply appreciated the enormity of the challenges facing the country or the monstrous hurdles erected over the years to ensure the perpetuity of systems and agendas which work for interest of a privileged few to the detriment of the over whelming majority.
President Jonathan has to justify the wisdom of Nigerians in picking him as a fresh face and taking a break from recycled politicians whose failed legacies and policies have created the kind of atmosphere which makes Boko Haram to excel, which makes the Niger Delta to remain disgruntled, and the kind of battle royale recently witnessed over the subsidy crisis. His everyday Nigerian look, simplicity amongst others may have endeared him to many. However to survive politically and move the country forward, President Jonathan needs to step up his game less his meticulously poised demeanor even in the face of grave crisis is taken as a weakness by both friends and foes alike. The problems may be far from his making but the onus is on him to produce tangible results to move Nigeria forward. An assiduous task and one he is capable of achieving hopefully with all the goodluck that has accompanied him thus far.