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-Anti Jonathan obsession borders on Paranoia,sinners who oppose President turn into Saints in Nigeria

January 14, 2014

-Obasanjo’s fight over diminishing influence as God Father -Jonathan has not lived up to expectations -Nigeria will be better served with two strong opposition parties….. Making sense of the silly season in Nigerian politics with veteran Journalist and Author Chido Onumah By Ajong Mbapndah L It all boils down to 2015 when the first mandate of President Jonathan expires and judging by the speed at which gloves have been taken off and the viciousness of the political blows been traded, there is every reason to be nervous for Nigeria. If it is not former President Obasanjo hitting President Jonathan with political punches in a letter that strongly stoked the polity, then it is Jonathan and his team with an assist from Obasanjo’s daughter in her own controversial letter reminding the former President that he is part of what ever mess Nigeria is going through. If it is not Governors feuding, then it is political marriages of sorts with former enemies uniting in the common goal of frustrating President Jonathan out of office. But before anyone jumps to President Jonathan’s defence, has his leadership lived up to expectations? No, says veteran Journalist and author Chido Onumah, who is Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, in Abuja, Nigeria. Onumah says it is sad to see some of the most unscrupulous politicians in Nigeria elevated to sainthood just because there oppose President Jonathan. Onumah. From the controversial letter of former President Obasanjo, to Jonathan’s leadership, the defection of governors and MPS from the ruling party to the opposition, prospects of the military giving a shot at power again and more, Chido Onumah helps in making sense of the silly season in Nigerian politics in an interview with Ajong Mbapndah L Q: Recently there was this rather tough letter from former President Obasanjo to President Jonathan, what do you think motivated the letter, and can you tell us what was fiction and what was reality in the letter? A: Personally, I think the letter was motivated by Obasanjo’s messianic proclivity. There was nothing particularly new about the contents of the letter. Agreed that the issues raised – corruption, abuse of office, clannishness, insecurity, etc., – are compelling and ought to worry anybody interested in the survival of Nigeria, but there was nothing in that letter that former President Obasanjo accused the current president of that did not happen during his (Obasanjo) government. We’ve been there and seen it all. Unfortunately, there is an anti-Jonathan obsession that borders on paranoia. Anybody who opposes President Jonathan, no matter his sordid records, is made a saint. It has become so entrenched that some people can’t see the scheming of the likes of Obasanjo. I think Obasanjo is fighting back because he appears to have lost his “godfather” role with the Jonathan administration. It has nothing to do with whether Jonathan is performing or not. For me, the thrust of the letter was the fact that according to Obasanjo, President Jonathan is not a “man of honour”; that he had promised him that he would only serve one term as president. Clearly, it was on the strength of that understanding that Obasanjo supported President Jonathan in 2011. Now, Obasanjo does not want to miss the opportunity of determining the next president of Nigeria. He is scared stiff that he is unlikely to do what he loves to do and did in 1979 when he handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari and in 2007 when he orchestrated the emergence of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then vice president Goodluck Jonathan.  Remember last May 29, during Nigeria’s Democracy Day celebrations, more than six months before what I have referred to as his “satanic” letter came out, rather than be with President Jonathan in Abuja to celebrate the national event he was in Jigawa State, northwestern Nigeria, to literally raise the hands of Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, as his anointed son and the next president of Nigeria. That is Obasanjo for you. I think he deserves to be ignored. For a man who had two golden opportunities to reverse the fortunes of Nigeria, first in 1976 as a military head-of-state and in 1999 as a civilian president and bungled both opportunities, it is hard to place too much importance on his message. Remember he foisted President Jonathan on Nigerians. Because he is now “opposed” to Jonathan, some people are not looking at the impropriety of his action. They don’t want to focus on that criminal conduct. Q: Correct us if we are wrong but many people think a former leader like Obasanjo has access to Aso Rock and President Jonathan, was it necessary for President Obasanjo to reach out to the President in a letter that was leaked to the press? A: That’s exactly the point I am trying to make. It was completely unnecessary. The former president I assume has direct access to Aso Rock. To be fair, it was reported that he had had private discussions with President Jonathan before the letter. But that is no justification for a former president, the man who imposed President Jonathan on Nigerians, to make such a public show of his “frustration”. Decency demands that Obasanjo be contrite rather than constitute himself into a public nuisance. Clearly, with that letter, we saw a man on a devious mission. What the former president did had the potential of causing serious political and social upheaval. Some of the issues border on national security and to have thrown them so casually in the public domain was completely reckless of a former president. Take the claim that the presidency had drawn up a list of 1000 Nigerians and was training snipers and other armed personnel to take them out! For someone interested in full disclosure, if he had the list, he should have made it public. There is nothing former president Obasanjo revealed about President Jonathan in that letter that Nigerians didn’t know about the latter before 2007 when he was handpicked to run as vice president and in 2011 when he ran for president as an incumbent. Obasanjo was aware of the corruption indictment against then governor Goodluck Jonathan when he picked him to run alongside the late Umaru Yar’Adua for the presidency in 2007. Q: On the content of the letter, President Jonathan’s mandate ends in 2015, but the impression is that he does not have a full and firm grasp of developments in Nigeria, why has he faced so many difficulties? A: Yes, President Jonathan’s mandate ends in 2015. Of course, he is covered under the Nigerian constitution to run for re-election having been elected as president for the first time in 2011. But that is where the argument ends. The Jonathan presidency has been a disaster on all fronts, whether we are talking about fighting corruption, the crises in the education, health and energy sectors or the general state of insecurity in the country. Of course, it is important to note that many of the problems, particularly the poor security situation, were inherited, but the president has shown a total lack of capacity to deal with any of the problems. As a man who has held one political office or the other without break since 1999, Mr. Jonathan needs to do better. He has been deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president since May 2010. What other experience can one ask for? I think it speaks to the character and ability of the man. As the Noble Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said recently, “You can take the hippopotamus out of the swamp, but you can’t take the swamp out of the hippopotamus.” The task of running Nigeria and running it effectively is simply beyond the pay grade of Mr. Jonathan. And that’s why there appears to be so much desperation because you have a president that would have been in office for five years by the time he is due for re-election in 2015 and you can’t point to a single issue on which he can campaign for re-election. Q: When you look at developments in Nigeria, it is either attacks from Boko Haram, it is corruption scandals like Oduagate with no public officials been held accountable, if the buck stops with President Jonathan, should he not be held accountable for some of the unfortunate developments that are heating the polity? A: Of course, he should be held responsible. But by his body language and utterances, the man doesn’t think he should be held accountable. If he is not complaining that he is the most-abused president in the world, he is making light of the issue of corruption by saying that what Nigerians think is corruption is just stealing and not really corruption. It is wishful thinking to expect President Jonathan to fire any of his ministers for corruption. Here is a man who has consistently refused to make public his assets. During an interview on national television two years ago, he declared that he did not “give a damn” about such requests. One of the first actions President Jonathan took when he was sworn in as president on May 29, 2011, was to sign the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill into law. I remember my organisation, the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, making an FoI request to the Code of Conduct Bureau, the custodian of asset declarations of public officers for the release of the president’s asset declaration. The bureau did not dignify our request with a response. Only for the chairman of the bureau to grant an interview later where he said the constitution didn’t require the president to make his asset declaration public. Of course, the constitution doesn’t require the president to make his asset declaration public, but the FoI empowers citizens to request information in the public domain. The question that readily comes to mind is:  what is the president hiding?   For me, that was a clear indication that the president was not interested in fighting corruption or leading by example on the issue of accountability. Ministers and other top government officials have taken a cue from the president’s body language. As far as this government is concerned, really as far as governments in Nigeria are concerned, the presidency is a financial buffet. Q: Recently a number of governors defected to the opposition APC, and some parliamentarians followed suit, how does this change the political calculus in view of the 2015 elections? A: Nobody can say for sure how this defection will play out. I was among those who supported the merger of the country’s main opposition parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). Not that I believed the APC had the solution to the country’s myriad problems, but because I shared the view that Nigeria needed to get rid of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and create a level playing field; for the country to have two strong national parties and a semblance of choice. With the defection of many of the leaders of the PDP to the APC I don’t feel particularly confident that we can achieve even that minimum agenda. At the rate the defection is going, the APC may end up just being the “New PDP”. What it means is that the party may have the name APC but the major characters will be those who left the PDP. Clearly, the agenda of the defectors is to get rid of President Jonathan by weakening the PDP. It has nothing to do with any noble desire to improve the lot of Nigerians. It is possible that by the time the defection is over, the PDP will be the minority party in the National Assembly as well as in the number of states it controls. Considering that governors play a pivotal role in elections in their states that could affect the outcome of the election in favour of the APC. I don’t see the PDP or the president campaigning in the core north of the country where there is strong hostility toward him not necessarily because he is a non-performing president. But again you don’t want to discount the power of the Nigerian president, particularly a “wounded” one. There are conspiracy theories being bandied about in terms of how the presidency hopes to secure President Jonathan’s re-election. Elections may not hold in three states in the Northwest of the country (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) where a state of emergency has been in effect since May 2013. We have seen how the presidency has used the police to harass individuals, organisations and even state governors who are critical of the government. Imagine what will happen during the general election in 2015! I am looking at the bigger picture though which is that very few of those who are making these permutations for 2015 really care about the country. There is so much self interest at stake that something’s got to give! Q: In reaction to the APC’s charm offensive to former President Obasanjo, Wole Soyinka one of the most respected voices in Nigeria said the country was heading for a ship wreck, was he been alarmist or should his predictions be taken seriously? A: I think Wole Soyinka was right in his intervention and analysis. Very few people perhaps know and understand former President Obasanjo better than Wole Soyinka. That was not the first time Soyinka has had reason to caution the country against the antics of Obasanjo. I think Nigerians have more than enough reasons to take Soyinka’s words seriously. Remember Obasanjo once boasted that the PDP would rule Nigeria for 50 year or was it 100 years! The PDP has been in power for only 15 years. Q: And if we sought to find out in terms of ideology, in terms of the way Nigeria needs to be governed, what is the difference between the ruling PDP and the opposition APC? A: Of course, Nigerians are asking for ideology from these parties, understandably so. But the truth is that what they should be seeking is how to reclaim the country. That was what I was hoping the APC could help achieve before it opened itself up to a complete takeover by disgruntled elements in the PDP. The urgent task in Nigeria is not the 2015 election, but how to bring the country back from the brink. The entity called Nigeria needs to be salvaged, and urgently too. Ideology is the last thing on the agenda for countries in crisis like Somalia, Central Africa Republic and DR Congo. Nigeria is in crisis and we may end up like any of these countries I mentioned and even worse considering Nigeria’s population. To answer your question directly, I don’t see any difference between the ruling PDP and the opposition APC, not when about half of those who will emerge as leaders of the APC both at the national and state levels were up until a few weeks ago diehard members of the PDP. I am not yet convinced that APC can get the PDP defectors to accept whatever “progressive” agenda it has. Q: There are some people who think that Nigeria’s democracy will be better served with two strong political parties, do you agree? A: I agree completely and it looked like the two parties were going to evolve with the merger of opposition political parties to form the APC. You can’t overstate the importance of choice and a genuine and formidable opposition. It would have been a marked departure from the two-party system (the Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention) that former military dictator, retired General Ibrahim Babangida foisted on Nigerians during his diabolical and endless transition programme in the late 80s to early 90s. As it is now, what we have are PDP and the APC plus “New PDP”. I don’t think Nigerians really have a choice. Remember that some of the leadership of the APC (before the current defection) were in PDP even though they left a long time ago to join other political parties, including those that merged to form the APC. The APC needs to do more to reassure Nigerians that it is a genuine alternative to the PDP. Q: A sitting Governor in one of the states recently declared that there was a pact between the North and the South that President Jonathan will serve just one term, is there any veracity to this statement, and in the face of such mounting opposition, can Jonathan make it for a second term, what does he need to do to survive the onslaught? [caption id="attachment_7976" align="alignright" width="300"]Chido Onumah Chido Onumah[/caption] A: Well, there have been all kinds of claims that President Jonathan signed a one-term pact. We have yet to see any documents to that effect. Of course, we read in the letter by former President Obasanjo that President Jonathan personally assured him that he will not seek re-election. It may well be true that there was a one-term pact. That is the nature of politics in Nigeria; the feeling of entitlement that makes it impossible for the best amongst us to emerge as leaders. Some decrepit men (and perhaps women) sit in a room at night and decide who will emerge president or governor. I don’t understand the fixation with the so-called one-term pact. Nigeria does not belong to President Jonathan or those he purportedly entered into a pact with. There is no zoning principle in the constitution for the presidency. Any qualified Nigerian from any part of the country can contest the office for the stipulated two terms. I understand the importance of keeping one’s word, but if the president denies there was no such agreement or decides to renege on the agreement, assuming there was one, the country should not come to a halt because of that. It is just an internal affair of a political party, in this case the PDP. Except we take it for granted that whoever is the candidate of the PDP will emerge as president in 2015. Q: And Mr. Onumah, about this eternal feud of whether a leader should come from the North or from the South, does it matter to the average Nigerian or it is just something used by the political elite in their power plays, we ask because, the issues affecting ordinary Nigerians do not know South or North, from unemployment to poverty, infrastructure, education, security etc. What is this North–South issue all about and should it have relevance in a democracy? A: I would love to say it doesn’t matter to the average Nigerian, but it does. Very few people see themselves as Nigerians. Therefore it is so easy for politicians to play the ethnic card. That is partly why it is difficult to fight corruption in Nigeria. A public officer steals money and he is indicted. You will find many people belonging to the same ethnic group who will rise to his defence. They will say he is being persecuted because he is from a certain ethnic group or adheres to a certain religion. They will ask you whether he is the first person to steal public fund and what happened to others from other ethnic groups who also stole public fund. You will hear argument like, “He is a thief, but he is our own thief.” In a sense, the national treasury doesn’t belong to anyone in particular so anybody who gets the opportunity can help themselves to it as much as they can. Of course, the issues affecting ordinary Nigerians – lack of electricity, poverty, poor infrastructure, etc. – are the same around the country, but when the chips are down people only hear the sound of your name. Nowhere is this issue more prevalent than in politics which in a way determines everything else: the way we fight corruption, the kind of infrastructure we will have, etc. If President Jonathan were from the north of the country he won’t be facing the militant opposition he is currently facing from the political class in the north just as he won’t have gotten the fanatical support he is getting from the Niger Delta. That is why some of us are calling for a Sovereign National Conference. There are so many fundamental issues that Nigerians have to address before we start talking about infrastructure, corruption, etc. Nigerians have to sit down in a Sovereign National Conference to address fundamental issues like the country’s political structure, citizenship rights, revenue allocation, etc. Q: With the kind of bickering going on with the political class, the underlying issue of whether the President should come from the North or the South and others, what are the odds that the military may be tempted to revert to its old habits of seizing power? A: There is that prospect. In fact, it grows every day. It is difficult to say how this crisis will play out. Nigeria is under siege on all fronts, but more so by a bankrupt ruling class from the North, South, East and West whose only aim is to control political power and they will do anything, including orchestrating a military coup to achieve it. Having said that, we must also note that the Nigerian military does not need the prompting of the political class to seize power. The military itself is as politicized as the politicians and they will manufacture any excuse to send the politicians packing. Of course, considering how polarized the country is, you will find people willing to jump on the bandwagon of a military coup. Q: Summing up the current developments, and going forward into 2015 which seems to be the critical focus of political actions and calculations now, what makes you nervous and what makes you hopeful about Nigeria? A: I am very nervous about Nigeria. There is very little politically that gives one hope. Unfortunately, there is no organized national mass movement that can provide an alternative to the dangerous politics of national destruction being played by our politicians. The only ray of hope, if one can call it that, is that 100 years after the creation of Nigeria, the country is so intertwined and the fear of it splitting into several countries is far-fetched. But again, the current scenario portends even something worse: the balkanization of the country along its various fault lines. We may have a Somalia on our hands here, except that in this case, the outcome will be ten times worse and the impact on the sub-region will be grave. That for me is a major source of concern. *Chido Onumah is a journalist, author and coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Abuja, Nigeria, He is currently pursuing a doctoral programme in communication and journalism at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain. ]]>

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