Far From A Diminished Presidency

The Punch columnist, Sabella Abidde’s Jonathan’s diminishing Presidency (Wednesday July 4, 2012), is typical of the massive anti-Jonathan hysteria currently trending in both the orthodox and the social media. A pattern has developed over the past year of heaping blame upon the President for any and every perception of things not being exactly as they should be. Strikingly, the critics often get it horribly wrong on the question of exactly how things are. How does one’s ridicule of the state of play of any situation hold water when that one’s notion of either the state or the play is altogether unfounded?

Let us begin from Abidde. This US-based Nigerian is not a run-of-the-mill columnist. He is a university teacher. He is at home with the norms of socio-political commentary. He has the nuances of the application of lexis and semantics at his fingertips. Based on what I have read from him, there is no question that he has little difficulty siding with the truth. His Unravelling the Ojukwu Mystique, published in The PUNCH of Wednesday November 30, 2011 was so poignant that I contacted Abidde and obtained permission to add the article to the list of contributions in General of the People’s Army, my book of tribute to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

Now, when someone of Abidde’s pedigree gets his assessment of his country’s First Citizen so fundamentally wrong, it leads to a critical question. What is responsible for his aberrant assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan? The answer is simple. Jonathan is the victim of a partisan press and political blackmail. He comes from a geographical part of the country not ‘meant’ to govern. Not only that, he counts among his implacable political opponents, controllers of critical segments of the nation’s media. The bile from these “nattering nabobs of negativism”, as former American vice-president, Spiro T. Agnew, would have called them, has had a severe knock-on effect on the ranking of the President by the public.

There is an important point to make. Democracy guarantees the freedom of speech. This allows partisan politicians the leverage to score zero to their opponents who, if assessed judiciously, should be accorded heroic status. There is no mortal danger in this because the jostle for media supremacy – a central ploy for vote-garnering – is an essential aspect of the democratic spirit, it being assumed that a political leader savagely criticised should have the wherewithal to counter the flak trained in their direction. The problem starts when outright falsehood, severe exaggerations and outlandish speculations are forced down the gullet of the entity and subsequently ventilated as the truth by knowledgeable people like Abidde.

In ten paragraphs and about a thousand words, Abidde could not muster words and could not muster sentences to support his thesis of a “diminished” Jonathan Presidency. Sure, neither dialecticism nor empiricism has been extirpated from discourse. If someone wishing to be taken seriously pronounces something to be black, the imperative of argument demands of him a demonstration of the blackness. Facts cannot be allowed to be thrown around like the confetti of opinion. Besides, there is something known as comparative analysis. That wasn’t exactly what Abidde was up to when he uncharacteristically mounted the partisan hobbyhorse to throw up names such as Harry S. Truman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Nor did his submission lift itself out of the miserable by his mention of such former Nigerian leaders as Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo.

American political circumstances are unrelated to the Nigerian experience. Not only that, Roosevelt was in office for 12 years, Truman for eight years, while Obama has been in office for four years. But President Jonathan has been in office only for a year. Gowon ran a dictatorship for nine years, Babangida ran an eight-year dictatorship, Abacha’s “cold and iron age” was through five years while Obasanjo’s first coming was a dictatorship; his second coming, an imperial Presidency. Why should these dictators be called up in the assessment of a stickler for democratic tenets who has been in office for only a year? And – key point – Jonathan is facing the problem of homegrown terrorism, something that never confronted a previous American or Nigerian leader.

The United States, Israel and many European countries face the danger of terrorism. Yet, serious as the danger certainly is, these countries face a brand of terrorism brewed essentially from outside their borders. On the contrary, Nigerian terrorism is brewed and perpetrated from within its borders by those who promised on his inauguration that they would make Jonathan’s tenure ungovernable. Acknowledging that this blight of terrorism was previously unknown, and aware that the security architecture for fighting it is only being developed, it is logical to expect that Jonathan’s traducers should acknowledge the deleterious impact which terrorism is having on governance. Sadly, that is not the case.

Terrorists are killing fellow Nigerians by the hundreds. Businesses and business opportunities are being systematically crippled. A good chunk of the national budget, money that should otherwise go into areas of concrete development, are being channelled into making Nigeria safe and stable for the citizens as well as welcoming to investors. It is to President Jonathan’s credit that he is battling the scotched-earth policy and practices of the terrorists with calm and measured response. His successes in this area will be guaranteed by the willingness and readiness of all sections of the country and all classes of the citizens to assist his government.

Unfortunately, a lot of those who should lend a hand to the salvation of Nigeria are busy shielding themselves behind tinted windows, while tossing canisters of unwarranted criticism in all directions. In engaging in this dangerous pastime, they assume that their lot in an unravelled Nigeria would be a grand ringside view of a chaos consuming others. That’s delusion par excellence. This delusion is also apparent in the media where commentators preclude precision and empiricism from their criticism. The proper way to criticise is by pinpointing errors of governance and positing options for salvage operations, not by following Abidde, whose grounds for diminishing Jonathan’s Presidency boils down to an undemonstrated perception of the current administration not being better than those of past military juntas!

If gold rusts, what will iron do? What is to be expected of bloggers when our educated commentators revel in displaying astonishing misapprehension of the trajectory of Nigerian political development? The negative agenda setting of partisan press obviously explains the din in uncritical quarters about the actual quality of the government in Abuja today. Otherwise, it should command adulation that President Jonathan has improved on the quality of our elections. This does not support Abidde’s suggestion that the President is self-immolating. For decades, the Apapa ports and the roads around them were clogged up. It took Jonathan’s direct intervention and directives for the roads around the ports to be cleared of traffic logjams and for the period of clearing goods at the ports to be reduced from 39 days to 48 hours. This does not support Abidde’s claim that the President’s actions reek of doubt and mediocrity. For decades, the matter of fertiliser for Nigerian farmers ran on the wheels of scandalous corruption. In one fell swoop, Jonathan cleared the Augean stable by extricating government out of fertiliser supplies. This negates Abidde’s position that Jonathan’s actions are framed by second-guessing and controversy. Why does Abidde believe that it is positive to announce that “the economy is in a shambles” without any evidence to support his charge? In agreeing that the “President did not cause many of the problems we now face”, Abidde did not point out the ones Jonathan created, nor did he explain how he expected the President to solve in 12 months problems that have existed and exacerbated since the amalgamation.

Jonathan is probably the most underrated leader Nigeria ever had. This is partly due to his understated personality – which is not a negative attribute in politics, and partly down to the blackmail and negative agenda setting of partisan press. Yet, I have a sense that, in the ultimate, “The mouth used to call a woman barren, will also be employed to put the vital question: Woman, how are your kids?”

•Iloegbunam, Editor of PM Review, Abuja, wrote in via iloegbunam@hotmail.com