A lot of Nigerians were disgusted last week when they were told that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan had left for Brazil. I was not one of them.
Did you see his departure photos? To his left as he strode to the presidential jet was his wife, Nigeria’s most powerful woman for five years.
That was a strong punch for those who consider Jonathan a “dull” man: out on a business trip, and he took his madam with him. That is not the move of a dullard; that is the move of a master. Right there, as he headed for the safety, the beauty and the beachfronts of Brazil, he ensured that the First Family was safe.
Was it the right time to travel?
Let us think about just this month alone and you will agree this man needed a holiday. June had barely dawned when that awful Dana jet crash happened, remember?
Someone important was needed to cry in public and whom did we call? You got that right: Mr. Jonathan. The Aso Rock Warrior was the one we dragged to the poverty and the grief of Iju-Ishaga. We gave him a handkerchief and he obliged the entire country by weeping into the cameras.
Since then, we have set up other scenarios and other cameras, and he has obliged us by weeping for the people of Kaduna, and then the people of Zaria and then the people of Yobe. Last weekend, I hear the church pastor simply passed a microphone to Mr. Jonathan and asked him to speak about the disaster in Kaduna. The president wept!
That was just Sunday. And the situation was so bad that Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa declared a 24-hour emergency.
Kaduna, now synonymous with insecurity and violence; now infamous for the slaughtering of the innocent as they gather to worship, now a byword for Muslim cowards disguised as militants to murder the unarmed and the peaceful; now a symbol of Nigeria’s descent towards hell.
Kaduna, where peace returned for a few ticks of the clock. That lured the embattled governor to relax the emergency by a few hours, only for that to become the opportunity for fierce reprisal attacks and counter-reprisals on a religious basis. The governor slapped the 24-hour emergency back on.
And all of that was within a space of two weeks in June. But it was also while that was going on, remember, that one organization announced that it has information that Boko Haram is getting ready to bomb Ibadan and Lagos. It was during the same period that members of the National Youth Service Corps, where there were still such people in parts of the North, were begging for protection, and to be allowed to go home.
Knowing what we now know, during that same time the United States must have been informing Mr. Jonathan of its intention to declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization, or at least to brand some of its leaders as terrorists.
I have to presume that Mr. Jonathan receives daily security briefings from relevant officials. If so, his briefings since the First of June must have quite strident. Remember, this is the month that Mr. Jonathan promised to vanquish Boko Haram, which would suggest that he knows what he is doing.
In other words, while the Jonathans were looking at a map of Brazil, the more important map was really of Nigeria, where ethnic, religious, ethical and political fissures are now alarming.
What does a current map of Nigeria show? A country frozen by religious extremism marching westwards and southwards from the North-east; a country frozen by decreasing economic activity occasioned by corruption, lack of electricity, and fear; and a country frozen by poor leadership.
I think that is why Mr. Jonathan, who once admitted his administrative naiveté, left the country last week. The man had had enough, as there is nothing on his resume to indicate genuine motivation or commitment.
This is why it may suddenly be clear, to most Nigerians, exactly whom President Jonathan listens to. Last week was not a week to listen to anyone who advised staying on the job in Nigeria, wisely sending off to Brazil, the Vice-President: the same advice we once offered to Umaru Yar’Adua in favour of Mr. Jonathan.
Regrettably, last week was one in which to listen to praise-singers who tell him how lucky he is; that he can do no wrong and nobody can take the presidency from him; that he can budget the national budget for his own kitchen and fly the skies unafraid when his countrymen are falling out of the skies in rickety and unsupervised aircraft; those who tell him to feel free to fly to any destination of his desire because he can rule from there.
Six months ago, Mr. Jonathan faced his first crisis when he abruptly inflated fuel prices claiming he was withdrawing a fuel subsidy. Even he knows that the only thing that was being subsidized was corruption at the highest levels, but he has not done anything about it.
As part of his response to the strikes that ensued, Mr. Jonathan said he would reduce the size and cost of government. He has not honoured that pledge; his government is unrepentant and last week he travelled with a contemptuous and bloated delegation of 116.
His government also said at that time it was providing 1500 buses to ease the burden of transportation on Nigerians; I know nobody who has seen a single one of them.
What this means is that there is a context to Mr. Jonathan’s flight from Nigeria last week: the question of credibility. The actual question being asked last week was not why Mr. Jonathan should travel abroad but whether he is taking Nigeria’s problems seriously.
It is significant that as soon as he left our shores, Vice-President Namadi Sambo and the elite security chiefs held a high level meeting, apparently one Mr. Jonathan did not think important enough to hold before his departure.
The conundrum is whether Mr. Jonathan does not know what to do, or does not care enough. I think it is both. It is startling that the highest meeting on security in the land would hold in his absence, at a time of the highest challenge to security and the unity of Nigeria, in the month of his greatest challenge.
Equally remarkable, during the same trip, he got Owoeye Azazi, the National Security Adviser, fired. He obviously did not want to have to tell Mr. Azazi by himself. He has yet to fire any of his many corrupt Ministers.
I think Mr. Jonathan fails to understand that while leadership offers tremendous power, it is no vacation. Leadership is a responsibility that, when deployed with wisdom, character and commitment, ennobles and elevates a people and rewards the leader; but used with manipulation and shallow-mindedness, can catapult the leader to shame and oblivion. General Sani Abacha and Mr. Jonathan’s successor offer easy examples.
Now, can Jonathan rule from anywhere, Minister Labaran Maku?
Of course. But first, he can do so only if he was ruling in the first place. Mr. Jonathan seems to conceive of himself only as an actor: playing the part of a man who is pretending to be in charge.
The final question, then, is whether Mr. Jonathan can lead from anywhere, the most important question Minister Maku did not raise.
The answer is that you cannot lead from an aircraft, a teleprompter, a laptop or from another man’s country, if you never led in the first place, or if you are only an actor who plays a leader.
Ours is a nation in fear and on the brink. What we need is a hands-on leader who is afraid of neither man nor Time. Mr. Jonathan seems to tremble before them all.