Saturday, 21 September 2013

Over a barrel

A good case could be made for considering Jonathan the worst president Nigeria has ever had. This is hardly surprising given his antecedents as a man who – like Obasanjo – has benefited from others’ misfortunes, although this by itself doesn’t necessarily unfit him. There are doubtless many examples of accidental presidents who ended up doing a good job, with the proviso that a life of happy chance might also entail a degree of character he clearly lacks. It is also true that anybody, no matter how well organized, might have baulked at the enormity of the task following more than half-a-century of kleptomania, and I am not one of those who persist in the myth of Nigeria’s past greatness, which seems to have more to do with the bonanza of crude that once, briefly, put the naira at parity with the dollar. Jonathan can hardly be held to account for the sins of the past but, by the same token, he knew, or ought to have known, what he was letting himself in for.
As others have pointed out, what is needed in Nigeria is a war cabinet which might, for example, declare a state of emergency in the power sector, as indeed was once floated - and then quickly forgotten. It is true that Jonathan has lately been making noises about the improvements we can expect following the latest round of privatizations but the gap between where we are and where we need to be is to be measured in light years. Moreover, the story is not new. We have been hearing variations of it for too many years now, including Obasanjo’s $16bn splurge over eight years, while we continue to grope about in darkness amidst reassurances that Nigeria will magically become one of the world’s top 20 economies by the end of the decade. And power is only the beginning.
Yet far from rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work, Jonathan appears only concerned with 2015, to which end he seems intent on splitting his own party. Perhaps this was not to be avoided. On the one hand, ‘the system’ as it has evolved can only favour mediocrities; on the other, any party that has been continuously in power for so long invariably succumbs to government by sleaze. And this one might just be the sleaziest of them all. Given the centrality of oil in the economy, the worst culprits will naturally be found there, beginning with the minister, who was recently alleged (amongst so much else) to have blown N2bn on private jets alone in the last two years, although, as always, we must make do with allegations, this being a country where hard evidence is impossible to come by. They will burn the documents, if need be, along with the entire building, although the press itself, for all its supposed vibrancy, has been noticeably tardy about practicing the kind of investigative journalism that brings down governments in ‘London and America’, as we like to put it.
Given that nothing much is going to happen between now and 2015, what are Jonathan’s chances of returning? His first hurdle will obviously be getting his party’s endorsement. This looks increasingly unlikely if we are to believe the reported disaffection among many PDP governors; as one of them put it: ‘What most Nigerians do not know is that we suffered a lot to make Jonathan President and today he is using people who did not know how we enthroned him, to harass and intimidate some of us.’ This, of course, is in keeping with Jonathan’s character. A man lacking ideas can hardly have principles, as he demonstrated in 2011 when he repudiated the agreement he was himself party to by contesting in the first place, and which he now wants to extend by another four years.
But even if he scales this hurdle, what then? The landscape in 2015 will be very different with APC now on the scene. Indeed, it seems hardly fortuitous that the emergence of a real opposition should have coincided with the turmoil within PDP, as would happen with any gang of thieves suddenly confronted with a possible challenge to the N2bn private jets. Whether the new boys and girls will be any different – if, in fact, they are even new to begin with – seems doubtful for reasons I also discussed in a previous blog but perhaps anything is better than another four years of PDP, with or without Jonathan.
Assuming (a large assumption) that PDP doesn’t rig the election (or, perhaps, isn’t allowed to rig the elections), much will depend on the candidate the APC selects. In 2011, Jonathan garnered a lot of goodwill votes from the south especially but also from pockets in the north but which he has now exhausted. He was also fortunate in his opponent. It is only to be hoped that Buhari will not be allowed to repeat that role in 2015, whatever one’s personal feelings about the person of the retired general from the old days. We need younger, more vibrant men and women, which is why one is sceptical about whether APC represents this.
What is certain, at any rate, is that we are going to see many signs and wonders between now and 2015, although uninterrupted power will not be among them for the simple reason that the president will be too preoccupied elsewhere. The irony is that delivering this uninterrupted power we have been searching for like the ubiquitous Golden Fleece we once sought (but which didn’t appear to help us) would have done the same for him.
What is also certain is that Jonathan’s media fellow has his work cut out but he will doubtless prove himself equal to the task, as he has done up until now with that facility with words we so admired in his previous incarnation. He will need them all and then some. Goodluck, as one might say.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:



  1. Q1: Why is hard evidence so impossible to come by? FOI and all.

    Q2: The electricity thing, which is so dear to us, must it be allowed to depend on the President who we think is so distracted? Just trying to think outside the box here.

    A lot of theater going on for sure, keeps people's eyes off the real issues. By the way, what reforms have happened in 'justice' and the legal profession since the new MoJ? Any?

  2. Perhaps we need to examine whether the media are taking advantage of FoI. Just asking.

  3. Hmmnn... The Chief Priest's 'Roforofo Fight' encapsulates it all! Abeg, second bass jare!!!