With a faltering campaign that is enmeshed in avoidable gaffes due mainly to a schizophrenic president whose tactic of manufacturing enemies through the courting of primitive loyalties is  alienating decent citizens everywhere, the Jonathan team seems to have made a conscious but potentially fatal decision to escalate their ‘war’ by resorting to the services of a new breed of foot-soldiers. 

Sharing a common strand of desperation with their principal, these ‘apparatchiks’ in high places are loudly showing their disdain  for democracy and the rule of law. Governor  Suswam of Benue is proving himself as the new face of strong-arm politicking by proxy in Nigeria.

As if to leave nobody in doubt as to his increasingly worrisome profile as the enfant terrible of Nigeria’s peculiar brand of politics, the Benue state governor has once more been involved in a needless controversy consisting in the enthronement of an impostor as the chairman of the formidable Nigerian Governors’  Forum (NGF). The unnecessary blunder by Gabriel Suswam and his partners has not only stoked the flames of division within the national polity, it has also remarkably re-enforced the scary prospect that under the Jonathan presidency, the country is again engaged in the path of lawlessness and reckless impunity , not unlike during the infamous tyranny of the ex-despot called Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan’s ally and mentor.

When slightly over a week ago Governor Suswam egregiously announced in a note of conniving impudence and brazenness that barely ten  out of Nigeria’s thirty-six state governors had,  without following due process, decided to make the Ogun governor the chairman of the NGF, that desperate, sinister and tragi-comic event instantly brought back sad memories. It was reminiscent of the antics of the former dictator from Ota whose eight-year reign of terror and executive rascality witnessed the worst human rights abuses as well as the most dreadful constitutional breaches in the history of the country. In the heyday  of his Caligula-like dictatorship which lasted from 1999 to May 29, 2007, Obasanjo did rely heavily on the zealotry  of henchmen  in privileged administrative positions  - veritable foot-soldiers at the beck and call of an imperial ruler and his fantasies - in the bid to ensure his political self-perpetuation, also known as tenure-elongation. In places like Plateau, Bayelsa, Ekiti and Anambra, impeachments of governors were illegally effected with scant regard for  the rule of law. In Plateau and Ekiti in particular, the destitution road show assumed an eerily farcical tone with state legislators captured and held incommunicado while a handful of their hectored  colleagues joined hands with the EFCC, the police and members of other security outfits in order to execute the will of the tin god at Aso Rock.

Significantly, during his misgovernance,  Olusegun Obasanjo and his errand boys sought to equate the whims and caprices  of the despot with the nation’s interests. It is in that mindset that Kabiyesi  had the temerity to announce that he had unilaterally sacked Abubakar Atiku as the country’s vice-president. As we shall soon see, it is hardly surprising that Governor Suswam who is eager to be seen as a Jonathan sidekick has futilely tried to justify the  irresponsible and partisan conduct of the coup organizers  within the NGF by seeking to present their misconduct as an act of self-abnegation designed to serve the common good.  At any rate, the former Supreme Ruler’s  ‘’ l’ État c’est moi ‘’ posture à la Louis 1V did ensure that he  rigged himself back to Abuja in the ‘419’ elections of 2003. That feat was repeated in 2007 when the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan were imposed on the nation in the worst election in the history of humanity, unfortunately,  without any countervailing national civil society influences willing to  help reverse the ultimate impunity which the electoral debacle implied. It is agonizing that since he became president following the demise of Yar’Adua whose tenure had largely been characterised by a marked departure from the sectarian  politics of the Obasanjo era, Jonathan has been associated with the kind of bickering and mindless scheming for the spoils of power that pays little or no heed to the political health of the nation. Employing tactics that are a throwback to the divisive brigandage of his political godfather, the erstwhile tyrant, president Jonathan seems to be counting more and more on, amongst other unsavoury  tactics, the activities of public figures like Governor Suswam whose conduct is essentially driven  by parochial and selfish considerations that are clearly a negation of the larger interests of Benue and its citizens.

It is noteworthy that the unwholesome ploy consisting in undemocratically declaring Governor Daniel of Ogun the new chairman of the NGF in lieu of the legitimate holder of that position has been rightly condemned by a cross section of the Nigerian society. It speaks volumes that apart from issuing unconvincing denials that they were behind the abortive ‘coup d’état’, both President Jonathan and his regime have not thought it wise to denounce the bumbling illegality of Gabriel Suswam and his co-conspirators.  If Jonathan and his campaign enterprise were even remotely concerned about the democratic sensibilities of the citizenry, they would not have thought twice before getting rid of Suswam  who doubles as the so-called zonal co-ordinator of the Jonathan presidential campaign organization.  And although the NGF has done the right thing by reversing the ‘putsch’ within its fold, thanks to the sagacity of the majority, the point needs to be made that the troubling refusal  on the part of both Jonathan and his  campaign to categorically condemn  the banditry of  Suswam and his fellow usurpers  and what it portends for Benue and the rest of the country does lend credence to the strong belief out there that Jonathan and his men are characteristically out for mischief even as they continue to preach the gospel of transparency,  democratic reforms, free and fair elections, etc. The aggravating situation the country has been going through in the past few months does call for a redoubling of our individual and collective efforts aimed at safeguarding our present and future against the enemies of democracy.

For the president  whose election campaign has been bogged down partly because of his unnerving incompetence and that of his inner-circle,  not to mention the general unattractiveness of his candidacy which has been rendered more acutely  uninteresting, if not simply unsalable , by the political and ideological kinship  he shares with the likes of Obasanjo and Edwin Clark as well as the polarizing agency of unpopular and undemocratic elements in the Governors Suswam, Daniel  and Yuguda mould, having a stranglehold on a redoubtable association like the NGF could be seen as a political coup de maître of sorts. This can be achieved through a chairman who is seen as an indefatigable ally of Mr. President. Short of vicariously exercising suzerainty over the NGF through a puppet or a loyal foot-soldier like the one illegally announced by Suswam, the president and his grey  eminence, it is feared, could have opted for a contrived crisis within the NGF, with the ultimate objective being  the political supremacy of one man, his narrow interests and those of his clique.

Yet, the NGF’s  succession fiasco involving Gabriel  Suswam and his fellow ‘putschists’ is instructive chiefly because of its significance as a cautionary tale. And he who talks of caution, talks necessarily of  intelligence gleaned as well as lessons to be learnt.

The first major lesson has to do with the attitude of the main protagonists and its immediate and long-term implications for the polity. While, following the ‘crushing’ of the Suswam-announced palace coup, Governor Daniel tried to make light of the conspirators’  faux pas by putting the blame for the imbroglio on the shoulders of perceived enemies of Jonathan’s presidential ambition, Governor Suswam, on his part,  did opt for a syrupy but spurious justification of the undemocratic gesture perpetrated by himself and his co-travellers  in the NGF. Declared he, inter alia, to Sunnews Online : ‘’ “We need our Governors Forum because we’re known to be responding to issues. There were bomb blasts in Abuja without any response from the Forum. And there are a lot of other issues that have happened in this country without responses from our Forum due to our chairman’s engagement in his presidential election campaign. So, what we want is responsive leadership,” . Right, ‘responsive leadership’ indeed ! It is amazing that Governor Suswam does not seem to have the alertness of mind to notice the alarming incongruity of his stand. It is at once contradictory and self-indicting for anybody preaching ‘reponsive leadership’ to be involved in a reckless and pedestrian disruption of societal peace and harmony that the illegal succession manoeuvre by Suswam and his buddies suggests. Suswam and his handlers should understand that ‘responsive leadership’ is not and cannot be the antithesis of able and responsible leadership, although the governor’s conduct regarding the NGF would suggest exactly the opposite. Besides, the allegation that the NGF under the chairmanship of Kwara governor, Dr. Saraki, did not exhibit  responsive reflexes regarding the October 1 Abuja bomb blasts by the terrorist outfit going by the acronym of MEND is a red herring that Suswam is holding unto in a vain attempt to rationalize an abomination, namely, his unwise involvement in the destabilizing onslaught on the NGF’s internal cohesion. Moreover, the NGF cannot be held accountable for the failures of the Jonathan administration in the critical area of  national security. The clumsy attempt by a Jonathan acolyte in the person of Governor Suswam to shift blame for the gauche and insensitive manner Jonathan did handle the immediate aftermath of the MEND attacks in Abuja must be dismissed as a pathetic subterfuge. But the main subterfuge has to do with the fact that Suswam has been unable or unwilling to convincingly tell Benue and the rest of the country why he and his political companions needed to behave like motor park touts or like drunken sailors involved in a mutiny against the captain of their ship as opposed to true leaders by refusing to adhere to established procedures in the election of a chairman for the NGF.

Suswam’s argument that Governor Saraki had to be relieved of his position because of his presidential campaign responsibilities may sound plausible on the face of it but closer scrutiny reveals that excuse as both misleading and insincere. Dr. Saraki, it has been reported, had, prior to the unfortunate scheme to forcibly remove him as NGF chairman, made his intention known to step down and concentrate on his presidential campaign. And, by the way, it is mind-boggling that Suswam has chosen to close his eyes on the impropriety of wanting to impose the Ogun governor, one of the sectional co-ordinators of the Jonathan presidential campaign, as chairman of the NGF. Significantly also, one wonders why  the Benue governor has not seen it fit to apply his curious argument to his own circumstances. By offering himself as a de facto enforcer-cum-rabble rouser for Jonathan’s campaign that is apparently going nowhere, Suswam is dangerously sacrificing the governance of the state at the altar of partisan and self-serving considerations, the kind that are inimical to the immediate and possibly long-term interests of Benue in particular. At the best of times, the Benue governor has been criticised for his truancy on account of his frequent and long stays away from the state. Now that he is engaged in his re-election bid, it is anybody’s guess as to the kind of attention being accorded critical administrative and political matters. Judging from the foregoing reasons, the questionable decision by Suswam to actively and imprudently get involved in President Jonathan’s election campaign should be seen as an act of abiding contempt for Benue, its inhabitants and their legitimate aspirations. The governor and his allies must know that they are wrong if they think that an ill-conceived decision to act as Jonathan’s surrogates at the expense of the state will procure for Suswam his party’s ticket and eventually the governorship of that provincial jurisdiction in 2011.

Another important lesson for Benue  and the country in general of the behaviour of the NGF ‘putschists’ is its implication for the country’s democracy. In the run-up to the 2011 elections, the Jonathan administration has been making what may appear as the right noises concerning the imperative to hold transparent elections whose outcome is considered as reflecting the sovereign will of the citizenry. Sadly, however, Jonathan, his government and his key backers have not demonstrated through their actions that they truly subscribe to the principles they mouth in our public spaces. Within the PDP, for instance, the president and his new-found ‘friends’ like Suswam have proven that they are averse to internal democracy as their refusal to respect the zoning arrangement as prescribed by their party’s constitution has revealed. It is instructive that the failed move by Jonathan’s associates within the NGF to take control of that organization is similar to the manner the president and his Obasanjo-featured wing of the PDP seized control of the party’s chairmanship by orchestrating the overthrow of Chief Ogbulafor. The latter was replaced by a more amenable John Nwodo. These happenings by Jonathan and his associates are indicative of a disturbing pattern. It is a grim trajectory that has been characterized by the unseemly use of state resources in the pursuance of self-aggrandizement on the part of the president and his confederates - the new militants of Niigeria’s culture of impunity. That Jonathan and his sponsors are desperately trying to stack the deck ahead of the PDP’s presidential primaries has been obvious for some time now. The latest ploy is to have the Electoral Act revised by the National Assembly so that the president’s political appointees can vote for him during the anticipated primaries of his party. The other amendment being contemplated is the change of the order for the holding of party primaries. Jonathan and his people are said to want a revision to include a stipulation that the presidential primaries be held first! Jonathan’s proposed amendments were thrown out by the legislators in Abuja about three weeks ago. Those ill-advised proposals should be consigned to the dustbin. Distressingly, the desperation of the Jonathan campaign is manifesting itself on all crucial fronts. For instance, recent activities by Mrs. Waziri’s EFCC have tended to suggest a disheartening willingness on the part of the chairman and her operatives to be on Jonathan’s Impunity train. Intruding in the political arena, Mrs. Waziri has resurrected and fine-tuned the discredited shenanigans that were the hallmarks of the EFCC during the chairmanship of Nuhu Ribadu and which were chiefly aimed at the political foes, real or imaginary, of the former dictator, Obasanjo. The EFCC’s current ‘advisory list’ of allegedly corrupt politicians has studiously and strangely, it would appear, avoided mentioning the names of key allies of the incumbent president.

A perverse dimension of the divisive and dangerous politicking associated with the Jonathan regime is the latter’s seeming tolerance of blackmail tactics by groups and elements laying claim to pro-Niger-Delta advocacy. In early September this year, the hounding of Raymond Dokpesi who is managing the presidential campaign of the ex-dictator, Babangida, took a particularly chilling turn when an outfit calling itself the Joint Revolutionary Council ( JRC ) issued a grotesque statement threatening Dokpesi and any other South-South politician or public figure not supporting Jonathan’s presidential ambition with violence and other criminally-motivated sanctions. After declaring Dokpesi, a law-abiding and bona fide citizen, persona non grata in the Niger-Delta region and pronouncing a ‘Fatwa’ on the man and his business interests,  the JRC imposed something akin to a blanket ban on intellectual and cultural activities in the zone. ‘’...In furtherance thereof, we demand that all Southern and Niger Delta interests should immediately cease every relationship with Raymond Dokpesi and all of his business interests.Government institutions and parastatals, youth groups and all others are hereby warned from participating in programmes runs by Raymond Dokpesi and his interests such as Raypower radio, AIT Television etc.Any Niger Delta interest that henceforth participates in AIT programmes such as Kaakaki etc or advertises on AIT will be summarily punished.In the next few weeks, we will begin our course. Any advertisement by any Niger Delta based groups or interests on AIT will be cursed, condemned and punished...’. The offending statement was signed by one Cynthia Whyte. Again, like in the Governor Suswam-led misadventure, Jonathan and his government have been silent concerning the need to call the JRC and other entities to order.
Adding comic relief to the violent ranting by the JRC and similar voices,  the former Bayelsa governor, ‘Alams’, who reportedly dressed as a woman in order to evade arrest by the British police some years ago, is said to have told a local gathering some weeks ago that any Ijaw man opposed to the candidacy of Jonathan is a ‘’saboteur’’! As if to press home the point as to Jonathan’s suspected condoning of attacks on the principle of freedom of association and the  right to choose one’s representatives as enshrined in the country’s constitution, Labaran Maku, a junior minister in the Jonathan cabinet, was recently reported to have said that if Jonathan does not win the PDP ticket to contest the 2011 presidential election, that would cause more terrorist attacks in the Niger-Delta because, according to him, the ‘’owners and producers’’ of the nation’s wealth will not accept such an affront ! So far, the Jonathan administration has not contradicted Mr. Maku and his worrying stance whose aim is to constrict the democratic space. It is quite unsettling that much of the local media ( and especially its Lagos-Ibadan axis ) which prides itself as the conscience of the nation has largely remained silent in the face of the serial assaults on the democratic project in Nigeria under the Jonathan presidency.
In the respective states where they think they hold sway, Jonathan’s foot-soldiers like Governors Daniel and Suswam have lately been involved in political in-fighting that has caused widespread instability and uncertainty. In the forlorn belief that they can cow or subdue the opposition and the local population and thereby ensure their continued relevance, these state executives have unabashedly been resorting to extremely desperate measures that are an anathema to democratic practices. With his outlandish behaviour in Abuja about two weeks ago, Governor Suswam has dramatically added to his continued desecration of the office he occupies. His conduct, like that of other like-minded state governors or politicians, has brought to the fore the urgency for citizens to organize themselves more efficiently in order to protect their constitutional right to elect the men and women of their choice. It is unacceptable that Suswam and his allies are said to want to turn what should rightly be a democratic contest for Makurdi Government House ( MGH ) into a charade that is limited to the current occupant. Whether or not that offensive position implies a threat to potential opponents, it has to be reiterated that nobody can prevent any Benue citizen from seeking the governorship of the state. And that logic also applies to Nigerians in other states. Benue citizens in the Diaspora are especially encouraged to submit themselves for service to the people. They should feel free to participate in the electoral process and reject any sponsored propagandist designs aimed at blindly supporting the status quo. It goes without saying that, like elsewhere in the country, the dismal situation in the state does call for a credible democratic alternative to emerge in 2011.

Aonduna Tondu ( [email protected] ).

P.S. The untimely demise of Jonathan Biam ( May his soul rest in peace ! ) who, until his passing away, was a governorship candidate for the 2011 polls in Benue state, should not be in vain. Mr. Biam died in Abuja last week. The best way to remember this illustrious son of Nigeria is  for us to do all in our power to help realize his great dream of  a new Benue led by  truly people-conscious and God-fearing men and women.

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