“His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a man with great quest for knowledge holds a Bachelor of Science … Master of Science … and Doctor of Philosophy … from University of Port Harcourt ,” so begins a profile of our president available online (http://www.onlinenigeria.com/links/LinksReadPrint.asp?blurb=640).
Jonathan “bagged” these degrees in biology, fisheries and zoology. Although he began his working life in the civil service, there really was only one place for him because he “always knew that he had a bond with the academia that he cannot dispute” (sic). And so in 1983, he left “mainstream” civil service to teach biology at Rivers State College of Education. But a college of education proved unequal to his scholarly ambition, his desire “to equip himself firmly ahead of the foresighted challenges” (sic), hence his pursuit of doctoral studies.
By citing this online profile, I do not imply that it emanated from the president or that it was posted with his consent. Indeed, it appears to have been written by a fawning admirer in the manner of the pompous and shameful praise-singing that our men and women in high office cherish and encourage, if not actively solicit. The unguarded zeal of the writer is evident in the embarrassing errors of grammar that seem to mock the goal of presenting his subject as a man of exemplary learning and academic achievements. Yet, the unintended result proves to be a good allegory for understanding the efforts of our president as the interpreter-in-chief of our troubled national life. I will return to this point presently, but if I began with his valorisation as a man of great learning, it is not only because he is a doctor of philosophy but also because until his predecessor, Umar Yar’Adua, Nigeria seemed cursed to be governed only by men of middling education; to put it mildly. That Yar’Adua had not just a Bachelor’s but a Master’s as well endeared him to many, made them willing to overlook the scandal of the 2007 presidential election and give him the benefit of the doubt. One can safely assume that not a few quieted their grave concerns regarding the capability of Jonathan to be president by the wish to elect only the second head of state to have passed through the portals of a university. To be clear, I do not consider university education a qualification for the office of president: in my view, the late Mokwugo Okoye and Anthony Enahoro, to name just two great minds, would shame many a Ph.D or pretender to the presidency. So then what?
That a president who happens to be a doctor of philosophy should, at the very least, prove himself worthy of the status — in learning, if not in leadership. But in all that Jonathan has said in public office, I have yet to find a thought or idea so well expressed or a social problem so clearly analysed as would be befitting of a former university don. The problem, I admit, may be with me: I may not have looked widely or carefully enough or I may have failed to recognize intellectual rigour in his speeches, and I have wondered aloud before who writes his speeches. But let me tender evidence in my defence from Jonathan’s recent claim that the January anti-fuel subsidy protests were sponsored and manipulated by some unnamed people. In short, by his enemies. It is not only worrisome that Jonathan denounced the people as fools easily misled to risk life and limb for a cup of water and a song, but also that this is the best argument he could advance in support of such utter contempt for his electorate. During the demonstration in Lagos, he said, “people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to. People were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So even going to eat free alone attracts people. They go and hire the best musicians to come and play and the best comedian to come and entertain. Is that demonstration? Are you telling me that that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to government? I believe that that protest in Lagos was manipulated by a class in Lagos and was not from the ordinary people.”
I could neither laugh nor cry when I read this, and not merely for the awful grammar. I could only wonder: after nine months of reflection, this is the conclusion of our philosopher-president regarding a crisis that rocked the country he claims to govern, a crisis that caused death and grievous bodily harm to many? After the revelations of the House of Representatives committee that probed the oil subsidy swindle, and KPMG’s forensic report on NNPC’s process and procedure, both of which confirmed the popular view that the so-called subsidy was one enjoyed by the oil cartel and its enablers in the corridors of power, the president could so brazenly insult the people? As a species of argument, one wouldn’t expect it of a sophomore! Which makes me wonder what the president’s aforementioned profiler must have meant by describing him as a “humane administrator, amazingly simple minded.” Doesn’t the president know that he pronounced judgement against himself as he said those words? The people, he confesses, are so impoverished, so famished, that they would riot, do the devil’s work, for food! Evidently, irony is not something that our philosopher-president might understand.
Jonathan’s puzzling vilification of the people, says Wole Soyinka, is the result of “bad conscience.” As he rightly points out, Jonathan did not see manipulators when the same people took to the streets to insist that he be named acting president against the entrenched interests of those who sought to profit from Yar’Adua’s effective abdication of office due to terminal illness. But I don’t think it is bad conscience alone that afflicts the president. It seems clear that Jonathan, Ph.D notwithstanding, suffers from bad social science as well. And that his expert knowledge of fishes and animals needs urgently to be supplemented by a serviceable knowledge of society and human behaviour.