This piece was to be titled, “What is in being a President?” until it was thought that it could go this way to bear the impulse that prompted it. It arose from the wonder about the schism and ensuing scheming, wiles and intrigues revolving around President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition. The situation forces one to mull over what is happening, and why politics has been reduced to crude display of greed. What has happened to integrity? What has happened to vision? What has happened to service? And what has happened to ethics? The conspicuous absence of the aforementioned leadership traits makes change desirable; even though some of those at the forefront of the agitation, who appear to be leading the chorus of disapproval, are themselves motivated by greed, rather than service.
In recent times, many Nigerians have become confused spectators to the economic hemorrhage and massive pillaging taking place in the country by the political class and their cronies. The flaccid (some say conspiratorial) treatment of this matter by the president has pushed many to the conclusion that a change of leadership is imperative. It is not about “who is there as the president,” is about legitimation crisis: a situation where a governing body, though still retains the legality to govern, but is unable to function as to fulfill the end for which it was instituted, thereby giving rise to loss of public confidence. The question is: can Nigerians afford to condone another four years of leadership ineptitude beginning from May, 2015? Everywhere one turns, there is a mounting tension requiring to be doused. In the midst of this, public funds of colossal proportion are being unconscionable misappropriated; while massive unemployment and poverty reduce able-bodied men and women to beggarly and conquered people. This is the matter at issue.
The country is in a dire need of a leader who can bring hope to the masses by dealing corruption and public waste a revolutionary blow, and signaling the dawn of a new era. As things stand, there is nothing to indicate that the current leadership is capable of undertaken that action of tremendous moral stamina, as is currently happening in Malawi under President Joyce Banda.
President Jonathan has used every opportunity to query the concern being generated by his now apparent interest in the 2015 presidential race; and wondered why that should be an issue in a country where the Constitution is clear about presidential tenure. According to him, “Why is the issue of second term generating so much debate? Is it because it is Jonathan?” Mr. President, please, it is not because it is Jonathan. It is because of the pervasive sense of disappointment across sections of the society. When asked why he has not declared firmly if he would run in 2015, the President noted that doing so will heat up the polity. However, it is clear that the polity is already heated up, and the heat is increasing by his prevarication over the matter.
A leader who is desirous of peace for his country, and who is aware that declaring to run in 2015 is likely to burn up the polity, will do well to saved the country from conflagration by sacrificing ambition for peace and progress; then, institute reforms that will strengthen the country’s institutions. Before we are reminded, we are aware of the provisions of the Constitution on presidential terms, but the exigencies of the time require a leader who can do better than what the Constitution says.
What is really in being a president that some will want to hang on, even when they are loathed by their people? It is in this context that General Abdulsalami Abubakar should be appreciated and honored for overcoming the seduction of power and resisting the temptation to perpetuate himself when the opportunity offered itself. Nigeria has lost several great opportunities to establish a strong and sustainable nation in the hands of inept leaders, the most recent opportunity being in 1999. Rather than strengthening the nation’s institutions to build the country by the opportunity offered by the circumstances at that time, we have moved from a snobbish, self-publicist and magniloquent leadership, to a quasi philosopher servant-leader struggling with invalidism (but deeply appreciated for his feeble efforts at instituting transparency, due process and aversion for waste), and now to a faux-naif lackluster leader whose plans to remain the president outweigh his vision for his country.
Back to the question, what is actually in being a president? It may not be necessary to attempt a catalogue of presidents who didn’t see the need to continue in office, even when their people wished them on. History is replete with such instances. Nelson Mandela’s example might be too extraordinary to recall; but then he is a human being, different only by his commitment to principles. However, in Japan, in 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Ken survived a vote of no-confidence, yet he resigned, citing popularity deficit, and urged his country people to choose another respectable leader who could serve their interests. Ditto Shinzo Abe in 2007 and Yukio Hatoyama in 2010. All stated that they felt they were not doing well enough. No corruption charges were leveled against them or members of their cabinet; but Japanese political culture of ‘existential popular accountability’ compelled these men to resign at any time popular opinions become unfavorable. In other words, people have demoted themselves from seemingly privileged positions on principle, from South Africa to Japan.
In much of Africa, this simple political function is seen as a huge occasion that must be grabbed at the expense of peace and progress. Some even go to the absurd extent of, not only clenching to power in their time, but also constitute strange means that distort the electoral processes to ensure that power remains in their family. We now have a situation in Equatorial Guinea where Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is the country’s president, and his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, is vice president.
Other unpalatable instances include the disaster being constituted in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1987. Gnassingbe Eyadema was president of Togo from 1967 until his death in 2005; thereupon, his son, Faure Gnassingbe was made president till date. In Ivory Coast, it took a social upheaval with annihilating consequences to get Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, the presidential victor in the 2011 election.
The same goes to the issue of being a “First Lady;” whatever that means. In our own clime, we have a wife of a president, who as the First Lady (savaging all the advantages of the office, beyond the usual), doubles as the Permanent Secretary of a State, without any scruple as to the propriety of such greedy conduct. What exactly is responsible for this crude mentality and approach to leadership common among Africa leaders and their associates? When I think of how Veronica, the ex-wife of former Italian Prime Minister, Silvo Berlusconi, divorced her husband, saying she was tired of her husband’s lies; without regard to the advantages she appeared to be relinquishing, I wonder whether a similar thing can happen in our clime.
Here, we have a situation where the position is being sumptuously flaunted with vulgarity. We have become witnesses to all forms of absurdities playing out in the socio-politico space inspired by the First Lady, stomping the entire landscape. One of such bizarre state of affairs played out in Rivers State when the governor of the State was prevented from accessing certain areas by the police under the auspices of the president’s wife. To enhance the situation of affairs in the State, the governor has been asking for a replacement of his State’s Commissioner of Police by another, who is not to be chosen by the governor, but the police authority has remained adamant because the First Lady has spoken. While this is going on, professional praise singers are turning reason on its head, and those whose responsibility it is to stem this impudence have remained mum. What kind of system are we running? There is need for those associated with power to appreciate the ethical dimension in the management and exercise of power.
Not too long ago, the country was entertained to a show of shame in Rivers State’s House of Assembly which started when a certain fellow by the name of Evans Bipi, with the cooperation of four others, attempted to install himself as the Speaker of the House, in a brazen violation of democratic tradition. Public outcry against that incident was dominated by the segment of that episode where the Majority Leader nearly took the life of one of the rebellious five (one commentator described the Majority Leader as a psychiatrist attempting to cure his patient by cutting off his head). The Majority Leader was promptly declared wanted and subsequently apprehended by the police (which was in harmony with public expectations); but not many cared to asked how the whole thing started in the first place, and why Evans Bipi should not be arrested for invading the Parliament with weapons-wielding miscreants. The manner in which hooligans access weapons and freely brandish them, especially in political contexts, is worrisome in a country where the law is clear as to who should have the monopoly of access to arms. The phenomenon gives cause for fear and indicative of the level of insecurity that politicians have propagated in the system since 2003 when thugs where assigned active roles in installing political leaders.
Furthermore, the galling irresponsible pronouncements by some elements from the South-South, including some governors, that Goodluck Jonathan must preside over the nation’s affair (even when his administration has become synonymous with pestilential corruption) in 2015, whatever it will take- no matter the choice of the electorate - is regrettable in a country of fragile unity and deep rooted mutual suspicions. By the way, if Goodluck Jonathan becomes the president in 2015, is he going to be there forever to the exclusion of other regions? Will his term not end four years after? Or do these elements have any plans to alter the Constitution to secure an indefinite term for “their own”? Do they understand that they are preparing a ground for the sentiment of, “you can do what you like now, but don’t complain when it becomes our turn?” The president is supposed to be the president of Nigeria, for all Nigerians, and not a representative of the Ijaw people or the South-South geopolitical zone.
Similarly, those traditional rulers from certain areas of the country groveling around the president and urging him to stay on should be kept where they belong- sycophants. The example of Chief Arthur Eze who led traditional rulers from some States in the South-East and South-South to Aso Rock, during the time of late General Abacha, prevailing on the former Head of State to continue, and describing him as God sent, is enough indication of what traditional rulers in Nigeria have become. It was these same elements that surrounded former President Olusegun Obasanjo, prompting him to continue with the ill-fated Third Term bid.
President Jonathan should not force himself against the nation’s mood by always pointing to the position of the Constitution; there is no honour in that attitude. Needless to say, if he had by any means earned the consent of men by some agreements, he is bound to oblige. It doesn’t necessarily have to be proven in any written form. There is need to demonstrate that we are people who are committed to principles. It is buccaneering to botch agreements and principles to grab a chance. It provokes the impression of double-cross, and the result is usually the rise of counter-hegemonic forces and reactionaries which may prepare the ground for social disorder. This is the reason why the proposed national confab is generating much cynicism among a segment of the public.
The motive of the proposed conference by a president who is incapable of keeping agreements, and in the habit of invoking constitutional shield over simple public request for assets declaration, and lack of political will to implement Justice Uwais’ recommendations on electoral reforms, is obscure. Here is a president who would grant presidential pardon to a world acclaimed fraudster and former governor, Mr. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, while at the same time claiming to be fighting Nigeria’s greatest enemy of progress, corruption. Here is a president who is working to emasculate democratic processes within his party, and indifferent to Uwais’ recommendation, now canvassing for national confab. How sure are the people that the outcome of the conference will see the light of day? How sovereign is the conference going to be? In other words, will the outcomes of the conference, if eventually organized, have the potency to override existing codes of political behaviour and arrangements? When the Republic of Benin in 1990 convened a sovereign national conference (a constitutional conference with full sovereign powers), the outcome of the conference saw President Mathicu Kerekou to surrender power based on the dictates of the conference. A transitional government was followed, leading to the election of Nicephore Soglo as the new president of the Republic of Benin. I hope we can grasp the lesson that experience holds for us?
In all events, if Jonathan wants to write his name in gold, he has all the opportunity. He should depart from the part of executive extravagance that characterizes his administration and deal a decisive blow to the issue of corruption, beginning from his office. What for instance is his office doing with ten presidential jets in a country where poverty level is officially between 68 percent and 70 percent? The president does not necessarily have to be there in 2015. The remaining one year and six months to the end of this administration is sufficient to bring about far-reaching changes, accelerate the process of implementation of ongoing strategic reforms, and inject into the system a political culture that will have transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility as its critical components and direct the pattern of subsequent political behaviour.
This will be effectual in inspiring a new sense of hope and endear him to the heart of the masses. Again, there has always been the tendency among Nigerian politicians to undermine their parties’ structure and constitution for opportunistic reasons at the expense of social order. Such tendency is injurious to the nation’s political wellbeing. Therefore, political party’s institutions should be strengthened to stand above individuals’ whims.
Be that as it may, President Jonathan does not need to fight anyone on whether he is to be or not to be in 2015. Let his works speak for him. The masses will bid him stay if he gave them hope to believe in the system. But for now, except for the few who are profiting from his sloppy, wasteful and corruption-infested leadership style, the general mood is not in his favour because many are getting stone when they asked for bread; while the stench of corruption is suffocating the masses instead of the “breath of fresh air” that was promised.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters