On the cover of last week’s US edition of Time magazine is the picture of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier held captive by the Afghan Taliban for almost five years. With the subtitle, “The cost of bringing Sgt. Bergahl home,” the magazine asked the one question Americans have been grappling with since his release: “Is he worth it?”
Without reading the story, any follower of the Bergdahl saga will already be familiar with the arguments. There was a disgruntled soldier who was believed by many of his fellow comrades to have deserted his platoon in 2009. Once he was captured by the Taliban, efforts were made to free him. During some of the attempts, some soldiers died. Five years after, he was released in a prisoner swap deal that entailed freeing five Taliban fighters held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The argument for his release rested purely on the age-old principle that America does not leave any soldier behind.
The fallout from his release was swift. Congress demanded to know why it was left in the dark when a law specifically stated that, before a prisoner is freed from Guantanamo, Congress must be notified 30 days in advance. Bergdahl’s home town of Sun Valley, Ohio, initially planned a parade to welcome him home. As soon as stories of his not-so-distinguished -and-honorable service began to emerge, the town canceled the parade. Meanwhile, the five Taliban fighters released from Guantanamo have vowed to fight America again. Then there is the concern that the negotiation that led to Bergdahl’s release will embolden other enemies of America to capture American soldiers and use them as baits for prisoner exchange?
If you remove all the fluffs in Nigeria’s socio-political space today, there is only one question facing Nigerians as 2015 approaches: Is Jonathan worth it?
Like Bergdahl whose life story is now showing a young man not really interested in fighting a war but simply looking for an adventure, is Jonathan’s pedigree that of a man equipped and determined to make a dent in the myriad aliments afflicting Nigeria? Bergdahl’s comrades are reporting that, while in Afghanistan, he was learning their language, Pashto and reading the Koran. He was also asking if he could get to China by crossing the mountains of Afghanistan. It’s now apparent that he wasn’t learning those things to effectively help the Americans mission succeed with the people of Afghanistan. He was learning them to facilitate his escape. Who knows Jonathan’s mission at the presidency? Is he fulfilling it or deserting it? Is Jonathan learning? In the last four years, have we seen any sign that he now understands the complexities of Nigerian politics and the skills needed to maneuver the treacherous terrain? Or is Jonathan simply at the presidency to facilitate his escape from poverty?
When Olusegun Obasanjo was ending his first term in office, there were two arguments raised around the need, or lack thereof, for a second term. One was the argument that he signed a pact that he would only govern for a term. The other argument was that he needed a second term to unleash an unprecedented transformation of Nigeria. His supporters said that he was hindered from embarking on such transformation by his backers in 1999. They fiercely argued that once Obasanjo got a second term he would not be handicapped by the need to pedal softly in order to win another election. We know how that all turned out. By the end of his second term, aware that he had not made any irreversible transformation in the country, he started an illicit campaign to secure a third term. When he failed, he punished Nigeria by fostering on the nation the two worst possible choices for President and Vice President in Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
We are back in exactly the same spot. And the arguments are exactly the same. Jonathan must not be bullied out of office the way Abubakar Atiku tried to bully Obasanjo out of office. It is Jonathan’s right to run for a second term just like Obansanjo, whatever the cost may be.
What are the costs of having Jonathan as president for another four years? Another four years will be lost in the life of Nigeria with a good possibility that another eight years will also go down the drain afterwards. What that means is that the tense political situation in the country will only escalate, incrementally desensitizing us all without hitting the tipping point. By the time we emerge at the other end, we are Pakistan. In a wider prism, Nigeria will remain a country “where the best is impossible and the worst never happens.”
The costs of not having Jonathan as president for another four years are many, too. One is that there will be a temporary perception that Boko Haram and their sponsors and supporters have won. But that is just a perception and a temporary one because Boko Haram has already lost the war and their supporters are also losers. By their horrific acts, they have changed the North beyond their wildest imagination. It’s just that the results have not been announced. The other cost is that a paradigm shift will usurp the prevailing order and nobody can fully predict where it could lead to. It is not a bad thing if one believes that knocking Nigeria out of its current orbit of litters and dirt is a good thing.
Looking at a picture of President Jonathan campaigning for Ayo Fayose in Ekiti, with scores and scores of excited fans cheering, his hands up in the air acknowledging the cheers, I could feel the electric. Even if the crowd was rented, there was no way for a feeble minded individual to behold such a display and still have the capacity to reflect. In his quiet moment, when nobody is around, does President Jonathan think it is worth it? Does he think he is worth it?
Just like Obasanjo, another four years of Jonathan will bring about the same abysmal outcome. All things being equal, if Jonathan runs in 2015, he will most probably win, the Nigerian way. And come 2019, when the nation will definitely move on, the question that will still haunt even the most ardent supporters of President Jonathan will be: is he worth it?