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Jonathan And The Crisis Of The Nation-State

April 30, 2011

Just when Nigerians were beginning to bask in the euphoria of a possible dawn of a new era following the relative success of the National Assembly elections on April 9, the aftermath of the presidential polls that followed a week later is turning out to be a killjoy.

Just when Nigerians were beginning to bask in the euphoria of a possible dawn of a new era following the relative success of the National Assembly elections on April 9, the aftermath of the presidential polls that followed a week later is turning out to be a killjoy.

While Nigerians were at least initially unanimous about the freeness and fairness of the National Assembly polls, primordial binoculars appear to determine one’s assessment of the conduct of the April 16 presidential polls. There also appears to be a re-assessment of the April 9 National Assembly polls, with some now saying that the exercise appeared credible only because the bar of public expectations was extremely low after the  false start of April 2, when Jega  had to abort the elections mid way.

My personal opinion is that the acrimonies and violence that followed the presidential polls in some parts of the North are reflective of the crisis in our nation- building project. There are several salient issues here:

One, there appears to be a strong desire among Nigerians, including by the apparent beneficiaries from the current system, for the country to get its act together. This was clearly reflected in the eagerness with which most Nigerians supported Professor Jega’s seemingly unending demands for money and time as his conditions for offering credible elections. Paradoxically while most Nigerians appear eager to see the country move forward,  they equally appear to fear that doing the right thing to help the country achieve that goal will dislodge them from  their ‘economy of affection’ – their succour and comfort zone, which is often driven by irrational sentiments.

Two, with official results giving a landslide victory to President Goodluck Jonathan, a key challenge for him is to recognise the dimensions and manifestations of this crisis of the nation state, and how this was impacted upon by the zoning controversy and the violence that followed his victory in some parts of the North.  True, even in the best of times the country always seems to hang on the precipice - partly because of the politicisation of the fault lines of region, ethnicity and religion. For President Jonathan therefore his ability to dowse the current tension will depend on the extent to which he can skilfully apply wisdom, political bargaining and a combination of carrots and sticks to renew the faith of the aggrieved actors in the Nigeria project.

In trying to lower the current political temperature, the first thing to eschew is a sense of triumphalism and the use of intemperate language. In this sense, suggestions that people like IBB and Atiku should be sanctioned by the PDP for alleged anti party activities – apparently for facilitating a failed merger plan between ACN and CPC could only fuel the crisis. In the same vein, calls by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor for Buhari, a former Head of State with a sort of cult political following in the North to be arrested (for allegedly  instigating the post election violence in parts of the North) is myopic, if not sycophantic and irresponsible.  My personal opinion is that the President needs to engage the opposition figures, especially Mohammed Buhari and the Ciroma group. He needs to tap into his famed humility to listen to their grouse and engage them honestly.

Three, in the short-to- medium terms, Jonathan needs to re-invent his public persona in such a way that he will be a more inspiring figure for people across the major fault lines. True, his ‘guy-next-door image’ and being apparently unfazed by the trappings of power are assets.  But he needs top-ups.  I would love to see the President develop some springs in his footsteps, wear less of the Ijaw fedora cap and occasionally appear for press conferences in jeans trousers with his sleeves rolled up. These symbolic shifts in his public persona will help to rupture his current deep association with ethnic and regional enclaves and make him more of a national icon. It will also help if the President can distant himself from some of his supporters who became extremely polarising figures  before, during and after the campaigns in an apparent bid to ingratiate themselves to the presidency. 

Four, it is also important that the President appreciates that the current crisis of the nation state, though dangerously exacerbated by the zoning controversy and the aftermath of the presidential elections,  has overwhelming economic undertones. Poverty, unfulfilled economic aspirations as well as general underdevelopment and the pervasive scarcity of the socioeconomic values that it engenders, increase the attractions of the ‘economy of affection’ as a comfort zone. The President can attack the economic basis of this crisis of the nation state by articulating a quickly realisable economic vision, with an accompanying roadmap. Since governance is a continuous process and the President has indicated he will leave office by 2015, I will prefer to see him focus on no more than two key issues, say electricity generation and fighting general insecurity in the country.  If the President can leave a lasting legacy in these two key areas, he will have written his name in gold in the annals of our political history and in our nation-building project.

Ribadu to dump the ACN

The Daily Trust of April 25 2011 reported that Ribadu might dump the ACN for CPC apparently because he was distraught at the poor performance of his party during the April 16 presidential election in the South West – the party’s stronghold. Ribadu, even when he held sway at EFCC , worked very hard to ingratiate himself to the ‘Lagos Press’ and the faction of the civil society allied to Wole Soyinka  and the late Gani.  Though this association might have played a role in his eventual emergence as the ACN presidential candidate; it was widely believed that the ACN was more interested in having the Yoruba states under one political umbrella than in any one becoming President. But does  Ribadu really have the moral right to accuse the ACN of not doing more to ensure his victory in the South West when he could not muster up to 20 per cent of the valid votes cast in any of the 19 states in the North – his own constituency?  Ribadu got his lone state victory in the South West. The other three States he secured up to 25% of the valid votes cast are also in the South West.

My personal opinion is that Ribadu looked anything but ‘presidential’ during the campaigns, including during the presidential debates.  On the contrary he looked like someone punching above his political weight, a boy trying to enjoy senior jokes.  What value can he add to the CPC at this time by joining the party?

Adams Oshiomhole tells his aides: ‘Lose your constituency and be sacked’
The Next of April 22 2011 reported that Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole said he recently sacked some commissioners and special advisers because they could not deliver their communities to the Action Congress of Nigeria in the National Assembly poll of April 9. If this report is correct, then the logic behind it is very weird indeed.  Are aides and commissioners not supposed to have been appointed because of their specialist competence? Besides, in our sentiment-driven political economy, there are several reasons, (such as clannishness or a ‘prophet not being recognized in his homestead’) why a political office holder may not be able to ‘deliver’ his community. More worrying however is that making ‘delivering one’s community’ a condition for retaining one’s political appointment could actually fuel the ‘do-or-die’ character of our politics. And we all know where this has got us to.

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